Sakic has Avs trending up after two straight playoff seasons

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Back in his Colorado Avalanche playing days, Joe Sakic’s approach was pretty much title or bust.

As the team’s general manager, a similar feeling is beginning to develop.

Sakic and the Avalanche took a little time for reflection following a Game 7 loss to San Jose in the second round. That page has been turned.

The Hall of Fame player turned executive has his full focus on improving a team that’s been to the postseason in back-to-back seasons for the first time since he was on the ice.

High on Sakic’s to-do list: A deal for restricted free agent Mikko Rantanen and preparing for the draft, where the Avs possess the fourth overall pick (courtesy of Ottawa) and the 16th selection. There’s also a multitude of players to consider retaining , which includes unrestricted free agent goaltender Semyon Varlamov.

”You’ve got to keep building and getting better,” Sakic said Tuesday. ”As great as the end of the year was, we still didn’t accomplish the end goal. We’ve got to find a way to get better.”

In 2018, Colorado was simply content with getting into the playoffs and lost in the first round to Nashville. This season, the Avalanche expected to make some noise, which they did by upsetting Calgary, the top seed in the West. It was the first time since 2008 they had advanced out of a series. But their run came to a halt with a 3-2 loss to the Sharks.

”Someone had to lose that series – unfortunately it was us,” Sakic said. ”Our guys learned a lot in that series.”

It’s easy to see why securing Rantanen remains high for Sakic: The forward is coming off a regular season during which he set career bests in points (87), goals (31) and assists (56). Rantanen paired with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog to form one of hockey’s most lethal line combinations.

”We want to make sure we have him signed,” Sakic said.

Sakic plans to meet with the coaching staff to make evaluations involving players under contract, restricted free agents (Nikita Zadorov, J.T. Compher and Alexander Kerfoot head the list) and those with expiring deals (such as Derick Brassard, Colin Wilson, Patrik Nemeth and Gabriel Bourque).

As free agency approaches, the Avalanche already have some players in mind.

”We’ll be more aggressive this year with that, but if it doesn’t work out with the players we want to talk to, we’re not just going to go spend on anybody,” Sakic said. ”We want the right players and the right fit.”

Other topics Sakic addressed:

– On a possible extension for coach Jared Bednar, whose deal is up after next season: ”We’ll get to that at the appropriate time. … There’s a good respect and good relationship the way he handles the players and the way the players respond to him.”

– On Nathan MacKinnon banging into the boards with his shoulder early in Game 7 at San Jose: ”He’s getting better every day. He’ll be fine in a couple weeks.”

– On the possibility of bringing back Varlamov, who’s been with the Avalanche since 2011-12: ”We’ll see what happens July 1 with him. … We’ll be in communication.”

– On working out a deal with defenseman Tyson Barrie, who is a free agent after ’19-20: ”All I can tell you is he’s an incredible player. He was a driving force down our stretch and with what we saw with him, Cale (Makar) and (Samuel) Girard I’d be very, very comfortable starting the year with that group.”

As for the draft, Sakic doesn’t plan on dealing the No. 4 pick. Although, he’s open to offers.

The last time Colorado drafted at No. 4 was 2017 when they took Makar, who led Massachusetts to the Frozen Four final before signing with the Avs soon after and joining the team for Game 3 of the Calgary series. The rookie provided a big boost in the postseason with a goal and five assists.

”He’s going to be an incredible player,” Sakic said. ”There’s a lot of excitement about this team. We’ve got to keep building and try to get to the next level.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

PHT Morning Skate: Lundqvist’s routine; No time for Bruins to panic

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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.

