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Sabres storm back to extend Penguins’ early season misery

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PITTSBURGH — These aren’t the Buffalo Sabres you have come to know over the past seven years.

These also are not the Pittsburgh Penguins you have come to know, either.

The two teams continued on their early season paths — which are going in completely opposite directions — on Monday night as the Sabres stormed back and erased a three-goal second period deficit to pick up a 5-4 overtime win on a Jack Eichel goal, leaving the Penguins stunned and still searching for answers.

For the Sabres, it continues what has been the team’s best start in close to a decade, extending their current winning streak to six games and giving them a 10-2-2 record in their past 14 games. Everything is clicking for them right now, from new acquisitions like Jeff Skinner stepping in and making a massive impact on the top line, to new starting goalie Carter Hutton giving the team capable goaltending every night.

[Related: The Sabres are good]

Hutton did not have a spectacular game on Monday overall, but he still made some huge saves early in the game to keep his team in it. He also played a huge factor on the penalty kill to help kill off a two-man advantage in the second period when the team was already trailing by three goals.

Once they killed off that penalty, Zach Bogosian scored to cut the deficit in half.

From that point on the Sabres completely took over the game and absolutely manhandled the Penguins in their own zone for the final 25 minutes.

“I think obviously there is that desperation in our game there in the third,” said Eichel. “We’ve been in that spot before. We’ve been a resilient bunch. There is that belief in the room every time we go out there we can make a push and find a way to get a point or two. We definitely want to work on our starts, but it’s great to see the way the team sticks together. It’s a credit to all the guys in the room to stick with it even when things don’t go our way.”

“There is a bit of confidence now because we’ve done it a few times,” Eichel continued. “I think it’s a trust and a belief in each other that the next guy is going to get the job done and set you up for your next shift. We’re a pretty tight bunch for how many new guys have come into this team and we’re doing it for each other. Everyone goes out there and doesn’t want to let the guy next to you down.”

While things are going wonderfully for the Sabres right now things for the Penguins are … well …  bad.

How bad? Look at it this way: They are left trying to find silver linings after their past two games. Those games — a 6-4 loss in Ottawa where they mounted a late — and ultimately futile — third period rally, and an overtime loss to Buffalo on home ice in which they had a 4-1 lead (while getting a 29-second two-man advantage) with 15 minutes to play in the second period.

For a team that was winning Stanley Cups just a couple of years ago and entered the season with a roster it thought was capable of winning another one, that is an astonishing and sudden slide.

Coach Mike Sullivan is trying to remain positive.

“On a couple of the goals they score, we make a couple of mistakes and they end up in the back of our net,” said Sullivan.  “Just seems like the way it is going right now. There was a lot to like about our game and our effort. We certainly have to clean up some areas defensively but there was certainly a lot to like in this game as well.

There definitely was a lot to like about the first 25 minutes, especially when it came to the team finding some even-strength scoring from players they need to get it from.

Derick Brassard, who has battled injuries and inconsistent play since arriving before last season’s trade deadline, opened the scoring with a much-needed goal, while recent acquisition Tanner Pearson scored a goal and recorded an assist. Those two points exceeded his total for the season between the Kings and Penguins entering the game.

From there, everything went south.

Defensive breakdowns, an inability to smoothly and efficiently exit the zone, no sustained offensive zone pressure, and more sub-par goaltending (this time from Casey DeSmith) turned what looked to be a much-needed win into yet another loss.

That is now nine losses in their past 10 games as the Penguins are tied with the New Jersey Devils for the lowest point total in the Eastern Conference.

Sullivan was asked if it is too early for things to be getting “desperate.”

[Related: NHL’s most impactful offseason additions]

“I don’t think it’s ever too early,”said Sullivan. “Every game is important, every point is important, and we’re scratching and clawing through it anyway we can. We are well aware of the position we are in. None of us are happy about it. We have a proud group. I do think we are getting better in a lot of areas. We’re not getting the results. We very well could have in a number of games, tonight being one of them. We have to clean up some areas I know we are capable of being better, we have to make sure we do not get down ourselves, and we keep the right attitude and the right energy around the rink so we can pull together.”

How they are able to start getting the results and how they can pull it together still seems like a mystery, but they better start figuring it out.

Captain Sidney Crosby is getting closer to a return, but there is only so much he can do. He also does not fix the issues on the blue line, in the goal crease, or in the bottom-six (though his return does push Brassard back down to the third-line role he was acquired to play in).

