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Kovalchuk hasn’t cured Kings’ power play yet

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The general consensus was that, while age might catch up to 35-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk during his return to the NHL, his scoring touch would at least pay dividends for the Los Angeles Kings’ power play.

The good news is that Kovalchuk has been a gem at even strength, firing a team-leading 21 shots on goal (3.5 per game, up from his last Devils season SOG average of 3.32), generating four points in six contests. He’s been glued to the puck at times, and while his shot is dangerous, Kovalchuk also boasts the vision to make passes like this ridiculous dish to Alex Iafallo:

While Kovalchuk seems like a quick study alongside Anze Kopitar on the Kings’ top line, Los Angeles’ power play has been as stale as Cartman bleating “Let’s Go Kings!”

Somehow, the combination of Kovalchuk, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, and (fill in the blank, really) hasn’t delivered on the power play yet in 2018-19, suffering through a brutal 0-for-21 start.

Seriously though, shouldn’t that quarter power at least an above-average on its own merit? Kovalchuk’s shot ranks as one of the deadliest (and most accurate) of his generation, yet he isn’t the only forward who could pull the trigger from “Ovechkin’s office.” Jeff Carter could conceivably fit that bill at times, too; during his time with the Kings, 48 of his 157 goals came on the man advantage. Combine Carter and Kovalchuk with Doughty – whose offensive game seemed liberated last season – and the Kings should at least be dangerous from the perspective of right-handed shots.

Kopitar (a left-handed shooter) is a fantastic scorer in his own regard, yet he’s not the one-timer threat that Carter or Kovalchuk is, so maybe the missing piece of the puzzle is finding a left-handed bomber.

Maybe Tanner Pearson would be the right fit. Perhaps the Kings could buck the four-forward, one-defenseman trend by adding Dion Phaneuf‘s shot to the mix? Perhaps Tyler Toffoli, another right-handed shot, would instead be the better solution merely by adding more talent?

Those are all interesting questions to explore, and Kings coach John Stevens would be wise to tinker with different setups. Keeping a cool head might be the real key, and Drew Doughty admitted to some frustration even before Los Angeles went 0-for-3 in a 4-1 loss to Toronto.

“I don’t want to say we’re ‘playing scared’ out there, because we’re not playing scared, but we’re overthinking it. Just keep things simple, get pucks to the net,” Doughty said, via LA Kings Insider’s Jon Rosen. “I’m even going out there – and I’ve never thought this way in my life – and I’m thinking, ‘if we don’t score here, we failed.’ You’re only supposed to succeed on the power play 20, 25-percent of the time. If you look at it that way, you don’t expect to score a goal every single time, but you expect to get momentum every single time.”

Some of the stats back up Doughty’s belief that the Kings might be overthinking things on the power play.

As you can see from this breakdown from The Point, the Los Angeles power play has struggled with the easier-said-than-done basics of setting things up. They haven’t had great success entering the zone or possessing the puck during these opportunities. The Kings might want even more shots from Carter and Kovalchuk, although each forward averages at least one power-play shot per game so far.

An optimist would say that those things will improve as this team gets more familiar with Kovalchuk (and gets Carter back in full swing after missing a lot of time last season). A pessimist might wonder if the Kings’ lack of foot speed and aging core might make for some transition struggles.

It’s worth noting that the Kings are no strangers to starting cold when it comes to 5-on-4 play. Los Angeles began last season on an 0-for-16 drought before rattling off a 3-for-3 night, according to Rosen. Even the best power play units endure a cold streak or two.

Even still, a productive power play could very well sustain the Kings while Jonathan Quick is week-to-week with an injury. If there’s slippage at even-strength, getting things to an optimal level might even make the difference between making or missing the playoffs.

Considering where Kovalchuk, Carter, Kopitar, and Doughty are in their careers, it’s probably too much to ask the Kings’ power play to rival a unit as menacing as that of the Penguins, Capitals, Flyers, or Maple Leafs. They still need to get it right, though, and might need that group to move the needle.

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.

The Playoff Buzzer: Two series headed to Game 7 after Jones, Marchand star for respective teams

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  • Brad Marchand had three points to help the Boston Bruins force a Game 7 on Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Martin Jones made 58 saves and Tomas Hertl scored shorthanded in double overtime to also set a Game 7 date Tuesday between the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights. 