Henrik Lundqvist‘s game day routine keeps him in top shape. (Men’s Health)

• Even though they’ve lost three games in a row, there’s no need for the Bruins to panic. (WEEI)

• Here are six players the Habs could trade for to help out their defense. (Sportsnet)

• The Flyers’ power play was a strength that has now become a weakness. (Broad Street Hockey)

• How serious are the Leafs about reducing Freddie Anderson’s work load? (Toronto Star)

• Penguins defender John Marino is incredibly underrated. (ESPN)

• The way the Stars handled the Jim Montgomery situation will have a greater effect than the NHL’s code of conduct. (The Hockey News)

• Brendan Shanahan openly discussed the Mike Babcock, Johan Franzen and Mitch Marner situations. (TSN)

• Should the Rangers be sellers at the trade deadline? (Blue Seat Blogs)

David Perron has been a vital part of the Blues’ success this season. (St. Louis Game-Time)

• The Preds are officially in survival mode right now. (Predlines)

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.

The Buzzer: Aho shines again, Fleury’s big return, Red Wings lose 12th in a row

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Three Stars

1. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes. Aho followed up his five-point effort against Minnesota over the weekend by scoring a pair of goals in the Hurricanes’ 6-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night. After recording just one point in his first six games, Aho has been dominant for the Hurricanes and is now up to 28 points in his past 25 games. His assist numbers are still down a little bit this season, but he is now on pace for 48 goals this season. That number would shatter his career high.

2. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights. Fleury made his return to the Golden Knights’ lineup on Tuesday night after being away from the team due to a personal matter. He was outstanding in the Golden Knights’ 5-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, turning aside 28 of the 29 shots he faced. It was his first start since Nov. 23 and he missed a shutout by only 27 seconds. This game quickly turned into a rout as the Blackhawks’ already undermanned defense lost Calvin de Haan during the game (it sounds like a significant injury according to coach Jeremy Colliton), but it still had to be a positive sign for the Golden Knights to see Fleury step right back into the lineup and play the way he did. He is also now just three wins away from tying Curtis Joseph for sixth on the NHL’s all-time wins list.

3. John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs did not play their best game on Tuesday, but they still picked up a much-needed win in Vancouver thanks in large part to huge games Tavares and starting goalie Frederik Andersen. Tavares finished the game with two goals and an assist in the Maple Leafs’ 4-1 win. They have won two games in a row and are now 6-3-0 under new coach Sheldon Keefe. Tavares’ performance on Tuesday snapped what had been a three-game scoreless streak.

Other notable performances from Tuesday

  • There is no stopping Milan Lucic right now! After scoring zero goals in his first 27 games this season he has now scored three goals in the past four games. That includes his latest goal in the Flames 5-2 win over Arizona on Tuesday night. Zac Rinaldo also scored two goals in the win for Calgary. The Flames have now won six games in a row.
  • Ben Bishop stopped all 26 shots he faced for the Dallas Stars to record his first shutout of the season, giving new coach Rick Bowness his first win behind the Stars’ bench.
  • Nick Bonino scored his 12th goal of the season in the Nashville Predators’ 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks.
  • Jonathan Quick played what might have been his best game of the season as he helped the Los Angeles Kings to a 3-1 win over the New York Rangers.
  • The Minnesota Wild picked up another point, but lost in a shootout to the Anaheim Ducks. The big story out of that game for the Wild is the injury to Eric Staal after he was injured in a collision with a linesman. Read all about it here.

Red Wings losing streak reaches 12 games

Times are tough in Hockeytown right now as the Red Wings’ losing streak reached the 12-game mark on Tuesday in a 4-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. The past 10 games are all regulation losses, while the team has been outscored by a 53-23 margin during the streak. The Red Wings also have a minus-62 goal differential for the season in just 32 games. That is the worst goal differential for any team through 32 games since the 1992-93 Ottawa Senators — an expansion team that went on to win just 10 out of 84 games — and the 1992-93 San Jose Sharks, a second-year franchise that won just 11 out of 74 games. The Red Wing are 7-22-3 this season.

Highlights of the Night

Shea Weber is playing some incredible hockey for the Montreal Canadiens right now, and this goal in Pittsburgh late in the second period was a massive momentum swing.

Patrik Laine made this goal look easy. It almost certainly was not as easy as it looked. But wow did he make it look easy.

