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How worried should Avs be about five-game skid?

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The biggest story of the Winnipeg Jets’ 5-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche was the dominant play of Blake Wheeler, who generated a career-high five points. (Stay tuned for more on Wheeler in tonight’s Buzzer.)

Five was a sobering number for the Avalanche beyond Wheeler’s tremendous game, though. With this loss, the Avalanche have now dropped five straight defeats, slipping to 7-6-3.

Once again, it seems like the Avalanche are mirroring their Eastern Conference cousins (and long-ago Stanley Cup Final opponents) in the New Jersey Devils.

Both teams rode MVP-quality performances from Taylor Hall and Nathan MacKinnon, managing to shock the hockey world with appearances in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Each squad were expected to come back down to reality in 2018-19, yet stormed off to strong starts. And now it seems like gravity is pulling each team down.

[Read up about New Jersey’s tough stretch here.]

Perhaps taking a deeper look at the Avalanche’s season will give us sense of how worried they should be.

The top line and everyone else

While the deadly trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog failed to generate a point in Friday’s loss to the Jets, this bumpy stretch isn’t on them. Granted, Wheeler did accomplish the rare task of making MacKinnon look silly in collecting his 400th assist:

Regardless, it’s telling that there are only two other skaters who are in the double digits in points (Tyson Barrie with 12, Alexander Kerfoot with 11), and Barrie is a defenseman who is frequently on the ice with that big three.

Breaking up that top line might be too much to ask of Jared Bednar, but one way or another, the Avalanche could really use more secondary scoring.

Goalies becoming human

The Avalanche’s hot start didn’t just come down to that outrageous first line.

Semyon Varlamov began his contract year on a tear, only allowing 13 goals during eight October appearances, sporting an elite .950 save percentage. While Varlamov made some tough stops before ultimately succumbing to the Jets’ deadly attack on Friday, allowing four goals against Winnipeg means that he’s given up 13 goals in three November contests, the same total he yielded during that unsustainable start.

Speaking of unsustainable, quite a few numbers seemed to indicate that the Avalanche were due for regression. Heading into this loss, Natural Stat Trick listed Colorado’s 9.6 shooting percentage at even-strength as the sixth-highest in the NHL, while their PDO (a stat that’s helpful shorthand for luck) ranking fifth at 1.021.

Calming context

To be fair to the Avalanche, they haven’t been getting routed in the same way that the Devils have.

Even Friday’s 5-2 loss was close at times, as Colorado decreased Winnipeg’s leads to 2-1 and 3-2 in the third period before the Jets pulled away.

Four of this young team’s five consecutive losses have come on the road, and the Avalanche have played eight of their last 11 games away from home. Their opponents haven’t been cupcakes, either. While the Flames and Wild have talent but have been hit-or-miss, Colorado fell to a surprisingly feisty Canucks squad, lost to the red-hot Predators, and then those imposing Jets.

A harsher critic would wave away all of those details as mere excuses, and it’s not such a tough schedule that the Avs deserve a free pass. Nonetheless, it provides some context and solidifies the notion that Colorado shouldn’t get too bent out of shape about this stretch.

***

Long story short, the Avalanche weren’t as strong as their 6-1-2 start indicated, nor are they as rudderless as a five-game losing streak might imply.

The truth is somewhere in the middle, and that should be fine for a very young, fast team that played way beyond expectations last season (not to mention a franchise that owns the Ottawa Senators’ potentially lucrative 2019 first-round pick).

Now, will the Avalanche be competitive enough to earn a playoff spot despite playing in the loaded Central Division and the unfriendly West? Check back after a few more cold and hot streaks.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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 Buzzer: Vatrano helps Panthers win sixth in a row; Dodgeball ‘Storm Surge’

Vatrano hat trick Panthers six in a row Buzzer
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Three Stars

 1. Frank Vatrano, Florida Panthers

The Lightning understandably drew a ton of attention for their rise up the rankings. Should we give their in-state neighbors some love, too? Consider the Panthers’ winning run, which cued up nicely with Joel Quenneville’s return to Chicago:

  • The Panthers keep overcoming mostly hit-or-miss (and sometimes hit by injuries) goaltending by scoring, a lot. Tuesday’s 4-3 win against the Blackhawks marks Florida’s sixth win in a row. They’ve scored at least four goals in every game during that streak.
  • The Panthers’ strong play extends beyond this streak. Florida carried a strong 13-4-0 run in its last 17 games.
  • They closed off a three-game road trip, all with wins. They return with another three-game road trip (so technically, it’s six in a row on the road). If they stand strong after this stretch, it would be quite a testament to what Coach Q & Co. are building.

