Golden Knights hoping to learn from mistakes and mount Cup comeback

LAS VEGAS — Nate Schmidt put the challenge facing the Vegas Golden Knights pretty succinctly.

“There’s really no Plan B or backdoor to go to here. There’s no side entrance to get into,” he said after Thursday’s practice. “You’ve got to face this thing head on. There’s no way to do it besides fight your way out of the corner.”

The Golden Knights face the prospect of their dream first season coming to an end Thursday night in Game 5. The Washington Capitals have won three straight after dropping Game 1 and the play of both teams has been heading in opposite directions. The challenge for Vegas is to try not to look at it as having to win three in a row. Just worry about one game.

“There’s nothing to focus on the big picture. Big picture’s not there if we don’t win Game 5,” said Golden Knights forward James Neal. “If you’re looking ahead then that’s not good. I think you’ve got focus on our first period, our first shift, take it a period at a time. I know that’s said, but that’s what you’ve got to do. You can’t overlook anything. We’re prepared.”

“I’m not thinking the series, I’m just thinking [Game 5],” said forward Jonathan Marchessault. “If you start thinking we’ve got to win the next three games, sometimes it gets demoralizing. We’re going to do what we did all year. We’re just going to focus on the next game and see where it takes us.”

Vegas hasn’t been able to figure out Braden Holtby since Game 1, scoring only three times at even strength in the last three games. They also haven’t been able to find successful passing or shooting lanes, thanks to the sticks and bodies of the Capitals getting in the way. It’s just another obstacle in the way for a Golden Knights team that has faced challenges all season long and overcome them. 

This challenge, however, is of a different sort. Vegas had trailed in series only once this postseason until after Game 3, and if they’re to do what was unthinkable a year ago and win the Stanley Cup, then they need to have already lost their final game of the season. There’s no more margin for error.

“A lot of people were saying we wouldn’t win that many games this year, we wouldn’t make it to the playoffs, and we find ourselves here,” said Neal. “For sure, we have the ability to prove people wrong and we’ve done that all year. We’ve got a solid group in here. We believe in each other. The first few games I don’t think we got to our game. We didn’t play how we wanted to play. For them, they did a good job of limiting our opportunities. I think we just need to play like we did last game.”

The Golden Knights, despite the 6-2 final score, did play better in Game 4 than they did in Games 2 and 3, but it still wasn’t good enough to best the Capitals. Six of their 11 goals in this series have come from their fourth line or their defense. They need their best players to be their best players in order to have a chance at a comeback, and they need Marc-Andre Fleury to be better as well. There’s still plenty to improve upon.

“That’s something when you look back at the first four games, you realize that’s not what you want. That’s not the gameplan or the blueprint of what makes us successful,” said Schmidt. “But at the same time it shows you the blueprint of what makes us not successful. You look at what didn’t work in the game, sometimes you have to go back and rewind the tape. You can’t look at everything as being sunshine and daisies. We look at what can be adjusted with our game and then you learn from that. 

“If you can’t learn from your mistakes then you deserve what you get.”

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Guide
• Stanley Cup Final 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.

Trading Ryans: Rangers get Strome, Oilers nab Spooner

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Perhaps mid-November is the time for lateral trades and troubling injuries?

Oilers fans probably tense up whenever their team makes a trade, yet this one is more of a shoulder shrug than a forehead-slapper: Edmonton receives Ryan Spooner, while the New York Rangers get Ryan Strome.

(Hey, stop yawning.)

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that the Rangers retained $900K of Spooner’s salary (for each of the next seasons) to make the trade work; each forward now carries a $3.1 million cap hit in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

You really need to crane your neck to see the differences between Strome, 25, and Spooner, 26. Reactions have gone both ways as far as which team “won” the trade, as you might expect from a move that more or less merely shakes things up.

