PHT Face-Off: Hungry Sharks; Caps are road warriors

Before the start of the regular season, most expected the top three spots in the Atlantic Division to go to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs. The order of the three teams was up for debate, but those three were pretty much locked in as the favorites to earn those spots.

As of today, not only do the Atlantic Division standings look nothing like what we expected, but two of the three teams aren’t even in the top three. Credit to Boston, who could’ve had a Stanley Cup Final hangover. Instead, they’ve come out and they’ve been flat-out dominant for the most part this season. Tampa and Toronto are very different stories.

The big difference between the two, is that the Bolts are showing signs of life. The Maple Leafs aren’t.

Here are five storylines to keep an eye on going forward:

• Schedule sets up nicely for Bolts:

The Lightning won their two games against Buffalo in Stockholm, Sweden and they managed to annihilate the Rangers, 9-3, in their return to North America. They dropped a 4-3 decision to the Jets this weekend, but their schedule should allow them to continue having success. They’ll play back-to-back road games in St. Louis and Chicago this week, but 14 of their final 21 games of 2019 will be played at Amalie Arena.

What also helps is the fact that Nikita Kucherov is also starting to come around. Kucherov, who led the league in scoring last year, had three multi-point performances in the first eight games of the season, but he was kept off the scoresheet the other five games. Now, he’s riding a four-game point streak and he’s picked up at least one point in seven of his last nine outings.

The Lightning just need Brayden Point to find his footing, which is a little silly to say considering he has a respectable 12 points in 14 games. The 23-year-old has just two assists in his last five contests.

This offensive machine is starting to get going. 17 games into the season, they lead the league in goals-per-game (3.71). The issue is also that they need to start keeping the puck out of their own net, as they’ve allowed 3.47 goals-against-per-game which is seventh-worst in the league.

• Falling Leafs: 

Earlier this month, Leafs head coach Mike Babcock made some interesting comments re: his team’s identity.

“When we changed our lineup as much as we did we knew it wasn’t going to be Day 1…you plan every day to be successful – that’s just what you plan for – and when it’s not as good as you want you have to work towards it and you gotta keep trying getting better,” Babcock told the Ray and Dregs Podcast. “I think that’s the mode we’ve been in. When you come into the year, you want to get out of the first 20 (games) with an identity. And it’s not last year’s identity because that doesn’t happen. It’s reinventing yourself so you know what you are. You say to the players, let’s do what we do and they know what that is…so I would say after 14 games, we don’t know what that is yet…”

Not much has changed since those comments were made. The Maple Leafs have dropped five games in a row (four in regulation) and they’re coming off a 6-1 shellacking at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Yes, the team has had to deal with injuries to John Tavares and now Mitch Marner, but something just doesn’t look right. Scoring goals isn’t a problem. Through 22 games, they’ve managed to score the sixth-highest amount of goals of anybody in the league, but they can’t keep the puck out of their own net. They currently rank 30th in the NHL in goals against, with 77. Only the Detroit Red Wings have conceded more goals.

Their defensive zone coverage and their commitment to defense in general is a disaster right now. Babcock needs to find an identity for his team. Will they give him enough time to find it?

Sharks can win:

After an ugly start, the Sharks have rattled off six wins in a row. It probably helps that they haven’t had to leave the state of California since the beginning of the month, but you can’t take anything away from their way they’ve accumulated the results.

The Sharks have been better in a lot of aspects, but two players in particular have stepped up their game offensively in a big way. Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl have been particularly impressive during this recent run. Couture had just one goal in his first 16 games of the season. He’s now scored twice in his last five games. During the streak, he’s racked up 11 points and he’s put together four multi-point efforts.

As for Hertl, he saw his point streak snapped at five games on Saturday night, but you can’t deny that he’s been a huge offensive catalyst for San Jose. In the first five games of this streak, he piled up nine points.

Both Hertl and Couture lead the team in scoring with 21 points in 21 games.

• Capitals are Road Warriors: 

The Washington Capitals are the only team in the league that has surpassed the 30-point mark this season (they have 34 points) and they’ve done a lot of their damage away from home. Believe it or not, the Capitals have won five of 10 games at Capitals One Arena (5-2-3), but they’ve gone 10-1-1 on the road. Yes, you read that correctly. They’ve picked up 21 of a possible 24 points in their opponent’s rinks.