With Monday’s loss they now find themselves five points behind the Washington Capitals for the third playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division and seven points behind the second wild card team in the Eastern Conference. That is not an insignificant gap, even if it is still November. No team five or more points out of a playoff spot in 2017-18 on Nov. 20 (which is where the Penguins will sit on Tuesday) managed to make the playoffs.

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.

The Buzzer: Skinner ends Sabres’ skid, Ovi’s hat trick, Oilers win again

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Three Stars

1. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals.  What else can you say about him at this point? He scored three goals in the Washington Capitals’ 6-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night and now leads the league with 25 goals this season. Read about all of it here, including how he has never scored this many goals 30 games into any season.

2. Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres. The Buffalo Sabres snapped their five-game losing streak on Tuesday night with a come-from-behind win against the Los Angeles Kings. It was yet another one-goal game that needed overtime, and it was yet another game where Jeff Skinner came through for them when they needed it. Fourteen of the Sabres’ past 16 games have been decided by just one goal, with 10 of them going to overtime. With that many close games the bounces are not always going to go your way, and the Sabres have experienced both the highs and lows of that randomness during this recent stretch with a 10-game winning streak and a five-game losing streak mixed in. On Tuesday, though, things went the Sabres’ way. Skinner’s goal was his already his 21st goal of the season and his fourth game-winning goal. Three of those game-winning goals have come in overtime, with all of three of those coming since Nov. 23 when this recent stretch of close games began.

3. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers. The Edmonton Oilers won again on Tuesday night and officially moved back into a playoff spot thanks to their 6-4 victory over the Colorado Avalanche. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was one of the stars of the night for them with three points, including a pair of goals. The Oilers are now 8-2-1 under new coach Ken Hitchcock.

Other notable performances from Tuesday

William Nylander is officially on the stat sheet for the Toronto Maple Leafs this season thanks to a pair of assists in their 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

— The Colorado Avalanche did not get the win on Tuesday night, but Mikko Rantanen became the first player in the NHL this season to hit the 50-point mark with a four-point effort. He and Nathan MacKinnon, first and second in the points race, are still chasing some rare feats this season.

— Elsewhere in that game Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl both had three points to continue their outstanding play in the Edmonton Oilers win.

Brad Marchand, playing alongside David Pastrnak and David Krejci on the Boston Bruins’ top line, scored two goals in their 4-3 win over the Arizona Coyotes. All three players on the top line had three points in the win.

Kyle Connor played a big role for the Winnipeg Jets in their win over the Chicago Blackhawks, scoring two more goals to continue his strong season.

Highlights of the Night

It was another bad performance with yet another slow start by the Chicago Blackhawks but at least Cam Ward made one of the best saves of the season.

Charlie Coyle helped lead the Minnesota Wild to a much-needed 7-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens by making Shea Weber look really bad on this play.

The Boston Bruins needed Tuukka Rask to make a big save at the buzzer to secure their win over the Arizona Coyotes.

The Vancouver Canucks rallied late for the win in Columbus with Jake Virtanen‘s goal being the game-winner. Just make sure you get it at the net and good things might happen for you.

For some highlights of the weird check out the glass randomly shattering after a fight in Colorado, and the St. Louis Blues having a goal disallowed on the weirdest play of the season so far.

Factoids

Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have been a huge part of the Chicago Blackhawks’ success over the years, and they made some history on Tuesday night. That was probably the highlight of the night for the team in their 6-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets.

Alex Ovechkin is a force that will not slow down.

Big start to the season for Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba.

Scores

Boston Bruins 4, Arizona Coyotes 3

Buffalo Sabres 4, Los Angeles Kings 3 (OT)

Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Carolina Hurricanes 1

Vancouver Canucks 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2

Washington Capitals 6, Detroit Red Wings 2

St. Louis Blues 4, Florida Panthers 3

Nashville Predators 3, Ottawa Senators 1

Minnesota Wild 7, Montreal Canadiens 1

Winnipeg Jets 6, Chicago Blackhawks 4

Edmonton Oilers 6, Colorado Avalanche 4

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.

Glass smacking fan in Colorado accidentally shatters penalty box glass

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The NHL certainly had its share of weird moments on Tuesday night.

In St. Louis, we had the Blues have a goal disallowed because the puck bounced in the net off of referee Tim Peel.

In Colorado, the glass next to the Edmonton Oilers’ penalty box suddenly shattered following a third period fight involving Matt Calvert and Matt Benning.

It’s hard to see what exactly happened, but a fan next to the penalty box appeared to smack the glass only to have it complete shatter into thousands of pieces. It didn’t seem to be a very hard smack so it is entirely likely it was a defective piece of glass that was probably already broken.

But it was still a bizarre scene that briefly delayed the game.

Here is the fight that started the entire sequence.

The Oilers ended up winning the game thanks to three-point nights from Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Leon Draisaitl, and another strong performance in goal from goalie Mikko Koskinen.

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.

‘Embarrassing’ first period pushes Blackhawks’ losing streak to eight

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Slow starts have been the calling card for the Chicago Blackhawks this season.

They entered play on Tuesday night in Winnipeg having given up at least the first two goals in eight of their previous 10 games, and it of course happened again in an ugly 6-3 loss to the Jets.

And this slow start seemed to be even worse than all of the previous slow starts.

The Blackhawks not only surrendered three goals in the first period (and a fourth goal just one minute into the second period), they were at one point getting outshot by a 14-0 margin before recording their first shot on goal of the game.

“We didn’t have a shot for like the first what, 15, 16 minutes, maybe even more,” said Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane after the game. “So pretty embarrassing start.”

[Related: Blackhawks hit bottom in this week’s PHT Power Rankings]

“If I had a fix I would have fixed it already,” coach Jeremy Colliton said regarding the starts.

“Compete harder early on. I thought we were late to almost every situation in the first period and they have a really good team. They pressure hard and they make a lot of plays. They play like men out there and we just couldn’t match it in the beginning and we paid a price for it.”

With all of those bad starts the Blackhawks have now lost eight games in a row, 10 out of their past 11, and 19 out of their past 22.

This is already their second eight-game losing streak of the season, and as pointed out by The Athletic’s Mark Lazerus, this is their third eight-game losing streak in their past 63 games.

They are also just 3-12-2 since Colliton replaced Joel Quenneville behind the bench. They were 6-6-3 under Quenneville.

Just about the only positive for the Blackhawks right now is the fact that Dylan Strome continued his strong play since arriving in Chicago via trade with the Arizona Coyotes. He scored his seventh goal of the season in Tuesday’s loss and now has four goals and five total points in his first eight games with the Blackhawks. He only had six points in 20 games with the Coyotes before the trade.

Other than that, though, there is nothing going right for this Blackhawks team.

(PHT’s Scott Billeck contributed to this post)

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.

Alex Ovechkin isn’t slowing down

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At 33 years old Alex Ovechkin is not supposed to be scoring goals at this sort of pace.

He is not supposed to be scoring goals the way he was when he was in his mid-20s.

The typical aging curve for NHL players, even the elites, says they are supposed to be slowing down at this point in their career and seeing their numbers slide south in a downward trend.

But as Ovechkin has shown throughout his brilliant career, he is not typical.

He is also not slowing down.

With three more goals on Tuesday night in the Capitals’ 6-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings, the game’s greatest goal-scorer added to his league leading total and now sits atop the NHL with 25 goals through his team’s first 30 games.

He also extending his current point streak to 12 consecutive games.

[Related: Capitals among NHL elites in this week’s PHT Power Rankings]

These numbers are impressive, even for Ovechkin. Especially when you consider he has never at any point in his career scored more goals through his team’s first 30 games (22 was his previous high at this point) and is currently on a 68-goal pace for the season.

These numbers are downright comical because they are completely unheard for a player this age. They are bordering on absurd.

Since 1987 no player in the NHL at age 33 or older has ever scored this many goals through 30 games (no one had more than 22).

In the history of the league only 13 different players have recorded a 50-goal season over the age of 30, while only three (Jaromir Jagr, Bobby Hull, and John Buyck) have recorded one at age 33 or older.

Ovechkin is now literally halfway there with still 52 games to play this season.

It would not be unfair to say he has had some puck luck on his side so far, and that was especially true on Tuesday night where two of his goals came off of fluky bounces. He also has a 21.5 percent shooting percentage that is seven points higher than his previous career best (14.6 in 2007-08, when he scored 65 goals) and nine points higher than his career average. That sort of pace is unsustainable in the modern NHL, even for somebody as great as Ovechkin.

But even if he shot at his normal career average (12.6 percent) over the rest of the season that would still be another 25 goals based on his current shot output. That would put him at exactly 50 goals for the season, and what very well might be an eighth goal-scoring crown.

It is expecting a lot given that no one has ever really done anything like this at this age, but would you want to bet against him?

The defending champs have now won 11 of their past 14 games and extended their lead in the Metropolitan Division with Tuesday’s win.

(H/T to Hockey-Reference database for historical goal data in this post)

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.