PHT

PHT Midseason Report Card: Atlantic Division

7 Comments

Now that the All-Star break has arrived it’s time to look back at the first half of the 2017-18 NHL season. Our team-by-team report cards will look at the biggest surprises and disappointments for all 31 clubs and what their outlook is for the second half, including whether they should be a trade deadline buyer or seller.

• Boston Bruins:

Season Review: The Bruins have been the hottest team in the NHL for over a month now. They went into the All-Star break riding an 18-game point streak (14-0-4). They own a 29-10-8 record (66 points) through 47 games. The Bruins are currently second in the division, just five points behind the Bolts with two games in hand. Grade: A.

Biggest Surprise: We all knew that Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak were good players, but nobody could have expected this kind of dominance from Boston’s top trio. They haven’t only dominated in the offensive zone, they’ve managed to keep teams in check in their own end, too.

Biggest Disappointment: There aren’t many disappointments in Boston this season, but Brandon Carlo‘s second season hasn’t gone as well as his first. He’s averaging almost less than two minutes of ice time per game compared to last year and he has just five assists this season.

Trade Deadline Strategy: Buy, buy, buy. The Bruins have a lot of young assets they can use to acquire some help for their playoff push. GM Don Sweeney could be in the market for another scoring forward. Making a splash at the deadline could be the difference between going to the cup final or not.

Second Half Outlook: They’ll suffer a loss in regulation eventually, but they’ve managed to close the gap between themselves and the first-place Lightning enough that they can challenge for top spot in the Atlantic.

• Buffalo Sabres:

Season Review: Things couldn’t have gone much worse for the Sabres in the first half of the season. They head into the break with a 14-26-9 record (37 points), which puts them only ahead of the Arizona Coyotes in the standings. It’s another lost year in Buffalo. Grade: F.

Biggest Surprise: The fact that Evander Kane is having a strong season isn’t a surprise, but he’s on pace to score a career-high 60 points in his contract year. Kane will almost certainly be traded before the trade deadline. Sabres fans will have to hope that he nets them a nice return.

Biggest Disappointment: There are plenty of disappointing things about the Sabres’ 2017-18 season, but the fact that they’ve scored a league-low 114 goals in 49 games. Kane, Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly are the only three players on the roster to hit double-digit goals so far this season.

Trade Deadline Strategy: There’s no doubt that they Sabres will be in seller mode at the deadline. There’s absolutely no way that they’ll make the playoffs, which means they’ll be trading pending unrestricted free agents for draft picks and futures before the end of the month.

Second Half Outlook: With the playoffs a distant dream, the Sabres should focus on finishing as low as they can in the standings, so they can try to land an impact blue liner like Rasmus Dahlin through the draft. Judging on their first half of the season, it won’t be too hard for them to lose during the stretch.

• Detroit Red Wings:

Season Review: The Red Wings season has gone exactly the way most people had anticipated. They aren’t one of the bottom teams in the league, but they’re still 10 points out of a playoff spot. The Red Wings have a 19-21-8 record (46 points) through 48 games. To make matters worse, they went out and signed veterans like Trevor Daley in free agency. It’s time for them to start embracing the rebuild. Grade: D+.

Biggest Surprise: Dylan Larkin is having quite the bounce back season. He currently leads the Red Wings in points with 38 in 48 games this season, which is strong considering he had just 32 all of last year. The 21-year-old appears to be back on the right track. It looks like he’ll turn into the player they hoped he’d be after his strong rookie season.

Biggest Disappointment: Only the Senators, Coyotes and Sabres have found the back of the net less often than the Red Wings in the first half of the season. Justin Abdelkader, Henrik Zetterberg and Larkin have combined to score just 22 goals. That’s simply not enough if the Red Wings want to make a statement in the East.

Trade Deadline Strategy: The Wings front office needs to realize that it’s time for them to sell off veteran assets like pending unrestricted free agent Mike Green. It’s time for them to start piling up young assets and draft picks, so that they can start putting together another dynasty.

