Seven stunning NHL numbers through first two months

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Every month we will take a look around the NHL at some stunning (or even bizarre) numbers that jump out at us.

This month we look at the crazy stat lines for Patrik Laine, Mitch Marner, and Blake Wheeler, take another look at the ridiculous Arizona Coyotes penalty kill unit, and marvel at Alex Ovechkin‘s ability to get pucks on the net. 

Patrik Laine scores all the goals — He has not even played three full seasons in the NHL but the Winnipeg Jets forward is already one of the top-three (probably top-two) goal-scorers in the league.

He has already topped the 100-goal mark for his career, is on track to be one of the league-leaders again this season, and is as dangerous as any other player in the league when the puck is on his stick.

Entering play on Friday he has 21 goals on the season, an incredible number through 27 games.

Also incredible? He only has three assists this season, producing one of the funniest stat lines in the league. He is on pace to score more than 60 goals this season while recording only nine assists!

The fewest assists any player has had in a 50 goal season was the 21 Ovechkin had during the 2015-16 season.

Since the start of the 1987-88 season (via the hockey-reference database) Laine’s three assists are the fewest assists a player has had through the first 27 games of the season while scoring at least 20 goals.

During the 2008-09 season Thomas Vanek had 20 goals and only five assists for the Buffalo Sabres through his first 27 games. He finished that season with 40 goals and 24 assists.

At some point things will start to balance out a bit for Laine (his goal-scoring pace will almost certainly slow down, at least a little bit; he will get more assists) but it is still amazing to look at that stat line in the first week of December.

Wheeler and Marner are the Anti-Laines — At the complete opposite end of the offensive spectrum we have Laine’s Winnipeg teammate Blake Wheeler and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner.

Let’s start with Marner who has already recorded 34 assists through the Maple Leafs’ first 29 games, putting him in some elite company. It is only the 24th time since the start of the 1987 season a player has recorded that many helpers this far into the season, and 10 of those instances belong to either Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky (five times each).

What stands out about Marner’s performance is that he only has six goals to go with those assists.

Craig Janney (seven goals) during the 1992-93 season is the only player on that list to have fewer than 10 goals at this point.

It is certainly possible that Wheeler could join him on that list. Through the Jets’ first 27 games he has already recorded 32 assists, while scoring only four goals.

The Arizona Coyotes’ penalty kill still has a positive goal differential — We touched on this a month ago but it is still true today and it is still absurd so we need to look at it again.

We are more than a quarter of the way through the NHL season and the Coyotes have already scored 11 shorthanded goals this season, more than double any other team in the league.

During the entire 2017-18 season only one team scored more than 11 shorthanded goals all year, and none scored more than 12. Arizona is on pace to shatter that number.

Even more incredible than the number of shorthanded goals is the fact they have still only allowed eight power play goals and are still successful on more than 90 percent of their penalty kills. No other team in the league has allowed fewer than 13 power play goals at this point, while the Coyotes’ plus-three goal differential on the penalty kill is still by far the best in the league.

The Vegas Golden Knights, currently at minus-8, are the only other team in the NHL that are currently better than minus-10 while shorthanded.

The worst Chicago Blackhawks start in 15 years — The window is officially closed.

After missing the playoffs a year ago the Blackhawks have won just nine of their first 30 games to start to the 2018-19 season, making it their worst start since the 2003-04 season when they won just seven of their first 30 games.

It is only the second time since 2000 they have won fewer than 10 games at this point in the season.

That is a lot of shots on goal — Ovechkin recorded his 5,000th shot on goal during the Washington Capitals’ win over the Coyotes on Thursday night, becoming the fastest player in league history to reach that mark.

Only seven other players have ever recorded that many shots on goal (at least since shots on goal have been an official NHL stat).

The player immediately behind Ovechkin on the list is Brett Hull, who finished his career with 4,876. The next player on the list that Ovechkin will pass, probably in a couple weeks, is Brendan Shanahan with 5,086.

Hull played 1,269 games in his career. Shanahan played 1,525.

Ovechkin has currently played in only 1,031.

Connor McDavid is being asked to do even more — For the first three years of McDavid’s career he has been asked to be a one-man team in Edmonton, so why should year four be any different?

If anything, he is being asked to do even more this season.

Through the Oilers’ first 28 games he has already contributed to 49 percent of the team’s goals (scoring or assist on 36 out of 76). After the same number of games a year ago he had “only” contributed to 42 percent of the team’s goals (scoring or assisting on 34 out of 80).

Keep in mind he actually missed one of the team’s first 28 games this season.

In terms of the raw numbers it’s not that big of a difference, but it is still stunning that four years into the career of the most dominant offensive player in the league the organization that was lucky enough to get him has not given him any kind of help. When you combine this with Ken Hitchcock’s approach to playing him and Leon Draisaitl seemingly every other shift the Oilers are counting on him to single handedly carry the team even more than before.

Somebody help Craig Anderson — If you like games with a lot of offense and no defense you really need to start checking out the Ottawa Senators.

For as bad as things seem with the organization overall, they do at least have some promising young players that are putting up big numbers. They also have a completely invisible defense. That combination of young, skilled players results in a lot of high-scoring, action-packed games that may not be the best hockey, but are at least very exciting.

One player that is probably not loving it is starting goalie Craig Anderson, who has already had to face 936 shots this season!

Since the start of the 1987 season no goalie has had to face more shots through their team’s first 30 games, while only two (Ken Wreggett in 1995 with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Marc Denis with the 2003 Columbus Blue Jackets) topped the 900-shot mark (both faced 906 shots).

He is currently facing 36 shots per game! If he maintains that pace and plays in the same number of games he did a year ago (58) he would face more than 2,000 shots on goal this season.

That is a lot of shots, but it’s not totally unheard of as it’s been done 108 teams in league history. But almost every goalie that has been a part of the 2,000 shot club in a season did so by playing more than 60 games.

The overwhelming majority played 65 or more.

The only ones that faced more than 2,000 shots while playing in fewer than 60 games were Gump Worsley (59 games in 1960-61),  Bernie Parent (58 games) 1968-69, and Al Rollins (58 games) 1955-56. Somebody help Craig Anderson before he joins that list.

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.

Penguins plot a way forward as Letang recovers from stroke

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PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang returned to the ice on Thursday, just three days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

The “twirl” the longtime Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman took at the club’s practice facility was approved by team doctors, a spin designed to help Letang’s mental health and nothing else. While the 35-year-old remains upbeat, it remains far too early to put a timeline on when his familiar No. 58 will return to the lineup.

Though Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall indicated this stroke isn’t as severe as the one Letang endured in 2014 – when a hole in the wall of his heart led to a stroke that forced him to miss two months – the six-time All-Star is continuing to undergo tests.

There are no plans for Letang to participate in any sort of hockey-specific drills anytime soon, with coach Mike Sullivan stressing the club will “err on the side of caution” when it comes to whatever rehab Letang might need.

While Letang – one of the most well-conditioned players in the NHL – essentially went through the motions by himself, his teammates were 30 minutes south at PPG Paints Arena getting ready for a visit from Vegas and trying to plot a way forward without one of the franchise cornerstones, at least in the short term.

Letang made it a point to help break the news to the rest of the Penguins following a 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina on Tuesday. Pittsburgh scratched Letang from the lineup with an unspecified illness and he spent a portion of the game watching from the press box next to Hextall.

Afterward, Letang informed a somber locker room about his condition, a revelation that came as a shock even as he did his best to reassure those around him that he was and is OK.

“It’s very serious health stuff,” defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “You hear about strokes and it’s never really good so we’re just glad to see he’s doing well and everything is good with him.”

Sullivan understands it would be practically impossible for any of the other defensemen on the roster to replicate what Letang brings to the ice, so he’s not going to ask any one player to try. There are few players at the position in the NHL who have Letang’s mix of speed, skill and almost bottomless energy.

The highest-scoring defenseman in franchise history is averaging a team-best 23:54 of ice time and has long been a fixture on the power play and in just about every crucial late-game situation.

“I just think Tanger is not an easy guy to replace,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think from a tactical standpoint things change drastically. It’s just personnel based. But as you know, personnel can mean a lot in those types of situations.”

It’s more than that, however. This isn’t a routine injury. There’s an emotional component and an unknown element to Letang’s status even as the Penguins insist they don’t believe his condition is career-threatening.

“This is a whole different circumstance than an ankle injury or a shoulder injury,” Sullivan said. “This is a very different circumstance.”

Letang’s on-ice presence is just one aspect of his importance to a team that has never missed the playoffs since he made his debut in 2007. He’s become a mentor to younger teammates like 23-year-old defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who like Letang is French-Canadian and who, like Letang, plays with a graceful fluidity.

Joseph, who declined to get into specifics about Letang’s message to the team on Tuesday night, believes the best thing the Penguins can do during Letang’s absence is attack the game with the same passion he’s shown for 17 seasons and counting.

“The way he plays for the team every single night and the way he puts his heart and soul into the game on the ice, it’s the least we can do is have our thoughts of him whenever we get on the ice,” Joseph said.

Sullivan shuffled the lineup on Tuesday, elevating veteran Jeff Petry and Brian Dumoulin to the top defensive pair. Petry possesses a skillset that’s not too far removed from Letang’s, but it’s also his first year in Pittsburgh. Asking him to provide the leadership that’s innate to Letang is unfair. It’s one of the reasons Sullivan is insistent that it will take a group effort to fill in for a singular presence.

“We have some diversity on our blue line right now,” Sullivan said. “We feel like we have guys capable of stepping in and getting the job done for us and we’re going to try and do that.”

LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
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LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

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PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

“I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

“He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

“I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

“First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

“The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

“It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”

Ovechkin tops Gretzky for most road goals, Capitals beat Canucks

Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Ovechkin scored twice, passing Wayne Gretzky for the most road goals in NHL history, and the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 on Tuesday night.

Ovechkin has scored 403 of his 793 career goals away from home. Gretzky holds the overall record with 894.

“It’s always nice when you beat the Great One,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of milestone it is. It’s history.”

Anthony Mantha added a goal and an assist for the Capitals (10-11-3). John Carlson and Martin Fehervary also scored, and Darcy Kuemper stopped 31 shots.

Nils Hoglander scored for the Canucks (9-11-3), who had won three in a row. Spencer Martin made 23 saves.

“Spencer’s been great for us. He’s probably a bit like the other players tonight. They weren’t ready to play and it showed on the scoreboard,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said.

The 37-year-old Ovechkin nearly netted a hat trick when Vancouver pulled Martin for an extra skater with just over six minutes left, but his rocket of a shot skimmed the outside of the post.

“I think he has 13 goals this year and I want to say like eight or nine have been like a new record. So it’s been cool,” Washington center Dylan Strome said. “Any time you pass Wayne Gretzky in anything, it deserves a standing ovation, which he got.”

Fehervary was the one who sealed it, flipping the puck high into the Canucks zone and into the empty net at 15:57 of the third period.

Ovechkin topped Gretzky 11:52 into the first, firing a one-timer from the left circle past Martin to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead with his 13th goal of the season.

“On his second goal, it looks like, `Oh, maybe (Martin) should have had it.’ But I’ve seen (Ovechkin) score 100 goals like that,” said Boudreau, who coached the Capitals from 2007-11. “He’s got a shot that finds its way in.”

The star forward from Russia got his first of the night 5:35 in, taking the puck off the stick of Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes near the net and batting in a quick shot.

“It could have been 6-1 after the first period, quite frankly, with the amount of chances (Washington) had,” Boudreau said.

It was Ovechkin’s 135th game-opening goal, tying Jaromir Jagr for the most in NHL history.

“(Ovechkin) was really good in the first and I thought we were really good in the first so it was nice to get out and get a jump like that,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He certainly led. We knew we needed to have a good first period, have a good game, and you need your best players to do that.”

Carlson scored the lone goal of the second, chipping in a loose puck from the low hash marks at 18:47 to give Washington a 4-1 cushion.

“It’s frustrating. Because when you lose games, it should never be about your compete level and battle level,” Canucks center J.T. Miller said. “It’s frustrating because they didn’t out-skill us today, they didn’t out-system us. They literally just outbattled us and created their own chances.”

NOTES: Washington’s Lars Eller got his 200th career assist. … Miller had an assist, extending his point streak to nine games (four goals, seven assists). … The Capitals swept the two-game season series. … Vancouver assigned winger Vasily Podkolzin and defenseman Jack Rathbone to the Abbotsford Canucks on Monday, then recalled forward Phillip Di Giuseppe from the American Hockey League club on Tuesday.

UP NEXT

Washington: At Seattle on Thursday in the second of a five-game trip.

Vancouver: Host Florida on Thursday in the second of a four-game homestand.