Bruins 4, Maple Leafs 2 (Series tied 3-3)

The Maple Leafs had a chance to rid themselves of their demons when it comes to the Bruins. Instead, they’ll have to face them head on in Game 7 for the third time in six years on Tuesday. Brad Marchand had a three-point game, including two goals, as the Bruins ensured TD Garden will see at least one more game this season. The Maple Leafs have two Game 7s to the Bruins since 2013. It will either be a hat trick for Boston or redemption for Toronto on Tuesday night.

Sharks 2, Golden Knights 1 [2OT] (Series tied 3-3)

An all-time heroic performance by a goalie that spurned a tired team to victory. These aren’t stories that are commonly written in the annals of hockey history, but Martin Jones produced something special and Tomas Hertl obliged his goalie, scoring a shorty in double overtime in one of the craziest games in this playoffs.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three stars

1. Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks

Something about 58 saves over four-and-a-half periods of hockey. Jones should be shrouded with love and gifts by his teammates after giving them every reason to forge ahead and find a winner when the Sharks looked dead tired.

Jones set a franchise record with those 58 saves in one of the greatest goaltending performances in years. Jones made 88 saves over Game 5 and Game 6 to help pull San Jose back from being 3-1 down in the series to now have a chance to close it out in Game 7 on Tuesday. It’s remarkable, given Jones was yanked in two of the first four games and gave up six in another.

2. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins

Three points for hockey’s favorite pest/superstar. Marchand scored off a faceoff in the first period to tie the game 1-1 and then drove the final dagger to force Game 7 on an empty netter with less than two minutes to go.

3. Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks

Someone needed to be a hero at the other end of the ice while Jones was playing the role in San Jose’s zone. Who knew it would come on shorthanded?

Whatever it was, Hertl found the energy to will a wrist shot past Marc-Andre Fleury with the Sharks down a man after a slashing call on Barclay Goodrow around the midway point of the second overtime period.

Highlight of the night

How could it be anything other than a Game 6 double-overtime, shorthanded game-winning goal?

Factoids of the night

Monday’s games

Game 6: Capitals at Hurricanes (WSH leads 3-2), 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live Stream)
Game 6: Predators at Stars (DAL leads 3-2), 8:30 p.m. ET, CNBC (Live Stream)


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

Jones stops 58, Hertl scores shorthanded in double OT as Sharks force Game 7 vs. Golden Knights

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Martin Jones wouldn’t face the media following a Game 4 benching following a disastrous first period.

The official story from the San Jose Sharks’ public relations team was that the couldn’t find the embattled goaltender. This was hardly surprising after Jones had been chased twice in the first four games of the series, including Game 4 after two goals on seven shots led to his benching.

However long Jones was lost for, he emerged as the starter for Game 5 and began what would become a mini redemption tour, one that will make a stop in Game 7 on Tuesday after the Sharks battle back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Vegas Golden Knights, winning Game 6 on Sunday night 2-1 in double overtime at T-Mobile Arena.

And what theatrics he had to make getting there, stopping 58 shots total to set a new franchise record in any game in their history, and a shorthanded snipe by Tomas Hertl just when it looks like Vegas might finally breach Jones’ defenses.

Part of sticking with Jones came down to not having a better alternative. Aaron Dell, San Jose’s backup, fared no better between the pipes as Mark Stone et al crushed the Sharks.

Vegas, of course, knows a thing or two about incredible goaltending — it carried them to the Stanley Cup Final last season. On Sunday, it obstructed them from taking another step toward hockey’s holy grail.

The Sharks really had no business being in a tie game when the clock read zeroes after three periods. Jones made it possible.

Jones has worn a couple hats in this series. He’s a big reason why the Sharks found themselves trailing 3-1 in the series. He allowed a whopping 11 goals on 54 shots between Game 2 and Game 4, a save percentage that is almost unfathomable.

Somewhere between his disappearance after Game 4 and being located in time for Game 5, Jones had some sort of epiphany. Horrible regular-season save percentage be damned, he was going to show everyone.

And he has.

Jones made 30 saves while facing elimination in Game 5 a couple of days ago to pull a game back for the Sharks. On Sunday, Jones had to be sharp again, stopping 17 shots in each of the second and third periods as the Sharks were wildly outplayed.

Somehow Hertl found the oomph needed to work Shea Theodore, sniping a wrister from the top of the left circle.

As crazy as this series has been, it gets more nutzo knowing that there’s yet to be a lead change through six games. The Sharks are also 35-0 this season when allowing two goals or fewer. Vegas set a new record for shots on goal in a game with 59. They had 119 shot attempts, which is all sorts of madness.

And it all sets up for a brilliant Tuesday night where the Sharks and Golden Knights will join the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs for a Game 7 extravaganza.

