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Penguins smash reset button on team’s offseason

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Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford is nothing if not aggressive.

Very aggressive.

There has never been a trade he did not like. As we discovered this past week there has never been a trade that is too impossible to pull off.

Since being hired by the team following the 2013-14 season, Rutherford has already orchestrated 28 trades as the Penguins’ general manager. Along with that he has overhauled the team — both in terms of the actual roster and the style of play — significantly on more than one occasion.

He is also not afraid to undo everything he’s done just months prior if it isn’t working.

He fired Mike Johnston just 110 games after hiring him, making him one of the shortest-tenured coaches in franchise history. After trading a first-round pick for David Perron (a pick that later turned out to be used to select Mathew Barzal, the likely rookie of the year this season) he traded him less than a year later for Carl Hagelin after it was clear that Perron was not producing the way the Penguins hoped that he would.

With the 2018 NHL trade deadline now in the rear view mirror, we can also say that he spent the past few months hitting the reset button on pretty much everything he did over the offseason. Literally, everything.

[Related: Penguins trade for Derick Brassard]

After winning their second consecutive Stanley Cup the Penguins’ summer was more about who they lost than who they brought in. Free agency and the salary cap cost them a significant portion of their depth as Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, Chris Kunitz Trevor Daley, and Ron Hainsey all walked out the door, while goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was lost to the Vegas Golden Knights as part of the NHL expansion draft. Just before the season started they traded Derrick Pouliot, once a highly touted prospect in the organization for Andrey Pedan and a fourth-round draft pick.

To replace all of that depth the only moves the Penguins made were to trade Oskar Sundqvist and a first-round draft pick to the St. Louis Blues for Ryan Reaves and a second-round draft pick (a move of about 20 spots in the draft), sign Matt Hunwick to a three-year contract in free agency, and then bring in Antti Niemi to serve as the veteran backup goalie for Matt Murray. They also tried to count on players like Greg McKegg and Carter Rowney to fill space at forward.

It was, to say the least, not a great offseason, and it left the Penguins with some glaring holes on their roster.

They had no third-and fourth-line centers. Reaves was brought in as a response to all of the physical play that the Penguins’ stars had been receiving and represented a wild shift in philosophy from the way the team had been built in recent seasons (and a drastic shift in the way Rutherford typically builds his teams — he has long been a critic of fighting in hockey) but was never trusted to play more than five or six minutes a night.

Balanced scoring throughout all four lines had been a huge part of the team’s success the previous two seasons and the departures of Bonino, Cullen, and Kunitz with almost no one coming from outside the organization to replace them pretty much robbed them of that strength.

Meanwhile, in the three games that Niemi played he allowed 16 goals in 128 minutes of hockey. The Penguins were outscored 22-6 in those three games.

All of that was a huge contributing factor to a slow start to the season that had them, at times, looking like a bad team (a very bad team) and on the outside of the playoff picture.

As good as the top of the roster is with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel they still needed support from the other lines and on the blue line.

Then the moves started happening.

Niemi was waived after just three starts.

They traded Scott Wilson, a winger that appeared in 78 regular season games and 20 playoff games a season ago, was traded for Riley Sheahan to help address some of the issues at center. After a slow start that seemed to contribute to the team’s depth issues, he has found his game a bit and seems to have solidified that fourth-line center spot.

Jamie Oleksiak, who had very clearly fallen out of favor in Dallas, became the latest reclamation project on the blue line for Sergei Gonchar to work with on defense, following a similar path to past acquisitions Daley and Justin Schultz. He has proven to be a solid addition and entering play on Tuesday has already picked up seven points in 28 games and is a positive possession player. He is a big body that can skate and has booming slap shot. It is early in his Penguins tenure, but he seems to be putting all of the individual pieces together into something that can work in the NHL.

Then, on Friday, just a few days before the NHL trade deadline, Rutherford completed one of his biggest and most complex in-season trades when he roped the Ottawa Senators and Vegas Golden Knights into a three-team trade to bring Derick Brassard to Pittsburgh. That trade brought the Penguins the third-line center they had been searching for since Bonino signed with the Nashville Predators in free agency and bumped Sheahan into the fourth-line spot that he is probably more suited for.

That trade included sending Reaves and the fourth-round draft pick they picked up from Vancouver for Pouliot.

[Related: NHL Trade Deadline Winners And Losers]

Just look at the sequence of events that led to Brassard ending up in Pittsburgh. It is insane. All of these moves happened since the start of the offseason.

On the left is the total package of players the Penguins “gave up” and the players they ended up with as a result of all of the movement. On the right is a breakdown of each individual move and how it all fits together to lead to Brassard.

