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John Gibson keeping Ducks afloat

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Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson did not receive a single Vezina Trophy vote from the NHL’s general managers last season, and given how well he played that result was probably one of the bigger omissions in the league’s awards voting. It is not that he should have won it, or even necessarily been a finalist, but to not get a single vote when obviously inferior goalies did was … curious.

Since becoming the Ducks’ starting goalie during the 2015-16 season Gibson has been one of the best in the business, and seems determined to have his best season yet in 2017-18. If Anaheim is going to avoid falling off the map in the Western Conference playoff picture they probably are going to need elite play from their goaltender given the early trends they have shown.

Entering the weekend the Ducks are off to a 3-0-1 start, which is pretty impressive when you consider they have been without several of the top forwards, including Corey Perry, Ondrej Kase, and Ryan Getzlaf.

Perry and Kase have yet to play and neither will be back in the lineup anytime soon, while Getzlaf has missed two games due to a groin injury. That is a lot of talent out of the lineup as all three were among the team’s top-five scorers a year ago. And the Ducks were not a great offensive team with them, finishing 18th in the league in goals scored. Take them out and it gets even worse.

Along with that lack of offense, this Ducks team also has the same calling card as every Randy Carlyle-coached team before it: They get completely dominated when it comes to the shot chart, meaning it is imperative that the goalie not only plays well, but is capable of carrying the team.

For all of the success Carlyle has had behind the bench in the NHL (and he has had a lot; winning a Stanley Cup and reaching in the Western Conference Final twice) his teams all tend to play the same way. They get outshot. Badly. No matter who is on the team, no matter what the talent level is, no matter what conference or division they are playing in, they get caved in when it comes to shots.

It was the case during his first stint in Anaheim. It was the case during his time in Toronto. It was the case as recently as last season.

It is, so far, once again the case this season.

Through four games the Ducks are last in the NHL in total shot attempt differential during 5-on-5 play. They are next-to-last in scoring chance differential. They are 25th in “high-danger” scoring chance differential. (All numbers via Natural Stat Trick.) Whether you put much stock in the analytics are not, it is hard to acknowledge that it is a winning formula to continue getting that badly outshot and outchanced over the course of a season.

Still, despite all of those shortcomings the Ducks have collected seven out of a possible eight point to start the year and have only allowed three even-strength goals (and only six goals overall).

Gibson is the single biggest reason for all of that.

As of Friday, he already posted a .955 save percentage in his first four starts. Given that two of their three wins have been by a single goal (a 1-0 win, and a 3-2 shootout win) and their only loss came in a shootout, it is not a stretch to say that if he had been even marginally worse during those first four games the Ducks’ record and early season outlook would easily be completely different at this point.

That is all probably a good indication of what to expect from the Ducks this season, especially as long as their top forwards are sidelined. In short, they are going to go as far as Gibson can carry them.

If that is the way your team is going to play, Gibson is probably one of the best options a team can have at this point. Of the 44 goalies that have appeared in at least 100 games since the start of the 2015-16 season, none of them have a higher save percentage than Gibson’s .925 mark. Despite that, he has only received a Vezina Trophy vote of any kind exactly one time, when he received a single second-place vote during the 2015-16 season when he helped the Ducks win the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals against in a season.

He will probably not have much margin for error this season, and if the Ducks keep leaning on him the way they have, and he continues to deliver, he might finally get that Vezina Trophy support he has yet to receive in his career. Maybe even more.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV 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.

WATCH LIVE: Lightning face off against Blue Jackets on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Lightning have won five straight games and have done so in dominant fashion. They’ve scored five-plus goals in four of the five wins, and have posted back-to-back shutouts, last allowing a goal in their 6-3 win over the Calgary Flames on Feb. 12. Tampa is 7-0-2 in the month of February (last regulation loss – Jan. 30 – lost 4-2 at PIT).

With 92 points, the Lightning occupy first place in the NHL, and are 15 points ahead of the Flames and San Jose Sharks (77 points) for most in the league. They’ve been in first place in the NHL since Nov. 29 and are looking to capture the Presidents’ Trophy for the first time in franchise history. They are currently on pace to win 61 games this season, which would be one shy of the NHL record (set by the Detroit Red Wings in 1995-96 – 62 wins).

Columbus beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 on the road on Saturday, their fifth win in the last six games (5-1-0 record). This stretch of winning follows a five-game losing streak from Jan. 18 – Feb. 2 (all in regulation). Sergei Bobrovsky has led the way, starting all six games (5-1-0 record) with .924 SV% and 2.17 GAA.