Jack Eichel extended his current point streak to 14 consecutive games by scoring the game-winning goal (then adding an empty-net goal later in the game) against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night. It was a beautiful play made possible by a baffling defensive breakdown by the Blues. Read more about the Sabres’ win here.

Blooper of the Night

It was a tough night for the Oilers on the blooper front. First, not only did starting goalie Mikko Koskinen get fooled by Dougie Hamilton on a goal from the center red line (read about that one here), but Connor McDavid had this happen to him on a penalty shot attempt.

 

Factoids

  • After posting back-to-back shutouts Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry set a franchise record for longest shutout streak. [NHL PR]
  • Auston Matthews scored his 100th career goal on Tuesday. Alex Ovechkin is the only active player that hit that mark faster than him. [NHL PR]
  • The Jets scored two goals in 11 seconds on Tuesday night, the third-fastest sequence in franchise history and the fastest since the team moved to Winnipeg. [NHL PR]
  • Alex Pietrangelo scored his 100th career goal on Tuesday, joining Al MacInnis as the only Blues defenders to score 100 goals for the team. [NHL PR]
  • Weber’s highlight reel goal was his 10th of the season, making it the 11th time in his career he has hit that number. That is most among active defenders. [NHL PR]

Scores

Tampa Bay Lightning 2, Florida Panthers 1
Montreal Canadiens 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 1
Buffalo Sabres 5, St. Louis Blues 2
Nashville Predators 3, San Jose Sharks 1
Anaheim Ducks 3, Minnesota Wild 2 (SO)
Winnipeg Jets 5, Detroit Red Wings 1
Dallas Stars 2, New Jersey Devils 0
Carolina Hurricanes 6, Edmonton Oilers 3
Calgary Flames 5, Arizona Coyotes 2
Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Vancouver Canucks 1
Vegas Golden Knights 5, Chicago Blackhawks 1
Los Angeles Kings 3, New York Rangers 1

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.

Dougie Hamilton tricks Koskinen, scores from center red line (Video)

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Even though the Edmonton Oilers entered Tuesday’s game in a tie for first place in the Pacific Division there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about what they are actually capable of this season.

They are still the most top-heavy team in the league, relying almost entirely on one line for offense.

They have also been playing below .500 hockey for the better part of the past two months, and after Tuesday’s 6-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes have won just 11 of their past 25 games. Not great!

This most recent loss also included a rather embarrassing play as goalie Mikko Koskinen was faked out by Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton and allowed a goal from the center red line.

As Hamilton controlled the puck at the red line off of a face-off win, he made it look like he was going to simply dump the puck into the corner. That resulted in Koskinen starting to leave the net so he could cut off the dump-in and hopefully make a play to gain possession for his team.

The problem for Koskinen? Hamilton ended up putting the puck on net — while still looking at the corner! — and scored his 11th goal of the season, continuing what might turn out to be a Norris-worthy campaign.

You can see the play in the video above.

Giving up a red line goal is always tough for a goalie, but this one had to especially sting because the Oilers had just rallied from a two-goal deficit earlier in the period only to give up three consecutive goals — including Hamilton’s goal — to lose their second game in a row and their fifth in their past seven games.

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.

Wild’s Eric Staal injured in collision with linesman (Video)

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Minnesota Wild forward Eric Staal had to leave Tuesday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks after he was involved in a scary collision with a linesman along the boards in the first period.

As Staal and Anaheim forward Derek Grant raced for a puck, Staal went head first into linesman David Brisebois and immediately fell to the ice. He remained down for several minutes before finally being able to get to his feet and skate to the bench with assistance. He did not return to the game, while the Wild have yet to offer an update on his status.

You can see the play in the video above.

It could be a significant injury for the Wild as they are already playing without veterans Mikko Koivu and Jared Spurgeon due to injuries at the moment. Staal entered Tuesday’s game tied with Jason Zucker for the team lead in scoring with 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) in his first 30 games this season for a Wild team that has rapidly been turning its season around after a brutal start.

The Ducks ended up winning Tuesday’s game, 3-2, in a shootout. The Wild are still 8-1-4 in their past 13 games.

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.