 

Is that a lot of assets to give up for a third-line center? Probably. But he is also a player that will be around for beyond this season. They are going to get two playoff runs with him on the roster playing center behind Crosby and Malkin.

You also have to consider those first-round picks were a 31st overall pick and what could potentially be another late first-round pick this year. Draft history suggests that there is a significant drop in your chances of landing a regular NHL player once the draft reaches the second half of the first-round. Maybe one of those two picks will turn into a player. Maybe.

Sundqvist and Pouliot have not exactly panned out. Gustavsson is a fine (and maybe outstanding) prospect while Cole was a valuable player on two Stanley Cup winning teams. But adding Brassard to the third-line center spot should do more to improve the team than losing Ian Cole off the third defense pairing will do to hurt it. The Penguins already have two young goalies in the organization in Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry.

Earlier this season I looked at the Penguins’ depth problems and how little production they were getting from their bottom-six forwards and how much of a drop it was from the previous two seasons.

After 32 games this season the Penguins’ bottom-six forwards (in terms of ice-time per game) were averaging, as a group, just .179 points per game. The top-six was carrying the entire weight of the offense (.832 points per game as a group).

After 63 games the bottom-six is now up to .357 points per game (the top-six is still cruising along at an almost unimaginable .897).

That is before the addition of Brassard (38 points in 58 games) and the departure of Reaves (only eight points in 59 games). That is the sort of depth the Penguins are going to need if they are going to compete for a Stanley Cup again. That is the sort of depth they had the past two years that made them so dangerous. Keep in mind, when they won the Stanley Cup in 2015-16 their bottom-six averaged .344 points per game. In 2016-17 it was .444.

They are getting closer to that level.

Plus, there’s the other elephant in the room here that makes all of this roster movement necessary: The Penguins are chasing history.

They have a chance to do something no team has done in more than 30 years by going for a third consecutive Stanley Cup.

They still have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel playing at an exceptionally high level. Those three players are not getting any younger. You only get those players for so long, and you only get this level of production out of them for such a short period of time, that you owe it to yourself as a team to do everything possible to maximize their time with the team.

When Crosby, Malkin, Kessel get old, lose production, or just simply retire the Penguins are going to need to rebuild anyway, and there was not a draft pick or prospect in the organization prior to Monday that was going to change that. When you have a chance to do something only a handful of teams have done, when you have generational talents that are still among the best players in the world, you can not let what might happen five years down the road stand in the way.

Your window is now. You have to go for it.

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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.

The Buzzer: Shattenkirk’s redemption, McDavid’s heroics, Karlsson’s breakout

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Three Stars

1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers. There really is not anything to say other than what we said earlier: He took over and he single handedly stole a win for the Oilers. Read about it here

2. Kevin Shattenkirk, New York Rangers. Just now entering the second year of his seven-year contract, the Kevin Shattenkirk experience has not been what the New York Rangers were hoping it would be when they signed him due to injury and some ineffective play. On Tuesday night they finally got a glimpse of the player they thought they were getting. Shattenkirk was outstanding for the Rangers in their 3-2 shootout win over the Colorado Avalanche, assisting on two goals and then scoring the game-winner in the shootout. He was also one of the team’s best possession players on the shot attempt chart and was not on the ice for either of the Avalanche goals. In other words: He did what a top-pairing defenseman is supposed to do.

3. Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning prevented the Carolina Hurricanes from matching their best start in franchise history with a 4-2 win that was highlighted by a Tyler Johnson hat trick. The Lightning have now won three of their first four games and should still be one of the best teams in the league thanks to their incredible depth up front. Johnson’s hat trick is the fourth of his career in the regular season.

Here come the Golden Knights

The Golden Knights did not have a great start but there was also an awful lot of bad luck at play there, too. They were playing a lot better than their early record might have had you believe and now the results are starting to match the way they were playing. They were 4-1 winners over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night, giving them their second win in a row. As always seems to be the case with them, it was their top-line doing the damage. Jonathan Marchessault scored a pair of goals in the win, giving him four on the year, while William Karlsson finally had a breakout game finishing with three points. After scoring 43 goals a year ago he finally got his first of the year on Tuesday night while also adding a pair of assists.

Barkov helps Panthers rally, gain point in wild game against Flyers

The Florida Panthers had a terrible second period in Philadelphia, giving up five goals to face three-goal deficit entering the third period. They managed to rally and force overtime — where they would lose in a shootout — thanks to a big-time performance from team captain Aleksander Barkov as he scored a pair of goals including the game-tying goal in the third period. This was also a perfect representation of what the Philadelphia Flyers are this season: A chaotic team that can score a ton of goals and give up just as many. Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds both scored a pair of goals for the Flyers in the win, while Jordan Weal recorded two points (goal, assist) and scored the decisive goal in the shootout.