Artemi Panarin, who leads Columbus with 67 points, scored tiwce goals in Saturday’s win against the Blackhawks. He now has four goals in the last four games and has recorded 22 pts (11G-11A) in his last 15 games.

While Panarin leads Columbus in points, it’s Cam Atkinson that leads the team with 32 goals, his second career season with 30-plus goals. He’s got 12 points (eight goals) in his last 13 games, including three goals in the last four games, and is averaging a point per game this season (32G-23A; 55 points in 55 games this season).

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Tampa Bay Lightning at Columbus Blue Jackets
Where: Nationwide Arena
When: Monday, Feb. 18, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Lightning-Blue Jackets stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

LIGHTNING
Ondrej PalatSteven StamkosTyler Johnson
Yanni GourdeBrayden PointNikita Kucherov
Alex KillornAnthony CirelliJ.T. Miller
Adam ErneCedric PaquetteMathieu Joseph

Victor HedmanDan Girardi
Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak
Braydon CoburnMikhail Sergachev

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

BLUE JACKETS
Artemi Panarin – Pierre-Luc Dubois – Cam Atkinson
Nick FolignoBoone JennerJosh Anderson
Eric Robinson – Alexander WennbergOliver Bjorkstrand
Kole Sherwood – Riley NashLukas Sedlak

Ryan MurraySeth Jones
Zach WerenskiDavid Savard
Scott HarringtonMarkus Nutivaara

Starting goalie: Sergei Bobrovsky

John Forslund (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Patrick Sharp and Anson Carter.

Winning with Binnington: Blues goalie making most of chance

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By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

Jordan Binnington doesn’t let much get to him.

When junior goaltending coach Greg Redquest tried to put him through a post-practice skate, he came away seeing the same chill Binnington.

”He doesn’t sweat,” Redquest said. ”He’s just too cool.”

Binnington is playing cool and has made the St. Louis Blues the hottest team in the NHL. After finally getting his call-up from the minors at age 25, Binnington is 12-1-1 with four shutouts in his first 14 starts and the Blues have won 10 in a row to go from out of the race to firmly in a playoff position.

When Binnington made his first start Jan. 7, St. Louis sat dead last in the Western Conference, nine points back of a playoff spot. The Blues turned to him to make a difference. No pressure, kid.

”With a little bit of pressure comes opportunity, right?” Binnington said. ”You try to do your best to feel confident and prepared for the moment, so you just work hard off the ice and on the ice in practice, and when the moment finally comes, hopefully you’re prepared. That’s kind of how I looked at it.”

It has been a near-perfect look. Binnington has stopped 356 of 380 shots for a 1.58 goals-against average and .937 save percentage. He’s the first goalie since Curtis Sanford in 2005-06 with multiple 30-save shutouts.

That kind of play is just what the Blues needed to crawl out of a hole dug before Craig Berube replaced Mike Yeo as coach.

”He’s played really well,” Berube said. ”He’s stopped the ones he’s supposed to stop, and he’s looked really confident in net, and aggressive.”

A lack of confidence has never been the problem. Redquest, who coached Binnington for four seasons with the Ontario Hockey League’s Owen Sound Attack, said the goalie’s technique has always been on point, with the need for just a few tweaks here and there.

The mental part of the game was a work in progress. Redquest, who still works with Binnington in the summer, said if a bad goal gets in, sometimes he’d just ask about what Binnington did the previous night to get his mind off it and back on track.

Binnington hasn’t allowed many goals, but he has shown an uncanny ability to shake them off, not allowing more than four in a game so far.

”If the puck goes in, it doesn’t bother him,” Redquest said by phone Monday ”(Blues veteran goalie) Jake Allen, he plays a little bit deeper in the goal than Jordan. Jordan comes out and challenges a bit more and everything hits him, and it’s just hitting him. And he’s so patient. He won’t overplay anything.”

So what took so long for Binnington to get this chance? Mostly a numbers game, with the Blues committed long term to Allen and rotating Brian Elliott, Carter Hutton and Chad Johnson into the crease in recent years.

Binnington bided his time in the American Hockey League, competing and building a friendship with Pheonix Copley along the way. The two came to blows in a game last year but are now both in the NHL.

”I think we both understood that having that competition is healthy and it pushed us both to be better goalies and learn from each other,” said Copley, who is the Washington Capitals’ backup. ”We had a really beneficial relationship for both of us.”

Binnington earned AHL All-Star honors last year and had three shutouts in his first 16 games this season under head coach Drew Bannister and assistant Daniel Tkaczuk, whom he knew from juniors. When Johnson didn’t work out and was put on waivers, Binnington got the opportunity he had been waiting for, and fit right in with the Blues.

