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Can Golden Knights get more out of Tatar, supporting cast?

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Update: Well, the Golden Knights might try to get more from their depth players and make some changes, but Tomas Tatar might not be a part of that.

NHL.com’s Nick Cotsonika notes that today’s skate indicates that Tatar and Tomas Nosek might be healthy scratches. In that event, Ryan Carpenter and Oscar Lindberg would take their places.

Much of the discussion below remains, and the Golden Knights have plenty of incentive to get more out of Tatar going forward. Maybe another trip to the press box could be a bit of “tough love” for Tatar?

Look, every NHL team is going to lack something, especially in this salary cap era. Daydreaming about improved depth is a pretty common occurrence for just about every squad in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Such matters are worth delving into because a) it’s possible that some teams could stumble upon solutions better than others and b) such studies sometimes shine a light on other things that work or fall short for a team.

The Vegas Golden Knights stand an interesting example.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

On one hand, they’ve developed a reputation for “rolling four lines” and for succeeding thanks to a by-committee approach, including on defense. At their best, the Golden Knights make their opponents feel overwhelmed by waves of attackers.

Is it possible that the San Jose Sharks have exposed a few cracks in that wall, or are merely better equipped to reveal that the Golden Knights might have some depth issues, too? Such questions might receive more clarity as this series goes along (Game 5 airs on NBCSN tonight at 10 p.m. ET), but in perusing the stats from San Jose’s 4-0 shutout in Game 4, some things stand out.

  • Vegas’ top line had its chances.

Opinions may vary, but while the points have come and gone, the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs make a strong argument that the top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith really is a legitimate top line. Sometimes it’s a dominant one.

While Vegas was blanked, that trio generated 11 of the Golden Knights’ 34 shots on goal. None of them suffered negative plus/minuses in a 4-0 loss, either.

Neal remains an intriguing UFA (if he doesn’t re-sign with Vegas) because he’s one of the NHL’s most reliable snipers (25 goals despite being limited to 71 games in 2017-18) while combining a mean streak with the sort of frame that can help him get to those “dirty goal” areas. At his best, he can be a headache for defenses to deal with.

It seems like he’s asserting himself against the beefy Sharks, too. While he suffered a -2 rating, Neal fired a lofty seven shots on goal during Game 4. He has one goal and three assists along with 19 SOG in four games so far in this series.

So, theoretically, the Golden Knights are in a nice spot with the first line and with Neal playing at a high level alongside Erik Haula and Alex Tuch. With that in mind, waking up their bottom-six forwards could be key.

It’s reasonable to wonder if Perron is truly healthy. If not, he should be commended for producing three assists so far in four games against the Sharks. Like Neal, he’s an intriguing pending UFA; Perron scored 66 points in just 70 games this season. He could be the key to getting more out of depth players, or if Gerard Gallant deems it necessary, making a more dangerous second line.

This brings us to Tatar, who seems to be slated for third-line duty with Perron and Cody Eakin.

To say the least, Tatar has been a disappointment since being traded to Vegas, even for those who thought that the Golden Knights gave up far too much for the former Red Wings winger to begin with.

Through 20 regular-season games, Tatar only managed four goals and two assists for six points. He’s been a non-factor during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, at least when he’s avoided being a healthy scratch altogether, failing to score a point and only managing four SOG in four games. His ice time is also a testament to how little confidence the Golden Knights have in him so far.

With just seven points in 21 career playoff games, some might wonder if Tatar simply wilts during this time of year.

That’s a lot of doom and gloom, but let’s not forget that Tatar is riding four consecutive 20+ goal seasons. He may never be worth the three significant draft picks Vegas gave up to get him, but Tatar is legitimately capable of catching fire and moving the needle in this series. Just look at what he can do when things are clicking:

Now, could Perron bring that out of him? Would a move up the lineup provide a crucial confidence boost? Maybe he deserves a little power play time after getting none in Game 4?

One of the things that makes Vegas such a great story is all of the opportunities that came here that may have never emerged for guys like William Karlsson, Shea Theodore, and Alex Tuch. Extending that spirit by at least letting Tatar get one foot out of the doghouse could, for all we know, be enough to light a fire under the solid scorer.

  • What about the fourth line?

On paper, the Golden Knights’ fourth line (William Carrier, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Tomas Nosek) leaves something to be desired. Bellemare’s possession stats are a microcosm of that group’s overall limitations.

