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Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown have the Kings back on top

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After missing the playoffs in two of the past three seasons and getting bounced in the first round in the one year they did make the playoffs it seemed as if the Los Angeles Kings’ run as one of the NHL’s elite teams was coming to an end.

They were still posting consistently great possession numbers and were a strong defensive team, but the offense was a mess and the roster seemed to lack any sort of quality depth. Even worse, the talented players that were on the roster were starting to get older and had shown signs of slowing down.

Dustin Brown‘s career had seen him produce like a third-liner, while Anze Kopitar, one of the best two-way players in the NHL and the foundation of two Stanley Cup winning teams in Los Angeles, was coming off  worst offensive season of his career. It was hard to envision (at least for me) a scenario where the Kings could bounce back in a meaningful way without making any significant changes to a roster that seemed to be losing its luster and seemed to be short on talent outside of a very select group of players.

It turns out the scenario that could spark a change was pretty simple: Kopitar and Brown returning to being elite offensive players.

That is exactly what has happened so far for the Kings this season.

Entering play on Monday Kopitar is averaging more than a point-per game (31 points in 28 games), is in the top-10 in scoring, and is still playing a dominant two-way game in all situations. His 22 minutes of ice-time per game are second among all forwards (trailing only Aleksander Barkov).

In hindsight, we should have seen his bounce back season coming.

A lot of his decline last season can be attributed to the fact that he was absolutely crushed by percentages last season.

His shooting percentage dropped all the way down to 8 percent, not only a career low but also the first time in his career he shot below 10 percent in a single season.

Had he shot at his career average of 12 percent it would have been an additional six or seven goals to his total, and that doesn’t even take into account the six games he missed. With just slightly better shooting luck he could have easily been a 20-goal scorer. When an elite player like Kopitar goes through a season where they are hurt almost entirely by percentages they are usually a great candidate for a bounce back the following year.

Players that have that sort of track record don’t just suddenly lose their ability to score. Hockey can be a cruel game sometimes in that no matter what a player does or how well they play the puck sometimes just doesn’t go in the net.

This season Kopitar has experienced the percentage bounce back and it has him back to being the player he’s always been.

The far bigger surprise has been Brown’s return to glory.

For the past four years he had the look of a player that was, quite simply, finished as a top-six offensive player in the NHL. He was entering his age 33 season and had not topped 36 points in any of the previous four years. Only once during that stretch did he record more than 28 points.

So far this season he has already scored as many goals in 28 games (11) as he did in three of his previous four seasons and has already had a hand in 23 Kings goals.

He has probably been a little fortunate from a shooting percentage standpoint (14 percent this season after being under eight percent in the previous four years … and sometimes around five percent) but you can not take away what he has already done. And right now he and Kopitar are driving the Kings’ offense in a huge way, especially as Jeff Carter remains sidelined.

The interesting thing about this season for the Kings is that this is a team that has finished higher than 20th in goals scored just twice in the past six years, and only once higher than 14th.

As of Monday they are eighth in the NHL, and while Kopitar and Brown have seen a significant jump in their personal shooting percentages, the Kings as a team aren’t really benefitting from an unsustainable shooting percentage. As a team they are right in the middle of the pack across the league.

It is worth asking how much of an impact the coaching change from Darryl Sutter to John Stevens has had on the offense.

Under Sutter the Kings were a defense-first team built around suffocating and suppressing offense. So much so that it took away from their own offense. Almost immediately after the team named Stevens the new coach the message was about improving the team’s offense. Over the summer Stevens and general manager Rob Blake talked about how the Kings were near the bottom of the league in controlled zone entries and getting shots from the middle of the ice and how they wanted to improve all of those areas.

Given how little the roster has changed and how much the results have changed from one year to the next it seems at least possible that the Kings have succeeded in a lot of those areas.

It seems to have helped two of their top players return to form, which has helped the team start to look like a contender again.

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.

Richardson’s OT goal gives Coyotes series win over Predators

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Brad Richardson‘s goal 5:27 into overtime gave the Coyotes a 4-3 win Friday, sending Nashville out of the Stanley Cup Qualifying Round in four games.

The series win is Arizona’s first since 2012 when they beat the Predators in five games to advance in the Second Round.

As they’ve done in the series, the Predators dug holes that led to opportunities for Arizona. Continued mistakes in the defensive zone not only hindered their ability to create scoring chances (won by the Coyotes 27-26 at 5-on-5), but led to goals against.

On Arizona’s first goal, Craig Smith‘s pass to Kyle Turris in order to exit their zone led to a turnover that ended up on Michael Grabner‘s stick. The forward then wristed a shot over Juuse Saros‘ glove for his second goal of the series.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Phil Kessel slapped home Arizona’s second tally thanks to a poor pass from Saros to Roman Josi.

