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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.

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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.”

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“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.

Connor McDavid returns to Oilers lineup Sunday night

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After missing the past six games due to a left quad injury Connor McDavid will be back in the Edmonton Oilers lineup on Sunday night when they visit the Los Angeles Kings.

Oilers coach Dave Tippett announced the news on Sunday afternoon, and said his superstar center will be playing on a line — at least to start — between Sam Gagner and Alex Chiasson.

The Oilers ended up going 3-2-1 in McDavid’s absence, collecting seven out of a possible 12 points in the standings during that stretch. All things considered, that’s not a bad showing given how thin the roster is outside of their top handful of players and with all of the other injuries they have been dealing with. James Neal, Oscar Klefbom, and Kris Russell are all currently sidelined for the Oilers.

Edmonton enters Sunday’s game in third place in the Pacific Division, just one point back of the Vancouver Canucks for the second spot and only three points behind the Vegas Golden Knights for the top spot, while still having two games in hand.

The biggest reason the Oilers were able to stay competitive in McDavid’s absence was the near superhuman play of their other superstar forward, Leon Draisaitl. He enters Sunday’s game as the league’s leading scorer with 97 points (35 goals, 62 assists) in 61 games. He has a nine point lead over Boston Bruins winger David Pastrnak despite having played in two fewer games. Draisaitl scored four goals and 12 total points in the six games McDavid missed.

Rookie forward Kailer Yamamoto has also been great recently with four goals and nine points over the past six, while also averaging a point per game (20 points in 20 games) for the season.

McDavid enters Sunday’s game with 81 points (30 goals, 51 assists) in 55 games.

Now that McDavid is back in the lineup, the focus for the Oilers has to shift to getting him some help before Monday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline. It is great to have him back in the lineup, but concerning that the best offensive player in the world is skating between two wingers that are best suited for bottom-six depth roles.

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.

 

Capitals storm back to beat Penguins, regain top spot in Metropolitan

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It still probably wasn’t the exact way they want to play, but the Washington Capitals found a way to end their four-game losing streak on Sunday afternoon. Thanks to a four-goal third period they were able to rally for a 5-3 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins to regain the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

Washington now sits in sole possession of first place in the division with 82 points, two points ahead of Pittsburgh.

The Penguins still have one game in hand while the two teams will meet two more times this season with both games in Pittsburgh.

In the end, this was a gutsy win for Washington. Despite being outshot 36-23 and struggling to find much sustained offensive zone time, they still managed to cause enough havoc around the Pittsburgh net and feasted on a couple of glaring mistakes by the Penguins in the third period.

After Patric Hornqvist and Sidney Crosby scored two goals less than 30 seconds apart in the second period, the Penguins entered the third period holding a 2-1 lead. But Washington quickly struck for a pair of goals early in the third period.

Tom Wilson scored the equalizer on a breakaway following a brutal turnover by Pittsburgh’s Marcus Pettersson.

Carl Hagelin responded moments later when he scored on a net-front scramble in front of Penguins goalie Matt Murray to help the Capitals regain the lead.

The Penguins seemed to steal momentum back thanks to a highlight reel goal from Evgeni Malkin, but a T.J. Oshie goal just a few minutes later ended up being the game-winner. Hagelin added an empty-net goal (his second goal of the game) in the final minute.

A few other takeaways from this game:

1. It might get lost in the madness that was the third period, but Braden Holtby played a great game in net for the Capitals. He did give up the three goals, but two of them were great individual efforts from two of the best players in the world (Sidney Crosby and Malkin) and, well, sometimes that is just going to happen. That also should not take away from how strong he was overall. He stood tall on a couple of Penguins power play opportunities, while also shutting down a handful of odd-man rushes. His overall production has rapidly declined the past couple of years but he is still capable of getting hot and taking over a game.

2. Malkin’s third period goal will not be showing up on John Carlson‘s Norris Trophy highlight reel this season, but it was still a big day for the Capitals’ defenseman on Sunday. His assist on Hagelin’s first goal was the 475th point of his career, making him the highest scoring defenseman in Capitals franchise history, passing Calle Johansson.

3. As for the Penguins, this is their third consecutive loss and it is becoming obvious that the injury situation is finally starting to catch up to them defensively. There is not a single trade that general manager Jim Rutherford can make before Monday’s trade deadline (3 p.m. ET) that will do more to help the team than the return of injured players Brian Dumoulin, John Marino, Dominik Kahun, and Zach Aston-Reese. That quartet represents two of their top-four defenseman (perhaps their two best defensive defensemen) and two outstanding defensive forwards. That is a lot to overcome, and it is not a coincidence that their injuries have coincided with a downward trend in their defensive performance.

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.

Hurricanes selling David Ayres shirts

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On Saturday afternoon few in the NHL knew the name David Ayres.

But after the 42-year-old emergency goalie was forced into action in an emergency role for the Carolina Hurricanes against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night, he is the talk of the league on Sunday.

Ayres stopped eight out of 10 shots (and recorded a shot on goal of his own) in the Hurricanes’ stunning 6-3 win.

Now, if you want, you can buy an Ayres No. 90 t-shirt through the Hurricanes’ team shop.

The description from Carolina Pro Shop:

“Zamboni driver by day, emergency goaltender by night” David Ayres earned First Star honors and saved the day for the Canes in Toronto! Grab your t-shirt jersey to support the Canes’ newest legend!

The Hurricanes also add that Ayres will receive royalties from the sales, while a portion of the proceeds will go a kidney foundation. Ayres underwent a kidney transplant in 2004.

He entered the game after Hurricanes goalies James Reimer and Petr Mrazek both exited the game due to injury.

He has served as a fill-in goalie for the Maple Leafs during practices and has also dressed as an emergency backup in the AHL, where he also is a Zamboni driver for the Toronto Marlies.

The Hurricanes also announced that Ayres will be in Raleigh on Tuesday night to sound the siren before their game against the Dallas Stars.

Related: Hurricanes’ emergency goalie David Ayres beats Toronto Maple Leafs

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.

 

Golden Knights aim to stay hot vs. Ducks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Vegas Golden Knights and Anaheim Ducks. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

To put things mildly, Vegas has been through some challenging times in 2019-20. Yet, after navigating many bumps in the road, the Golden Knights are heating up, and hope to keep that surge going against the Ducks on NBCSN on Sunday.

Golden Knights gathering steam under DeBoer

Honestly, it’s still kind of jarring that the Golden Knights fired Gerard Gallant. It sure didn’t seem like their struggles stemmed from bad coaching.

And yet … whatever the explanation might be, the Golden Knights seem like they’ve regained their swagger.

Now, it’s worth noting that the Golden Knights didn’t take off right away under Peter DeBoer. Their struggles extended from coach to coach, as Vegas suffered through a 4-7-2 stretch from Jan. 7 – Feb. 11. But now? Now they’re starting to look like the dangerous team many expected.

The Golden Knights have rumbled through some stout competition lately, beating the Blues, Islanders, Capitals, and maybe most impressively, the Lightning on Thursday.

They needed to make the most of a five-game homestand in Vegas, and they have, winning all of those games after they made the Maple Leafs’ Saturday a little less disastrous by beating the Panthers.

Sunday closes off a back-to-back set, and represents a rare road game. The Golden Knights’ Sunday NBCSN contest against the Ducks serves as a bridge between that five-game homestand and another four-game stretch in Vegas starting on Wednesday.

Golden Knights, Ducks approach trade deadline very differently

The Golden Knights and Ducks already rank as buyers and sellers, even if they’re done with their deadline dealing.

The Ducks may have sold a bit low on Ondrej Kase, particularly since they took on David Backes’ contract from the Bruins. Meanwhile, the Golden Knights already seem pleased with the addition of Alec Martinez.

“I thought he did awesome,” Jon Merrill said of Martinez’s debut, via The Athletic’s Jesse Granger (sub required). “He’s a veteran defenseman with a lot of poise in his own zone. He’s a great defender and blocks a ton of shots. You have to read the play, and it’s timing when to step into the lane. It’s definitely an acquired skill. I think the more you do it, the more you get a sense of when the shots are going to come. He’s done a great job at it his whole career.”

Get a glimpse of Martinez and the Golden Knights as they face the Ducks Sunday on NBCSN.

John Forslund and Brian Hayward will call the action at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Sunday’s studio coverage on NBC will be hosted by Liam McHugh with analysts Keith Jones and Mike Milbury.

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.