They clearly won’t be able to keep this up, but the fact that they were able to do this in the first place is just crazy. And they’ve won in some difficult places. They beat the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues on the road on opening night. They’ve also won away from home against the Islanders, Stars, Bruins and Flyers. And let’s not forget the five game road trip against Chicago, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto where they picked up nine of 10 points.

The only home team that was able to beat the Capitals in regulation was the Nashville Predators, who came away with a 6-5 win back on Oct. 10. Washington actually had 1-0, 2-1, 4-2 and 5-4 leads in that game, but they couldn’t hold on.

Unfortunately for the Caps, four of their next five games will be played at home.

• Flames shooting low:

The Calgary Flames picked up 107 points last season, which tied them for second in the NHL. This year, things have been way different. If the playoffs started today, they wouldn’t be in them. Thankfully for Calgary, there’s still plenty of time left in the regular season.

After last night’s loss ugly 6-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk wasn’t mincing words.

“It’s disgusting,” he told reporters, per Sportsnet. “It’s bad, it’s bad right now. We need to change this around.”

You’re probably going to start seeing articles being written about how it’s time to trade Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, or some other star on the team. You might see stories about how it’s time to move on from Bill Peters. Before you make sweeping judgements on these issues, keep things in perspective.

As of right now, the Flames have the fourth-lowest shooting percentage in the NHL. You’re probably wondering who the teams below them are. Well, here you go: Detroit, Los Angeles and Columbus. We knew that those bottom-three teams were going to be bad this year. There’s no need to get into their situations. But with Calgary, it was harder to see coming because they have so much offensive talent.

The average shooting percentage in the NHL right now is 9.6 percent. The Flames, as a team, are shooting at 8.1 percent.

Check out Sean Tierney’s PDO breakdown from earlier this morning (h/t: Sean Tierney)

Let’s give it a little more time before we blow up the Flames roster.

What’s coming up this week?

• The Hockey Hall of Fame class of 2019 will be inducted Monday night in Toronto. Meet the class.

• Islanders look to tie the longest point streak in franchise history when they visit the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena Tues. Nov. 19, 7 p.m. ET.

• First-round rematch: The Sharks will take on the Golden Knights on Thu. Nov. 21, 10 p.m. ET.

Elias Pettersson vs. Alex Ovechkin on Sat. Nov 23, 12:30 p.m. ET.

• Dave Tippett returns to Arizona for the first time as Oilers head coach on Sun. Nov. 24, 8 p.m. ET.

NHL on NBCSN
• Lightning vs. Blues, Tue. Nov. 19, 8 p.m. ET
• Oilers vs. Sharks, Tue. Nov. 19, 10:30 p.m. ET

Wednesday Night Hockey on NBCSN
• Capitals vs. Rangers, Wed. Nov. 20, 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.

The Buzzer: Streaks end for Capitals, Avs; Pageau, Islanders still on fire

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Three Stars

1. Anthony Duclair, Ottawa Senators

So far during his bumpy NHL career, Duclair has enjoyed one great NHL season. Back in 2015-16 (just his second year in the NHL, and his first full one, as he only played in 18 games in 2014-15), Duclair caught fire with Max Domi on the Coyotes, with Duclair generating by-far career-bests of 20 goals and 44 points.

There were red flags that his outburst was misleading (a 19 shooting percentage being the most obvious), yet it’s still been confounding that Duclair hasn’t at least found a permanent NHL spot, bouncing around from team to team and often finding his way to coaches’ doghouses, including that of John Tortorella.

When you’re a wayward team like the Senators, you often give players a second or even third chance, and Duclair is running with this opportunity.

He’s now on a four-game point streak, with at least one goal in his past three games. With two goals and an assist on Monday, Duclair’s generated five goals and two assists for seven points during the last four contests. Overall, Duclair now has 15 goals and 22 points in 31 games, firing 100 shots on goal for a high-but-not-outrageous 15 shooting percentage.