Sometimes you’re just stuck with a limited fourth line, but Gallant should at least consider bringing Ryan Carpenter back and giving Oscar Lindberg a few looks. Lindberg hasn’t played since April 7, so obviously he’s not held in high regard right now, but the former Rangers forward does have some playoff experience (four points in 14 games) and would probably work hard to prove that he deserves to stay in the lineup.

***

Again, every team would like more depth (or, the deep ones might want some more high-end skill). To some extent, you sometimes need to just appreciate the smaller battles a line can win.

On the other hand, sometimes winning a tough playoff series comes down to making adjustments and finding new combinations. The Golden Knights are experiencing a real challenge in the Sharks. For all we know, a reinvigorated Tatar could tilt the scales in their favor.

Check out Game 5 tonight starting at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. This is the livestream link.

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.

The Buzzer: Scheifele lights the lamp three times; Binnington earns second straight shutout

Mark Scheifele #55 of the Winnipeg Jets
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Three Stars

1) Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets

Scheifele picked up his third NHL hat trick in the Jets’ 5-1 win against the Ottawa Senators.  The overlooked centerman completed the milestone with 1:33 remaining in the third period. Nick Paul kicked off the scoring to give the Senators an early advantage, but the Jets stormed back with five unanswered. Scheifele scored his first two goals late in the first period to help Winnipeg gain control of the game. He collected a loose puck near the top of the crease and buried a wrister to even the game, 1:11 after the equalizer, Scheifele redirected Neal Pionk’s shot from the point to give the Jets a lead they would never relinquish. With the win, Winnipeg claimed the top wild card spot in the Western Conference for the time being.

2) Ben Chiarot, Montreal Canadiens

Chiarot recorded his second two-goal game of the season in the Canadiens’ 4-3 overtime victory against the Washington Capitals. The defenseman had two pretty goals, including the overtime winner when his blistering one-timer sped through the legs of Braden Holtby to help the Canadiens end a five-game losing streak. Early in the third period, Chiarot fired a wrist shot from the high slot to give the Canadiens a one-goal advantage. With two more years after this season remaining on his contract at an average annual value of $3.5 million, Chiarot is unlikely to be moved in the coming days even though the playoffs are a long shot for the Canadiens.

3) Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs and Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues

Andersen rebounded from a tough performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this week and posted his second shutout of the season in Toronto’s 4-0 victory. It was Andersen’s first win in four starts since returning from a neck injury that sidelined him for four games. Binnington has not been tested frequently in the past two games, but two consecutive shutouts is an accomplishment despite the limited save totals. Mackenzie Blackwood’s 36 saves and Antti Raanta‘s 45 stops also deserve recognition on a solid night from a few goaltenders in the NHL.

Highlights of the Night

The between-the-legs craze continued when Nick Foligno fooled Brian Elliott with this beauty.

Chiarot is not known for his offense but hammered this one-time feed from Max Domi.

It didn’t take long for Gabriel Vilardi to score his first NHL goal.

Raanta was nearly unbeatable, but Ryan O'Reilly finished a precise pass from Brayden Schenn to lead the Blues past the Coyotes.

Kevin Hayes‘ game-winning goal wasn’t anything special, but his celebration following was something to see.

Pavel Zacha threaded a perfect stretch pass and then Jesper Bratt mesmerized Martin Jones with a series of dekes.

Stats of the Night

Scores

Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 0

New Jersey Devils 2, San Jose Sharks 1

Montreal Canadiens 4, Washington Capitals 3 (OT)

Philadelphia Flyers 4, Columbus Blue Jackets 3 (OT)

Winnipeg Jets 5, Ottawa Senators 1

St. Louis Blues 1, Arizona Coyotes 0

Vegas Golden Knights 5, Tampa Bay Lightning 3

Los Angeles Kings 5. Florida Panthers 4


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.

Ovechkin ends scoring drought in Capitals OT loss

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Alex Ovechkin inched closer to 700 career goals, but the Washington Capitals fell in overtime against the Montreal Canadiens Thursday, 4-3.

The Capitals captain recorded his 699th career goal to open the scoring early in the first period, but Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot scored twice, including the game-winner after regulation.