Highlights of the Night

Connor McDavid is amazing and borderline unstoppable when he gets going at full speed. He showed that on Tuesday night with this goal in the first period.

With that goal, as well as his third period goal and two assists, McDavid had scored or assisted on each of the Oilers’ first nine goals of the season, and each of their past 13 goals dating back to the end of the 2017-18 season.

This save by Darcy Kuemper bailed out the Arizona Coyotes on a 3-on-1 rush. This is tremendous goaltending, even if it was not enough to get a win.

Jamie Benn and the Dallas Stars did not score a goal against the New Jersey Devils but he did take part in vicious fight with Miles Wood.

Brock Boeser helped the Vancouver Canucks continue their surprising start with a 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road. Boeser scored the game-winner in overtime.

Factoids

Kyle Palmieri is on quite the roll for the New Jersey Devils and with his first period goal on Tuesday did something no player in NHL history has ever done before.

The Devils are now 4-0-0 on the season.

Marc-Andre Fleury continues to climb the NHL’s all-time wins list.

Henrik Lundqvist has won a lot of shootouts in his career. He picked up another one on Tuesday night.

 

Scores

Canucks 3, Penguins 2 (OT)

Devils 3, Stars 0

Rangers 3, Avalanche 2 (SO)

Flyers 6, Panthers 5 (SO)

Lightning 4, Hurricanes 2

Wild 2, Coyotes 1

Oilers 5, Jets 4 (OT)

Golden Knights 4, Sabres 1

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Connor McDavid took over and stole win for Oilers by himself

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The Edmonton Oilers wrapped up their season-opening four-game road trip on Tuesday night with a stunning come-from-behind 5-4 win against the Winnipeg Jets.

On the surface this looks to be an awesome and much-needed victory for the Oilers.

And it is. It is all of that because not only did it come against the team with the second best record in the NHL a season ago, but wow did they just flat out need this.

They still have not played a home game after opening the season in Sweden, they had won just one of their first three games of the season and looked relatively poor in doing so, and after two periods on Tuesday night in Winnipeg looked to be getting their doors blown off by a Jets team that had stormed out to a 4-1 lead.

In the standings, this will go in the books as a big win for the Edmonton Oilers.

But let’s be serious here about what this really was: This was all about Connor McDavid single-handedly refusing to allow his team to drop another game, putting the entire squad on his back, and driving it to a win.

That is not an exaggeration as to what happened on the ice.

This game wasn’t about the Oilers rallying. This was about McDavid being the best and most dominant player in the world and showing just how unstoppable he can be when he is at his best.

On Tuesday, he was at his best.

He finished Tuesday’s game with four points (two goals, two assists) including three in the third period as the Oilers erased the three-goal deficit.

After winning each of the past two scoring titles he has already recorded nine points (four goals, five assists) in the Oilers’ first four games.

Nine points.

The Edmonton Oilers have only scored 10 goals. You don’t need to be a math whiz to figure out what that means.

They have, quite literally, been a one-line team this season and given the makeup of the roster, as well as the way things went for them a season ago, there does not seem to be much hope that will change as the season goes on.

Darnell Nurse‘s overtime goal on Tuesday night was the first goal the Oilers scored this season that McDavid did not factor into the scoring on. That nine-goal stretch even set a NHL record for most consecutive goals for a player to factor in on to open a season, breaking the previous record of seven that had been set by Adam Oates.

McDavid, for the record, seemed to have no interest in it.

“You know what, it’s whatever,” McDavid said. “I’m not overly proud of it. I don’t think it’s a stat we should be proud of either. It is what it is but we found a way to get a goal there at the end so we don’t ever have to talk about it again.”

How important has McDavid been so far: When he is on the ice they are outscoring teams by a 9-4 margin. When he is not, they have been outscored 10-1. If you go back to the end of the 2017-18 season McDavid had factored into 13 consecutive Oilers goals before Nurse’s overtime winner.

And that is pretty much what the Oilers have been for the better part of McDavid’s tenure with the team.

As he goes; they go. And they will only go as far as he is able to take them. The problem with that is hockey is not really a sport that is tailored for one player to carry a team very far because the best players — unless it is a goalie — only play about a third of the game. There has to be more. A lot more. And it remains to be seen if this team has it or if the management team in charge is capable of providing it.

McDavid is going to give them a chance to win on any given night because he is capable of having games like this. He is going to be worth the price of admission every night because he can do this.

“Each and every night, and especially tonight,” said Nurse, when asked about McDavid’s ability to carry the team. “Going into the third we could have gone two different ways, and 18 seconds in his line makes a huge play. When you have a leader like hat everyone feeds off that. For him to be able to set the tone every single game? It’s incredible.”

