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Maple Leafs should be NHL’s best offensive team

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Toronto Maple Leafs were already one of the NHL’s most dynamic offensive hockey teams.

Even though they missed Auston Matthews, their best players, for 20 games last season, they still finished as the third-highest scoring team in the league with 270 goals. Not only will they — hopefully — be getting a full season out of Matthews in 2018-19, but they also went into free agency and snagged John Tavares to add to a roster that is already loaded.

It is not out of the question to think that this could be the best offensive team in hockey this season, something that the Maple Leafs have rarely had in their existence. It’s been two decades (1998-99) since the Maple Leafs finished as the NHL’s leading goal-scoring team, and it’s something that has only happened once in the post-Original Six era. Even during the Original Six era you have to go all the way back to the 1940s to find a Maple Leafs team that scored the most goals in hockey.

This team is capable of pacing the league.

Just look at what they have at their disposal going into the season. It is an embarrassment of riches at forward.

[Maple Leafs Day: 2017-18 Review | Under Pressure | Breakthrough | Three Questions]

— In Matthews, Tavares, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Nazem Kadri the Maple Leafs have five of the top-70 players in points-per-game over the past two seasons. No other team in the league has more than four players in the top-70. All of those players will be age 28 or younger on opening night, while Matthews, Nylander, and Marner are all just now entering what should be their peak offensive years in the NHL. Those three were Toronto’s top point-producers this past season and not one of them had celebrated their 22nd birthday yet. It is not a stretch to think that all three of those players could improve on what they did this past season and be even better.

Patrick Marleau may be 39 years old and closer to the end of his career than his prime, but he has still been a lock for at least 25 goals and 45 points over the past four years. He scored 27 goals (one of six players on the roster to score at least 20) during the 2017-18 season and was awesome (four goals in seven games) in the playoffs. He is still an excellent player.

— Along with the established, front-line, All-Star level talent, the Maple Leafs still have a collection of younger, cheaper players that can complement their top players on the scoresheet. Zach Hyman and Connor Brown are both capable of 15-20 goals for a combined salary cap hit of less than $5 million over the next two years. Kasperi Kapanen, one of the key pieces in the Phil Kessel trade from three years ago, showed signs of being an impact player last season.

In short, there really isn’t much of a weakness anywhere in the forward lines, while they also jettisoned probably the two weakest links offensively in Leo Komarov and Matt Martin this summer.

There are a lot of teams at the top of the NHL that have superstar talents and strong depth (Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Washington, Winnipeg) but Toronto is really the only one that still has its most significant and impactful core players still in the prime of their careers, or just entering their prime with still having room to grow.

There is massive potential here for what this team could be capable of offensively and on any given night five or six goals (or more) is certainly possible. Will it result in a Stanley Cup this year or in future years? Odds are probably against them (that is just the nature of sports when it comes to betting one team against the field), but there may not be a more exciting team anywhere else in the league.

 

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.

Islanders-Panthers stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Friday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Islanders and Panthers. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Islanders-Panthers Game 4 stream at 12 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Panthers scored two goals in the third period and fought off a late push by the Islanders to avoid elimination and force a Game 4. Sergei Bobrovsky stepped up in net and made 20 saves just one day after allowing four goals on 34 shots in a 4-2 loss in Game 2.

Only seven times out of 57 has a team forced Game 5 after trailing 2-0 in a best-of-five. The only team of those seven to complete the comeback was the Islanders, who defeated the Capitals in a 1985 series.

The Panthers did have three separate three-plus game winning streaks this season (3, 3, 6). Florida has not won a playoff series since 1996 – the longest active drought in the NHL.

WHAT: New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Friday, August 7, 12 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Mike Tirico, Eddie Olczyk, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Islanders-Panthers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers (NYI leads series 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Islanders 2, Panthers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Islanders 4, Panthers 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Panthers 3, Islanders 2 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Penguins turn to Tristan Jarry in net for critical Game 4 vs. Canadiens

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Mike Sullivan wouldn’t say why, but he has decided to start Tristan Jarry in goal as the Penguins face elimination in Game 4 Friday vs. Montreal (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream)

The Penguins head coach, while stressing he has “complete trust and confidence in both of our guys,” has made the change with Pittsburgh down 2-1 in their best-of-five series. The Canadiens scored three times in the final 30 minutes of the game to move a win away from advancing.

