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The Buzzer: Kotkaniemi’s breakout game, Koskinen’s shutout, Flames’ rally

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Three Stars

1. Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets. Laine entered Thursday’s game against the Florida Panthers with just three goals and five total points in his first 12 games, and had gone five consecutive games without a point. You can now consider that slump over. Laine matched his goal total for the season entering Thursday with a hat trick performance in his home country as the Jets picked up a 4-2 win over the Panthers in Finland. Even with the slow start it was only a matter of time until Laine had a breakout game. He still managed 17 shots on goal in the previous five games and is simply too good and too talented to be held off the scoresheet for that long. Especially when he was still generating shots the way he was. Eventually they were going to start finding the back of the net for him. On Thursday afternoon they started to.

2. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Montreal Canadiens. Kotkaniemi, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 draft, scored his first two NHL goals on Thursday night to help lead the Canadiens to a 6-4 win over the Washington Capitals in a game that also saw his team set an NHL record for fastest two goals by one team. His goals were also big ones for the 2018 rookie class as now all of the top-four picks from this year (Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov, Kotkaniemi, and Brady Tkachuk) have scored at least one goal in the season following their draft year. That is something that has not happened since the 2009-10 season.

3. Mikko Koskinen, Edmonton Oilers. The Edmonton Oilers won for the fourth time in their past five games by shutting out the Chicago Blackhawks, 4-0. Drake Caggiula scored twice in the win, but backup goalie Mikko Koskinen played the best game of his brief career by stopping all 40 shots he faced. Koskinen’s addition to the Oilers roster was a bizarre one over the summer given how much they paid him, the fact they guaranteed him a roster spot, and the fact he had not played a game in the NHL since 2010-11 … and even then he only played four games. He came through in a big way on Thursday night. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, extended their current losing streak to four games.

Other notable performances from a busy night

• The Calgary Flames trailed the Colorado Avalanche by three goals entering the third period before erupting for five consecutive goals to take a 6-5 win. Among those scoring in the comeback: Elias Lindholm who has already scored nine goals for the Flames after coming over in the Dougie Hamilton trade over the summer. Free agent acquisition James Neal also scored a big goal, tying the game as part of a four-minute stretch where the Flames would score three goals.

Sergei Bobrovsky has not looked like himself yet this season but finally did on Thursday night, stopping 44 of the 45 shots he faced in a 4-1 win over the San Jose Sharks, whose six-game point streak came to an end. Before Thursday’s game the Sharks had recorded at least a point in eight of their previous nine games.

• It was another rough night for the Southern California teams as the Anaheim Ducks dropped a 3-2 shootout decision to the New York Rangers, losing for the seventh time in a row. The Kings, meanwhile, dropped a 5-2 decision to the Philadelphia Flyers and have now lost seven of their past eight games. They have scored two goals or fewer in all of the losses during that stretch.

• The Ottawa Senators snapped a four-game losing streak with a win over the Buffalo Sabres, and it was Craig Anderson playing a starring role as he stopped 46 out of 48 shots.

• Break up the … Detroit Red Wings? After going the first 10 games of the season without registering a regulation win (and only one shootout win total) the Red Wings have now three games in a row thanks to their 4-3 win over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday. All three of those wins have come in regulation.

Anton Khudobin stopped 31 shots as the Dallas Stars shut down the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs are now 2-4-0 in their past six games.

• The St. Louis Blues got a much-needed win with a 5-3 performance over the Vegas Golden Knights. The difference in the game was Oskar Sundqvist, who scored a pair of goals. That matched his career goal total entering the night (two goals in 72 career games).

Highlights of the Night

In what might have been a Stanley Cup Final preview the Nashville Predators continued to roll on Thursday night with a 4-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The play of the night was this Ryan Johansen pass to set up Roman Josi for the eventual game-winning goal.

Factoids

It was a big night for personal milestones around the NHL as Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Ron Hainsey and Buffalo Sabres forward Jason Pominville both played in their 1,000th career games on Thursday night. Both teams were on the losing end of their games, but Pominville did score a goal on his special night.