The hockey world can hardly wait.


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

Marchand, Bruins top Maple Leafs to force Game 7

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We will have at least one Game 7 in Round 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Boston Bruins were able to avoid elimination and pushed their series against the Toronto Maple Leafs to a decisive seventh game with a rock solid 4-2 win on Sunday afternoon.

Brad Marchand was the big offensive star for the Bruins, finishing with a pair of goals and an assist in the win.

His power play goal at the 11:23 mark of the first period came just two minutes after the Maple Leafs had scored to taken an early lead and proved to be a turning point in the game.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Torey Krug scored another power play goal just a few minutes later to give the Bruins the lead, and from that point on they dominated for much of the day.

At one point Toronto went more than nine minutes without registering a shot on goal and spent most of the second period stuck in its own zone defending a relentless Bruins forecheck that seemed to be winning every battle and dictating the pace of the game.

The Bruins were able to eventually pad their lead in the second period when Jake DeBrusk scored on a beautiful 2-on-2 rush with David Krejci to give them a two-goal advantage.

That goal would prove to be the game-winner as Auston Matthews was able to bring the Maple Leafs to within one mid-way through the third period, but they were never able to get the equalizer despite a flurry of chances late in the game.

Marchand added an empty-net goal, his second goal of the game, to secure the win.

While special teams played a huge role on Sunday (the Bruins scored two power play goals; the Maple Leafs’ power play was shut out) it would be oversimplifying it to say that was the only difference in the game. The reality is that Boston was superior team in all situations and was dominating Toronto from territorial standpoint all afternoon. After two periods the Maple Leafs were attempting only 32 percent of the even-strength shot attempts and rarely tested Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask.

Had it not been for a handful of highlight reel saves by Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen this game could have easily gotten out of hand in the Bruins’ favor.

Now the Maple Leafs find themselves in a situation where they have to head back to Boston to play a Game 7 for the second year in a row. If they are going to flip the script from a year ago, they are going to need a significantly better performance than the one they had on Sunday.

Game 7 of the Bruins-Maple Leafs series will take place on Tuesday night in Boston.

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.

Burns, Giordano, Hedman are 2019 Norris Trophy finalists

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NHL awards season rolls on with Sunday’s announcement of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy, which is handed out annually to the defense player that demonstrates the greatest all-around ability at the position throughout the entire season.

The three finalists for the award this year are Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames, Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks, and Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Hedman and Burns have won the award the past two seasons, while Giordano is a finalist for the first time in his career. He has finished in the top-10 of the voting three times. Before this season sixth was the highest he ever finished.

The Norris Trophy is named after former Detroit Red Wings owner James E. Norris and has been handed out annually since the 1952-53 season. Red Kelly was the first player to win it, while Bobby Orr won it an NHL record eight times during his career.

The winner will be announced on June 19 (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN) at the 2019 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The case for Giordano: Probably the favorite to win the award for much of the season due to his dominance at both ends of the rink. The 35-year-old Giordano had a career year in Calgary that saw him play a shutdown defensive game on the top pairing for the best regular season team in the Western Conference, while also finishing with a career-best 74 points in 78 games. Among defenders that logged at least 1,000 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time, Giordano finished in the top-five in shot attempt differential, scoring chance differential, and goal differential (all via Natural Stat Trick). He is trying to become the first Flames defender to ever win the award.

The case for Burns: Simply the best and most productive blueliner in the NHL this season offensively. Burns appeared in all 82 games for the fifth year in a row, logged more than 25 minutes of ice-time per game and finished with 83 total points. He not only finished as the top-scoring blue-liner in the NHL this season, he was the only defender to average more than a point-per-game and just the fourth to do so since 1995-96 (minimum 70 games played), joining a list that includes only Erik Karlsson, Mike Green, and Nicklas Lidstrom. He won the award during the 2015-16 season and is trying to become just the 14th player to win it multiple times.

The case for Hedman: The reigning Norris Trophy winner, Hedman was limited to just 70 games this season due to injury but still finds himself in the top-three of the voting due to his consistently brilliant play. When he was on the ice, he was once again the driving force for one of the league’s best teams, helping the Lightning tie the NHL record for most regular season wins. Hedman played more than 22 minutes per night and scored 12 goals, making it the sixth year in a row he scored at least 10 goals in a season. He is trying to become the first defender since Nicklas Lidstrom to win the Norris Trophy in back-to-back seasons. This is his third consecutive year as a finalist for the award.

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.