The Pittsburgh Penguins took over the top spot in the Metropolitan Division earlier this week, and the Capitals’ recent slump could cost them home-ice advantage in the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Additionally, the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets and trail the Capitals by five points for second place in the division.

Shea Weber and Brendan Gallagher also scored for the Canadiens as they snapped a five-game losing streak. Carey Price made 29 saves in his 25th win of the season.

Capitals forward Tom Wilson evened the score in the final minute of the third period to force overtime and help Washington earn at least one point. The power forward jammed a puck past Price to give Ovechkin another shot at 700 in the extra session.

However, less than a minute into the three-on-three portion, Chiarot hammered a feed from Max Domi through the legs of Braden Holtby. The defenseman scored his first of the evening early in the third period when he wired a wrist shot from the high slot to give Montreal a 3-2 lead.

Ovechkin scored goal No. 699 to break a five-game streak without a point. No. 8 controlled a rolling puck after Nicklas Backstrom won a faceoff cleanly in the offensive zone, then fired a wrist shot past Price.

Weber knotted the game at 1-1 when he notched his 14th of the season late in the first period. The Canadiens captain was originally expected to miss 4-6 weeks due to an ankle injury but returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing only six games.

Ovechkin’s chase for 700 continues Saturday when the Capitals square off with the New Jersey Devils.

 

Ovechkin’s quest for 700:


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.

WATCH LIVE: Ovechkin continues chase for 700 vs. Canadiens on NBCSN

Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrates
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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Washington Capitals and Montreal Canadiens. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Washington hosts Montreal in D.C. tonight in what will be the third and final meeting between the two clubs this season. All eyes will be on Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin as he continues his quest for 700 career goals.

Ovechkin is now goalless in five straight games after registering a hat trick against the Kings on Feb. 4. Of the seven members in the 700-goal club, five players took five games or longer to go from 698 to 700 career goals – Jaromir Jagr (5 games), Marcel Dionne, Wayne Gretzky, Mike Gartner (6 games), and Brett Hull (12 games).

The Capitals have struggled in the midst of Ovechkin’s trek towards 700 goals. For the first time since mid-October, Washington no longer owns at least a share of the Metro Division lead as Pittsburgh now occupies the top spot.

Tuesday afternoon, the Capitals acquired defenseman Brenden Dillon from the San Jose Sharks for a 2020 second round pick (originally acquired from Colorado) and a conditional 2021 third round pick.

Montreal lost 4-3 at Detroit on Tuesday night after blowing a two-goal third period lead. The Habs led 3-1 entering the third and gave up three unanswered goals to pick up their fifth straight loss. To make matters worse, the Red Wings swept the Habs in the regular season (four games) for the first time in franchise history. Four of Detroit’s league-worst 15 wins this season have come against Montreal.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Montreal Canadiens at Washington Capitals
WHERE: Capital One Arena
WHEN: Thursday, Feb. 20, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Capitals-Canadiens stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

CANADIENS
Tomas TatarPhilip DanaultBrendan Gallagher
Jonathan DrouinNick SuzukiJoel Armia
Artturi LehkonenMax DomiIlya Kovalchuk
Paul ByronNate ThompsonNick Cousins

Ben ChiarotShea Weber
Brett KulakJeff Petry
Xavier OuelletChristian Folin

Starting goalie: Carey Price

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas BackstromTom Wilson
Jakub VranaEvgeny KuznetsovT.J. Oshie
Carl HagelinLars EllerRichard Panik
Travis BoydNic DowdGarnet Hathaway

Brenden Dillon – John Carlson
Dmitry OrlovNick Jensen
Michal KempnyRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

Joe Beninati and analysts Craig Laughlin and Alan May will have the call from Capital One Arena.

NHL teams get jump on deadline with flurry of early trades

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Tom Fitzgerald changed teams twice at the NHL trade deadline as a player and knows how it feels.

As interim general manager of the New Jersey Devils, he didn’t wait until deadline day to trade captain Andy Greene or forward Blake Coleman. Beating the buzzer by more than a week, Fitzgerald recalled his own rough experiences of getting dealt late.

”I wish I was traded a week and a half before so I could get adjusted a little bit quicker,” he said.

Greene and Coleman are among more than a half-dozen players who are already adjusting to a new team because of an early trading flurry. The deadline isn’t until Monday, but some major moves are already done thanks to a clear definition between buyers and sellers, contenders interested in the same possibilities, and reasonable prices around the league.