The Predators didn’t go down without a fight. Matt Duchene and Viktor Arvidsson tied the game in the second with goals four minutes apart. Jordan Oesterle looked to have put the Coyotes ahead for good, but a fantastic combination between Ryan Ellis and Filip Forsberg forced overtime with 31.9 seconds left.

Extra hockey didn’t last long with Richardson’s putting home his own rebound on the doorstep.

Darcy Kuemper (.954 even strength save percentage in the series) was once again solid in net for the Coyotes. He made 49 saves in Game 4, the third time in the series he’s had to stop 40-plus shots.

Arizona will face either the Avalanche or Golden Knights in the First Round, which will begin next week.

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes (ARZ wins series 3-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes 4, Predators 3 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Predators 4, Coyotes 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Coyotes 4, Predators 1 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Coyotes 4, Predators 3 (OT)

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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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.

Blackhawks-Oilers stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

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NBC’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Friday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Blackhawks and Oilers. Coverage begins at 6:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Blackhawks-Oilers stream at 6:45 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Trailing 3-2 with under six minutes to go in regulation, the Blackhawks tied the game on rookie Matthew Highmore’s goal and then captain Jonathan Toews scored his second goal of the game with 1:16 remaining in the 3rd period which gave Chicago the comeback win.

A loss in this game would send the Oilers home from the bubble for the offseason, while the rest of the postseason will go on in their arena as Rogers Place will host the remaining Western Conference games and both Conference Finals and then the Stanley Cup Final.

Many expected this to be a high-scoring series given the star power on both sides and so far it has lived up to that billing. The teams have combined for 26 goals for an average of 8.67/game – dwarfing the league average this postseason.

WHAT: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Edmonton Oilers
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Friday, August 7, 6:45 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Brendan Burke, Pierre McGuire
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Blackhawks-Oilers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks (CHI leads 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks 6, Oilers 4 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Oilers 6, Blackhawks 3 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Blackhawks 4, Oilers 3 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, TBD *if necessary

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Canadiens-Penguins stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

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NBC’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Friday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Canadiens and Penguins. Coverage begins at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Canadiens-Penguins Game 4 stream at 4 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Jeff Petry scored from a sharp angle by banking it off Matt Murray’s helmet early in the third period, which proved to be the game-winner once again in this series for the Habs. Petry became the seventh defenseman in NHL history – and fourth in the modern era (since 1943-44) – to score two game-winning goals through his team’s first three contests in a postseason.

The Penguins have now lost eight of their last nine playoff games dating back to the 2018 Second Round.

Tristan Jarry will replace Matt Murray in goal for Game 4.

Although the Habs netminder allowed more than two goals for the first time this series, Carey Price had another solid performance in net, turning aside 30 of 33 shots faced. When the Habs tied the game in the second and then took the lead in the third, Price elevated his game to help preserve the win.

Through three games this series, Price has a .937 SV% and a 2.19 GAA.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Friday, August 7, 4 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Gord Miller, Mike Milbury, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Canadiens-Penguins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens (MTL leads 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens 3, Penguins 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Penguins 3, Canadiens 1 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Canadiens 4, Penguins 3 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins* if necessary

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Barzal, Beauvillier help Islanders eliminate Panthers

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The Panthers had no answers for Anthony Beauvillier and Mathew Barzal in Game 4. The Islanders duo combined for three of their five goals during a 5-1 series-clinching win.

The 23-year-old Beauvillier put Florida on their heels midway through the first period with a pair of goals 3:38 apart. He surprised Sergei Bobrovsky on his first goal, whipping a backhand from just below the circle towards the unsuspecting netminder.

“Mistakes is mistakes,” Bobrovsky said. “It’s a game of mistakes.”

Beauvillier, who finished the series with three goals and five points, doubled the lead minutes later when he connected with a fantastic saucer pass from Barzal.

“I just think right now that Beau is enjoying playing good hockey and he’s getting rewarded for it with production,” said Islanders head coach Barry Trotz. “He is skating on the puck, he’s working, he’s just focused on his job in that moment.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Panthers would get one back late in the first, but Brock Nelson answered midway through the second. Not long after the Islanders reinstated their two-goal lead, Aleksander Barkov had a great chance to cut the lead to one, but Ryan Pulock had other ideas.

“You look back on it, it should’ve been a goal 10 times out of 10,” Barkov said afterward.

Semyon Varlamov bounced back from a Game 3 defeat to stop 24 out of 25 shots faced.

New York has won a postseason series for a second straight year, and it’s only their third series victory since 1992-93. Who they will play in the First Round next week is still up in the air, but it will be one of Tampa, Philadelphia, Washington, or Boston.

The loss extends the Panthers’ postseason woes. Florida has not won a playoff series since their 1995-96 run to the Stanley Cup Final. It’s the longest active drought in the NHL.

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers (NYI win series 3-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Islanders 2, Panthers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Islanders 4, Panthers 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Panthers 3, Islanders 2 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders 5, Panthers 1

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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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.