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Tomas Tatar gets his chance as Golden Knights make changes for Game 4

WASHINGTON — After losing the past two games of the Stanley Cup Final and facing a huge Game 4 Monday night, the Vegas Golden Knights are making at least one lineup change as Tomas Tatar will draw back in after being a healthy scratch for the past five games.

Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant refused to announce who was coming out of the lineup in place of Tatar, but the easy speculation here is David Perron, whose locker stall was empty following the morning skate.

Gallant also suggested there could be one other addition into the lineup but again refused to say who that could potentially involve.

“He’s a goal-scorer,” said Gallant when asked about the decision to put Tatar back in the lineup. “We wanted to change our lineup a little bit after losing two games a in a row and give us a little more offense.

“He brings offense, he can shoot a puck, he is good for our power play, he is going to play his game and play it the way we play our systems.”

Tatar said he was informed that he would be entering the lineup on Sunday night.

“It’s not always easy to jump in the lineup, but that’s what everybody waits for,” said Tatar. “That is what I’ve been waiting for. To get that chance. That chance came.”

Tatar was Vegas’ big trade deadline addition after getting him from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for three draft picks. A lock for at least 20 goals since he has been a full-time player NHLer, he was expected to add a little more offense to a lineup that was already one of the higher scoring teams in the league. It has not always worked out that way and has resulted in him spending most of the playoffs as a healthy scratch. In the Western Conference Final, he drew back into the lineup in Game 2 against the Winnipeg Jets after sitting out three games and immediately made an impact by scoring the opening goal, helping the Golden Knights even the series on their way to winning four in a row to eliminate the Jets.

“It’s not easy to come into a group that’s already somehow — even if you are a young group, you are really solidified quite quick,” said Golden Knights forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

“He came in, and he had a chance to play right away, and then he didn’t play and he just kept working. Great attitude to help us when we were in tough, in the locker room, behind the scene. I always like him in the lineup. It’s always fun. He did it against Winnipeg and he helped us big time so it’s always fun to see a guy who is patient, keeps working and then suddenly it pays off.”

Gallant echoed Bellemare’s sentiments when it comes to Tatar’s attitude and how he has handled being a scratch, a role he has not been accustomed to throughout his NHL career.

“He’s been very positive, unless he’s saying something different to somebody else he’s been A-1 positive with our group of guys,” said Gallant. “The guys respond to it. Is it a tough situation? It definitely is. He’s a first class guy, I know that he wants to play, obviously he is a veteran guy, but when a coach puts a lineup in we are putting the best lineup we think is available for that series or that game and that’s what you do. You are trying to win every game.”

“There’s no egos,” Gallant added when asked about how players have been able to go in and out of the lineup all season for his team. “I don’t expect guys to be happy when they are sitting out, but it’s part of the NHL, it’s part of our game. We’re having a chance to win the Stanley Cup. We’ve had a great run here. As coaches we do the best we can. Are the decisions always right? No, they are not, but we do the best we can to try to win.”

Perron, again, is the obvious call to come out of the lineup given his production in the playoffs. In 14 games this postseason he has yet to score a goal (he does have eight assists) and has managed just 12 shots on goal. He has failed to record a shot on goal in the past two games — both games Vegas dropped in the series so far — and had a particularly tough game on Saturday night having been on the ice for all three Capitals goals.

He has failed to record a shot on goal or a point in four of the past six games.

The Golden Knights desperately need some depth scoring from their second and third lines in this series and just as they talked about before Game 3 have to cut down on the turnovers that the Capitals have been able to turn into offense.

“Just from watching we have to get back on our game, put pucks deep,” said Tatar. “Washington is capitalizing on our turnovers right now so we know we have to put it deep, have a good forecheck.

“It’s the playoffs, every game is big, so I’m trying to put aside what the series is now and we are just going to go from game-to-game.”

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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.

Ovechkin to play role of NHL ambassador in China

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Alex Ovechkin will be taking a week away from his summer break to play a different kind of role in the NHL next month.

Ovi is heading to China as the NHL’s international ambassador on the week of Aug. 4. He will travel to Bejing, China’s capital, a trip that will include the Russian superstar holding youth hockey clinics, a media tour and business development meetings.

“It is a huge honor for me to be an ambassador for the entire Washington Capitals organization and the National Hockey League for this special trip to China,” Ovechkin said in a release from the Caps. “I think it is very important to spend time to help make people all over the world see how great a game hockey is. I can’t wait to spend time with all the hockey fans there and I hope to meet young kids who will be future NHL players. I can’t wait for this trip!”

The NHL continues to try and grow the game at the international level in places traditionally not hotbeds for hockey.

China has been seeing a lot of the NHL over the past three seasons. Although no preseason games are scheduled for the 2019-20 season, the NHL has played a total of four since 2017, with the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks contesting two games in 2017-18 and the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames playing the other two prior to last season.

The Stanley Cup found its way to the country for the first time last September, as well.

“We are very excited that Alex Ovechkin will be joining us in China this summer,” said David Proper, NHL Executive Vice President of Media and International Strategy. “Alex represents the best in sports, as he epitomizes that combination of great talent, great personality and great sportsmanship. He is the perfect person to represent the NHL’s efforts to grow hockey in China.”

China, with a population of over 1.3 billion, expects to expand its participation in winter sports, including hockey, to 300 million people by 2022.