Does Duclair have his warts defensively? Sure, but I’m of the mind that his game is a net positive — especially if team can continue to employ him at a cheap price. Either way, it would be nice to see a speedy, talented player cement his place in the NHL, even if he’s likely to cool off at least a bit going forward.

2. Joonas Korpisalo, Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets had lost four in a row, and five of their last six, before rolling into what looked like a probable loss against the red-hot Capitals. Columbus has been putting forth decent efforts this season with some strong possession numbers, only for a mix of so-so shooting and sometimes shabby puck-stopping letting them down.

The Blue Jackets ended the Capitals’ six-game winning streak on Monday in part because of the efforts of Korpisalo, who stopped 37 out of the 39 shots he faced.

If Columbus wants more of a bright side to look on than just one nice performance, they can consider that Korpisalo’s also won six of his last nine.

3. Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames

Before Sean Monahan did a nice job finishing on an overtime game-winner that ended the Avalanche’s winning streak at six games,* Giordano broke up a Nathan MacKinnon chance that was looking awfully dangerous. Giordano received credit for a secondary assist on Monahan’s overtime game-winner, and had another assists on Monday, giving him two helpers for the night.

It had been an unusually quiet offensive stretch for the reigning Norris Trophy winner. Before Monday, Giordano had zero goals and one assist in his last 11 games. Maybe this could signal the start of a hot stretch for Giordano? It’s certainly a concern to see some slippage since he’s defied age for a while, but is still 36.

* – The Flames have now won all five games since Bill Peters left their bench, coincidence or not.

Highlight of the Night

Here’s that Flames OT-winner, starting with Giordano’s alert play, and ending with Monahan’s goal:

Lowlight

Tough one for Braden Holtby to give up, although sometimes those odd angle shots from behind the red line can really befuddle some netminders:

Factoids

  • The Islanders pasted the Lightning on Monday, and they’re now at 20 wins (20-7-2). By hitting the 20-win mark in just 29 games, the Islanders set a new franchise record for the fasted to that win total, according to NHL PR.
  • NHL PR notes that Jean-Gabriel Pageau‘s 13 goals since Nov. 1 remains tied for the most in the NHL during that span, locking him up with luminaries including Connor McDavid, David Pastrnak, and Sebastian Aho. Yeah, that’s ridiculous.
  • One more from NHL PR: Matthew Tkachuk passed the 200-point mark (he’s now at 201) before his 22nd birthday, which happens on Dec. 11. Tkachuk is the ninth U.S.-born player to reach 200 points before age 22. Looking at the list, only Jeremy Roenick probably gives him serious competition when it comes to agitating people, although I don’t think JR dangled a mouthpiece out of his mouth with such aggravating flair.

Scores

NYI 5 – TBL 1
CBJ 5 – WSH 2
OTT 5 – BOS 2
CGY 5 – COL 4 (OT)

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.

Bettman explains how NHL will handle abuse, other actions that ‘cross the line’

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The NHL’s Board of Governors meetings are taking place this week, so this served as an opportunity for the league to address issues of abuse, including Bill Peters’ racists remarks made toward Akim Aliu, which factored in the Calgary Flames parting ways with Peters.

” … The world is changing for the better,” Gary Bettman’s statement read. ” … Our message is unequivocal: We will not tolerate abusive behavior of any kind.”

You can read the entire (lengthy) statement at the bottom of this post, but here are some of the key points.

  • Bettman claims that the Peters situation took the NHL by “complete surprise.”

“There will be zero tolerance for any failure to notify us and in the event of such failure, the club and individuals involved can expect severe discipline,” Bettman said in the statement.

  • Bettman laid out the early details on “a mandatory annual program on counseling, consciousness-raising, education and training on diversity and inclusion” that would involve all head coaches and minor league coaches under contracts with NHL teams, along with other front office members (GMs, assistant GMs, and assistant coaches). Bettman said that the program will be created by “outside professionals” and that the NHLPA and the coaches’ association would likely have input.
  • Bettman explained that the league hopes to create a platform (“perhaps a hotline”) for “a teammate, trainer, or even the player himself” to report incidents, “either anonymously or for attribution.”

When asked, Bettman clarified that there would be anonymity for “whistleblowers.”

Bettman also told reporters that investigations regarding Marc Crawford continue to be ongoing.

