Blue Jackets are red-hot, mostly with Bob on the bench

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Sometimes, when locker room drama spills out into the mainstream, the star in question will silence murmurs with great play. Other times, things will fall apart altogether.

In the case of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Sergei Bobrovsky, the Blue Jackets have been prospering ever since Bob dealt with that unofficial suspension, but it really hasn’t had much to do with Bobrovsky.

[Blue Jackets sit Bobrovsky; Bob addresses the incident, his future]

Instead, the Blue Jackets have largely feasted on the improving play of Joonas Korpisalo, and dynamite work from the top line (maybe “The Bread Line?”) of Artemi Panarin, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Cam Atkinson.

Consider the last week-plus for Korpisalo, with some overlap from the “incident,” which was Bob not returning to the Blue Jackets’ bench after being pulled last week against Tampa:

Jan. 4: 14 saves in relief appearance against Carolina, no goals allowed
Jan. 8: The night of the “incident,” Korpisalo stops all eight shots against Tampa Bay.
Jan. 10: Makes 35 saves as Columbus beats Nashville in OT, with Bob fever at a high pitch.
Jan. 12: Korpisalo only allows one goal as Columbus beats Washington 2-1 in OT
Jan. 13: Bob’s lone appearance since the kerfuffle. Columbus wins, but the score was 7-5, so it’s tough to give Bobrovsky overwhelming credit.
Jan. 15: Korpisalo and the Blue Jackets cruise to a 4-1 win against the Devils.

This strong play hasn’t gone unnoticed by John Tortorella, as he discussed when asked about what he’s seen in Korpisalo:

“It’s what I don’t see in him,” Tortorella said. “Just no extra movement. He just looks confident …”

On one level, it’s a little awkward that the Blue Jackets are on a hot streak, mostly with Bobrovsky on the bench. It’s sort of a twisted take on “living well is the best revenge.”

But the delightful thing is just how fun certain elements are turning out to be.

Take, for instance, a post-win ritual. For a while, Nick Foligno and Korpisalo would exchange ill-advised, but very “hockey” headbutts when the backup would get a W:

The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline has been chronicling this development (sub required), including this amusing quote from Foligno earlier in 2018-19.

“I don’t really know where that came from,” Foligno said. “But I kinda like it. It’s good to rough Korpi up a little bit.”

Yet, with Korpisalo winning three of the four games on the Blue Jackets’ current four-game winning streak, even reckless hockey players took a step back on thought of the conkies.

In case you’re not fluent in Hockeylish, “conkies” are apparently concussions, and the two finally put a stop to it after Tuesday’s win against New Jersey. Their new celebration might need some more time in the oven, which is something even Korpisalo admitted.

Yeah, that wasn’t too great, unless Korpisalo and Foligno were actually doing a high-level impression of that “Step Brothers” scene where Will Ferrell and Adam Scott clearly don’t know how to hug each other.

That jovial atmosphere extends to the little things in life, like the team being overjoyed by the prospect of no practice, like conky-fearing Allen Iversons:

It’s remarkable that Korpisalo’s hot streak has merely pushed him to a .902 save percentage on the season, and Bobrovsky hasn’t been nailing his contract year either, with just a .903 save percentage in 2018-19.

Such a kerfuffle underscores an interesting thought: this team is jockeying with the Capitals for the Metropolitan Division crown even with subpar, and sometimes distracting goaltending.

A blazing-hot top line is a big reason why.

While a heating up Korpisalo makes a Bobrovsky trade seem only more inevitable, Panarin’s been proving his value all season long. He’s generated a four-game point and goal streak, generating five goals and two assists for seven points during that span. Panarin’s up to 52 points in 44 games, Dubois has 42 points in 46 contests, and Atkinson has 27 goals (among 48 points), closing in on his career-high of 35.

Imagine what that line (not to mention stellar defensemen Seth Jones and Zach Werenski) could accomplish if that goaltending rises to the occasion?

It’s pretty strange to see the Blue Jackets prosper so much without Bobrovsky in net, but the organization obviously must hope that this is a sign of good things to come.

If not, at least it’s been a fun, unexpected ride for the last week or so.

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.

NHL All-Star Skills 2020: Barzal tops McDavid to win Fastest Skater

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ST. LOUIS — Mathew Barzal won the 2020 Fastest Skater competition with a time of 13.715 during the NHL All-Star Skills Competition Friday night. The Islanders forward ends Connor McDavid‘s three-year reign as champion.

Of the eight competitors, Barzal and McDavid were the last to go and each beat McDavid’s best time — 13.310 seconds — of the last three years.

Barzal finished third last year in San Jose with a time of 13.780. If he’s named to an All-Star roster next season he’ll be able to defend his crown at the BB&T Center when the Florida Panthers play host.

FINAL RESULTS
Mathew Barzal 13.175 (winner)

Connor McDavid 13.215
Chris Kreider 13.509
Jack Eichel 13.540
Nathan MacKinnon 13.895
Anthony Duclair 14.005
Travis Konecny 14.113
Quinn Hughes 14.263

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Bettman responds to IIHF president’s Olympic decision deadline

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The 2022 Beijing Olympics remains a hot topic between the NHL and NHLPA with the league seeing participation as disruptive and the players eager to represent their countries.

During his All-Star Weekend press conference, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that while the league was comfortable with not going to Pyeongchang in 2018 he wouldn’t definitively shut the door on 2022.

“I can’t say that with certainty, not to give people false hope,” Bettman said. “I know the Players’ Association still maintains a strong preference for going. I know the IIHF still is focused on engaging with us and I think even wants to have a meeting at some point in the not too distant future. From our standpoint, we believe and our experience both with going to five Olympics and then not going to Pyeongchang tells us that going is extraordinarily disruptive to the season. I won’t take you through the litany of reasons why, you’ve all heard me say it. I know it maintains itself as a priority for the Players’ Association, but having said that we were very comfortable with not going Korea.”

IIHF president Rene Fasel said earlier this month that he’d like an answer from the NHL by August. Bettman isn’t ready to give him one any time soon.

“[Fasel] also said last summer he wanted an answer by December and he didn’t get one,” Bettman said. “We’re going to have to see. I actually think the deadline is really more one that we would have to impose, in terms of logistics. My guess is at a point in time we said we wanted to go and we could handle the timing of it, my guess is the IIHF could as well. That doesn’t mean that I don’t take Rene seriously, but as I said he already gave us one deadline and it came and went.”

Among the many logistics that need to be worked out if the NHL were to go includes the schedule, which is created well in advance of the season. When would Bettman see a potential deadline set by the league laid down? He isn’t sure.

“I don’t know. I’ll know it when I see it, when we get there,” he said. “Obviously, first and foremost, it has to do with releasing a schedule. That’s the game-changer one way or the other.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Florida Panthers to host 2021 NHL All-Star Game

2021 NHL All-Star Game
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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced on Friday that the NHL All-Star Game will be making its return to Florida next season when the Panthers play host to the 2021 game.

All-Star Weekend 2021 will take place at BB&T Arena on Jan. 29-30. Bettman hinted during his Friday press conference that the event may have an “international flavor” to it. Talks with the NHLPA are still on-going.

It will be Florida’s second time hosting the All-Star weekend after previously hosting it during the 2002-03 season.

That game was notable for a couple of reasons.

For one, it was the first time an NHL All-Star Game (or any NHL game for that matter) was decided by a shootout with the Western Conference winning by a 6-5 score. It was a sign of things to come as the league would eventually transition to that tie-breaking procedure for the start of the 2005-06 season.

Atlanta Thrashers forward Dany Heatley scored four times and was named MVP.

It was also the year that Panthers defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh, voted into the game as a starter, was traded by the host team just two days before the All-Star Game. While he played in the game, he did not participate in the Skills Competition because he did not want to wear the jersey of a team (the Panthers) he no longer played for. You can read all about that entire series of events in this previous PHT Time Machine. Ozolinsh was one of two Panthers in that game, joining Olli Jokinen.

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.

Crosby, Kane, Ovechkin highlight NHL’s All-Decade Team

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As part of All-Star weekend festivities, the NHL has announced its All-Decade Team, featuring many names you’d expect to see on such a list. Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane lead the forward group on the First Team, with Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty on the blue line and Marc-Andre Fleury in goal.

The Second Team features Evgeni Malkin, Patrice Bergeron, and Steven Stamkos up front, Erik Karlsson and Zdeno Chara on defense, and Henrik Lundqvist in net.

Per the NHL, the two teams were selected by a panel of NHL general managers, NHL hockey operations staff, NHL.com writers and on-air talent from NBC, Sportsnet and TVAS.

FIRST TEAM

F Sidney Crosby, Penguins – 299 goals, 796 points, 635 games played, two Stanley Cups, two Conn Smythe Trophies, one Hart Trophy, five-time NHL All-Star, one Art Ross Trophy, two Rocket Richard Trophy, two Ted Lindsay Awards, three-time First Team NHL All-Star, two Olympic gold medals, one World Championship gold medal.

F Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 447 goals, 791 points, 777 games played, one Stanley Cup, one Conn Smythe Trophy, three Hart Trophies, one Art Ross Trophy, three Pearson/Ted Lindsay Award, six Rocket Richard Trophies, eight-time NHL All-Star, four-time First Team NHL All-Star, two World Championship gold medals.

F Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 318 goals, 814 points, 752 games played, three Stanley Cups, one Conn Smythe Trophy, three-time First Team NHL All-Star, eight-time NHL All-Star, one Art Ross Trophy, one Ted Lindsay Award, one Hart Trophy.

D Duncan Keith, Blackhawks – 62 goals, 434 points, 757 games played, three-time NHL All-Star, one First Team NHL All-Star, two Norris Trophies, one Conn Smythe Trophy, three Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals.

D Drew Doughty, Kings – 101 goals, 440 points, 780 games played, two Stanley Cups, one Norris Trophy, two-time First Team NHL All-Star, five-time NHL All-Star.

G Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins/Golden Knights – 325 wins, .9167 save percentage, 2.45 goals against average, 43 shutouts, three Stanley Cups, five-time NHL All-Star, one Olympic gold medal.

SECOND TEAM

F Evgeni Malkin, Penguins – 278 goals, 710 points, 613 points, two Stanley Cups, one Art Ross Trophy, one Hart Trophy, one Ted Lindsay, one First Team NHL All-Star, five-time NHL All-Star.

F Steven Stamkos, Lightning – 367 goals, 731 points, 672 games played, two Rocket Richard Trophies, six-time All-Star.

F Patrice Bergeron, Bruins – 251 goals, 596 points, 728 games played, one Stanley Cup, four Selke Trophies, one King Clancy Trophy, two-time NHL All-Star, two Olympic gold medals, one World Cup of Hockey gold medal.

D Erik Karlsson, Senators/Sharks – 133 goals, 593 points, 705 games played, six-time NHL All-Star, two Norris Trophies, four-time First Team NHL All-Star.

D Zdeno Chara, Bruins – 98 goals, 312 points, 728 games played, two-time NHL All-Star, one Stanley Cup, one First Team NHL All-Star, three Norris Trophies.

G Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers – 299 wins, .919 save percentage, 2.49 goals against average, 42 shutouts, one Vezina Trophy, one First Team NHL All-Star, four-time NHL All-Star.

The NHL already announced winners of eight others All-Decade categories in the build up to the reveal of the All-Decade team.

Save of the Decade: Braden Holtby on Alex Tuch during the 2018 Stanley Cup Final
Coach of the Decade: Joel Quenneville, Blackhawks
Franchise of the Decade: Blackhawks
Playoff Series of the Decade: Kings-Blackhawks, 2014 Western Conference Final
Game of the Decade: Bruins-Maple Leafs, 2013 Round 1, Game 7
Event of the Decade: 2014 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium
Moment of the Decade: 100 Greatest Players Gala, 2017
Goal of the Decade: Patrick Kane’s Stanley Cup winner in Game 6 of the 2010 Final

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.