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The Buzzer: Sharks keep sinking; Jets, Byfuglien to arbitration?

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Saturday’s been such a busy — and violent/scary — night in the NHL, that it feels acceptable to commandeer the beginning of The Buzzer for some developing stories before we get to the three stars, highlights, and factoids.

Choppy waters for the Sharks

If you can zoom out a bit, it’s fair to remember that the Sharks sent a bucket of pucks Connor Hellebuyck‘s way on Friday, only to lose. They were probably a little tired on Saturday, and also maybe feeling a little bit like they wouldn’t get the bounces that come from whatever hard work they could squeeze out.

(It’s worth asking if a team that also leans so much on older players might be especially prone to weak efforts on the second half of back-to-backs.)

Those caveats out of the way … yikes.

The Sharks’ 5-2 loss to the Canucks represents San Jose’s fifth loss in a row, and the Sharks have only won once in their last eight games (1-6-1 stretch), pushing their 2019-20 record to a deeply worrisome 4-10-1. When the Sharks decided to extend Erik Karlsson, it felt like the right move now, even if there’d likely be pain down the road. That pain instead took the express lane.

More than a few people wonder if Peter DeBoer will lose his job, among other changes. That’s a situation to watch, whether things heat up this weekend, this week, or further down the line. Either way, it’s pretty shocking, even if it’s early.

Arbitration for Buffy?

The latest episode of “As the Buffy Turns” comes from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, who reports that the Winnipeg Jets might have to go to arbitration with possibly retiring defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. It kicks off around the two-minute mark:

This seems less optimistic than Bob McKenzie’s update from earlier this week on NBCSN. The gist of the disagreement can be broken down in two basic phases, via Friedman’s report:

  • The NHL/Jets argue that Byfuglien was deemed “fit to play” at an end-of-season exit physical. Byfuglien’s side notes that it was well-known that he played hurt through the playoffs, and tried to take the summer to heal. Once his ankle acted up again, he reportedly decided it might be time to retire. Thus, on Byfuglien’s side, they argue it’s a legitimate hockey injury.
  • Once Byfuglien underwent surgery, a broken foot was discovered. At least, that’s Byfuglien’s side; there are arguments over when that injury might have happened.

It ultimately seems like this may come down to whether or not Byfuglien will be paid while he’s on the shelf — possibly without ever returning. But we’ll see.

*Phew*

Three Stars

1. Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers

If you only look at the exhilarating game-winner, you’d think Leon Draisaitl was the one who stole the show from Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid. Overall, though, it was Mike Smith.

The Penguins peppered Smith with 52 shots on goal, including 13 high-danger chances at even-strength alone, according to Natural Stat Trick. Smith only yielded a single goal, stealing a win for the Oilers. Read more about that game in Adam Gretz’s three takeaways.

2. David Rittich, Calgary Flames

While Smith nabbed a remarkable 51 saves, it was “Big Save Dave” who finished Saturday night without a single blemish. Rittich pitched a 43-save shutout to help Calgary beat the Blue Jackets 3-0.

I’m giving Smith the edge because he faced so many dangerous chances, but Rittich’s night was plenty impressive in its own right.

3. Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets

The Jets entered the third period against the Golden Knights down 3-1, closing off a back-to-back in Vegas, one of the toughest buildings to snag such a win in.

Winnipeg wouldn’t be denied, and Connor was a big part of a comeback win. He collected two primary assists to help push the game into overtime, then baffled Malcolm Subban after Subban made a tremendous save earlier in the period. Getting the OT winner, plus two primary assists, helps push Connor just a bit ahead of the pack.

There were some other great performances, including David Pastrnak posting another three-point night (1G, 2A).

