PHT Face-Off: Sharks bleeding goals; Panthers heating up

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Another Monday morning, another PHT Face-Off setting up the week to come in the NHL. Now that we’re officially in the month of November, we have to start taking some of these on-ice trends a little more seriously. Let’s take a look at what stand outs and what may continue to stand out over the next seven days.

• Two points per game for Pastrnak:

Many players in the NHL are off to incredible starts, but Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak is the only player in the league that’s averaging more than two points per game this season. Pastrnak has 13 goals and 27 points in 13 games (2.08 PPG). As you’d imagine, he’s been out of this world this year. When he’s on the ice, the Bruins control more than 58 percent of the shot attempts, 68 percent of the goals scored, almost 59 percent of the scoring changes and 58.49 percent of the high-danger chances. (all stats via Natural Stat Trick)

Through 13 games, the Bruins’ top line of Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand have combined to score 58.7 percent of Boston’s goals (27 of 46). Sure, they’re top heavy, but who cares? That’s flat-out dominance. No matter the match up, the Bruins have have been the better side. They’ve dropped just three games all season (one in regulation) and although they’ll have a busy week, they should continue to find success.

Their hot start is even more impressive when you consider that they went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final last season. The teams around them in division (Toronto, Tampa Bay) have struggled out of the gate. The Bruins have been all business and they owe a lot of that to their top forward, Pastrnak.

• Ryan Poehling gets his shot: 

On Sunday, the Montreal Canadiens recalled Ryan Poehling from the AHL’s Laval Rocket. Poehling was Montreal’s first-round pick, 25th overall, in the 2017 NHL Draft. He had three strong years at St. Cloud State, he was also named the M.V.P. at the World Junior Hockey Championship for Team USA last year and he made quite an impression in his NHL debut at the end of the 2018-19 campaign.

After signing his entry-level contract late in the season, the 20-year-old got to play in his first NHL game on the last day of the regular season. Not only did Poehling suit up against the Toronto Maple Leafs last April, he scored a hat trick in his debut and he added the game-winner in the shootout.

Well, now that Jesperi Kotkaniemi is on injured reserve, Poehling will get a chance to take on another big rival, as the Bruins will pull up to the Bell Center on Tuesday night (you can watch that game on NBCSN, by the way).

We’ll find out if he’s here to stay or if he still needs time to marinate in the minors.

• Panthers coming on strong: 

Panthers center Aleksander Barkov picked up three assists in his first five games of the season. What has he done since then? It took him some time to score his first goal of the season (he did that on Oct. 30), but he’s now scored in back-to-back games and he’s picked up an incredible 14 points in his last nine games.

Teammate Jonathan Huberdeau, who might be the most underrated star in the NHL (he had the quietest 92-point season ever in 2018-19), is also off to a blazing start. He’s scored an impressive nine goals and nine assists in 14 games already this year. Understandably, everyone is talking about the duos of Marchand and Pastrnak in Boston and Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton, but the Panthers’ top duo is currently 10th and 11th in NHL scoring right now.

The Panthers have suffered just one regulation loss in their last 11 games and they’re not occupying one of the top three spots in the Atlantic Division. Impressive.

• How about those Vancouver Canucks:

Raise your hand if you thought the Canucks were going to be one of the best teams in the NHL through the first month of the season. What? Nobody?

Well, the Canucks have been getting the job done. They were consistent in October and they’re off to a 1-0-1 start in November. Elias Pettersson is definitely leading the charge for the Canucks, as he’s accumulated 20 points in 14 games in his second season, but his supporting cast has been strong too.

Brock Boeser (16 points in 14 games) and J.T. Miller (15 points in 14 games) have also carried their weight. Bo Horvat is right below that point-per-game clip, while Alex Edler has managed to stay healthy so far (he’s averaging over 25 minutes of ice time per game). And rookie Quinn Hughes is sidelined with an injury now, but he’s also up to 10 points in just 13 games. Even goaltender Jacob Markstrom has done a nice job between the pipes.

Let’s see if they can keep this going.

• Sharks can’t keep puck out of net: 

The San Jose Sharks probably aren’t happy with the amount of goals they’ve scored this season, but keeping the puck out of the net is a major issue for them, too.

