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NHL All-Star Media Day notebook: McDavid on doubters; Karlsson, Matthews talk contracts

SAN JOSE — You were out of luck if you were hoping to get a comment out of Connor McDavid regarding the Edmonton Oilers’ firing of general manager Peter Chiarelli this week.

“We’re here for the All-Star Game. I want to enjoy that as much as I can,” he said.

As the Oilers sit three points out of a Western Conference wild card spot, McDavid said he’s ready to push the negativity surrounding the franchise to the side and help the team make a playoff push.

“What I look forward to coming back from the break is trying our best to prove everyone wrong,” he said. “We have an opportunity here where things seem pretty down on us. There’s a sense of negativity with the media, with everyone around the team, and we get to prove people wrong. We get to decide how we’re going to finish the second half.”

Despite some talk (and hope in some cities) that McDavid was sick of the constant failures of the Oilers and would look to find a way out of Edmonton, he shot that idea down quickly.

“That’s just not the case at all,” he said. “I’m here to be a part of the solution, and that’s all I’ll say.”

The Oilers are a team that needed the All-Star break as a chance to get away and clear their heads. They’ve banked enough points, despite their issues, that the hole they’re currently in isn’t too deep. The captain is keeping the faith that the final 32 games of the season will be looked at in a positive light.

“You’ve got to believe,” McDavid said. “You have to believe that we’re going to turn it around and, like I said the other day, if you don’t, you don’t have to be here.

“Obviously, losing isn’t fun. It’s not fun for anybody. I’m no different. You want to win and you want to build something special and something that you’re proud to be a part of, and we’ve got to still build it.”

Matthews, Karlsson talk contracts

One’s set to become a restricted free agent, while the other can hit unrestricted status. Both will see rather large increases in their salary next season, it’s just matter of what the term and dollars look like.

“The sides are talking and making progress and that’s great,” said Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews, who can become an RFA on July 1.

“I mean, I wouldn’t say [it’d be a] relief. I would say it’s just a step,” he said. “For me, it’s not something I think about much. When it gets done it gets done. Until then, I’m not worrying about it. I’ll let my agent handle it with [Leafs GM] Kyle [Dubas] and his management team. They’ll talk. When my agent calls and says I’m ready to sign, then I’ll sign. Until then I’m focusing on the Toronto Maple Leafs and just live every day.”

[NHL players express mixed feelings about player and puck tracking]

“We have no timetable on anything,” said San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson, who cannot sign an eight-year extension until after the Feb. 25 NHL trade deadline. He has been eligible to ink a seven-year deal since Jan. 1. “Whatever goes on is going to be handled privately. [Sharks GM] Doug Wilson has been great with us ever since we got here. He’s been very respectful. I appreciate that a lot, both me and my wife do. When the time comes for a decision to be made, whenever that is, I think they’ve done everything they possibly can to give us the most information we need to make the right decision.  

“We came in here with an open mind, and I think we’re going to do everything we can to make the best possible decision for everyone, and especially ourselves with the information that we have at the time. They provided more than enough.”

Giroux on Flyers’ changes, Gritty

He’s the goalie of the future but may also end up as the goalie of the now depending on how the Flyers play out the rest of the season. Goaltender Carter Hart was reassigned back down to AHL Lehigh Valley this week but showed glimpses in 12 starts this season why the franchise thinks so highly of him.

“You don’t see a lot of goalies that are 20 years old and they come in this fast,” said Flyers captain Claude Giroux. “For him to get called up and do the things that he’s doing right now, it’s obviously not a circumstance that we wanted to happen. We had a few injuries for our goaltenders, but for him to come in, play the way he is right now, it’s pretty amazing.”

Hart’s NHL arrival was one of a number of changes for the team this season. Gone are GM Ron Hextall and head coach Dave Hakstol. Replacing them are Chuck Fletcher and, on an interim basis, Scott Gordon. Those changes acted as a wakeup call that Giroux believe the team needed.

“Yeah, when you see a coach or GM get fired, as a player you take it personally,” he said. “You’re responsible for it. You could have done something else to not let that happen. New GM, new coach, a lot of things are happening right now, but we’re going in the right direction.”

On the positive side, this has been the year of Gritty, the jovial mascot who is also trying to get Giroux to become its best friend.

“He is a big deal. I remember the first preseason game, he got booed and I think it was a big motivation for him to do better,” Giroux said. “He’s been shining still.”

Landeskog enjoying All-Star Weekend

The Colorado Avalanche’s top line of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog are all in San Jose this weekend after a first half that put them in the conversation of who employs the best line in the NHL. The 26-year-old Landeskog is tied for third in goals scored (29) this season and despite his success didn’t expect to see himself taking part in the festivities.

“To be honest, I never really see myself as an All-Star. I think this popped out of nowhere. It’s the result of a good line and a team that’s been doing pretty good in the first half of the season,” he said. “An All-Star Game is always something that you keep an eye on and you always know who’s an All-Star in the league. But to say that I was expecting this, I’d be lying if I said that.”

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ONE-TIMERS

“It’s hard to not choose Connor McDavid. Just the way he skates, he’s faster than everybody else. His hands kind of follow his feet. He makes plays that not a lot of players can make.” – Giroux on who he thinks is the NHL’s best player.

“When you just come here, you’re just taking everything in, you’re not doing anything out of the ordinary, you’re just going with the flow. I think that’s what I did my first year. This year, I’m more comfortable knowing what to expect coming in and that’s important.” – Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones on taking part in his third straight All-Star Weekend.

“I like this layout…  The 3-on-3 format is nice because you can’t really hide. When you play 5-on-5 sometimes you get a little lazy. When it’s 3-on-3, you’ve gotta skate. If you don’t, you’ll get embarrassed, especially the talent that’s here. It forces you to play intense and I think that’s what the fans want to see.” – Ryan O’Reilly of the St. Louis Blues on the 3-on-3 format.

“I wouldn’t say there’s anything that really jumps off the page. As you get closer, the little details start to come out a little bit more. In terms of that, there hasn’t even been any bargaining, any real discussions over what either side wants. It’s a little bit premature to have those talks.” – Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler on important facets of the next CBA from the players’ side.

“Every single day he’s the hardest worker on the ice, in the gym. First person at the rink, last person at the rink. He’s the ultimate captain. The success he’s having this year doesn’t surprise me one bit. He’s just a great leader and a great hockey player. I could talk about Gio for 10 straight minutes everything he does for our team, what he does for the community. It’s just awesome to be able to play for him and play with him and learn from him as a captain.” – Johnny Gaudreau on Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano.

The 2019 NHL All-Star Skills will take place on Friday, Jan. 25 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2019 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 26 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

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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.

Oilers keep on rolling with win over Flyers

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Talent has never been the question in Edmonton, it was always a matter of systems and execution.

Todd McLellan and Ken Hitchcock each saw glimpses in recent years, but Dave Tippett might have unlocked the secret formula for the Oilers to have long-lasting success.

With six wins in the team’s first seven games, including a 6-3 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday Night Hockey, Edmonton is starting to believe that it has what it takes to become a serious contender in the Western Conference.

Jakub Voracek had two goals and an assist for Philadelphia while Carter Hart was pulled after allowing four goals on 14 shots in his first start near his hometown Sherwood Park, Alberta, as the Flyers concluded a three-game road trip through Western Canada where they went 0-2-1. Oskar Lindblom also scored.

Connor McDavid led the way offensively with five points (one goal and four assists), while Leon Draisaitl added two goals of his own as the Oilers bounced back after their first loss of the season against the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this week. Mikko Koskinen stopped 49 shots and picked up his third victory of the season.

The Oilers recorded four consecutive goals, including three in the second that broke the game wide open. McDavid or Draisaitl’s ability to break a game open has rarely been an issue, but slowing down the opposition has been problematic. But through seven games this season, the team has allowed only 17 goals thanks to improved goaltending and more importantly, better team defense.

Last season the Oilers allowed 271 goals, good for seventh worst throughout the NHL. It’s the sole reason Tippett was brought in, to limit the damage in their own end of the ice, and allow their superstars to flourish offensively without ignoring their defensive responsibility.

Tippett has opted to play McDavid and Draisaitl together for most of the season, which has always been a delicate situation. Should a coach load up to form a powerful top line, or spread the wealth throughout the lineup so a high-end player is on the ice for the majority of the game?

The Avalanche have had great success keeping Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen on the ice as a pairing almost exclusively and the Oilers have been trending in that direction.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and James Neal provide options in the middle of the lineup but neither have the top-end talent equivalent to McDavid and Draisaitl.

However, if the Oilers are able to have a prolific first line, combined with strong structure throughout the neutral zone and in front of their goaltender, they will quickly become an elite team that could be a force to be reckoned with.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

McKenzie on Penguins injuries, Avs contracts … spider bites?

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When Alex Galchenyuk was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, he likely breathed deep as he readied for a new coach, team, city, and system for the second straight season. Maybe there’s some fear about looking like a pale imitation of Phil Kessel, the other major part of that trade.

But did he factor in arachnophobia?

During a Wednesday appearance on NBCSN during the Penguins’ eventual 3-2 overtime win against the Colorado Avalanche, Bob McKenzie reported that Galchenyuk has been dealing with what could be a groin injury (or otherwise a soft tissue issue), which many surmised. What people didn’t realize is that Galchenyuk took a detour on his road to recovery because of a spider bite.

McKenzie reports that Galchenyuk had a significant allergic reaction to the bite, which seems a lot less fun than being able to climb on walls, swing on webs, and sense danger before it’s coming. (Theory: Brad Marchand may have “spider sense.” Although we’d probably need to brand it differently. “Pest-pathy?”)

Anyway, McKenzie reports that Galchenyuk is back on that road to recovery, although his precise window of recovery is unclear.

Via McKenzie, Galchenyuk, Nick Bjugstad, and Bryan Rust are essentially week-to-week still, as their windows seem to be two or three weeks. McKenzie reports that Evgeni Malkin‘s injury remains fuzzier.

Speaking of fuzziness, it sounds like the Colorado Avalanche are keeping things opaque when it comes to players on expiring contracts. So, we might need to wait-and-see with Andre Burakovsky and Nikita Zadorov.

That’s … understandable, especially with Burakovsky, who’s still making early impressions. Colorado might be wise to pick and choose with this stuff in the future, though. Could the Avalanche have signed Mikko Rantanen for less than a $9.25M AAV if they were more proactive? We can only speculate …

But hey, at least no one got bit by a spider.

*shudders*

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Penguins remain hot with win vs. Avalanche

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Brandon Tanev notched a shorthanded goal in overtime to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche.

Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel also scored as Pittsburgh recorded its fourth straight victory. Matt Murray added 26 saves.

Matt Calvert and Nathan MacKinnon found the back of the net for the Avalanche but their six-game point streak to open the season came to an end.

Crosby continues to dazzle

The Penguins captain has clearly moved on from a disappointing playoff run last year, which ended in a first-round sweep at the hands of the Islanders. Instead, Crosby is off to a tremendous start, recording points in each of Pittsburgh’s seven games and leading the club on the ice to a 5-2-0 record.

Crosby netted a highlight-reel backhander to tie the game late in the first period and then assisted on a Jake Guentzel tally in the second.

The superstar center craftily tipped the puck around Erik Johnson, played the puck with his glove, and then somehow had the wherewithal to outlast goaltender Philipp Grubauer until an opening appeared for him to slide a backhander into the net.

Early in the second period, Crosby intercepted a pass at the blueline, then set up Guentzel to help the Penguins grab a 2-1 lead.

While several notable players remain sidelined, Crosby will be expected to lead the Penguins on the ice, and continue to improve the players around him. Pittsburgh will need Crosby to play at the top of his game until reinforcements return over the next few weeks.

Avalanche upcoming free agents

After the Mikko Rantanen contract issue this past summer, the Avalanche have several pending RFA’s for next summer.

Colorado is expected to be a legit Stanley Cup Contender with a great mix of dynamic playmakers, infusion of youth and seasoned veterans capable of leading the way during turbulent stretches.

However, Bob McKenzie offered that general manager Joe Sakic wants to see how the first part of the season plays out before engaging in contract talks.

Andre Burakovsky, Tyson Jost and Nikita Zadorov headline the pending RFA class and all presumably have a role to fill moving forward.

Is Lafferty here to stay?

The Penguins have been bitten by the injury bug early and have been forced to rely on their organizational depth to stay afloat during a challenging stretch.

During their Stanley Cup-winning years, the Penguins have always been able to call up a role player to fill a specific need. Is Sam Lafferty the next player to seamlessly fit in?

Lafferty was close to making the team out of training camp according to Bob McKenzie, but fell victim to the numbers game of a roster. However, injuries to five impact forwards — Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bjugstad, Alex Galchenyuk, Bryan Rust and Jared McCann — created a roster spot for him to slide in.

“We always felt like Sam was close coming into this training camp this year. But I think he has a whole lot more confidence in himself that he belongs here,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “And that’s great for him, and that’s great for us.”

The 24-year-old originally from Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, about two hours outside of Pittsburgh, Lafferty has taken advantage of the opportunity recording five points over the previous three games.

“He’s earned his playing time. He’s just playing terrific hockey,” Sullivan said. “He made a difference every game he’s been in. As a result, he’s getting more ice time. He’s a very good penalty-killer. I think he really understands his role and is taking pride in it. You can see it every shift. He’s gaining more confidence.”

The Penguins have done an excellent job in sliding players into appropriate roles, and Lafferty is just the latest example. Does the kid have what it takes to stick around for a full season and continue to make a difference? We will find out as the season goes on.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Blue Jackets’ Milano scores ridiculous between-the-legs goal vs. Stars

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Sidney Crosby scored a wonderful highlight reel goal despite hard-working defense, yet he has some competition for Wednesday’s best one-man effort.

Sonny Milano hasn’t always been able to justify being selected 16th overall in 2014 by the Columbus Blue Jackets, but there have been flashes of brilliance when he’s avoided landed in John Tortorella’s doghouse. The 23-year-old authored his best NHL effort so far against the Dallas Stars on Wednesday, beating Esa Lindell, Roope Hintz, and Ben Bishop, making a great move and then finishing his chance with the sort of between-the-legs move you’d see in a shootout.

You’re just not supposed to be able to that at full speed in NHL action, particularly against quality players and Bishop, who finished second in Vezina voting in 2018-19.

That goal ended up standing as the game-winner as Columbus beat Dallas 3-2 on Wednesday, too.

So, which goal do you prefer: Milano’s (above this post’s headline) or Crosby’s from the Penguins’ eventual 3-2 OT win against the Colorado Avalanche?

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.