Highlight of the Night

The Devils got a much-needed win by beating the Hurricanes, and Nico Hischier scored a much-needed goal:

Factoids

  • The Islanders are on a nine-game winning streak, tied for the second best streak in franchise history. You can read more about that here, but Isles Blog points out another impressive stat: the team is 14-1-1 in the second half of back-to-back sets under Barry Trotz.
  • NHL PR notes that the Kings have scored 41 OT goals since the 3-on-3 format was introduced in 2015-16, six more than any team.
  • Speaking of highest marks since 2015-16 (also compiled by NHL PR), Sergei Bobrovsky holds the most shutouts with 23. That 23rd came on Saturday, and marks his first with the Panthers.
  • From Sportsnet Stats: David Pastrnak’s 27 points rank as the third-most through 13 games in Bruins history. Pastrnak’s only behind Phil Esposito (31 in 1973-74) and Bobby Orr (28 in 1974-75).

Scores

EDM 2 – PIT 1 (OT)
NYR 2 – NSH 1
BOS 5 – OTT 2
NYI 1 – BUF 0
FLA 4 – DET 0
TOR 4 – PHI 3 (SO)
NJD 5 – CAR 3
CGY 3 – CBJ 0
DAL 4 – MTL 1
STL 4 – MIN 3 (OT)
ARI 3 – COL 0
WIN 4 – VGK 3 (OT)
VAN 5 – SJS 2
LAK 4 – CHI 3 (OT)

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.

Hurricanes remain ‘hopeful’ for a Justin Williams comeback

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When Justin Williams announced in September he would be “taking a break” from hockey, he didn’t shut the door entirely on a possible comeback at some point this season.

“Because of my current indecision, and without the type of mental and physical commitment that I’m accustomed to having, I’ve decided to step away from the game,” wrote the 38-year-old Williams.

With the Hurricanes sitting in an Eastern Conference wild card and only two points away from a top three spot in the Metropolitan Division, adding a veteran goal scorer like Williams would only help. What he brings on and off the ice is immeasurable, and it was clear last season just how valuable he was to a budding young team. The team is hopeful he’ll return to play and are keeping the lines of communication open.

“We continue to talk with him. I think he’s working out a little bit more on his own right now,” Hurricanes GM Don Waddell told the team website this week. “I think he’s going to start coming to the gym a little more. That’s a positive sign. What that end result is yet is still a mystery to all of us, but we’re hopeful that maybe there is an opportunity there to have him come back.”

Waddell isn’t the only one who’s unsure of a Williams return. Williams himself sounds like he’s been back and forth on what his future holds, according to head coach Rod Brind’Amour.

“I don’t know. I think we’re getting closer to a time where if he doesn’t, then he’s not,” Brind’Amour said. “He’s got to get in game shape and do all that, so there’s a time frame for that. There’s still time for that. … We talk quite a bit. We mostly talk about kids and how’s coaching going. I’ll ask if he’s staying in shape or getting in shape, and he’ll some days say, ‘Yeah,’ and then say, ‘Ah, maybe.’ So, we’ll see.”

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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.

Kessel returns to Pittsburgh trying to find his game for Coyotes

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When the Arizona Coyotes acquired Phil Kessel from the Pittsburgh Penguins back in August (for forward Alex Galchenyuk and defense prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph) it gave them the type of player the organization had been lacking for years: a bonafide star forward, and one that was capable of scoring at a level that no Coyotes player had reached in close to a decade.

For a team that was just a couple of games away from the playoffs a season ago — despite an absurd season-long run of injuries that consistently decimated the roster — it was the type of move that could not only generate excitement within the fan base (it did, and they have the season ticket sales to prove it), but also give the team the last extra push it needed to get over the hump and end what is currently a seven-year playoff drought.

With Kessel set to make his first visit to Pittsburgh since the trade on Friday night, the Coyotes have put themselves in a great position to end that drought, sitting on top of the Pacific Division after 30 games thanks to their 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday.

What is perhaps most surprising about their current spot in the standings is they have done it while getting minimal offensive impact from Kessel, even with his two-goal effort in Thursday’s win.

The early numbers are kind of staggering given the high bar Kessel has set for himself over the years offensively.

  • His six goals are his fewest through 30 games since his rookie year in 2006-07 (five goals).
  • He has been held without a goal in 26 of the team’s first 30 games.
  • He has just one even-strength goal on the season, with the other five coming on the power play (including both goals on Thursday — one of which was also an empty-net goal).
  • He is on pace for just 16 goals over 82 games. If he does not improve on that it would be his lowest total since his rookie year (11) and the first time since 2007-08 (his second year in the league when he missed 10 games) he did not top 20 goals in a season.