Jarry’s last start came March 8, a 6-2 win over the Hurricanes. This will be his NHL postseason debut.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

There were plenty of arguments that Jarry should have been the No. 1 from the beginning, but Sullivan went with experience. Murray, who backstopped the Penguins to consecutive Stanley Cup titles in 2016 and 2017, has struggled in the series. He’s posted an .899 even strength save percentage, putting him 16th among goalies with at least 60 minutes played at 5-on-5, per Natural Stat Trick.

It’s now Jarry’s turn to try and help the Penguins force a Game 5 on Saturday.

“He’s much more mature in his daily approach every day,” Sullivan said. “His work habits in practice have been terrific all year and consistent. I think those types of habits transfer to a game environment. Tristan deserves a lot of credit for how hard he’s worked on his game and where he’s at today. He’s a real good goalie.”

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens (MTL leads 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens 3, Penguins 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Penguins 3, Canadiens 1 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Canadiens 4, Penguins 3 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins*

*if necessary

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

————

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.

NHL Return to Play: Round-robin standings, scenarios

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While the 16 teams in the qualifying round play for the right to move on, the No. 1 seeds in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference are still up for grabs in the round-robin format of the NHL’s return to play.

The round-robin schedule resumes on Saturday with a pair of games (Lightning vs. Flyers and Golden Knights vs. Avalanche) and here we take a look at the impact those games can have on the standings.

Below is a look at the current round-robin standings and everything at stake on Saturday.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Current standings (tiebreaker is regular-season points percentage)

Tampa Bay Lightning (2-0-0, 4 points)
Philadelphia Flyers (2-0-0, 4 points)
Washington Capitals (0-1-1, 1 point)
Boston Bruins (0-2-0, 0 points)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers 4, Bruins 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3
:
Lightning 3, Capitals 2 (SO) (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5:
Lightning 3, Bruins 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6:
Flyers 3, Capitals 1 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 8:
Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9:
Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD

• Winner of TB/PHI will be #1 seed; the loser will be #2
• Winner of BOS/WSH will be #3 seed; the loser will be #4

• Carolina will face either Boston or Washington in First Round.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Standings (tiebreaker is regular-season points percentage)

Colorado Avalanche (2-0-0, 4 points)
Vegas Golden Knights (2-0-0, 4 points)
St. Louis Blues (0-2-0, 0 points)
Dallas Stars (0-2-0, 0 points)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Avalanche 2, Blues 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Golden Knights 4, Stars 3 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Avalanche 4, Stars 0
Thursday, Aug. 6: Golden Knights 6, Blues 4 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 8: Golden Knights vs. Avalanche, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Stars vs. Blues, TBD

• Winner of COL/VGK will be #1 seed; the loser will be #2
• Winner of STL/DAL will be #3 seed; the loser will be #4

MORE:
• 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers 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.

The Wraparound: Six NHL teams face elimination on Friday

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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2020 NHL Return to Play. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

• The NHL Bubble Wrap has your nightly roundup of all the postseason action.

• Sheldon Keefe was not pleased with the way the Maple Leafs played Thursday night.

• The Jets joined the Rangers in heading home from their bubble after losing to Calgary in Game 4.

There are six games on the NHL slate Friday, and all of them could end with handshakes … or fist/elbow bumps in this age of coronavirus. Beginning at 12 p.m. ET with Islanders-Panthers and ending at 10:45 p.m. ET with Canucks-Wild, the First Round picture could become much clearer if some of these series conclude.

According to the NHL, only one day in league history has featured more than six elimination games. On April 13, 1985, the Rangers, Blues, Red Wings, and Kings all saw their seasons end, while the Sabres, Islanders, and Flames kept their playoff hopes alive in the best-of-five format. (The Islanders won the first of three straight to complete a comeback from 0-2 down in the series against Washington.)

One year later, the Nordiques, Bruins, Islanders, Blackhawks, Canucks, and Jets were part of a record-setting day. On April 12, 1986 those six teams were eliminated, the highest number of series to end in a single day in NHL history.

Today, two series that would have a quick turnaround for a Game 5 are Canadiens-Penguins and Blackhawks-Oilers, who would finish out their matchups on Saturday should the Penguins and Oilers win. The other four series would finish up Sunday if the Panthers, Predators, Maple Leafs, and Wild win.

NHL GAMES TODAY

Game 4: Islanders vs. Panthers, 12 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream – (NYI lead 2-1): The Panthers scored two goals in the third period and fought off a late push by the Islanders to avoid elimination and force a Game 4. After receiving just four power plays through the first two games of the series, the Panthers earned five in Game 3. Florida capitalized on their opportunities by converting twice with the man- advantage (2/5). The Panthers were successful on the PK as well, killing off all three of the Islanders power plays. Florida has not won a playoff series since 1996 – the longest active drought in the NHL.

Game 4: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; live look-in stream – (ARZ leads 2-1): Will we see Pekka Rinne with the Predators’ season on the line? Perhaps. “It’s going to be tough decision,” said John Hynes. “The good part is you can’t go wrong with either guy. Both of them give us a chance to win. … It’s not a decision you take lightly.” Darcy Kuemper, meanwhile, has been solid in net for Arizona, posting a .923 even strength save percentage through three games.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Game 4: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream – (MTL leads 2-1): Jeff Petry scored from a sharp angle by banking it off Matt Murray’s helmet early in the third period, which proved to be the game-winner once again in this series for the Habs. The Penguins has now lost eight of their last nine playoff games dating back to the 2018 Second Round.

Game 4: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 6:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream – (CHI leads 2-1): Trailing 3-2 with under six minutes to go in regulation, the Blackhawks tied the game on rookie Matthew Highmore’s goal and then captain Jonathan Toews scored his second goal of the game with 1:16 remaining in the third period which gave Chicago the comeback win. Mikko Koskinen got the nod in Game 3 for the second straight outing, letting in four goals on 25 shots. Game 2 was Koskinen’s first career postseason start after his relief effort of Mike Smith in Game 1 was Koskinen’s playoff debut. Dave Tippett has not announced who will start Game 4.

Game 4: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN; live look-in stream – (CBJ leads 2-1): Pierre-Luc Dubois completed Columbus’ comeback with an overtime goal to finish off his hat trick. The win pushed the Blue Jackets to the verge of a second straight postseason with a series victory. Prior to the 2019 playoffs, the franchise had not won a series.

Game 4: Canucks vs. Wild, 10:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream – (VAN leads 2-1): Vancouver could end its playoff series win drought with one more victory over Minnesota. Having not closed out a series since 2011, the Canucks shutout the Wild 3-0 on Thursday to inch closer to the First Round.

[2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule]

SATURDAY‘S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Round-robin: Golden Knights vs. Avalanche, TBD – NBCSN
Round-robin: Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD – NBCSN
Game 5: Canadiens vs. Penguins, TBD* – NBCSN
Game 5: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, TBD* – NBCSN
*if necessary

Round-robin standings (ties broken by regular-season points percentage)

EAST
Lightning (2-0-0, 4 points)
Flyers (2-0-0, 4 points)
Capitals (0-1-1, 1 point)
Bruins (0-2-0, 0 points)

WEST
Avalanche (2-0-0, 4 points)
Golden Knights (2-0-0, 4 points)
Blues (0-2-0, 0 points)
Stars (0-2-0, 0 points)

PHT’s 2020 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Eastern Conference top seed round-robin preview
Penguins vs. Canadiens
Islanders vs. Panthers
Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets

Western Conference top seed round-robin preview
Oilers vs. Blackhawks
Predators vs. Coyotes
Wild vs. Canucks