• Big win for the New York Islanders on Thursday night over the Pittsburgh Penguins, thanks in part to a tremendous showing from goalie Thomas Greiss.

• Also worth pointing out one more time: The Montreal Canadiens set an NHL record tonight for the fastest two goals scored by one team. Two seconds apart.

Scores
Winnipeg Jets 4, Florida Panthers 2
Dallas Stars 2, Toronto Maple Leafs 1
New York Islanders 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 2 (SO)
Montreal Canadiens 6, Washington Capitals 4
Ottawa Senators 4, Buffalo Sabres 2
Nashville Predators 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 1
Detroit Red Wings 4, New Jersey Devils 3
St. Louis Blues 5, Vegas Golden Knights 3
Calgary Flames 6, Colorado Avalanche 5
Edmonton Oilers 4, Chicago Blackhawks 0
New York Rangers 3, Anaheim Ducks 2 (SO)
Columbus Blue Jackets 4, San Jose Sharks 1
Philadelphia Flyers 5, Los Angeles Kings 2

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.

Ovechkin to play role of NHL ambassador in China

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Alex Ovechkin will be taking a week away from his summer break to play a different kind of role in the NHL next month.

Ovi is heading to China as the NHL’s international ambassador on the week of Aug. 4. He will travel to Bejing, China’s capital, a trip that will include the Russian superstar holding youth hockey clinics, a media tour and business development meetings.

“It is a huge honor for me to be an ambassador for the entire Washington Capitals organization and the National Hockey League for this special trip to China,” Ovechkin said in a release from the Caps. “I think it is very important to spend time to help make people all over the world see how great a game hockey is. I can’t wait to spend time with all the hockey fans there and I hope to meet young kids who will be future NHL players. I can’t wait for this trip!”

The NHL continues to try and grow the game at the international level in places traditionally not hotbeds for hockey.

China has been seeing a lot of the NHL over the past three seasons. Although no preseason games are scheduled for the 2019-20 season, the NHL has played a total of four since 2017, with the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks contesting two games in 2017-18 and the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames playing the other two prior to last season.

The Stanley Cup found its way to the country for the first time last September, as well.

“We are very excited that Alex Ovechkin will be joining us in China this summer,” said David Proper, NHL Executive Vice President of Media and International Strategy. “Alex represents the best in sports, as he epitomizes that combination of great talent, great personality and great sportsmanship. He is the perfect person to represent the NHL’s efforts to grow hockey in China.”

China, with a population of over 1.3 billion, expects to expand its participation in winter sports, including hockey, to 300 million people by 2022.


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

Report: Police say Greg Johnson’s death an apparent suicide

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DETROIT (AP) — A police report says the death of former Nashville Predators captain Greg Johnson was an apparent suicide, according to the Detroit News.

The paper said Wednesday it had obtained a Rochester Police report, and that Johnson was found by his wife shortly before 10 a.m. on July 7. A gun and a single bullet were found near him. No suicide note was left.

The Oakland County Medical Examiner declined to discuss findings from an autopsy, according to the paper.

Johnson was with Nashville for the franchise’s first season in the league. He spent the last seven years of his career with the Predators. He also played for Detroit, Pittsburgh and Chicago during his 12 years in the NHL.

The Detroit News said Johnson’s agent, Tom Laidlaw, declined to discuss the specifics surrounding the former player’s death. Johnson was 48.

PHT Morning Skate: Penguins need summer miracle again; Devils begin new chapter

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Pens need to make another mid-summer magical change. (Pensburgh)

• Maple Leafs almost certain to lose any trade involving Mitch Marner. (Editor In Leaf)

Zack Kassian to get his chance to play alongside Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl. (The Hockey Writers)

Ryan Spooner heading to Switzerland next season. (Sportsnet)

• The RFA waiting game for big-name players is the norm now, in Winnipeg and the rest of the NHL. (Winnipeg Sun)

• Each team’s worst contract heading into the 2019-20 season. (Puck Prose)

