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NHL Player Media Tour 2018 Notebook

CHICAGO — After six years away, James van Riemsdyk returns to the Philadelphia Flyers after inking a five-year, $35 million contract on July 1. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2007 NHL draft spent three seasons with the team before being part a trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs that sent defenseman Luke Schenn to the Flyers.

So when it became clear that the Maple Leafs wouldn’t be re-signing the 29-year-old winger, a reunion was in the offing. In making that happen, Flyers captain Claude Giroux and fellow forward Jake Voracek put in some calls to their former teammate, hoping to lure him back.

“Didn’t really try and sell him on anything, to be honest,” said Giroux. “Was just trying to see what he thought. He had some questions about the organization and the team and the players. I was just honest with him. I told him how I really feel. I think he liked that and we were able to get him. I think he’s very excited to come back to Philly and so are we.”

van Riemsdyk scored a career high 36 goals last season and has developed into a dangerous presence in front of goal, especially on the power play He’s already comfortable playing in Philadelphia and can possibly rekindle some chemistry with Giroux depending on how head coach Dave Hakstol juggles his lines.

Coming off a season where a number of young players took steps forward and the captain had a career season, the Flyers and Giroux can’t help but be excited by the addition.

“He’s a great player in front of the net — could be on the power play or 5-on-5,” he said. “He’s a very smart hockey player. He’s a great competitor. I’ve seen him play in the playoffs and dominate a hockey game against Boston. I was very impressed. We know and he knows he has that in him and for him to come in and help us out, it’s very motivating.”

Anders Lee on extension talks, Trotz’s arrival

It’s been a bit of a busy summer for the New York Islanders. They have a new head coach, a new general manager, and lost their captain in free agency. As Lou Lamoriello took over for Garth Snow, he’s done work to try and improve upon last season’s playoff-less spring.

A number of players are entering the final year of their deals, like Anders Lee. His agent hasn’t started negotiations with Lamoriello on an extension, but the 40-goal scorer understands why talks haven’t commenced just yet.

“They’ve been in contact. They’ve worked together before,” he said. “I think everyone knows we just have other things he has to worry about right now.”

One of those ‘things’ is getting new head coach Barry Trotz settled with his new team. After being unable to come to terms on an extension after winning the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals, they parted ways and three days later he was hired by the Islanders. 

Trotz’s ability to develop a winning culture is something that has Lee very excited for the season.

“Barry’s resume speaks for itself,” he said. “Where he’s been with Nashville and Washington and where he’s taken his teams, obviously winning the Stanley Cup last year is the ultimate goal and he’s done that. His experiences and who is he as a person, from what I’ve been told, I think is going to be great for us.”

McDavid felt weight of the ‘C’

In Connor McDavid’s first season as captain of the Edmonton Oilers, they made the playoffs. There was a sense of a arrival and that with an elite level talent like McDavid, the good times finally returned.

But last season was a disaster. As McDavid played out of his mind, the Oilers won 11 fewer games and dipped 25 points from the 2016-17 season. It wasn’t just a step back, it was a plunge back to the bottom.

As the season quickly slipped from their grasp, McDavid felt the crushing disappointment.

“I think anytime you’ve got a team that doesn’t make the playoffs the captain always feels it. Everyone feels it,” said McDavid. “It doesn’t matter who you are on the team. That’s the point of the team. When you do wear the ‘C’ you feel a lot of responsibility. You take a lot on yourself. You think that there’s some sort of magic thing that needs to be said or some sort of magic thing that needs to be done, but ultimately it’s all about the team.”

This summer general manager Peter Chiarelli didn’t make any drastic changes to his roster. Tobias Rieder and Kyle Brodziak were brought in and defenseman Evan Bouchard was drafted No. 10 overall. The lack of change has the feeling that it’ll be another rough year in Edmonton. Just don’t tell that to McDavid.

“It’s kind of always been said if Peter could make a move he was going to and obviously nothing came up and that’s what we wanted, honestly,” he said. “I think everyone in the locker room believes in each other. We believe that we’re going to be a good team.”

Jack Eichel’s leadership lessons from Brian Gionta

It’s been two full seasons since the Buffalo Sabres have had a captain, but it’s a good bet that the 21-year-old Eichel will be donning the ‘C’ on a regular basis pretty soon. Taking on an extra responsibility like that won’t make the young center change anything about himself, however.

“It’s obviously a huge honor if that ever happened,” said Eichel. “There’s some good leaders on the team and there’s a good leadership group. There’s a lot of guys to rely on that make it easy for you to lead. 

“For me, it’s more or less just not changing. ‘C,’ no ‘C,’ ‘A,’ whatever. Try and be yourself, do what you do. That’s the mindset I try and take anywhere I go. Whatever I’ve done to get to my spot now, just try to be myself. Be the personality I have. But you get that obviously there’s more responsibility. You’ve got to continue to handle yourself the right way. [It’d be a] huge honor. There’s a lot of deserving guys, but it’d be cool.”