At some point, though, they are going to have to find a way to give him some support because while this sort of thing might work on a handful of individual nights over the course of a season, it is not a long-term recipe for success because this sort of superman effort is not possible every game. Not even for Connor McDavid.

We saw how true that is for the Oilers just this past season.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Coyotes historically bad offensive start continues in loss to Wild

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Even though they were one of the hottest teams in the league over the final month-and-a-half of the 2017-18 season the Arizona Coyotes still finished with one of the NHL’s worst records. That was largely because they put themselves in what was an insurmountable hole early in the season by winning just one of their first 14 games.

It pretty much ended the season before it even had a chance to start. Still, that strong finish, as well as a pretty good young core of players, should have been a source of optimism heading into this season.

Unfortunately for them they are coming close to putting themselves in another early hole for the 2018-19 season.

With their 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night, the Coyotes fell to 1-4-0 on the season and are still being plagued by a stunning lack of offense.

Eric Staal‘s goal with just under 14 minutes to play in the third period proved to be the game-winner for the Wild while Devan Dubnyk made 31 saves to secure the win.

But let’s talk about the Coyotes’ lack of offense here because this is starting to become a story.

How bad has it been from a goal-scoring perspective? Historically bad.

Following Tuesday’s loss the Coyotes have scored three goals in their first five games (we are not counting the shootout “goal” that gave them their 3-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks — when it comes to actual hockey during regulation and overtime they have scored three goals).

That includes the fact they have already been shutout three times on the season, making them just the eighth team in NHL history to be shutout at least three times in their first five games, and only the second such team in the post-Original Six era (2015-16 Anaheim Ducks).

That isn’t all.

There have only been 12 other teams in league history to score four goals or fewer in their first five games, with only two others (the 1970-71 Buffalo Sabres and 1995-96 Montreal Canadiens) coming in the post-Original Six era. Eight of them came before the 1940 season.

They also have yet to score an even-strength goal this season with their goals either coming on the power play (two) or shorthanded (one).

That is rough.

Are there any positives that can be taken away from all of this and offer any sign of short-term hope? Well, yes. There are. As bad as the offense has been there is also an element of bad luck to it as they are getting crushed by the percentages. They are averaging more than 36 shots on goal per game and had 32 on Tuesday. At some point some of those will start finding the back of the net. Enough to make them a competitive team? That remains to be seen. But there is more offense in there than what we have seen.

Getting Alex Galchenyuk back will help, too.

And for as much as the offense has struggled they have been very good defensively as they have — so far — been one of the best shot suppression teams in the league and are in the top-six in terms of goals against.

It is obviously not the start they wanted, and things definitely look bleak right now, but there are some signs that maybe — maybe — things can still turn around this season.

They just can not let this slow start get out of control the way it did a year ago.

(Historical goal data via Hockey-Reference database)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

WATCH LIVE: Coyotes visit Wild on NBCSN

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Arizona Coyotes and Minnesota Wild at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

As they look to stop their slow start to the season, the Arizona Coyotes received good news on Tuesday. Alex Galchenyuk, who’s get to play this season since being acquired over the summer from the Montreal Canadiens, practiced with his teammates for the first time since suffering an injury during preseason.

Galchenyuk will likely take over No. 1 duties when he’s completely healthy. For now, he’s been cleared for contact but there’s no timetable for a return.

The Wild traveled home after Monday’s 4-2 loss to the Nashville Predators staring at a 1-2-2 record and last place in the Central Division. Head coach Bruce Boudreau emphasized the imporatance of putting together a few wins together, especially with a weekend back-to-back away at Dallas and at home against Tampa Bay.

“If you look at our schedule, we have to get to .500 quick, and then you have to start moving above .500 if you want to stay in this race,” he said.

What: Arizona Coyotes at Minnesota Wild
Where: Xcel Energy Center
When: Tuesday, October 16th, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Coyotes-Wild stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

Coyotes
Richard PanikDerek StepanClayton Keller
Lawson CrouseDylan StromeChristian Fischer
Michael GrabnerBrad RichardsonNick Cousins
Brendan PerliniJosh ArchibaldVincent Hinostroza

Oliver Ekman-LarssonJason Demers
Alex GoligoskiJordan Oesterle
Kevin ConnautonNiklas Hjalmarsson

Starting goalie: Darcy Kuemper

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Wild
Jason ZuckerEric StaalJordan Greenway
Zach PariseMikko KoivuMikael Granlund
Nino NiederreiterEric FehrCharlie Coyle
Marcus FolignoMatt HendricksJ.T. Brown

Ryan SuterMatt Dumba
Jonas BrodinJared Spurgeon
Nick SeelerGreg Pateryn

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule