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Eight stunning numbers from first half of season

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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 take a look at the return of the 100-point scorer,the Flyers’ revolving door of goalies, and some impressive individual performances around the NHL, including from a pair of standout rookies.

The 100-point scorer might be back

Did not think this was ever going to happen. Not with the way the game was trending for so long.

Entering play on Friday there are currently 13 players in the NHL that are on pace for more than 100 points this season (and that does not include players like Patrice Bergeron and Auston Matthews who are on a 100-point pace over 82 games but have missed too much time due to injury to actually threaten the 100-point mark) and a few others on pace for 98 or 99 points and could make a run at it.

Let’s think about those numbers for a second.

  • During the 2017-18 season there were only three 100-point scorers in the NHL (Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov, and Claude Giroux), and at the halfway point there were only four player on a pace to reach it.
  • In the seven years prior to last season there were only five 100-point scorers in the NHL, and never more than one in a single season.
  • The last time the NHL had more than 10 100-point scorers in a single season was 1995-96. The last time there were 13 was the 1992-93 season when more than 20 players topped it.

There was an eight or nine year stretch where even reaching 90 points seemed to be impossible, given the way the games were being officiated, the quality of the goaltending, and the way the league had become such a structured defensive game. Just like it wasn’t one specific thing that resulted in the decline in scoring, it hasn’t been just one specific thing that’s resulted in the reversal. Goalie equipment has gotten smaller, power plays are up a little bit, three-on-three overtime has added some goals, and, quite frankly, there has been a pretty good influx of young superstar talent to enter the league that has been given a bit more freedom to create.

The Flyers’ revolving door of goalies

After claiming Mike McKenna on waivers the Philadelphia Flyers could be in a position to use a seventh goalie this season. The season is just now half over. Only two teams in the league this season have had to use more than three different goalies, while none have had to use more than four. The Flyers are already at six and have a very real chance of using seven.

What is most amazing about this number is that all six goalies have appeared in at least two games, and five of them have appeared in at least five.

[Related: Flyers welcome Mike McKenna to the goalie carousel

An historically great offense in Tampa Bay

At the halfway point the Tampa Bay Lightning are averaging 4.17 goals per game, an incredible number in any era.

In the history of the league only 70 teams have scored more goals than Tampa Bay’s 171 through the first 41 games of a season, and the overwhelming majority of those teams played in the firewagon days of the 1980s when goalies were awful and power plays were plentiful.

Since 1990, only nine teams have topped that mark through 41 games, and all but one of those teams played between 1990 and 1993 (the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins are the lone exception) just before the start of the dead puck era.

The Lightning are truly scoring goals like a team from a different era.

The second-highest scoring team in the league, the Toronto Maple Leafs, is at 3.67, an incredible 0.50 goals per game behind the Lightning. The gap between Tampa Bay and Toronto (which is also an obscenely good and deep offensive team), is the same as the gap between Toronto and the 11th highest scoring team in the league, the Ottawa Senators.

They are also scoring on 30.5 percent of their power plays. Only three teams in league history have ever finished a full season higher than 30 percent — the 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens, the 1977-78 New York Islanders, and the 1978-79 New York Islanders.

Elias Lindholm has already exceeded anything he has ever done in the NHL 

I admit, I hated the Dougie Hamilton trade for the Calgary Flames because they were dealing an elite defender for a package of players that … did not seem elite.

It has gone better for the Flames than I — or really anyone — could have expected because one of the key players in that deal, Elias Lindholm, is having an absolutely magnificent season.

Entering play on Friday he has already scored 20 goals, recorded 28 assists, and totaled 48 points in 42 games.

Before this season his previous career highs in those respective categories were 17, 34 (he will almost certainly pass that one soon), and 45.

Granted, a lot of this production (especially as it relates to the goals) is tied to a 19.8 shooting percentage that will only regress, but it has still been a huge surprise season for the Flames.

Morgan Rielly chasing history

With 44 points in his first 40 games, the Toronto Maple Leafs defender is on pace for 90 points this season. Only 10 different defenders in league history have topped that mark, and none have done it Ray Bourque during the 1993-94 season.

The list of defenders to do it: Paul Coffey (seven times), Bobby Orr (six times), Ray Bourque (four times), Denis Potvin (three times), Al MacInnis (two times), Phil Housley (one time), Brian Leetch (one time), Gary Suter (one time).

Elias Pettersson‘s elite company

The Vancouver Canucks rookie was injured again on Thursday night, and that is terrible news for his team and the league. He has been one of the the most explosive rookies to enter the league in quite some time.

Since the start of the 1987-88 season only three rookies have ever scored more than Pettersson’s 22 goals in the first 38 games of their career.

Teemu Selanne with 30 goals in 1992-93, Eric Lindros with 27 goals in 1992-93, and Alex Ovechkin with 24 goals in 2005-06.

[Related: Canucks’ Pettersson leaves game with ugly looking leg injury]

Speaking of great rookie performances

Rasmus Dahlin, the No. 1 overall pick of the Buffalo Sabres, has been having a noteworthy rookie season of his own.

The 18-year-old has already tallied 20 points in his first 41 games. Going as far back as 1987 only one other rookie defenseman at the age of 18 had more points than that (Aaron Ekblad with 24 points for the Florida Panthers during the 2014-15 season). Nobody else has recorded more than 15 during that stretch.

Playmaker Blake Wheeler

We touched on Blake Wheeler’s stat line a month ago and it hasn’t really changed.

In 39 games this season he has recorded 44 assists for the Jets.

He has only scored six goals.

Over the past 35 years no player has recorded at least 44 assists through the first half of the season and scored fewer goals.

(Data in this post via the Hockey-Reference database)

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.

 

Backstrom expected to return for Capitals vs. Blue Jackets

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) Nicklas Backstrom had a smile on his face and no concerns about missing another game.

“I’m good to go,” Backstrom said. “It’s like that guy in `Mighty Ducks.’ I woke up, no pain.”

Backstrom was referring to the fictional Adam Banks character who returned from a wrist injury in time for a championship game. The Washington Capitals are getting the real standout Swedish center back while they’re on a roll.

The Capitals are expected to have Backstrom back Monday when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets. He missed the past eight games with an undisclosed upper-body injury, and Washington went 6-1-1 in that time.

With Backstrom ready to go, the Capitals are set to have their full, healthy lineup on the ice for the first time this season. Despite injuries, they lead the NHL with 22 wins and 49 points through 31 games.

“As of right now, we are playing good hockey and we are getting the points we needed,” Backstrom said Sunday. “It is still early in the season, so you have to keep build, build and build. We are a team that is building for upcoming things.”

Upcoming are matchups against the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning, a popular preseason pick to win the Stanley Cup. But Backstrom is of course referring to the playoffs, where the Capitals are looking to bounce back from last season’s first-round exit and make another championship run like they did in 2018.

There’s no reason to think they couldn’t do that, especially given their success more than a quarter of the way through the season without the full complement of healthy bodies.

“That shows the depth that we have all the way through our lineup,” coach Todd Reirden said. “That’s been a good problem to have, and it’s allowed us to see some other players get opportunities and showcase some of the abilities they have.”

Backstrom’s return puts Washington’s lineup back in regular order. He’ll take his regular place between Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson, allowing Reirden to keep the hot second line of Jakub Vrana, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie together.

Braden Holtby is expected to start in goal against Columbus.

The Buzzer: Stars Wars Storm Surge; Bob beats Blue Jackets

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Three Stars

1. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes

Heading into Saturday, Aho only scored in one goal (a goal and an assist) in his past five contests. He made up for that dry spell in a big way against the Wild, generating a hat trick plus two assists.

His third goal was an empty-netter, but Aho’s first tally ended up being the game-winner. Aho was really clicking with Teuvo Teravainen, who finished the night with three assists.

Aho now has 27 points through his first 30 games in 2019-20.

2. Alex Killorn, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning made life miserable for the Sharks on Saturday, feasting by way of a 7-1 score.

Killorn was a big part of that, generating a goal and three assists for four points. Killorn now has three goals and three assists for six points during a three-game streak, giving Killorn 22 points in 25 games in 2019-20.

As effective as Killorn has been over the years, his career-high is 47 points. Chances are, he’s going to slow down (example a 15.7 shooting percentage so far this season, against a 10.5 career average), but if reasonably healthy, Killorn should blow that previous number out of the water.

There were other Lightning players who played really well, as you’d expect from a blowout. Steven Stamkos ranked among those who collected three points, while Andrei Vasilevskiy made 37 saves to exaggerate the distance between the two teams.

3. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Really, you can take your pick between Malkin and Jake Guentzel, as they both enjoyed one-goal, two-assist nights on Saturday, and they both clearly play off each other quite well. As much as Guentzel has been conjoined to Sidney Crosby during his young (and underappreciated) career, it seems like he can click with Malkin, too. Obviously, it’s not difficult to transition from one “NHL 100” player to another who should have made the “NHL 100,” yet … we’ve seen wingers who cannot find chemistry with one or more of Malkin and Crosby. So credit to Guentzel for being deadly with both, and likely making life a little easier for each of them.

Malkin now has a fantastic 26 points in just 19 games, and may very well have his biggest year in a while if he can stay healthy — an uncomfortably familiar phrase for the Penguins for quite some time. (Heck, even spanning back to Mario Lemieux.)

Guentzel now has 31 points in 30 games, and a solid chance to exceed last season’s excellent career-high of 76 points.

Highlight of the Night

Uh, you think the Kings were expecting Johnny Gaudreau to pass when he did? (Don’t lie.) This is just a tremendous combination of speed, skill, and vision as he set up Sean Monahan:

Star Wars Storm Surge

Yay or nay on the Star Wars-themed Storm Surge from the Hurricanes? I’d say solid enough, although it lacked a Bunch of Baby Yoda so … maybe not ideal.

Factoids

  • The Blue Jackets spoiled Sergei Bobrovsky‘s shutout bid a bit more than halfway through the third period. Still, Bob had a strong night with 33 saves. Hot take: Columbus is still probably relieved to not be spending to the tune of Bob’s $10M AAV, considering how infrequently Bob has looked this good.
  • NHL PR notes that the Avalanche extended a point streak to 14 games, while they also gave the Bruins their first regulation loss at home this season.
  • Brady Tkachuk received a fine from the Department of Player Safety for cross-checking Scott Laughton. More on that wild game here.
  • A bit esoteric, but interesting, from NHL PR: Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid are the fifth pair to generate at least 300 points each in 320 games or fewer. They’re the first pairing to pull that off since Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.

Scores

PHI 4 – OTT 3
VAN 6 – BUF 5 (OT)
COL 4 – BOS 1
PIT 5 – DET 3
TBL 7 – SJS 1
FLA 4 – CBJ 1
CAR 6 – MIN 2
TOR 5 – STL 2
NSH 6 – NJD 4
DAL 3 – NYI 1
CGY 4 – LAK 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.

P.K. Subban gets a warm tribute during his return to Nashville

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It would have been silly for Nashville Predators fans to boo P.K. Subban during his return to “Smashville.”

Subban didn’t choose to be traded from Montreal to Nashville, and he didn’t elect to be sent from Nashville to the New Jersey Devils, either.

Sports fans aren’t always so rational, though. Really, it makes sense: spending so much money, time, and emotional energy on a game isn’t exactly the most rational thing to do. So there was some concern about how Subban would be received, especially since he’s already booed in an honestly uncomfortably large number of NHL arenas already.

Subban and others can breathe a sigh of relief, though, as while not everyone greeted Subban with open arms in as literal a way as Roman Josi did with their hug on Saturday, the team gave Subban a fantastic welcome back tribute video:

Not only does that video include some of Subban’s great moments during his three seasons with the Predators (that Stanley Cup Final appearance, a Norris Trophy win), it also captures some of the off-the-ice qualities that make Subban so fun and entertaining (and make people sometimes get perplexingly, maybe troublingly mad about him). He got up and decided to sing some Johnny Cash upon arriving in Nashville, was a fantastic charitable presence, and was a lot of fun.

(No Listerine was spilled in the making of the ad, but you can’t have it all.)

Anyway, good on the Predators and their fans for welcoming P.K. back.

As a reminder, Montreal Canadiens fans greeted him with love upon his return, too:

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.

Avs’ rising star Cale Makar shaken by hit from Bruins’ Marchand

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The Colorado Avalanche have done a masterful job, for the most part, when it comes to rolling with injury-related punches to key players such as Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. They have to hope that Saturday didn’t send another such haymaker their way.

Rising star defenseman Cale Makar (who just fell under a point per game on Saturday with 28 in 29 contests) was clearly shaken up by a hard hit by Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

It didn’t seem like a heinous hit by Marchand, although there are some who wonder if it was a bit high.

Either way, Makar’s reaction is troubling. You can see him shake his head multiple times following the hit, which gives the impression that he could have suffered a concussion. That doesn’t guarantee that Makar did, but it’s a situation to watch — and one the Avalanche should absolutely be careful about.

The Avalanche ended up beating the Bruins 4-1 on Saturday.

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.