Second Half Outlook: Their 10 points out of a playoff spot, so they won’t be able to play deep into April, but they aren’t quite as bad as the Buffalo Sabres either. Expect the Red Wings to play spoiler as the season goes on.

• Florida Panthers: 

Season Review: The Panthers have some talent on their roster with players like Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck and Jonathan Huberdeau, but it’s clear that they’re still lacking in the depth department. Florida has 19-22-6 record (44 points), which puts them 12 points out of a Wild Card spot. Grade: D.

Biggest Surprise: Trocheck is coming off a pair of back-to-back 50-point seasons, but he’s been on a roll this year. Trocheck is already up to 18 goals and 44 points in 47 games this season. Nobody expected the Panthers forward to score at nearly a point-per game pace.

Biggest Disappointment: Veteran forward Radim Vrbata‘s production has fallen off the map. After scoring 20 goals and 55 points last season, he has just five goals and 13 points in 35 games this season. The fact that they’re lacking in the depth scoring department is partly Vrbata’s fault.

Trade Deadline Strategy: The Panthers don’t have much to trade in terms of rentals, but they could look to make a hockey trade or two to improve their outlook going forward. They’ve built a strong core with Huberdeau, Barkov and Aaron Ekblad, but they clearly need more if they want to get back to the playoffs next season.

Second Half Outlook: Like the Red Wings, the Panthers have enough talent not to finish in the basement of the Eastern Conference. They’ll likely be looking to play spoiler for teams hoping to make the playoffs.

• Montreal Canadiens: 

Season Review: The Canadiens have been one of the biggest disappointments in the league this season. They had legitimate playoff aspirations at the start of the year, but they’ve fallen totally flat. They don’t have enough scoring, their defense is mediocre and Carey Price can’t do everything himself. Grade: D.

Biggest Surprise: Brendan Gallagher is having a strong bounce back season after dealing with a few injuries over the last couple of years. Gallagher is on pace to score 30 goals for the first time in his career. But even beyond the numbers, he’s continuously been the heart and soul of his team all season.

Biggest Disappointment: Jonathan Drouin was the major acquisition of the offseason and he just hasn’t lived up to the hype. He’s still young, but his transition to center has been slow, painful and filled with mistakes. Drouin is far from the only disappointment on the roster, but he’s the one they were counting on to be their next local superstar. There’s still time for him to turn it around, it just hasn’t happened as quickly as most expected.

Trade Deadline Strategy: Marc Bergevin will surely look to sell off expiring contracts like Tomas Plekanec, but it sounds like they could be looking to shake things up in the locker room, too. Max Pacioretty‘s name has come up in trade rumors. If they make that move before the deadline that would be a huge wake up call to the players in the locker room.

Second Half Outlook: The Canadiens don’t have much coming through the pipeline, so they need to focus on being as bad as they can be in order to increase their odds of winning the lottery. They’ll be competitive some nights because of Price, but giving Antti Niemi a few more starts down the stretch could be a subtle way to tank.

• Ottawa Senators:

Season Review: Oh how things can change quickly in the NHL. The Senators were a goal away from going to the Stanley Cup Final last season, but they’ve fallen off the map completely in 2017-18. Ottawa’s 39 points put them just two ahead of the lowly Sabres, who are in the basement of the Eastern Conference. All this talk of trading Erik Karlsson certainly hasn’t helped their team. Grade: F.

Biggest Surprise: Mark Stone has put up a pair of 60-point seasons in his career, but he’s rolling at exactly a point-per-game pace through 44 games in 2017-18. The 25-year-old’s play is definitely the biggest positive to come out of this season for the Senators even though he’s banged up right now.

Biggest Disappointment: The Matt Duchene trade simply didn’t give the Sens the shot in the arm they were looking for. To make matters worse, the Avalanche and Predators have been rolling since the three-way trade went down earlier this season. This whole year has been a colossal disappointment in Ottawa, and the trade that was supposed to fix everything hasn’t done that at all.

