PHT Morning Skate: Critical three weeks for Sens; Should Wild buy or sell?

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Mitch Marner‘s agent isn’t impressed with the offers the Maple Leafs have made to his client. (Toronto Star)

• Talks between Matt Duchene and the Ottawa Senators are picking up, but signing him before the trade deadline is still the priority. (Ottawa Citizen)

• Sticking with the Sens theme, their future might change in a big way if they’re forced to trade Duchene, Mark Stone and/or Ryan Dzingel. (Sportsnet)

• Last night, Paul Maurice became just the sixth head coach in NHL history to be behind the bench for 1,500 games. That’s an impressive number, but the journey hasn’t been easy. (TSN)

• Caps goalie Braden Holtby admitted that he’s already begun thinking about becoming a free agent in 2020. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

• If they Islanders end up making the playoffs, they should play their home games at Nassau Coliseum. (The Sports Daily)

• Wild GM Paul Fenton hasn’t committed to being a buyer or a seller at this year’s trade deadline. (Twin Cities)

• The fine folks at Broad Street Hockey had a chat with former NHLer Daniel Carcillo, who admitted that he has “brain damage” and “brain injury symptoms”. (Broad Street Hockey)

• Katie Guay became the first woman to referee in the Beanpot Tournament. “There’s a lot of females that came before me that certainly had the skill to get out there, it’s just they didn’t get the chance. So I feel like I’m doing it for all of them that didn’t have the opportunity, and hoping to pave some more paths for the younger officials coming up the ranks.” (NHL.com)

• The Golden Knights should continue to give Valentin Zykov an opportunity to play on their top line. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• The Oilers will gladly welcome Andrej Sekera back into their lineup, but it will put them in a tough spot with the salary cap. (Oilers Nation)

• An easy schedule could help the Vancouver Canucks sneak into the postseason. (Nucks Misconduct)

• The St. Louis Blues should forget about being sellers at the trade deadline now that they’re so close to a Wild Card spot. (The Hockey News)

• The Tampa Bay Lightning will continue to get every team’s best shot, which is just fine with them (Tampa Times)

• Check out the trailer for the movie “Goalie,” which is based on Terry Sawchuk’s life:

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Elvis thrives: Merzlikins is on fire for Blue Jackets

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Elvis Merzlikins advanced a bold goal lately: to be more than just a funny name. He is leaving opponents all shook  up absolutely red-hot for the Columbus Blue Jackets right now.

Elvis absolutely hound-dogged shut out the New Jersey Devils in Columbus’ 5-0 on Saturday, and that 41-save performance was far from his first standout evening. Merzlikins generated three shutouts in his last four games, allowing just two goals overall. The Blue Jackets won all four of those games.

(OK, this post includes enough cheesy Elvis jokes … arguably.)

During seven appearances between October and November, the 25-year-old goalie languished with sub-.900 save percentages. Since then, he’s started to take off.

Some “too perfect” moments for Elvis Merzlikins and the Blue Jackets

Maybe Merzlikins made a New Year’s Eve resolution to dominate? Perhaps it was because Elvis asked reporters to leave him alone? Merzlikins suffered only two losses since Dec. 31, winning eight of 10 games.

The lights-out play already makes the story endearing, but there are notes of the surreal. Consider a few facts about his hot streak:

“That’s what you like about him. He’s strong mentally,” Tortorella said after the Jan. 11 Vegas shutout, via Rob Mixer of First Ohio Battery. “He’s a piece of work as far as his personality, which I like. A lot of things have been thrown at him here…but he’s handled himself really well. I’m happy for him.”

  • Merzlikins ended up making it back-to-back shutouts, as he also blanked the Bruins with a 34-save shutout. His three shutouts have upped the ante each time: first 27 saves, then 34, then 41 against the Devils on Saturday.

Tortorella deserves ample credit for creating a cocoon for his goalies, of course.

Regardless, Merzlikins is playing a big role in helping the Blue Jackets stay in the East wild-card races. Here’s hoping that our jokes rise up the charts or we might just need to leave the building.

(Sorry. I’m so, so sorry.)

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.

Hat trick helps Ovechkin pass Lemieux, tie Yzerman for ninth on NHL goals list

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An historic week for Alex Ovechkin was capped off with a hat trick Saturday afternoon during a 6-4 win over the Islanders. His three goals pushes him past Mario Lemieux and into ninth place with 692, tying him with Steve Yzerman.

Ovechkin opened the scoring and then passed Mario Lemieux for 10th all-time in the third period as the Capitals mounted their comeback. He ended his day with an empty-netter to seal the win and tie Yzerman. The Islanders led 4-1 entering the third period.

Powered by two consecutive hat tricks, Ovechkin has eight goals in his last three games and 10 in his previous six.

That’s now three consecutive multi-goal games for Ovechkin, the first time he’s done that in his career. Earlier this week he not only passed Teemu Selanne for 11th on the all-time goals list but also hit the 30-goal mark for the 15th time in his career. He, along with Jaromir Jagr and Mike Gartner, are the only players to ever record 15 consecutive 30-goal seasons.

With three goals Saturday — the third time he’s recorded hat tricks in consecutive games — Ovechkin now has 34 on the season as he eyes a ninth 50-goal season. His hat trick was the 26th of his NHL career, tying him with Maurice Richard for eighth all-time.

Next in Ovechkin’s sights? Mark Messier, who finished with 694 goals in his career.

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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.

Stars’ Stephen Johns activated after missing almost 22 months

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Dallas Stars activated Stephen Johns before their game Saturday night in Minnesota, clearing the way for the defenseman’s first game in almost 22 months.

Forward Radek Faksa was placed on injured reserve to make room for Johns on the active roster.

Johns has been out since late in the 2017-18 season because of post-traumatic headaches. The Stars have said the condition isn’t related to concussions.

The 27-year-old Johns hasn’t played since March 29, 2018, at the Wild. It was the last of a career-high 75 games in his third NHL season. Johns missed the last five games that year before sitting out all of last season as headaches persisted.

He played two games on a conditioning assignment with the Texas Stars of the AHL before rejoining Dallas on Thursday.

The return of Johns could coincide with the Stars’ first game without defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The 20-year-old standout left Thursday’s loss to Buffalo with an upper-body injury.

Johns made his debut for Dallas late in the 2014-15 season and played in all 13 of the team’s playoff games as a rookie. He has 13 goals, 15 assists and 306 blocked shots in 150 career regular-season games.

Panthers down another goalie, injured Driedger to miss weeks

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Florida goalie Chris Driedger will miss several weeks with what’s believed to be a groin injury, the latest health issue at that position for the Panthers.

The Panthers announced the diagnosis Saturday, calling it a lower-body injury.

Driedger was hurt midway through the first period of the Panthers’ 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. He is 5-2-0 in nine appearances for Florida this season, with a 2.48 GAA.

The Panthers have also been without goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for much of January while he recovers from an upper-body injury.

Florida begins a stretch of six consecutive road games Saturday in Detroit. That six-game run also includes the All-Star break and the Panthers’ bye week.