The Sharks, who are 4-10-1, have surrendered 56 goals in 15 games. The only teams that have given up more goals than them are Los Angeles and Detroit, who have both given up 57. Yeah, that’s bad. Everyone expected the Kings and Wings to be bad, but no one thought the Sharks would be this brutal.

As you’d imagine, they’re bleeding high-danger chances so far. According to Natural Stat Trick, their 138 high-danger chances against is tied for second with Washington. Only the Winnipeg Jets have surrendered more of those. Also, no team has given up more goals from high-danger chances than San Jose (25).

Erik Karlsson doesn’t look right, Marc-Edouard Vlasic hasn’t been very good and a lot of the older players look, well, old.

There’s still time for them to get this turned around, but at a certain point you are what your record says you are.

What’s coming up this week

• Islanders look to push their winning streak to 10 games vs. Ottawa, Tue. Nov. 5, 7 p.m. ET.

• The defending Stanley Cup champion champion St. Louis Blues go head-to-head against Connor McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl, Wed. Nov. 6, 8:30 p.m. ET.

• NHL Global Series continues with Tampa Bay and Buffalo on Friday (2 p.m. ET) and Saturday (1 p.m. ET) in Stockholm, Sweden.

• 2018 Stanley Cup Final rematch: Golden Knights at Capitals, Sat. Nov. 9, 7 p.m. ET.

NHL on NBCSN
• Bruins vs. Canadiens, Tue. Nov. 5, 7:30 p.m. ET
• Blackhawks vs. Sharks, Tue. Nov. 5, 10 p.m. ET
• Lightning vs. Sabres from Stockholm, Sweden, Fri. Nov. 8, 2 p.m. ET

Wednesday Night Hockey
• Red Wings vs. Rangers, Wed. Nov. 6, 8 p.m. ET

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.

 

PHT Morning Skate: Winners, losers of NHL Olympic return; Training camp battles

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

Training camp battles, NHL playoff previews, and other return-to-play links

• Jackets Cannon looks at Columbus’ biggest strength: defense. In particular, Rachel Bules looks at how the pandemic pause will allow the Blue Jackets to have some serious training camp competition for spots. The Blue Jackets will need to be sharp, too, because the Maple Leafs’ firepower presents a real challenge for any defense corps. [Jackets Cannon]

• Speaking of the Maple Leafs — and training camp previews — Emily Sadler put together a thorough breakdown for Toronto. Can Frederik Andersen go the distance? Tyson Barrie ranks as a player to watch. Plus much more. [Sportsnet]

• George Richards takes a look at the Panthers’ “2.0” roster for training camp. If I had to single out a most interesting item, it’s that Anton Stralman has been involved. You may remember him airing some concerns about an NHL return. [Florida Hockey Now]

• What various analytics say about how the Wild’s lines match up with the Canucks. [Zone Coverage]

• It’s one thing for the Coyotes to say that they want to “get a little more juice” out of their offense. It’s another thing to actually lay out how it might work. Craig Morgan rolls out a detailed approach of how that might happen, including activating weakside defensemen. [AZ Coyotes Insider]

• The pandemic pause ranks as the biggest curveball Carter Hart‘s seen in the NHL so far. That said, it’s far from the only one. If he keeps passing these tests, it might all be to the benefit of Hart’s career. [NBC Sports Philadelphia]

Other hockey links

• As a pending UFA on a team that could face a salary cap crunch, Christopher Tanev knows he might not be back with the Canucks. Tanev said he hopes that he can return, and in particular, he’d love to remain Quinn Hughes‘ defensive partner for a long time. [NHL.com]

• It’s easy to look at the NHL’s return to Olympic participation as a good thing for everyone involved. As Ryan Kennedy points out, it depends on the outlook for different countries’ national teams. Kennedy presents the winners and losers for the NHL return to the Olympics, with Germany landing in an interesting spot. [The Hockey News]

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.

Sabres drop lawsuit after assistant coach is granted a green card

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres dropped their lawsuit against the federal government after immigration officials reversed course by approving the team’s strength and conditioning coach’s petition for a green card.

“The matter has been resolved amicably between both parties,” with Ed Gannon receiving approval for an EB-1 visa, the Sabres announced in a text message Wednesday.

The Sabres sued U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in May by alleging officials wrongly denied the team’s visa petition for the British-born coach.

The announcement came a week after the Sabres’ lawyer notified the U.S. District Court in Buffalo that the team was voluntary dismissing the suit, with each side agreeing to bear their own costs and fees.