Considering that the “outside professionals” involved in a hotline weren’t named, and other details were outlined broadly, it sounds like quite a bit of these initiatives could be considered a work in progress.

Here’s the full statement from Bettman:

As one of the preeminent professional sports leagues in the world and the preeminent hockey league in the world, we recognize and embrace our role in setting an example.

We are now obviously aware of conduct that was and is unacceptable. Whether it happened 10 years ago or last week, the answer must be the same – it is unacceptable.

While we may not have known, the fact is that we as a League – on behalf of ourselves, our teams, and our players, coaches, organizations and fans – must respond in a clear, meaningful and appropriate manner. Professionalism and respect have always been important to the League, but it is now a particularly important time to discuss it because everyone is entitled to a respectful workplace.

The world is changing for the better. This is an opportunity, and a moment, for positive change and this evolution should be expedited – for the benefit of everyone associated with the game we love. And even while change is taking effect, we still must acknowledge things that were wrong in the past. That acknowledgment allows those who were wronged to be heard, and it gives all of us an opportunity to prevent these things from happening again.

Inclusion and diversity are not simply buzzwords, they are foundational principles for the NHL. It’s why we initiated the Declaration of Principles and why we invest so much time and effort, along with so many resources into our Learn to Play and Hockey is For Everyone programs. Our message is unequivocal: We will not tolerate abusive behavior of any kind.

So, let me now address how we move forward.

I’d like to convey to you exactly what was said to the Board of Governors during our meeting.

1. We don’t like surprises – the Bill Peters situation was a complete surprise.

Going forward, our clubs are on notice that if they become aware of an incident of conduct involving NHL personnel on or off the ice that is clearly inappropriate, unlawful or demonstrably abusive, or that may violate the League’s policies, involving NHL Club personnel, on or off the ice, we at the League office – Bill Daly or me – must be immediately advised. There will be zero tolerance for any failure to notify us and in the event of such failure, the club and individuals involved can expect severe discipline.

As it relates to incidents involving Bill Peters in Carolina – there seems to be some confusion between statements by Peter Karmanos and Ron Francis, which I still need to sort out. However, I am fairly clear that none of this has anything to do with Carolina under Tom Dundon, who was among the first to call me when Peters’ conduct came to light and he first learned about the Peters physical abuse allegations in Carolina.

2. While I do not believe most NHL coaches conduct themselves in an inappropriate manner – in fact, I believe most NHL coaches are professional and respectful in the way they coach and the profession is not deserving of blanket condemnation because of the conduct of some individuals – however in order to expedite a change in culture and make clear the expectations we have for the conduct of coaches and other personnel, we will formulate a mandatory annual program on counseling, consciousness-raising, education and training on diversity and inclusion.

This program will be required for all Head Coaches, Minor League Coaches under contract with NHL teams, Assistant Coaches, General Managers and Assistant General Managers. We will focus the programming on training and other exercises and initiatives to ensure respectful locker rooms, training facilities, games, and all other hockey-related activities; and teach to ensure bystander intervention techniques, anti-harassment, anti-hazing, non-retaliation and anti-bullying best practices.

The exact structure of the program will be created by outside professionals in the field and we will consult with the Players’ Association and the Coaches’ Association in the program’s creation. We will also discuss with the Players’ Association the extent to which this program or another customized program should be presented to the players. Also, under the direction of NHL Executive Vice President Kim Davis, we will form a multidisciplinary council to suggest initiatives, monitor progress and coordinate efforts with all levels of hockey. The council will also make resources available to help any organization that might reach out for assistance.

3. Inappropriate conduct engaged in by club personnel will be disciplined, either by the team, the League or both. While discipline as always must be on a case-by-case basis – it is my intention that it must be severe and appropriate and designed to remedy the situation and ensure that the conduct does not occur again.

4. In that light, the passage of time is not the most effective way to address these situations. Accordingly, we will create a platform – perhaps a hotline – where instances of inappropriate conduct connected to the NHL can be reported either anonymously or for attribution for us to follow up. It can be any team personnel such as a teammate, trainer, or even the player himself. In this regard, we understand the critical importance of ensuring that no one is retaliated against for raising a concern or participating in an investigation – again either anonymously or for attribution – and I guarantee we will take all reports seriously and follow up. My expectation is that this hotline can function like our SABH hotline, which has been credible and effective.