Plenty of people are, instead, merely enjoying just how negligible the difference is between the two forwards:

… Or using this as another opportunity to ridicule bumbling Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli, who acquired Strome in that ill-fated Jordan Eberle trade before the 2017-18 season.

As PHT’s Adam Gretz notes, this trade is mainly a reminder of past mistakes:

Chiarelli drafted Spooner during his days with the Boston Bruins, so that likely explains why he targeted the forward.

At least, that explains it beyond making a trade for the sake of making a trade.

While I’d argue that the Penguins edged the Kings by landing Tanner Pearson for Carl Hagelin, it’s most likely to be a small victory. The difference, on paper, might be even less obvious here, unless a change of scenery truly sparks one or the other. Strome’s possession stats have been better and their production has been comparable over the years. Maybe Spooner could find chemistry with Connor McDavid in a way that would allow Leon Draisaitl to play on his own line? From here, this is a marginal trade, but there’s always a chance it might be a little more fruitful than expected.

If nothing else, it could serve as a wakeup call. That sure beats the Oilers’ unfortunate tradition of trades being a kick in the gut.

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.

Tavares living up to hype for Leafs with Matthews out

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The Toronto Maple Leafs have a lot going on right now, and quite a bit of it is no good.

Auston Matthews‘ bad injury luck continues. The William Nylander contract impasse is dragging on far longer than most of us expected.

Good thing the Maple Leafs won The John Tavares Sweepstakes, then, right?

Thursday presented the latest example of that free-agent gift that keeps giving, as Tavares and the Maple Leafs beat the San Jose Sharks 5-3 in a game that was frequently filling. For some, it was a reminder that Tavares’ transition has been seamless compared to Erik Karlsson‘s growing pains with the Sharks. Such comparisons feel petty, really, when you consider just how joyous Tavares’ run has been so far with the team he rooted for (and slept on bedsheets for) as a child.

Consider that Matthews has last played on Oct. 27. Since then, Tavares has really embraced his role as the clear go-to guy for the Maple Leafs. While he was unable to generate a point in Toronto’s flat loss to the Flames in the first game following Matthews’ injury, Tavares has been trading off being electric and automatic since then.

The talented center managed to generate a point in every November game so far (five goals and five assists for 10 points). Tavares’ goal from Thursday also extended his goal streak to four games.

Sharks coach Peter DeBoer provided praise heading into that Leafs – Sharks game that ended up being prophetic.

“I just love the honesty to his game. He plays both ends of the rink, he wins battles, he goes to the dirty areas of the rink, he makes other people around him better, which you think is everybody in the NHL, but it’s not,” DeBoer said, via Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston. “That’s a short list of guys. You can put a John Tavares with almost anybody and he’s going to make a line go or make those guys better. Joe Thornton has that ability, too.

“He’s just a special player.”

Indeed, Tavares showed that he can score ugly just about as efficiently as he can set up beautiful chances.

Of course, the Maple Leafs aren’t subsisting on Tavares’ shrewd play alone. Morgan Rielly continues to put up highly impressive offensive numbers from the blueline. While the Maple Leafs’ hit-or-miss defense can sometimes hang him out to dry, Frederik Andersen builds a case as an underrated goalie, including making 42 saves against the Sharks in that 5-3 win. Kasperi Kapanen is taking advantage of a long-awaited opportunity to prove himself, and Mitch Marner has been just about as explosive as many expected when it became clear that he’d line up with Tavares. Nazem Kadri is thriving as a second-line center.

Still, Tavares stands out for his consistency and versatility.

” … He’s been a leader,” Rielly told the AP after the Maple Leafs beat the Kings 5-1 on Tuesday. “He’s been a 200-foot player. He’s been putting the puck in the net.”

With respectable-yet-unspectacular possession numbers, it’s true that Tavares stands out most for his offense (23 points, including 12 goals, three of which were game-winners).

Even so, it’s heartening to see that Tavares can carry the Maple Leafs during those stretches where their deadly one-two punch goes down to just one (or, at least, a solid but less spectacular two in Kadri).

