PHT Face-Off: Guentzel without Crosby; Year of the rookie defenseman

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It’s the start of another week, so that means it’s time for the PHT Face-Off to look ahead to some of the trends and topics that will dominate over the next seven days.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau had a November to remember:

Unless you’re paying really close attention to the Ottawa Senators, you probably didn’t notice how productive Pageau was throughout the month. He found the back of the net 11 times in 16 games in November. That puts him in some pretty elite company with this franchise:

Now, there are two questions surrounding his situation. First, how long can he keep this going? Only nine players have scored more goals than Pageau so far this season. That list includes: David Pastrnak, Alex Ovechkin, Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Brad Marchand, Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews, Jake Guentzel, Patrick Kane and Elias Lindholm. That’s elite company to be in heading into the third month of the season.

Second, what do the Sens do with Pageau? He’s clearly having a career year and he’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. The 27-year-old has a cap hit of $3.1 million and you’d have to think that he’s going to get a raise. Do they re-sign him? Do they trade him and cash in on some good assets? We’ll see what happens.

• Guentzel can survive without Crosby: 

Guentzel is regarded as a good offensive player, but many fans have wondered whether or not he could keep producing offense without Sidney Crosby by his side. Well, he’s kind of in the middle of answering that question right now.

Crosby underwent surgery to repair a core muscle last month. The Pens captain last played on Nov. 9 against Chicago. Since then, the Penguins have played 10 games. Guentzel didn’t pick up a point in the first two games without Crosby, but he then rattled off a seven-game point streak. He’s up to 13 points in the 10 contests without his linemate.

Crosby isn’t the only that has missed time this season. Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust, Alex Galchenyuk and Patrik Hornqvist have also missed an extended period of time. Guentzel has played in all 27 games and he’s probably the team’s MVP right now.

• The year of the rookie defenseman: 

Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko were the first two picks in last year’s NHL Draft and they’ve both played extensively in the NHL this season, but they aren’t dominating the rookie scoring charts. Instead, Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar lead their rookie class in scoring right now. That’s pretty unique considering both players are defensemen.

Hughes is averaging 20:30 of ice time through 27 contests and he’s managed to pick up two goals and 23 points. Very impressive. He’s also just one three-assist performance away from tying Ray Bourque’s rookie record, which is mind-boggling considering there’s still so much time left in the 2019-20 campaign.

As for Makar, he has one three-plus assist performance under his belt, but he leads all rookies in scoring with 26 points in 26 games. The 21-year-old jumped onto the scene for Colorado last postseason and he’s continued to build on the success he had back then.

Can Makar finish the year at a point-per-game pace? If he does, he’ll be a shoe-in to win the Calder Trophy when it’s all said and done. The NHL’s rookie record for most points in a season by a first-year blueliner is 76 points (Larry Murphy with the Los Angeles Kings in 1980-81). It’s incredible to think that the Avs defender is still on pace to surpass that mark heading into December.

• When will Kyle Turris get back into the lineup? 

Nashville Predators forward Kyle Turris is only in the second year of his six-year, $36 million contract. That’s problematic when you consider that he’s been a healthy scratch in each of his team’s last seven games. The 30-year-old had just seven goals and 23 points in 55 games last year and his points-per-game pace has improved slightly this year, as he’s picked up nine points in 19 contests.

Seriously, what are the Predators going to do with him?

It’s tough to envision any team being willing to take that contract off GM David Poile’s hands. Maybe Nashville could get rid of him if they add a significant draft pick to a trade, but that’s unlikely. They could buy him out at the end of this season, but again, that will be expensive. If they chose to go down that route, they’d have $2 million in dead money on their cap until 2028.

“I’m certainly not trying to say this is a good situation or anything close to being a perfect situation,” Poile said, per The Athletic. “It’s just a roster decision. Peter Laviolette is our coach, and he will do anything to win a hockey game. He’s putting his best foot forward —  in this case, his best lineup forward — every night. That’s his job. That’s all I can ask from him.

“I am very confident that Kyle’s going to get a chance to play. Hopefully, he’s in a position to take advantage of it, and we turn the page on that. There’s nothing fair or equal in this business, so I can’t operate like that or what have you.”

• High-end goalies struggling:

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Sergei Bobrovsky and Carey Price may just be the three best goalies in the NHL, but their play certainly hasn’t indicated that for most of the season.

Let’s take a look at their numbers individually:

Vasilevskiy: 9-7-1, 2.96 goals-against-average and a .906 save percentage.
Bobrovsky: 9-6-4, 3.48 goals-against-average and a .884 save percentage
Price: 10-9-3, 3.18 goals-against-average and a .898 save percentage.

Raise your hand if you thought Darcy Kuemper (.935) was going to have the best save percentage in the league at the start of December. Connor Hellebuyck and Tuukka Rask are tied for second in that category at .933.

Which one of the three struggling netminders in the Atlantic Division is most likely to come out of this funk first? Is there one of these three that is just going to have a bad season and never wake up from this slumber? This should be an interesting situation to follow.

What’s coming up this week?

• The Sabres will have their Founders’ Night to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the day they were awarded an NHL franchise tonight at 7 p.m. ET.

• Several key players will play against their former teams this week. Artemi Panarin will take on Columbus (Thursday), Phil Kessel gets to see the Penguins (Friday) and P.K. Subban will play Nashville (Saturday).

NHL on NBCSN

• Lightning vs. Predators, Tue. Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. ET.

Wednesday Night Hockey

• Blues vs. Penguins, Wed. Dec. 3 at 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.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.