The Sabres last captain was Brian Gionta, who was there as Eichel entered the NHL in 2015. The way the veteran forward handled himself left an impression on the franchise’s young star — something that could be useful if he’s to succeed Gionta in the leadership role.

“The biggest thing with Gio was his professionalism,” Eichel said. “Gio’s the type of guy who was at the rink early every morning, he had his routine. He knew what he needed to do to prepare for practice, prepare for games, and he did every day, no matter what. Whether it was February or August or October, whatever it was, he was going to do his routine every day and prepare the same way. Big game, practice, morning skate, he prepared like a pro. 

“I was able to learn a lot about preparation, getting yourself ready, getting your body ready, doing the right things in order to be at your best.”

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SHORT SHIFTS

“Begrudgingly. They brought in a BC assistant coach, so it evens out.” – A joking New York Rangers forward and Boston College alum Chris Kreider on if he’ll be able to play for a Boston University product in David Quinn.

“It’s tough. It’s really intense. I think the biggest thing I never really understood was how much of a mental battle it is, how intense it is. You think about every little play after a game, what you could have done better, what you wish you would have done. The mental battle is something I learned a lot about something that I’m definitely better off for [experiencing].” – Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele on what he learned during the grind to reach the Western Conference Final last season.

“No, absolutely not. I think that’s the worst thing I can do. I just have to play my game and yeah, I’d like to score more and create more offense, but you also have to be good defensively.” – Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings on if he’ll change anything should he be given added responsibility in the absence of captain Henrik Zetterberg.

“I think our young guys are going to keep getting better and better. [Alex] Kerfoot, [Tyson] Jost, [J.T.] Compher, all those guys are just going to continue to develop. That’s kind of like adding players when those guys get better, it’s like adding scoring. The three of us — [Gabriel] Landeskog, me and [Mikko] Rantanen — are going to have to be really good this year. I think our goalies are set. We have [Philipp] Grubauer and [Semyon] Varlamov — that’s a great 1-2. We feel good. It’s going to be a tough division, the Central, but we’re ready.” – Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche on improvements for this season.

“He’s very repetitive with what he believes in and the system that he follows. He started at the beginning of the season with what he wanted us to do and what he wanted in our organization. He was very adamant on continuing to tell us what he wanted. He didn’t stray off if we didn’t listen, saying right away he would make sure he would beat it into us. Very intense, but at the same time very laid back guy. It’s tough to explain. He’s an awesome guy, easy to talk to and very serious when it comes to the game of hockey. He’s just your typical hard-nosed [coach], like he played; he’s that kind of coach. He’s extremely intense and his love for the game and his want to win and hate to lose attitude makes you want to win for him and have that same attitude.” – Vincent Trocheck on Florida Panthers head coach Bob Boughner.

MORE NHL MEDIA TOUR COVERAGE:
Kane, Toews ready to turn page on playoff-less 2017-18 season
Tavares hopes for ‘positive’ reception when Maple Leafs visit Isles
Taylor Hall not expecting complacency from Devils after playoff return
Eric Staal eager to stay with Wild, ready for Central Division battle
Tyler Seguin on extension talks, new Stars head coach

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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.

Flyers’ Konecny injured in chaotic game vs. Senators

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It was madness in Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon where the Flyers were able to stay hot with a 4-3 win in a brutal, chaotic game against the Ottawa Senators that featured a significant injury, fights, some trash talk, and a late cheap shot.

Let’s start with the big injury that saw Travis Konecny, the Flyers’ leading scorer, exit the game in the first period because that is where things seemed to really start devolving into chaos.

Konecny was injured when he was on the receiving end of a crushing open-ice hit from from Senators defenseman Mark Borowiecki.

 

It clearly wasn’t a hit to the head, but it was still a pretty violent collision and a significant impact. Konecny did not return after the hit, while the Flyers simply called it an “upper-body injury.”

The team said an additional update on his status will be provided on Monday. Konecny had scored his 11th goal of the season earlier in the game to give the Flyers an early 1-0 lead.

The Flyers were obviously not pleased with the fact their top producer was injured, and it resulted in a physical end to the first period that eventually saw Jakub Voracek fight Nick Paul with a minute remaining.

Those tensions carried over to the second period when Philadelphia’s Joel Farabee and Ottawa’s Jean-Gabriel Pageau separated themselves from a scrum along the boards and dropped the gloves for a fight of their own just 20 seconds into the period.