• Biggest fantasy winners thus far in the offseason. (Yahoo Sports)

• Devils begin a new chapter with additions of Jack Hughes, P.K. Subban. (NHL.com)

• Oft-Overlooked Hurricanes On the Rise. (Featurd)

• The oddsmakers are taking the Colorado Avalanche seriously, and so should you. (The Hockey News)

• NHL Network analyst believes Andre Burakovsky will score ‘a minimum’ of 20 goals next season. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

• The Nashville Predators should go all-in and trade for William Nylander. (Pred Lines)


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

Analyzing the Avalanche after Colorado re-signs J.T. Compher

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The Colorado Avalanche’s offseason continues to come into focus, even as we’re in more of a housekeeping mode, rather than a more exciting time of dramatic renovations.

Earlier, the Avalanche signed intriguing new addition Andre Burakovsky at a bargain $3.25 million rate. While I would’ve been even more excited if the Avalanche would have bought more term, it’s still a nice move, and Burakovsky’s still slated to be an RFA after this one-year re-up expires.

The medium-sized moves continued on Wednesday, with Colorado handing forward J.T. Compher an interesting four-year deal reportedly worth $3.5M per season.

Overall, it’s fairly easy to understand. Compher scored both 16 goals and assists on his way to 32 points last season, despite being limited to 66 games. He quietly logged a lot of minutes (17:29 TOI per game), and had some utility, although the Avalanche might be wise to ease some of his PK duties going forward.

You can dig deeper into certain numbers, or make some tough comparisons, and start to feel not-quite-as-good about Compher’s new contract.

After all, Compher possesses the same contract as now-former teammate Alex Kerfoot, who will carry $3.5M for four seasons with Toronto. On one hand, it’s not as though Colorado necessarily chose to keep Compher over Kerfoot; it’s very plausible that the analytics-savvy Maple Leafs wanted Kerfoot to make that Nazem KadriTyson Barrie deal work, in the first place. On the other hand, the comparisons are natural when you consider their identical deals. Comparing the two using visualizations including Evolving Hockey’s Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus (RAPM) makes this contract look less appealing:

via Evolving Hockey

Compher doesn’t need to equal or exceed Kerfoot’s value to be worth $3.5M per year to the Avalanche, though, and there’s a solid chance that they’ll be fine with this contract.

It does open up an opportunity to ponder where Colorado is, though.

The Avalanche still have a big-ticket item to re-sign, as Mikko Rantanen is one of the many RFAs heading for a big raise alongside the likes of Mitch Marner and Brayden Point. If Colorado can convince Rantanen to sign somewhere in the team-friendly range that the Carolina Hurricanes enjoy with Sebastian Aho, or the borderline insane deal the San Jose Sharks landed with Timo Meier, then Colorado would continue to look like one of the smartest people in the room.

But how many steps have the Avs taken after upsetting the Flames in Round 1 and pushing the Sharks hard in Round 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Tom Hunter of Mile High Hockey projected next season’s lineup, figuring that Compher will center a third line with two sneaky-good analytics wingers in Colin Wilson and Joonas Donskoi, while Kadri could center a second line with Tyson Jost and Andre Burakovsky around him.

Losing Kerfoot stings, but on paper, that does seem like a middle-six that could ease some of the burden for that all-world trio of Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog. It’s also plausible that the Avs could try to move different pieces around to see if one of MacKinnon or Rantanen could carry their own line, thus diversifying the Avs’ attack.

Yet, with the Central Division continuing to look like a beastly group, it’s tough to say where Colorado fits. Is this team more wild-card material, or will a boosted supporting cast push them to a new level? There’s also the possibility that things don’t work out the same way as they did in 2018-19, from that MacKinnon line slowing to maybe the goaltending falling short.

Whatever value Compher ultimately brings, along with newcomers like Burakovsky, Kadri, and Donskoi, a mild itch for something bolder remains for some of us (I blame the NBA’s run where the West is revolutionized every week, seemingly). At least Avs fans can let their imaginations run wild, as there could be some space left over, even after Rantanen gets paid:

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.