Vatrano caught fire during this six-game winning streak. Tuesday represents the peak of that run, as the winger generated his second NHL hat trick. Vatrano also extended his point streak to five games (five goals, four assists for nine points).

He showed flashes of brilliance in Boston, and has largely converted that into a solid niche with Florida. Vatrano quietly scored 24 goals and 39 points last season. Tuesday’s outburst places Vatrano at 14 goals and 27 points for 2019-20.

Florida needed all three of Vatrano’s goals, as his third ended up being the game-winner. The Panthers were up as much as 3-0 and 4-1, so Chicago fought back, but not enough.

Count Mike Hoffman as one of the other Panthers who are scoring up a storm.

2. Josh Bailey/Thomas Greiss, New York Islanders

The Rangers generated a massive 42-18 shots on goal advantage on Tuesday, but the Islanders held on for a 4-2 win. Getting outchanced like that remains a cause for concern, but Griess bailed the Isles out with 40 saves.

(Quick thought: is it possible Barry Trotz needs to loosen up when the Islanders hold leads? They lost after coughing up a big one against Washington, and almost invited the Rangers to creep back in on Tuesday.)

Bailey generated three points (1G, 2A), so maybe you’d call him the bigger star over Greiss?

3. Teuvo Teravainen, Carolina Hurricanes

Justin WIlliams continues to make an early impact for Carolina. After producing the shootout-deciding goal in his return, Williams fired in two goals on Tuesday. Not bad, considering his modest 11:45 time on ice.

Teravainen gets the overall edge, though. Like Bailey, Teravainen scored a goal and two assists for three points. The shifty Finn is backing up last season’s almost point-per-game play (76 points in 82 GP), with similar results (48 points in 50 GP).

Andrei Svechnikov demands a mention of his own. The splendid sophomore collected two assists, placing Svechnikov close behind Teravainen with 45 points in 50 GP.

Kreider replaces Panarin at All-Star Game

The Rangers played without Artemi Panarin thanks to an injury. It appears that they’ll have a different All-Star Game representative, as Chris Kreider will replace him.

Another fun Storm Surge

If you can block a shot, you can dodge a ball?

Feisty Scheifele

The Jets are struggling, and thus Mark Scheifele is taking no guff.

Factoids

Scores

BOS 3 – VGK 2
NYI 4 – NYR 2
CAR 4 – WPG 1
PHI 3 – PIT 0
FLA 4 – CHI 3

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 blank Penguins, keep pace in playoff race

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The Flyers need to make the most of each game to stay in the playoff race. Philadelphia’s 3-0 win against the Penguins wasn’t pretty — except where it needed to be.

Flyers hang in the playoff race

Actually, from a defensive standpoint, it was pristine. Brian Elliott only needed to make 19 saves for his first shutout of 2019-20. The Flyers asserted overall, generating a 30-19 shots on goal advantage.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin managed just three SOG in this one. Both teams eye the All-Star break, so maybe there was the hockey equivalent of “Senioritis.” Philly hit the books enough to get the shutout, though.

An empty-net goal exaggerated the score, but 3-0 felt fitting for how well Philadelphia played. Jakub Voracek and James van Riemsdyk scored all of the goals the Flyers needed, while Justin Braun iced it with the ENG.

The Flyers improved their record to 27-17-6 (60 standings points in 50 games played). The bad news is that, if the playoffs began today, the Flyers would be out. The better news is that Philly didn’t lose ground in what could be tight races for the final East wild-card spots. The Hurricanes won their Tuesday game, so Philly risked losing ground:

Flyers playoff race
via NHL.com

Flyers, Penguins have been playing well lately

Again, the Penguins failed to impress in this one. They were the schoolkids staring at the clock at the end of class.

The Flyers earned this win, even if it was the equivalent to providing a boring lecture (or clogging passing lanes). Alain Vigneault’s group won four of its last five games.