Trade Deadline Strategy: Like most of the other teams in the division, the Senators will look to be sellers at the trade deadline. It’s also important to keep things in perspective. As much as their season has been a disappointment, they’ve still managed to get top prospects Thomas Chabot and Colin White some playing time. They need to find a way to add youngsters to their up-and-coming group.

Second Half Outlook: Well, when you’re 17 points out of a playoff spot it’s easy to see what your second half will look like. One thing they should try to do between now and the end of the season is make Erik Karlsson happy again. They’ve done a horrendous job of doing that since October, so it’s time for them to admit their mistakes and get him signed to a long-term deal. Or else, you might as well blow this team up.

• Tampa Bay Lightning:

Season Review: After missing the playoffs last season, the Lightning couldn’t have asked for a much better first half of the season. Sure, they might be slumping a little bit heading into the All-Star break, but that’s bound to happen to every team over an 82-game season. Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev, Andrei Vasilevskiy and the gang have emerged as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. They have the best record in the NHL at 34-12-3, which gives them a grade I could’ve only dreamed about when I was in school. Grade: A+.

Biggest Surprise: Sergachev was made a healthy scratch in the last two games before the break, but he’s clearly been the biggest surprise on the team. When the rookie blue liner was acquired from the Canadiens last summer, no one expected him to play such a big role on this season. The 19-year-old has eight goals and 27 points in 47 games during his first full NHL season. Honorable mention to Yanni Gourde.

Biggest Disappointment: They have the best record in the league, they’ve scored the most goals in the league and they have the best goal differential in the league, so writing down a disappointment seems unnecessary.

Trade Deadline Strategy: Most people will say that the Lightning need to be buyers. Sure, they could add a complimentary piece or two to their roster, but they don’t have to go overboard. Their team is clearly good enough to make a Stanley Cup run if they stay healthy, and making a major trade might disrupt chemistry. GM Steve Yzerman should be looking to make small tweaks to his roster, nothing more.

Second Half Outlook: As good as they were in the first half, they need to make sure they keep rolling from February through the end of the season. They can’t allow themselves to get complacent. Getting home ice advantage throughout the playoffs should be the goal. They’re definitely talented enough to get the job done.

• Toronto Maple Leafs: 

Season Review: The Leafs came out of the gate like gangbusters at the start of the season. They were scoring goals by the truckload and they were skating everybody out of the building. They looked like they were going to give the Lightning a run for the division crown, but things haven’t materialized that way. Their offense has dried up in recent weeks and many of the players they were counting on to produce haven’t done that. The injury to Auston Matthews earlier this season seemed to have set them back. Despite all that, they are comfortably in a playoff spot with a record of 28-18-5 (61 points). Grade: B.

Biggest Surprise: It’s not necessarily a surprise, but Morgan Rielly has been a real positive on a team that is clearly lacking good defensemen. The Leafs blue liner has taken another positive step in his development and that’s led him to tallying more points. The 23-year-old is already up to 31 points through 47 games this season (his career high is 36). They need him to get healthy.

Biggest Disappointment: The Leafs’ play in their own end still isn’t good enough to be considered an elite team in the league or even the conference. They rank in the bottom half of the NHL in goals allowed, and that’s something that will have to change if they’re going to compete with the Bruins and Lightning.

Trade Deadline Strategy: They have to go out and find themselves another competent, puck-moving defenseman. They clearly have enough offense to get the job done, now they have to find a way to land a blue liner that can play top-four minutes. Making that kind of trade is difficult during the season, but they’ll need to do it if they want to make it out of the first round.

Second Half Outlook: Babcock and his team will never admit this, but they’ve pretty much wrapped up a playoff spot. Now, they’ll have to focus on getting their game in order before the postseason hits in April. Whether they face Tampa Bay or Boston, they’ll have their hands full. And as bright as the future is, another first-round exit would be disappointing.

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: Hedman, Vasilevskiy power Lightning; Nilsson’s night

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Three Stars

1. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning: Hedman netted the winning goal with 56.8 seconds left to snap a 2-2 tie and give Tampa a 3-2 victory over the Penguins. The Swedish blue liner now has points in eight of the Lightning’s nine games this season.

2. Anders Nilsson, Ottawa Senators: Nilsson helped extend the Red Wings’ losing streak to six games with a 34-save night during a 5-2 win. Anthony Duclair scored twice, Chris Tierney had a goal and an assist, and Thomas Chabot handed out a pair of helpers as Ottawa ended a four-game slide. The win was Nilsson’s first of the season

3. Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins: Jarry had a career night in the loss to Tampa making a career high 45 saves, including 22 in the second period.

Highlights of the Night

Andrei Vasilevskiy made this save at the buzzer to preserve the Lightning win following a long review:

• The Lightning honored 46 of the 70 living recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor during a pre-game ceremony Wednesday night.

• It’s been a while, but always watch where Jean-Gabriel Pageau is on the ice when the Senators are shorthanded:

Factoids

• With his assist Wednesday night, Sidney Crosby is now in 40th place on the NHL’s all-time points list (450-780—1,230 in 954 GP), passing Norm Ullman (490-739—1,229 in 1,410 GP).

Scores
Senators 5, Red Wings 2
Lightning 3, Penguins 2

————

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.

Vasilevskiy’s last-second save helps Lightning top Penguins

1 Comment

Andrei Vasilevskiy saved his best for the final seconds.

Kris Letang raised his left fist believing he notched the game-tying goal, but Vasilevskiy got just enough to propel Tampa Bay to a 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday.

Victor Hedman scored a go-ahead power-play goal with less than a minute remaining in the final period when his slap shot whizzed past Tristan Jarry as Tampa captured its fifth win of the season.

Alex Killorn and Cedric Paquette each recorded his first goal of the season as the Bolts won for the third time in the previous four games.

Brandon Tanev and Sidney Crosby scored as Pittsburgh dropped its third consecutive game. Jarry made 45 saves in his third start of the season.

Here are a few quick observations from Tampa Bay’s 3-2 win against Pittsburgh:

Penguins take one too many penalties

The Lightning are as dangerous as any team in the NHL and the Penguins learned a hard lesson in the final minutes of play on Wednesday.

Jake Guentzel tried to eliminate a potential odd-man rush opportunity but was whistled for hooking Anthony Cirelli at 17:55 of the third period.

Having just killed off Zach Aston-Reese’s stick throwing penalty less than a minute earlier, the Penguins were playing with fire and eventually got burned.

The Lightning struggled to establish possession in the offensive zone for the first half of the man-advantage but a slick backhanded-touch pass from Tyler Johnson allowed Tampa to set up.

With multiple options to cover, the Penguins focused on Steven Stamkos at the left circle, which allowed Hedman to hammer a one-timer from the point.

The Lightning have not looked like the well-oiled machine that they were last season, but are showing signs of returning to the powerhouse they are expected to be.

[RELATED: Lightning honor Congressional Medal of Honor recipients]

Tanev shows upside

The Penguins signed Brandon Tanev to a six-year contract this offseason with hopes the gritty forward has far more offensive potential than he has shown in the first few years of his NHL career.

The 27-year-old tallied a nifty backhander in the second period of play to even the score at 1-1. After collecting his own rebound, and circling the net, Tanev took advantage of a small opening above the glove of Vasilevskiy.

Depth has become one of the most important ingredients needed to ensure a successful playoff run. While most NHL teams fill these roles with one-year contracts or cheap deadline acquisitions, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford went a different route this past offseason.

NOTE:

Sidney Crosby picked up his 1,230th NHL point, moving him past Norm Ullman for 40th in NHL history.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Lightning honor Congressional Medal of Honor recipients

2 Comments

On Wednesday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning honored recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor during a pre-game ceremony.

Tampa Bay is currently hosting the 2019 Medal of Honor Convention and had the Lightning invited 46 of the 70 living recipients to attend a special event including a ceremonial puck drop with Steven Stamkos and Sidney Crosby.

The Medal of Honor was created in 1861 by President Abraham Lincoln. It is the nation’s highest, and rarest, military decoration. The medal is bestowed by the President of the United States, in the name of Congress, upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against the enemy of the United States.” Fewer than 3,500 individuals have received the medal, half of which have been posthumously. There are currently only 70 living recipients, one of the lowest numbers in history.

The esteemed group featured nine honorees from the War on Terrorism, 34 from the Vietnam War, two from the Korean War and one from World War II.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Learn more about John Carlson’s league-leading start

Getty Images
Leave a comment

As talented as Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson is, it’s still pretty mind-blowing that he’s leading all NHL scorers – not just fellow blueliners – with 20 points in 11 games.

It’s a pretty comfortable lead, too, at least considering how early we still are in the 2019-20 season. David Pastrnak and Connor McDavid are tied for second place with 17 points, making Carlson’s five goals and 15 assists that much more impressive.

This post aims to dig a little deeper on this red-hot start.

Before we delve into the esoteric, let’s take a moment to ruminate on just how special this start really is. A factoid like this helps it sink in a bit:

[Tuesday’s Buzzer has a lot of other Carlson factoids.]

Luck and skill

Carlson’s five goals come on 23 shots on goal, which translates to a 21.7 shooting percentage. That would be too high of a shooting percentage for most non-Mario Lemieux forwards to maintain, let alone a defenseman. Carlson’s career shooting percentage is 6.1, although he’s been higher the past two seasons (7 percent in 2018-19, and 6.3 in 2017-18).

Even Carlson was laughing at some of his luck lately, including after an empty-netter, one of his two goals from Tuesday’s 5-3 Caps win against the Flames:

With 15 of his 20 points being assists, his very high 18.5 on-ice shooting percentage is just as relevant. Carlson’s career average is 10.1, so you’d expect fewer goals to come from Carlson’s passes going forward.

Still, one cannot ignore that Carlson’s shown plenty of scoring ability over the years. Carlson scored 15 goals and 68 points in 2017-18 and 13 goals and 70 points in 2018-19, so he’s obviously been able to fill up the scoresheet as his role has become more and more prominent with Washington. He finished just short of being a Norris Trophy finalist in 2018-19, as he finished fourth in voting.

If healthy, Carlson seems like a strong candidate to win his first Norris if he plays the rest of the season at “only” a 70-ish point pace. That’s especially true since he’s improved as an all-around player with better possession stats since 2017-18.

Gunslinger

So, yeah, Carlson will cool down … but there are elements of his game, and the system around him, that could help him be a dangerous defensive scorer for an extended period of time.

For one thing, he’s not afraid to shoot. Carlson’s 445 SOG in 173 games since 2017-18 ranks eighth among NHL defensemen.

Not only might that result in goals, but also the sort of rebounds and chaos that can help generate assists. As J.J. Regan notes for NBC Sports Washington, the Capitals have been more focused on shot volume from defensemen under Todd Reirden, and it only makes sense that such a mentality would benefit a gifted scorer like Carlson.

“We’re switching more to shooting the puck whenever you have a chance or a lane,” Jonas Siegenthaler said. “A couple years ago, you were always looking for the next play or a green shot.”

Fast starts

Chalk it up to being fresher earlier in the season, the Capitals typically being comfortably placed atop the standings late in seasons, or some combination of such factors, but either way, Carlson’s career split stats indicate that he’s generally been a strong starter.

His best months tend to be in October, November, and December. If you believe that “recency bias” creeps into awards voting, than it’s something to think about for Carlson’s Norris push if he once again winds down a bit toward the end of the season.

***

Carlson’s 20 points stand as a considerable lead among NHL defensemen, as Nashville’s Ryan Ellis is a distant second with 12. For all we know, Carlson might break the Capitals’ single-season points record for a defenseman, which Larry Murphy set with 81 in 1986-87.

Even if Carlson slows down close to that 70-point range (or gets injured), it’s been really impressive to watch, to the point that sometimes you watch his numbers go up and start laughing to yourself just like Carlson after his empty-net goal.

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.