The Sabres accused immigration services of misstating facts and arbitrarily failing to follow its own rules in denying a green card to Gannon. They argued the decision potentially subjected the team “to substantial financial harm and disruption in developing (its) athletes.”

Gannon was hired by the Sabres in 2015 while the team was beefing up its player development staff. He previously spent 10 years as the lead strength and conditioning coach of a professional rugby club, the Leicester Tigers.

The Sabres filed the application for permanent residency on Gannon’s behalf in October. To be granted a green card, Gannon had to demonstrate that he was at the top of his field, and the Sabres argued that he proved his abilities under USCIS’ criteria.

The denial of Gannon’s petition came amid efforts by the Trump administration to limit legal immigration. A report last year by the Migration Policy Institute concluded that USCIS had become “increasingly active in immigration enforcement” and that the agency was intentionally slowing down adjudication of immigration benefits applications.

Healthy Ekman-Larsson ready to give Coyotes a playoff boost

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Oliver Ekman-Larsson had knee surgery last summer, fully expecting it to help him have a healthy 2019-20 season.

The Arizona Coyotes captain instead played with lingering pain, never able to fully recover.

The NHL’s shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic was a huge letdown, but it at least allowed Ekman-Larsson time to get back to full strength.

”These 2 1/2 months have been really good for me,” he said during a conference call this week. ”My knee is feeling 100% and I’ve been able to get stronger and faster.”

Ekman-Larsson had another solid season in 2018-19, finishing second on the team with 44 points with 14 goals. He was named to the NHL All-Star team for the fifth time and continued to be one of the NHL’s best offensive defensemen.

Ekman-Larsson opted to have offseason knee surgery to help with another lower-body injury and never was quite right this season, his 10th in the NHL.

The break allowed him time to heal, as did a trip back to his home in Sweden.

Unlike Arizona, Sweden did not go on lockdown once the pandemic hit and Ekman-Larsson took advantage, using the time to heal physically and mentally.

”With this virus going around, I haven’t felt so good mentally,” he said. ”Going back home and being around my family really helped that situation. I benefited from the physical part of being away. For the mental part, it was nice to get away from it.”

The Coyotes returned to the ice this week to prepare for the resumption of the season.

The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association announced Monday a tentative deal on a return-to-play format. Should it be ratified, the league will resume play on Aug. 1 with 24 teams proceeding in an expanded playoff format at two hub cities in Canada.

The Coyotes, the West’s No. 11 seed, will open against Nashville in a best-of-five series in their first postseason appearance since reaching the 2012 Western Conference Finals.

”It just feels like it’s a different game,” said Ekman-Larsson, the lone remaining player from the 2012 team. ”Everybody feels faster and stronger. I don’t know how it’s even possible, but at the same time it’s another level.

”I’m glad that I’ve had the chance to be in the playoffs before. There’s so many good teams and you don’t really know when you are going to have the chance.”

The Coyotes have a chance to make a little noise once they get there.

Ekman-Larsson is healthy, as is Phil Kessel, who struggled with injuries after being traded from Pittsburgh before the season. Arizona also has one of the best goaltending tandems in Antti Raanta and Darcy Keumper, who are both healthy as well.

”For us to get a chance and show that we are good enough to be a playoff team, I think that’s huge for our group moving forward,” Ekman-Larsson said.

A healthy Ekman-Larsson gives them an opportunity to keep moving forward.

Chris Pronger leaves senior VP of hockey ops role with Panthers

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The Panthers announced on Wednesday that Chris Pronger is leaving his role as senior vice president of hockey operations and senior advisor. The Hockey Hall of Famer joined the organization in 2017 after spending three years in the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.

“I want to personally thank the Viola family, Doug Cifu, Dale Tallon and all of the staff with the Florida Panthers,” said Pronger via a team statement. “I was able to grow as an executive and more importantly as a person in my three years with the hockey club. I wish the Panthers organization nothing but the best in the upcoming playoffs and years to come.”

Pronger is moving on to focus on the company he runs with his wife, Lauren. Well Inspired Travels “caters to elite athletes, C-Level executives and business owners.”

The Panthers are currently preparing for their Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the Islanders, which is set to begin next month.

MORE:
A look at the Eastern Conference matchups
Final standings for 2019-20 NHL season, NHL draft lottery results

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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.