Overall, the Penguins have been loading up points. This loss ended a two-game winning streak, and Pittsburgh is now 6-2-0 in its last eight.

The Penguins and Flyers meet again in Pittsburgh when their schedules resume. Maybe they’ll have to share reports about how they spent their All-Star breaks/summer vacations?

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.

Blackhawks welcome back Quenneville; celebrate Kane’s 1,000th point

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The Panthers are playing in Chicago on Tuesday, which means the Blackhawks got a chance to welcome back Joel Quenneville. Coach Q enjoyed an added reason to smile, as the team also honored Patrick Kane hitting the 1,000-point plateau.

The Blackhawks shared some Quenneville stats in welcoming him back and remembering the good times:

  • Chicago made nine playoff appearances under Coach Q, winning 76 postseason contests. Oh yeah, they also won three Stanley Cups with Quenneville. Sort of relevant too.
  • Quenneville clearly enjoyed himself in celebrating the victories, in the locker room and during parades.
  • He yelled more than a bit, as the video captured.

Tough to blame Quenneville for being all smiles, right?

Again, the Blackhawks celebrated Kane’s milestone as well:

Not enough #CoachQcontent for you? NBC Sports Chicago’s Charlie Roumeliotis caught up with Quenneville for this Q&A.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Flyers host Penguins on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins. 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 Penguins travel to Philadelphia to take on the Flyers in the second of four meetings between the two clubs this season. The Pens dominated the first meeting on home ice back on Oct. 29, defeating their cross-state rival, 7-1. Sidney Crosby tallied a goal and two assists, while Matt Murray stopped 29 of 30 shots to secure the victory.

These teams will meet Tuesday night in Philly and then again 10 days later in Pittsburgh on Jan. 31 as part of a home and home series that bookends both the All-Star weekend as well as both teams bye weeks.

Pittsburgh is coming off a 4-3 win at home over the defending Eastern Conference champion Bruins on Sunday afternoon. Matt Murray surrendered two goals on the first three shots that he faced and was jeered by the home crowd. David Pastrnak then increased the lead to three with just under five minutes to play in the opening period by netting his league-leading 37th tally of the season, although Jack Johnson inadvertently redirected the puck into his own net. Dominik Simon cut the lead to two 1:27 later on a nice pass from Sidney Crosby from behind the and then Crosby added another helper just 33 seconds into the second period on a pretty between-the- legs pass to Teddy Blueger. Jack Johnson (shorthanded) and Bryan Rust each scored in the third period to help claim the comeback win.

The Flyers continued their winning ways at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night, defeating the Kings 4-1. All-Star Travis Konecny recorded two goals to help pace Philly, while Brian Elliott stopped 34 of 35 shots to capture his 11th win of the season.

After losing to the Canadiens last Thursday, Alain Vigneault switched up the lines Saturday against Los Angeles. Claude Giroux was flanked by James van Riemsdyk and Konecny and the line shakeup appeared to be a success. The Alphabet Soup line, commonly known as JVR, G and TK, respectively, combined to total seven points, while van Riemsdyk tallied his second three-point game of the season and snapped a 12-game goal drought in the 4-1 win.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers
WHERE: Wells Fargo Center
WHEN: Tuesday, Jan. 21, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Flyers-Penguins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

FLYERS
Joel FarabeeSean CouturierJakub Voracek
James van Riemsdyk – Claude Giroux – Travis Konecny
Scott LaughtonKevin HayesNicolas Aube-Kubel
German Rubtsov – Connor BunnamanTyler Pitlick

Ivan ProvorovMatt Niskanen
Travis SanheimPhilippe Myers
Robert HaggJustin Braun

Starting goalie: Brian Elliott

PENGUINS
Dominik Simon – Sidney Crosby – Patric Hornqvist
Jared McCannEvgeni Malkin – Bryan Rust
Zach Aston-Reese – Teddy Blueger – Brandon Tanev
Alex GalchenyukAndrew Agozzino – Joseph Blandisi

Jack Johnson – Kris Letang
Marcus PetterssonJohn Marino
Juuso RiikolaChad Ruhwedel

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

Gord Miller, Mike Milbury and AJ Mleczko will have the call from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa. Pre-game coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET, hosted by Kathryn Tappen and analysts Keith Jones and Ben Lovejoy.