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

Report: Police say Greg Johnson’s death an apparent suicide

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DETROIT (AP) — A police report says the death of former Nashville Predators captain Greg Johnson was an apparent suicide, according to the Detroit News.

The paper said Wednesday it had obtained a Rochester Police report, and that Johnson was found by his wife shortly before 10 a.m. on July 7. A gun and a single bullet were found near him. No suicide note was left.

The Oakland County Medical Examiner declined to discuss findings from an autopsy, according to the paper.

Johnson was with Nashville for the franchise’s first season in the league. He spent the last seven years of his career with the Predators. He also played for Detroit, Pittsburgh and Chicago during his 12 years in the NHL.

The Detroit News said Johnson’s agent, Tom Laidlaw, declined to discuss the specifics surrounding the former player’s death. Johnson was 48.

PHT Morning Skate: Penguins need summer miracle again; Devils begin new chapter

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Pens need to make another mid-summer magical change. (Pensburgh)

• Maple Leafs almost certain to lose any trade involving Mitch Marner. (Editor In Leaf)

Zack Kassian to get his chance to play alongside Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl. (The Hockey Writers)

Ryan Spooner heading to Switzerland next season. (Sportsnet)

• The RFA waiting game for big-name players is the norm now, in Winnipeg and the rest of the NHL. (Winnipeg Sun)

• Each team’s worst contract heading into the 2019-20 season. (Puck Prose)

• Biggest fantasy winners thus far in the offseason. (Yahoo Sports)

• Devils begin a new chapter with additions of Jack Hughes, P.K. Subban. (NHL.com)

• Oft-Overlooked Hurricanes On the Rise. (Featurd)

• The oddsmakers are taking the Colorado Avalanche seriously, and so should you. (The Hockey News)

• NHL Network analyst believes Andre Burakovsky will score ‘a minimum’ of 20 goals next season. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

• The Nashville Predators should go all-in and trade for William Nylander. (Pred Lines)


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

Analyzing the Avalanche after Colorado re-signs J.T. Compher

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The Colorado Avalanche’s offseason continues to come into focus, even as we’re in more of a housekeeping mode, rather than a more exciting time of dramatic renovations.

Earlier, the Avalanche signed intriguing new addition Andre Burakovsky at a bargain $3.25 million rate. While I would’ve been even more excited if the Avalanche would have bought more term, it’s still a nice move, and Burakovsky’s still slated to be an RFA after this one-year re-up expires.

The medium-sized moves continued on Wednesday, with Colorado handing forward J.T. Compher an interesting four-year deal reportedly worth $3.5M per season.

Overall, it’s fairly easy to understand. Compher scored both 16 goals and assists on his way to 32 points last season, despite being limited to 66 games. He quietly logged a lot of minutes (17:29 TOI per game), and had some utility, although the Avalanche might be wise to ease some of his PK duties going forward.

You can dig deeper into certain numbers, or make some tough comparisons, and start to feel not-quite-as-good about Compher’s new contract.

After all, Compher possesses the same contract as now-former teammate Alex Kerfoot, who will carry $3.5M for four seasons with Toronto. On one hand, it’s not as though Colorado necessarily chose to keep Compher over Kerfoot; it’s very plausible that the analytics-savvy Maple Leafs wanted Kerfoot to make that Nazem KadriTyson Barrie deal work, in the first place. On the other hand, the comparisons are natural when you consider their identical deals. Comparing the two using visualizations including Evolving Hockey’s Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus (RAPM) makes this contract look less appealing:

via Evolving Hockey

Compher doesn’t need to equal or exceed Kerfoot’s value to be worth $3.5M per year to the Avalanche, though, and there’s a solid chance that they’ll be fine with this contract.

It does open up an opportunity to ponder where Colorado is, though.

The Avalanche still have a big-ticket item to re-sign, as Mikko Rantanen is one of the many RFAs heading for a big raise alongside the likes of Mitch Marner and Brayden Point. If Colorado can convince Rantanen to sign somewhere in the team-friendly range that the Carolina Hurricanes enjoy with Sebastian Aho, or the borderline insane deal the San Jose Sharks landed with Timo Meier, then Colorado would continue to look like one of the smartest people in the room.

But how many steps have the Avs taken after upsetting the Flames in Round 1 and pushing the Sharks hard in Round 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Tom Hunter of Mile High Hockey projected next season’s lineup, figuring that Compher will center a third line with two sneaky-good analytics wingers in Colin Wilson and Joonas Donskoi, while Kadri could center a second line with Tyson Jost and Andre Burakovsky around him.

Losing Kerfoot stings, but on paper, that does seem like a middle-six that could ease some of the burden for that all-world trio of Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog. It’s also plausible that the Avs could try to move different pieces around to see if one of MacKinnon or Rantanen could carry their own line, thus diversifying the Avs’ attack.

Yet, with the Central Division continuing to look like a beastly group, it’s tough to say where Colorado fits. Is this team more wild-card material, or will a boosted supporting cast push them to a new level? There’s also the possibility that things don’t work out the same way as they did in 2018-19, from that MacKinnon line slowing to maybe the goaltending falling short.

Whatever value Compher ultimately brings, along with newcomers like Burakovsky, Kadri, and Donskoi, a mild itch for something bolder remains for some of us (I blame the NBA’s run where the West is revolutionized every week, seemingly). At least Avs fans can let their imaginations run wild, as there could be some space left over, even after Rantanen gets paid:

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.