Thanks to a flukey Anthony Duclair goal in the second period, where he was able to capitalize on a bad Flyers turnover behind the net, the game was tied heading into the third period. The two teams then exchanged goals (including Duclair’s second of the game) and set the stage for Scott Laughton to score the eventual game-winner with five minutes to play in regulation. He celebrated by skating by the Senators’ bench and having some words for them.

Then, with the game in its closing seconds, Senators forward Brady Tkachuk took it upon himself to cross-check an unsuspecting Laughton in the neutral zone, drop his gloves, and then jump on top of him.

He was given a two-minute for cross-checking and a two-minute minor for roughing.

Given that the Senators were trailing by a goal and still had a chance to tie the game it is hard to call that play by Tkachuk anything other than selfish.

These two teams meet in again in two weeks in Ottawa.

Saturday’s win improves the Flyers to 12-3-4 in their past 19 games and keeps them in a top-three spot in the Metropolitan Division playoff race.

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.

What’s driving Coyotes’ fast start, and how can they maintain it?

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PITTSBURGH — The Arizona Coyotes probably deserved a better result Friday night in Pittsburgh.

A lost face-off followed by a fluke bounce, Phil Kessel missing a wide open net, and a couple of jaw-dropping saves by Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry were just enough to turn yet another solid road effort into a tough-luck 2-0 loss, dropping them one point back of the Edmonton Oilers for first place in the Pacific Division. Even with that result the Coyotes are still off to one of the best starts in franchise history (even dating back to the Winnipeg days) and have at least put themselves on solid ground in the Western Conference playoff race.

Here’s how good their start has been:

  • Their .613 points percentage as of Friday is fourth best in the Western Conference, while they have a six-point cushion between them and the group of teams outside the playoff picture. That may not seem like a huge gap in early December with still three quarters of the season remaining, but history suggests not many teams (less than 20 percent) are able to make up that sort of deficit. The odds are in their favor.
  • Their 38 points through 31 games are tied for the fourth most in the franchise’s 40-year history, and are the most since they had 41 points during the 2013-14 season (that team ended up missing the playoffs by just two points following a second-half collapse. The Western Conference was also far more competitive and top-heavy that season than it is this season).
  • They allowing just 2.26 goals per game, the second lowest total in the league.

In a lot of ways this team has been a Western Conference version of the New York Islanders. They don’t really have an offense that is going to break games open, and they don’t rate very highly in a lot of analytical areas when it comes to shot attempts or shot rates, all of which can lead to some skepticism. But like the Islanders they help make up for the lack of quantity in a couple of other key areas. Their “expected goals against” rate (via Natural Stat Trick) is in the top-10 in the league, indicating that while they give up a lot of attempts they don’t give up the type of attempts that typically turn into goals. They are one of the most disciplined and least penalized teams in the league, almost entirely eliminating the special teams battle. And the most important element? They have one of the best goaltending duos in the league in Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta.

Those two many not be household names around the league, but since being united in Arizona the list of goalies that have outperformed them can be counted on one hand. Since the start of the 2017-18 season both Raanta and Kuemper are in the top-five (among the 56 goalies with at least 50 games played) in all situations save percentage and even-strength save percentage, while both are in the top-10 in penalty kill save percentage. When a team gets that sort of goaltending a lot of flaws that might otherwise exist suddenly go away, and given that both have been able to play at such a high level for an extended period of time it’s easy to buy into it being sustainable. Even before arriving in Arizona both goalies had shown an ability to be above average goalies but were simply in positions where they were unable to get real playing time.

So how do the Coyotes build on this start and turn it into something that can extend their season into the spring?

1. Resist the urge to trade a goalie. Don’t try to to “trade from a strength to fill a weakness,” or even try to suggest it. The strength is what is literally driving the team right now. Not only that, it is almost a necessity to have two good goalies to win in the NHL these days because of how important it is to limit the starter’s workload and keep them fresh. Having two highly productive goalies signed to cap-friendly contracts through next season is a massive advantage. Take advantage of it. Keep them both and keep each them fresh by playing them each regularly. Their success isn’t a fluke.

2. Hope for a rebound from the top players. One of the most surprising aspects of their start is the trio of Phil Kessel, Clayton Keller, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson has combined for just 13 goals this season, putting them on a pace for only 34 goals over 82 games. A year ago that trio scored 55 goals. All three are currently being crushed on the shooting percentage front, and while Keller has never really been a high percentage scorer, the other two have been. Kessel has shown signs the past few games that he could be on the verge of one of his goal-scoring binges, while Ekman-Larsson has scored at least 12 goals in each of the past six seasons, at least 14 goals in five of those seasons. He is due. If those two can get their puck luck to change the offense will suddenly look a lot different (and better).

3. Get Niklas Hjalmarsson back. The other surprising element of their success has been that they have played almost the entire season without Hjalmarsson after he was injured back in October when he was hit by a shot. He is back on the ice skating, and given his original time frame is probably a couple of weeks away from returning to the lineup. It would be a significant add because Hjalmarsson is one of the team’s best defensive players. If he can return to that level it would be a significant addition to a lineup that is already one of the best teams in the league at preventing goals.

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: Another shutout for Jarry; Draisaitl puts Oilers back in first

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Three Stars

1. Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins. Another big win for the Penguins on Friday night, and they owe this one to Jarry as he recorded his second consecutive shutout and stole the show in Phil Kessel‘s first visit back to Pittsburgh as a visiting player since the offseason trade. Jarry has been getting the bulk of the starts over the past couple of weeks and is making a pretty convincing case to keep getting them as he improved his season save percentage to .942 with Friday’s win. He has stopped all 61 shots he has faced over the past two games and has won six of his past seven appearances.

2. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. Thanks to the Arizona Coyotes’ 2-0 loss in Pittsburgh, the Oilers were able to jump back ahead of them for first place in the Pacific Division with their 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings. Draisaitl was again one of the big impact players for the Oilers by factoring into both of the team’s goals. He opened the scoring in the first period by banking a shot in off of Kings defender Drew Doughty, then set up Alex Chiasson‘s game-winning goal just a few minutes later. With his two points he takes over sole possession of the league lead in the scoring race with 53 points, moving one point ahead of his teammate — and linemate — Connor McDavid, who now has 52 points. No other player in the league has more than 44 points right now.

3. Jakub Vrana, Washington Capitals. Vrana continued his hot streak — and great season — on Friday with a pair of points, including the game-winning goal, in the Capitals’ 3-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks. He now has at least one point in seven of his past nine games, including three multi-point games. His goal on Friday was already his 15th of the season and has him on pace for close to 40 goals this season.

Other notable performances from Friday

  • Shea Weber was great for the Montreal Canadiens in their 2-1 win over the New York Rangers, but he also had a painful night by taking a puck right to the face. Read all about it here.
  • Alex DeBrincat scored for the second game in a row (his seventh goal of the season) as the Blackhawks were able to get a 2-1 shootout win in New Jersey. Corey Crawford was also great in net for the Blackhawks, stopping 29 out of 30 shots throughout regulation and overtime three out of five shots in a five-round shootout.
  • Mikko Koskinen stopped 35 out of 36 shots for the Oilers in their win over the Kings.

Highlights of the Night

Nate Thompson gives the Canadiens the lead with his game-winning goal against the Rangers.

When you record consecutive shutouts you probably have a lot of big saves on your individual highlight reel, and this was probably Jarry’s best of the night on Friday against the Coyotes. This helped protect what was at the time a one-goal lead.

The Blackhawks were 2-1 shootout winners in New Jersey and it was rookie Kirby Dach scoring the winning goal in the fifth round on this slick move.

Blooper of the Night

This could have been a problem for Capitals goalie Braden Holtby as he nearly put the puck in his own net.

Factoids

  • The past two days have seen almost every game across the NHL be decided by just a single goal. The only two that have been decided by more than one goal were only decided by more because of late empty net goals. [NHL PR]
  • Claude Julien moved into a tie for sixth place on the Canadiens’ all-time coaching wins list on Friday night. [NHL PR]
  • The Oilers’ power play is one of the big reasons they are in first place in the Pacific Division so far this season. [NHL PR]

Scores

Pittsburgh Penguins 2, Arizona Coyotes 0
Montreal Canadiens 2, New York Rangers 1
Chicago Blackhawks 2, New Jersey Devils 1 (SO)
Edmonton Oilers 2, Los Angeles Kings 1
Washington Capitals 3, Anaheim Ducks 2

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.

Canadiens’ Shea Weber bloodied after blocking shot with his face (Video)

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The Montreal Canadiens picked up a hard fought (and much needed) win in New York on Friday night by knocking off the Rangers, 2-1, thanks to a late goal from Nate Thompson with a minute to play in regulation.

It was a painful win for captain Shea Weber.

He was once again a workhorse on the Canadiens’ blue line, playing a game-high 24 minutes, finishing as a plus-one, attempting five shots, and blocking five in the defensive zone. One of those blocks in the first period left him bloodied as he slid to the ice and was hit directly in the face by a shot from Rangers center Ryan Strome.

You can see the play in the video above. He somehow did not miss a shift after that play.

Weber has been one of the consistent bright spots for the Canadiens this season and is showing that he can still be a dominant, impactful player. His biggest problem the past few years has been staying healthy enough to remain in the lineup so he can make that impact. So far this season that has not been a problem. He already has 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) in the Canadiens’ first 30 games this season while posting some of the best possession numbers of his career. His 0.76 points per game average would also be the highest mark of his career.

The Canadiens’ win on Friday was only their second in their past 11 games.

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.