”Over (last) weekend, a lot of things started to pick up,” said Los Angeles Kings GM Rob Blake, who has already made three trades and could still be active. ”It seems after the All-Star break, a lot of teams start finding their direction on where they’re going, what’s available and prices.”

Los Angeles got things going by dealing goaltender Jack Campbell and versatile forward Kyle Clifford to Toronto in early February, and this week traded winger Tyler Toffoli to Vancouver and defenseman Alec Martinez to Vegas. On Tuesday, Pacific Division rival San Jose traded defenseman Brenden Dillon to Washington, and the Winnipeg Jets got blue liner Dylan DeMelo from Ottawa.

A couple of days earlier, the Devils traded Greene to the New York Islanders and Coleman to the Tampa Bay Lightning within hours of each other.

It isn’t taking much time to close the book on some big trades.

”I think there’s probably five or six teams talking to the same teams about the same players,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said. ”And it sorts itself out for each team and then it happens quickly because then you’ve got to react to what happens with your other conversations.”

MacLellan didn’t rule out the Capitals making another move. But by getting Dillon early, he could be in the lineup for three extra games – which is significant given how tight the standings are.

It helps Dillon get acclimated, too. The 29-year-old who was considered the top pending free agent defenseman available didn’t have to sit around and wonder when San Jose would trade him.

”I’m sure you guys can read the papers just as much as we are, or social media,” Dillon said. ”It was definitely nice just from the mental side of things to get that done with.”

The NHL several years ago moved the trade deadline from March to February to give teams more time to benefit from acquiring players. Fitzgerald was traded in March each time and played 11 and 15 regular-season games, respectively, after getting moved.

Times have changed.

”A lot of teams like to get to things early,” Fitzgerald said. ”(Teams) want you to mesh with the team quicker rather than later. … A little bit longer runway is useful.”

DEADLINE DAY

All the early trades does not mean Monday might be quiet. The New York Rangers could wait until the last minute to trade forward Chris Kreider or one of their goaltenders. The Devils, Kings and Senators still have assets, too.

A few days after Montreal traded defenseman Marco Scandella to the St. Louis Blues, speculation continues to swirl around the Canadiens. Coach Claude Julien said, ”I don’t know that the noise is done,” and players involved in rumors are trying to block it out.

”Anything can happen, obviously,” winger Tomas Tatar said. ”I’m not too worried now. It’s just part of the business.”

WHO’S GONE

– Campbell and Clifford traded from Kings to Maple Leafs for Trevor Moore, 2020 third-round pick and conditional 2021 third-round pick

Jason Zucker traded from Wild to Penguins for Alex Galchenyuk, Calen Addison and conditional 2020 first-round pick

– Greene traded from Devils to Islanders for David Quenneville and 2021 second-round pick

– Coleman traded from Devils to Lightning for Nolan Foote and 2020 first-round pick

– Toffoli traded from Kings to Canucks for Tim Schaller, Tyler Madden, 2020 second-round pick and conditional 2022 fourth-round pick

– DeMelo traded from Senators to Jets for 2020 third-round pick

– Dillon traded from Sharks to Capitals for 2020 second-round pick and conditional 2021 third-round pick

– Scandella traded from Canadiens to Blues for 2020 second-round pick and conditional 2021 fourth-round pick

– Martinez traded from Kings to Golden Knights for 2020 second-round pick and 2021 second-round pick

WHO’S LEFT
– Rangers: F Chris Kreider, G Alexandar Georgiev, F Jesper Fast
– Kings: F Trevor Lewis
– Devils: F Wayne Simmonds, D Sami Vatanen, G Louis Domingue
– Senators: F Jean-Gabriel Pageau, F Vladislav Namestnikov
– Red Wings: F Andreas Athanasiou, D Mike Green, D Trevor Daley
– Canadiens: F Ilya Kovalchuk
– Sharks: F Patrick Marleau, F Joe Thornton
– Jets: D Dustin Byfuglien

WHO COULD STAY
– Rangers: G Henrik Lundqvist
– Devils: F Travis Zajac
– Senators: F Anthony Duclair
– Canadiens: F Tomas Tatar, D Jeff Petry
– Sabres: D Zach Bogosian
– Wild: D Jonas Brodin