Considering a slightly-high 16.9 shooting percentage, perhaps Tavares will cool off during the grind of an 82-game season. So far, he’s living up to the considerable hype … and, besides, Matthews might be back in time to warm things up if Tavares suffers a cold spell.

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.

Flyers’ goalie nightmare continues with Elliott injury

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Life presents few constants: death, taxes, and the Philadelphia Flyers’ goalies letting them down.

The latest nightmare comes as the Flyers announce that Brian Elliott will miss approximately two weeks with a lower-body injury. Looking at the Flyers’ schedule, it would probably be safest to assume that Elliott will miss 5-6 games, as there’s a substantial gap between Philly’s Dec. 1 game against the Penguins and their Dec. 6 contest against the Blue Jackets.

Sat, Nov. 17: vs. Tampa Bay
Wed, Nov. 21: @ Buffalo
Fri, Nov. 23: vs. New York
Sat, Nov. 24: @ Toronto
Tue, Nov. 27: vs. Ottawa
Sat, Dec. 1: @ Pittsburgh
Thu, Dec. 6: vs. Columbus

Elliott suffered his injury (or re-injury?) as Kyle Palmieri scored a wraparound goal during the Flyers’ eventual 3-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Thursday.

It’s been an up-and-down season for Elliott. Not that long ago, Elliott seemed to be getting on track, rattling off a four-game winning streak while allowing just four goals Oct. 30 – Nov. 10 (albeit with one of those victories happening in a relief appearance).

Even during these past two losses, the 33-year-old has mostly given the Flyers a chance to win, allowing two goals each time (though that Palmieri goal was the end of his Thursday night).

With Michal Neuvirth still on the shelf, the Flyers go back to what sometimes feels like an unendingly bleak situation. Calvin Pickard has been the Flyers’ go-to guy, and that hasn’t worked out well at all. While Elliott’s been merely adequate overall (.911 save percentage), Pickard’s sporting a disastrous .865 save percentage over seven games.

This isn’t the first time such woes have inspired many to wonder if the Flyers should just bite the bullet and given much-ballyhooed goalie prospect Carter Hart some NHL-level exposure, and it’s probably not going to be the last time people call for such a decision.

Like it or not, it seems like management (maybe stubbornly?) is sticking to the plan with Hart, as the Flyers instead recalled Alex Lyon from the AHL.

GM Ron Hextall has been loading up with options in net, creating an unsettlingly stark quantity over quality situation. Along with Hart and Lyon, the Flyers could also conceivably turn to Anthony Stolarz if Pickard continues to struggle … yet those goalies are struggling in their own right.

If you look at the small sample size of AHL games for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, you won’t see much to like, and Hart’s shaky play (.893 save percentage in eight games) is no exception.

Between huge goalie headaches and plenty of fans calling for the ouster of head coach Dave Hakstol, the Flyers have been awfully frustrating lately. Despite all of their talent, perhaps it’s fitting that this team currently sits at a middling 9-9-1?

The temptation would be to imagine how different things would be for the Flyers if they could actually enjoy some good goaltending but … you and Flyers fans know that story all too well.

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.

Archibald to have hearing for illegal check to head of Hartman

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Josh Archibald could be facing a suspension in the near future. The Arizona Coyotes forward will have a hearing for his illegal check to the head of Nashville Predators forward Ryan Hartman on Thursday night.

As you can tell from the video above, Archibald caught Hartman with a shoulder to the head right near the blue line. He was given a minor penalty for an illegal check to the head after the incident occurred late in the second period. Even though he’s not a repeat offender, You’d have to think that the obvious contact will result in him getting at least a one-game suspension.

After leaving the game momentarily, Hartman was able to return to the Predators bench during the third period.

Archibald has no goals, no assists and a minus-1 rating in nine games this season. The two penalty minutes he received for the high hit were his first two of the season.

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.