”That’s where your surroundings come in,” Binnington said. ”There’s good people around you that can keep you going in the right direction and believe in yourself. If the opportunity came, you want to be prepared for it, so that’s kind of what my mindset was. Thankfully, it came.”

The Blues are thankful, too. They’ve played better in front of their goalies since Berube took over, but Binnington making so many expected and unexpected saves has changed the course of St. Louis’ season.

”Obviously he’s playing outstanding,” center Ryan O'Reilly said. ”With Binner coming in with the way he’s been playing, I think it’s a spark. I think he’s coming in excited and playing with great energy. It provides a spark, for sure.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

Tarasenko’s resurgence helping Blues make their move in Western Conference

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There are a lot of factors behind the St. Louis Blues’ rapid climb up the Western Conference standings.

You should definitely start with the play of rookie goalie Jordan Binnington, who has been sensational since his call-up from the American Hockey League and helped stabilize what was a mess of a position earlier in the year.

There is also the recent play of star forward Vladimir Tarasenko who has now recorded at least a point in each of his past 12 games and 18 out of his past 20.

This recent surge has helped improve his overall season numbers to what should be his expected level of production, and now has him on pace for a very typical Vladimir Tarasenko season of around 35 goals and 70 points.

After the first three months of the season, it did not look like he was going to get there as he was off to one of the worst starts of his career with only 11 goals and 11 assists through the first 37 games.

Since then he has been exactly what you would expect Vladimir Tarasenko to be with 29 points in the 20 games that have followed, including his recent-12 game stretch where he has helped drive the Blues’ offense.

One way of looking at this season on an individual level is that it’s been incredibly streaky, and that would absolutely be correct. And it also goes back to a point I’ve made for years about elite players in the NHL — their streakiness when it comes to their point production isn’t a flaw. It’s what makes them great and such game-changers. Everybody always strives for “consistency” in the NHL, and whenever a supremely talented player puts together an unstoppable run they’re always hounded with questions like, “why can’t they do this all the time?” and “imagine if they played like this every night!”

Well, yeah. Imagine that. They would probably be the best player of all-time if they scored two or three points every single night. But that is just not a realistic goal. The players that are consistent and steady in their production — or at least somewhat consistent — are players that are, for lack of a better word, ordinary. Average. There is nothing wrong with being an “average” NHLer, of course, and it’s not a slight in any way to be called that. You’re still among the top people in the world at what you do to make it to that level. But those players are also not really capable of elevating their game to any level beyond that. The handful of players that can do that are the special ones because they make a significantly bigger impact in those six-to-10 game hot streaks than a player that just goes along recording their point or two every four or five games.

Take Tarasenko’s recent run as an example. It is not just that he has a point in 12 consecutive games that is helping the Blues. It is that six of those games (including each of the past five) have been multi-point games, including four games with three points. When an individual player records three points in a game their team wins more than 90 percent of the time. If you have three points, that means your team has at least three goals in the game and that is usually a pretty good starting point to get a win. He has probably single-handedly been the difference in at least three or four games for the Blues during this 10-game winning streak. In at least two of those three-point games the Blues were winners by two goals or less.

It is an impossible standard to expect a player to maintain that sort of pace over 82 games, especially in this era of offense.

It is always going to be a short-term burst of domination that probably gets followed by a cold streak where the points dry up.

You can live with that because those short-term bursts of domination are going to lead to more wins over the long-haul than a player that just tallies a single point on a regular schedule.

There is nothing wrong with being streaky. In the case of players like Tarasenko, it just means they are capable of elevating their game to a level few other players can and are able to carry the offense on their back for games at a time.

 

MORE: PHT’s 2019 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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.

Jagr, back from injuries, plays in Czech second-league game

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HAVIROV, Czech Republic (AP) — Jaromir Jagr is back again.

The Czech winger and 13-time NHL All-Star has recovered from a series of injuries that prevented him from playing for more than a year and appeared in a game Monday for the Kladno Knights, the hometown club he owns in the Czech Republic.

Jagr, 47, played on the top line alongside center Tomas Plekanec, another former NHL player.

He didn’t score in nearly 18 minutes but celebrated as Kladno, boosted by his presence, won 2-0 at Havirov in a Czech second-league game.

”Above all, I’m happy that I was finally able to play,” Jagr said. ”It’s not easy in my age just to train.”

Kladno, in fourth place, is seeking to reach the playoffs and qualify for the top league. It is 13 points behind first-place Jihlava but trails second-place Vsetin by three points with three more regular season games to go.

Jagr returned home after the Calgary Flames released the NHL’s second all-time leading point-scorer on Jan. 28, 2018, but he was injured in his fifth game for Kladno.

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports