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Why It Clicked: NHLers explain their career seasons

September is here and opening night of the 2018-19 NHL season is three weeks away, which means everything resets. What happened last season doesn’t matter and players’ sole focus now is to try and look forward and either build off 2017-18 or completely forget it in some cases.

At the NHL Player Media Tour in Chicago last week, Pro Hockey Talk spoke to four players who enter this season coming off career years offensively. We wanted to know from them why it all came together last season.

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers: 34 goals, 68 assists, 102 points

A huge reason why Giroux had the year that he did was that he was attached to the hip of Sean Couturier. Moving to the wing, the Flyers captain spent over 80 percent of his time at even strength with Couturier, per Dobber Hockey, which resulted in both forwards posting offensive bests.

“I think it was a little bit of everything,” he said. “Being able to go on the wing and have a new position… at first I was a little uncomfortable, but after a few preseason games and regular season games you get in a rhythm. Being able to play with Coots, he’s a very smart player. We just had that chemistry going.”

It was a competitive year for the Hart Trophy, and while a case could have been made for Giroux winning MVP, he ended up finishing fourth in the voting by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils: 39 goals, 54 assists, 93 points

The Devils returned to the postseason for the first time in six years, thanks heavily in part to Hall carrying the team on his back during the second half. Fully comfortable in his new settings, the 26-year-old forward recorded points on a regular basis, with his play resulting in the franchise being able to tout its first Hart Trophy winner.

[Hall not expecting complacency from Devils]

A newfound partnership with the 2017 No. 1 overall pick helped and there was likely some motivation to continue sticking it to the Edmonton Oilers’ brass, who dealt him away in a surprise trade in 2016 — a decision that Hall said made him feel “slighted.”

“We added a lot more talent to our team and we became a team that really played fast and really played tenacious,” Hall said last week. “I think that my game meshed perfectly with the team and [I] found some really good chemistry with Nico [Hischier] and then from there, I don’t know if a 26-game point streak is ever going to happen again. It was just one of those things that happened. As far as being a successful player, a successful offensive player, I have no doubt that I can do that [this season] for the Devils. I’m excited to see what happens.”

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: 39 goals, 58 assists, 97 points

When you’re good friends with Sidney Crosby and spend your summers working out with one of the NHL’s best, you tend to pick up a thing or two. For MacKinnon, it was only a matter of time before he took the next step in his development following back-to-back 50-point seasons. With some better talent around him on a line with Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, 2018-19 was his year.

It all paid off as MacKinnon finished second in the Hart voting behind Hall as he helped the Avalanche back into the postseason.

“Experience. Just being my fifth year in the league, I got more comfortable with myself and my game,” he said. “It was all mental. I might have gotten a little bit better with my physical tools but nothing too drastic for the jump ahead. It was more mental.”

Vincent Trocheck, Florida Panthers: 31 goals, 44 assists, 75 points

The one constant for Trocheck for most of last season was Jonathan Huberdeau, who would score 27 goals. Spending a lot of time next to Huberdeau, Trocheck would take advantage of a bump in ice time and not pass up many opportunities to shoot en route to personal bests offensively.

The Pittsburgh native would also make good use of power play time, leading the team with 13 PPGs and 27 points with the man advantage.

“There was a lot of opportunity last year. I think a lot of it has to do with that,” Trocheck said. “The way the team was playing the first half of the year, I kind of had to take the onus on myself to take that extra step. And there’s a few of us, [Aleksander] Barkov, Huberdeau, guys like that, who stepped it up as well offensively. It was just a matter of clicking with each other, and I think there was a lot more chemistry.”

MORE: NHL Player Media Tour 2018 Notebook

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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.

The Buzzer: Kucherov, DeBrincat each hit fivers; Thornton turns back the clock

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Three stars

1. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

I mean, what is there to say about Kucherov that hasn’t already been said?

Kucherov was in fine form again on Monday, scoring twice and adding three assists in a five-point effort that left him one-point shy of 100 on the season. He’s played 60 games now.

The point totals are insane. He seems to be a lock for the Art Ross, and likely the Hart, too. The only real question is what that final total will be in 22 games’ time? With assists like these…

2. Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks

DeBrincat match Kucherov’s five-point total with a hat trick and two assists in a wild 8-7 win for the Blackhawks against the Ottawa Senators.

In just his second year in the NHL, DeBrincat has 32 goals and 60 points in 60 games this season, surpassing his 28-goal, 52-point totals from his rookie season a year ago.

He has six goals and 12 points in his past six games now.

The Blackhawks are now just one point back of a playoff spot.

3. Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks

Semyon Varlamov had a shutout, but 39-year-old Thornton grabbed his first hat trick since 2010 so he gets here by default.

It was Oct. 27, 2010, against the New Jersey Devils, precisely, when Thornton last bludged the twine three times. There was no beard then, no gray hairs either. Just Jumbo Joe, only eight years younger.

Thornton turned back the clock in Monday’s 6-5 overtime loss to the Bruins. It won’t be as sweet, especially after how the Sharks ended up losing, but it was impressive nonetheless.

Highlights of the night

Hands of Kucherov:

McAvoy’s winner:

Factoids

Scores

Flames 5, Coyotes 2
Lightning 5, Blue Jackets 1
Blackhawks 8, Senators 7
Avalanche 3, Golden Knights 0
Bruins 6, Sharks 5 (OT)
Capitals 3, Kings 2


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

Bruins win after forcing overtime on controversial third-period goal

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Add the Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks to Stanley Cup Final matchups that would be epic.

This game was great and ridiculous in so many ways.

The Bruins led 4-2 at one point, trailed 5-4 in the third after going over 20 minutes without a shot on goal, tied the game on a goal that shouldn’t have counted and then won 6-5 in overtime to rub it all in the faces of the San Jose Sharks on NBCSN on Monday.

Pete DeBoer coached his 800th game on Monday and it appeared he was headed for a nice win to cap it off. But he quickly turned incensed with 1:49 left in the third period when the Bruins tied the game 5-5.

The goal was a clear high stick from Chris Wagner but the referees chose not to review the play, effectively sending the game to overtime.

The goal flustered the Sharks.

In overtime, Evander Kane was heading for a clear cut breakaway when the net behind Tuukka Rask was found to be off its moorings. The play was halted, further frustrating San Jose (even though replays show it was Kane who dislodged it earlier in his shift).

And then Charlie McAvoy drove home the final dagger with 1:01 left on the OT clock.

The ending was so crazy that we haven’t even gotten to Joe Thornton and his hat trick.

Yes, one of the NHL’s elder statesmen potted his first treble since Oct. 27, 2010, when his beard was merely stubble and all one color.

Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? Nope. Even at 39, Thornton continues to be a special player.

The Bruins rolled in SAP Center in San Jose riding a five-game winning streak and a 10-game point streak and looked like they were heading, easily at first, to a season-long sixth straight win.

They led 3-0 in the first period (and it could have been four if not for this save by Marc-Edouard Vlasic — which may have not actually been a save at all) before Thornton clawed one back with three seconds remaining in the frame.

Jumbo Joe’s first sparked the Sharks out of the intermission and Joe Pavelski reduced the deficit to one with his 32nd on the power play. The Bruins answered four minutes later through Jake DeBrusk. With a 4-2 lead, the Bruins’ sticks fell silent.

For the next 20-plus minutes, it was San Jose who dictated the play and all of the shots.

By the time the Bruins had their first shot on goal in the third period, the game was tied. A few moments later, Thornton tallied his hat trick and the Sharks led 5-4.

The Sharks dropped just their second game in their past nine, but the loss keeps them one point back of the Calgary Flames for the top spot in the Pacific Division.

The Bruins, meanwhile, tighten their grip on second place in the Atlantic Divison. They now lead the Toronto Maple Leafs by three points, although Toronto has two games in hand.


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

Blackhawks, Senators combine for 15 goals in thriller

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Fifteen total goals.

Four goalies used.

Twenty-three skaters with at least a point.

No, this wasn’t the aftermath of a seven-game series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Instead, it was a Monday night sizzler between the Chicago Blackhawks and visiting Ottawa Senators — a wild and wacky affair that, when the dust settled, saw the Blackhawks emerge with an 8-7 victory.

The game had five goals combined within the first 7:55 of the opening period. By the time the 17:46 mark came, there were nine goals scored, and there was 12 lamps lighted just after the halfway point of the game.

Here’s a quick summary:

1st period:

  • OTT – Ryan – 2:06
  • OTT – Balcers – 2:40
  • CHI – DeBrincat – 3:54
  • CHI – DeBrincat  – 5:07
  • OTT – White – 7:55
  • CHI – Kane – 12:36
  • CHI – Strome – 13:22
  • CHI – Saad – 14:53
  • OTT – Stone – 17:46

2nd period

  • OTT – White – 1:32
  • CHI – DeBrincat – 8:19
  • CHI – Forsling – 10:31

3rd period

  • CHI – Toews – 3:51
  • OTT – Chabot – 9:01
  • OTT – Chabot – 14:43

And here’s the full breakdown from the NHL game sheet.

Alex DeBrincat‘s night ended with a hat trick and five points while Dylan Strome and Patrick Kane each had three-point efforts for the Blackhawks.

Colin White had a three-point night for the Senators while Thomas Chabot scored twice as Ottawa nearly came back in the third.

Collin Delia lasted just 7:55 after allowing three goals on 10 shots. Cam Ward replaced him, allowing four on 28 for Chicago.

Anders Nilsson didn’t fare much better, lasting 13:22 after giving up four goals on 12 shots. Craig Anderson came off the bench and allowed four on 30 shots in relief.

Chicago shot at a 19 percent success rate, edging out Ottawa’s 18.4 shooting percentage in the game.

The puck dropped in the game at 7:38 CT and the final horn didn’t sound until 10:11.


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

Sharks’ Vlasic makes wild goal-line save

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The difference between a goal and a save can come down to mere millimeters sometimes.

This one, however, came down to a razor’s edge.

The Boston Bruins came within less than of scoring a goal in the first period of their game against the San Jose Sharks on NBCSN on Monday when Charlie McAvoy‘s point shot flirted with the edge of the goal line at the 7:32 mark.

The puck appeared to teeter on the goal line before Marc-Edouard Vlasic swatted out of the net. You be the judge on the above video evidence. It’s so incredibly close.

To the referee’s credit, he immediately waved no goal, a testament to his hawkish eyesight. He was right. Video review determined that the puck, somehow, did not cross the line.

The game continued until the 10:13 mark before the play was reviewed.

The call didn’t seem to faze the Bruins, who scored three straight and led 3-1 after the first period.


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