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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.

Flyers, Blackhawks, Sabres and Lightning to Europe in ’19-20

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By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

Jakub Voracek was psyched at the mere suggestion the Philadelphia Flyers might play an NHL game in his native Czech Republic.

”I’m not going to lie to you, it would be great,” Voracek said with a smile. ”Obviously to play an NHL game in your home country, it’d be awesome.”

Voracek will get that chance next season when the Flyers open the regular season against the Chicago Blackhawks in Prague on Oct. 4. The NHL on Thursday announced that matchup and two games between the Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning in Stockholm in November as part of its now-annual Global Series.

It’s the third consecutive year the NHL is staging regular-season games in Europe and eighth overall. This will be Philadelphia’s first appearance as part of the series.

The games in Stockholm on Nov. 8-9 should feature a handful of Swedes, including Sabres 2018 top pick Rasmus Dahlin and 2018 Lightning Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman.

”Yes!” was how Dahlin described his first reaction to learning the news.

”I was so happy. I wanted to have it, but I wasn’t expecting it in my second year,” the 18-year-old following a 4-2 loss to Toronto.

”It’s great for me, but I also think it’s going to be amazing for my family and friends, too, to be able to see a live NHL game,” Dahlin said. ”And me playing there, a lot of them will never have a chance to see me play hockey.”

Dahlin noted it could also be a homecoming for several teammates in a Sabres organization stocked with Swedish-born players. Goalie Linus Ullmark and Johan Larsson are from Sweden, as are minor-league prospects and Victor Olofsson, Rasmus Asplund and Lawrence Pilut. Forward Alexander Nylander was born in Canada, but has represented Sweden on the international stage.

”It’s so fun to share it with other Swedes,” Dahlin said. ”It’s probably the best thing that could happen.”

The Sabres opened the 2011-12 season playing Anaheim at Helsinki, Finland, and then Los Angeles at Berlin, Germany.

This season, the New Jersey Devils and Edmonton Oilers opened the regular season in Gothenburg, Sweden, and the Florida Panthers and Winnipeg Jets played twice in Helsinki.

Like the Devils and Oilers, the Blackhawks and Flyers will finish training camp in Europe and play an exhibition game against a local team. The Blackhawks will go to Germany and face Eisbaren Berlin on Sept. 29, and the Flyers will go to Switzerland and face HC Lausanne on Sept. 30.

The NHL is also expected to have more exhibition games in China, but that matchup has not yet been announced.

AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow in Buffalo, New York, contributed to this report.

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

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

The Buzzer: Vasilevskiy endures 58 shots, still wins; Hellebuyck gets first shutout

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Three stars

1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

Vasilevskiy will still be stopping pucks when he goes to sleep tonight.

The Washington Capitals fired 58 shots in the direction of the young Russian superstar netminder. He stopped 54, which was enough (and more than should have been required) in a 5-4 overtime win.

Vasilevskiy is well on his way to winning the Vezina this season, and Wednesday was just another brilliant performance in what’s been a season full of them.

2. Loui Eriksson, Vancouver Canucks

To be fair, Bo Horvat, Tanner Pearson or Alex Edler could be here, too. But Eriksson’s the one with the four-point night. The other three each had three-point nights, so let’s give it to Loui.

The Canucks had a 5-0 lead in the third period before the Ottawa Senators scored four unanswered to claw their way back into the game. Eriksson provided an assist on Horvat’s 6-4 goal and then scored the 7-4 marker to put the game out of reach.

Eriksson’s season isn’t much to write home about, but he had a solid night on Wednesday.

3. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets

A Vezina runner up last season, Hellebuyck’s season hasn’t mirrored that this time around. He’s been solid lately, despite a tough start to the year, and getting his first shutout of the season is a monkey off his back.

Resting Hellebuyck is something the Jets are doing in the last couple of weeks here. He didn’t play Monday and won’t play against the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday, either, with the Jets electing to save him for a pivotal matchup against the Nashville Predators in Winnipeg on Saturday night.

Highlights of the night

This passing is unfair:

One-hopper to perfection:

Pretty tip on this one:

Don’t give Victor Hedman all day:

Factoids

Scores

Maple Leafs 4, Sabres 2
Lightning 5, Capitals 4 (OT)
Canucks 7, Senators 4
Jets 3, Ducks 0


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

Jets’ Hellebuyck earns first shutout of the season vs. Ducks

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The Winnipeg Jets have fallen victim of the bad-team bug a few times this season.

They lost twice to the Ottawa Senators inside one week earlier this year, twice to the Colorado Avalanche in the same time frame and once to the Arizona Coyotes, who weren’t quite yet on the run they’re now in February.

So coming into this road trip late in the season, where they’d play the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks in two of the three games, there was a reason to be worried they’d get caught in the trap.

The good news for the team is that hasn’t been the case this time out. They beat Los Angeles on Monday and put together a 3-0 win against the Ducks on NBCSN on Wednesday Night Hockey for their fourth straight win after a 29-save shutout from Connor Hellebuyck, his first of the season.

Winnipeg is now three points up on the second-place Nashville Predators with a game in hand and a big meeting with their rivals on Saturday back in Winnipeg — a game that could decide the division if Winnipeg can get the win.

First, however, they’ll have to play the streaking Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night in Sin City. For the most part, they didn’t expend too much energy in their Wednesday win, so there should still be some gas left in the tank.

Hellebuyck’s is unlikely to start against Vegas, with the Jets looking like they’ll rest their No. 1 for Saturday’s pivotal big game against the Predators, but he had a relatively easy night. Laurent Brossoit, Winnipeg’s’ exceptional backup, should get the call.

Winnipeg’s defense has been decimated down the stretch, with no Dustin Byfuglien, no Josh Morrissey and now no Nathan Beaulieu, a trade deadline acquisition that was thrust into a top-pairing role. Beaulieu missed the game because of an undisclosed injury, making an already thin blue line that much thinner.

Given all their injuries on the back end, the shutout performance by the team is remarkable, even against the Ducks. Winnipeg is slated to get Big Buff and Morrissey back in time for the playoffs, which is critical if they’re to make a deep run once again.

Kyle Connor has a goal and an assist for the second straight game for the Jets. The sophomore has 12 points in his past 14 games.

The Ducks, who came into the game winners of six of their past night, seemed more interested in pestering the Jets rather than playing hockey against them. They didn’t give up six first period goals this time around, or lose 9-3. So that was an improvement over their last meeting.

Like many nights this season, this wasn’t Anaheim’s. If nothing else, the loss helps their lottery chances. All the winning they’ve been doing lately hasn’t helped, however.


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

Canucks’ Pettersson sets franchise rookie record for points

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Elias Pettersson has been a revelation in Vancouver this season, a source of hope for long-suffering Canucks fans who haven’t had much to cheer about in recent years.

Petterson notched an assist on Markus Granlund‘s second-period goal and that moved him past the great Pavel Bure for the team’s rookie points record with his 61st point in what will likely end in a Calder-winning season for the young rookie.

Pettersson added another assist later in the period. He’ll surely extend that record before seasons’ end. He’s currently on 27 goals and 63 points in 63 games. He’d likely be closer to 80 at this point if not for an ugly hit early on in the season and another injury right after the New Year.

Pettersson is the player the Canucks are going to build around at the moment, and they have some solid young talent already around him with the likes of Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and others.

Vancouver could be a scary team in a few years, and Pettersson will be leading that charge.

For now, they have one of the NHL’s brightest young players who should bring back a shiny piece of hardware to British Columbia come June.


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