A couple of closing points:

Not everyone will approve of every coach’s methods. However, there are lines that cannot be crossed – clearly physical abuse and racial and homophobic language cross the line. And while we acknowledge that there may be other actions that could cross the line or fall in a gray area, we hope the program we create, and its attendant consciousness-raising will help better define what is and what is not acceptable conduct and will make for a better playing and coaching environment. Over time, we have been able to change the culture of our game as it relates to substance abuse and player safety. And while we have taken many important steps forward on diversity and inclusiveness, as well as respect and professionalism in hockey, we intend to do more and faster.

Calgary’s response initially to Akim Aliu’s allegations and then the Carolina issue, was timely, professional and appropriate. While none of Bill Peters’ inappropriate conduct occurred on the Flames’ watch, they undertook the important effort to try to understand what happened 10 years ago and thereafter. Once Calgary could satisfy itself as to what transpired, they achieved an appropriate result and I commend the Calgary organization and in particular, Brad Treliving, for their efforts and cooperation. I think it is pretty fair to say that from now on when a Club is hiring a coach, the due diligence a team conducts will go to levels never seen before. And, that is a good thing.

Finally, Bill Daly and I had a constructive meeting last week with Akim Aliu and his lawyers. We heard what they had to say, have initiated our own review and will ultimately determine how we believe most appropriate to proceed.

Rangers’ Brendan Lemieux fined $2,000 for elbowing Cody Glass

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The NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced on Monday that New York Rangers forward Brendan Lemieux has been fined $2,000 for elbowing Vegas Golden Knights forward Cody Glass on Sunday.

The incident, which you can see in the video above, took place late in the second period and forced Glass to exit the game. He did not return.

There was no penalty called on the play.

Lemieux closed in on Glass to finish a check, but as he approached him he spun around, hit him back first, and swung his elbow around making contact with Glass’ head.

The Rangers went on to win the game, 5-0, thanks to another huge game from goaltender Alexandar Georgiev.

Given that the DoPS deemed the play to be worth some sort of discipline it is a little bit of a surprise that Lemieux was able to avoid a suspension given that Glass was injured on the play.

Glass was the first-ever draft pick in Golden Knights history (No. 6 overall in 2017) and is playing in his first NHL season. He has four goals and seven assists in 32 games this season. Coach Gerrard Gallant called his injury an “upper-body injury.”

The only update from Gallant on Monday was that Glass was not with the team and that he went through concussion protocol on Sunday night.

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.

Senators’ Sabourin closer to return after scary collision

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Ottawa Senators forward Scott Sabourin is closer to returning to the lineup and was able to take a huge step in that return on Monday when he skated with the team for the first time since he was taken off the ice on a stretcher following a scary collision in Boston.

Sabourin has been sidelined since Nov. 2 when he was injured on an attempted check against Bruins forward David Backes. It was an innocent looking play that had a horrifying result as Sabourin was knocked out, suffered a broken nose and a concussion, and had spend the night in a Boston hospital.

He spoke to reporters for the first time on Monday and talked about his progress.

Via the Ottawa Citizen:

“I’m feeling much better,” said Sabourin, who spoke to reporters for the first time since the hit, on Monday morning. “It’s been a little while here and I’ve been taking my time recovering but we’re taking it day-by-day. I’m glad to be out there with the guys and I’m looking forward to the future.

“(Next is) getting back to shape I’d say. Six weeks off is a bit of time so we’re just trying to progress by getting the legs back under me and getting the confidence coming along with it and then hopefully back in the lineup sooner rather than later.”

The next step for him is to be cleared for contact, which has not yet happened. There is still no timetable for that — or his eventual return — but the fact he is back on the ice and skating with the team is a positive step for him.

The 27-year-old forward made his NHL debut this season after spending the first six years of his professional career playing in the American Hockey League after going undrafted.

He signed a professional tryout contract with the Senators this offseason and did enough to earn a spot on the opening roster, scoring a goal in his debut.

Related: Senators’ Sabourin stretchered off ice following scary collision with David Backes

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.