Some decline in his overall production should have been expected.

Not only because he is another year older (32) and another year away from his prime, but because he went from playing on a veteran, star-laden roster in Pittsburgh that plays one of the most up-tempo styles in the league, to a young Arizona team that, while talented, does not have Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in the middle of its lineup.

Even with all of that in mind this is still a pretty significant drop across the board, but it does not mean all hope is lost for him this season. Like any elite goal scorer Kessel can be notoriously streaky and score goals in bunches (this is not a knock on Kessel; it’s a reality for all players across the league), and it’s also not the first time he’s started a year slow. In his first year with the Penguins back in 2015-16 he had just nine goals through 30 games before getting hot in the second half, then catching fire in the playoffs on the way to the first of back-to-back Stanley Cups.

While Kessel has not exactly lit the world on fire for the Coyotes, the trade has not exactly been a rousing success for the Penguins.

For all of Kessel’s flaws as a player, the Penguins absolutely miss his presence on a power play unit that been mostly dysfunctional this season. A lot of their power play the past few years ran through him, from his ability to gain entry into the zone (a problem for the Penguins this year), to his playmaking, to his ability to finish. Even with all of his struggles in Arizona offensively his five power play goals are more than any player on the Penguins.

They also have not received anything close to what they hoped they would from Alex Galchenyuk, which is starting to become a pretty big issue. He has just two goals through his first 20 games and has mostly been relegated to fourth-line duty. Even with the Penguins missing several regulars in their lineup he has not topped the 10-minute mark in three of the team’s past four games, while general manager Jim Rutherford on Thursday (via The Athletic’s Josh Yohe) that Galchenyuk is not a lock to remain in the lineup when everyone is back. Galchenyuk always seemed like a one-and-done player in Pittsburgh from the very beginning — Joseph is the key long-term piece — but they probably expected more than this.

The funny thing about all of this is the trade has not really done much for either team through the first quarter of the season, but both teams have still managed to put themselves on solid ground.

The Coyotes are healthy and in first place and still have the hope that a Kessel goal-binge is lurking somewhere in the not-too-distant future.

The Penguins are overcoming their injury issues, playing the way they want to play, and finding ways to collect points while they wait for their regulars to return.

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.

Laila Anderson meets bone marrow donor

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Laila Anderson has made us shed a tear or two (or several) over the last year, and she was involved in another touching moment on Thursday night.

It was special to witness the 11-year-old’s journey. We got to see her ups with the St. Louis Blues and we also got to see the emotion behind her battle with a rare auto-immune disease, HLH. Last night, Anderson got to meet the person who helped her get better, as she got to interact with Kenton Felmlee, who ended up being her bone marrow donor.

“I felt a bond with her before we ever met. I think the second I look at her on the stage and saw her face,” Felmlee, who is a sophomore at the University of Kansas, said, per Fox 2 Now St. Louis. “Every emotion that I was feeling all exploded into so much more.”

As you can tell from the above video, their first interaction was incredibly emotional.

“I don’t care if we go to dinner or if we go to Disney World. I don’t care what we do, I just want to spend time with you,” Laila told her new friend on Thursday night.

And, of course, Anderson and Felmlee will be attending Saturday’s game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center.

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.

Calgary Flames sign deal for new downtown arena

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CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — The Calgary Flames have a deal for a new downtown arena, a 35-year agreement that keeps the NHL club in the city for that time.

The team, the city and the Calgary Stampede rodeo signed an agreement Thursday to replace the 36-year-old Scotiabank Saddledome.

The 19,000-seat arena is to cost more than $417 million. Construction is expected to begin in 2021, just north of the Saddledome. The arena will be demolished between 2024 and 2025.

The project is part of a downtown revitalization. The building will become the home of the Flames and part of a planned entertainment district bordering the Stampede grounds.

The Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp., which owns the Flames, and the city will split the costs. The Stampede is a not-for-profit community group.