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.

The Buzzer: Avalanche streaking; Golden Knights hold on for win

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Three Stars

1) Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights

The slightest mistake during three-on-three overtime hockey could be costly and Pacioretty benefitted from a poor Dallas Stars line change on Friday evening. Defenseman Shea Theodore sent a beautiful stretch pass to help No. 67 get behind the Stars skaters and have a clean breakaway. Then, Pacioretty forced Ben Bishop to leave the crease before performing a highly-skilled maneuver in the Golden Knights’ 3-2 victory.

2) Valeri Nichuskin, Colorado Avalanche

The goal Nichuskin scored was nothing spectacular in Colorado’s 3-1 against New Jersey, but the play he made to receive the puck in the neutral zone was impressive. While skating up ice and looking to his right, Nichuskin blindly received a puck on his backhand, before gaining momentum and entering the offensive zone. Without the highly-skilled play, the Russian forward never would have had the scoring opportunity.

3) Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars

Benn showed why he is one of the premiere power forwards in the NHL late in the third period to help the Stars force overtime against the Golden Knights. Dallas’ captain raced to the corner after a faceoff to control a loose puck before sending it over to Tyler Seguin. Then, Benn boxed out William Karlsson in front of the Vegas net and positioned himself to redirect Seguin’s pass to even the score at two and help the Stars earn a point in the OT loss.

Other notable performance from Friday

Pavel Francouz, Colorado Avalanche

The Czech goaltender made 37 saves in his ninth win of the season and fifth victory in his last six appearances. Several NHL teams are starting to adopt a two-goalie philosophy and Francouz is proving to the Avalanche that he is worthy of more playing time even when Philipp Grubauer returns to the starting lineup.

Highlight of the night

Nathan MacKinnon faked a slap shot and delivered a perfect touch pass to set up Gabriel Landeskog in the slot to open the scoring for the Avalanche.

Factoids

  • Taylor Fedun opened the scoring in his return to the Stars’ lineup and has collected a point in seven of his nine home games this season [NHL PR].

  • The Golden Knights own the best record in NHL history by a franchise through its first 100 regular-season road games in terms of wins, points and point percentage [NHL PR].

  • The Avalanche are the only NHL team with 10 wins at home and 10 wins on the road so far this season
  • MacKinnon reached the 50-point mark in his 32nd game of the season, one fewer than when he hit the milestone in 2018-19 (33 GP) [NHL PR].

Note:

  • Stars defenseman John Klingberg is expected to be available Saturday after he missed Friday’s game due to a family illness.

[RELATED: Devils keep Hall out of lineup as trade rumors continue]

NHL Scores

Golden Knights 3, Stars 2

Avalanche 3, Devils 1

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Devils hold Taylor Hall out vs. Avs as trade rumors continue

Taylor Hall Trade Rumors
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Taylor Hall‘s days as a member of the New Jersey Devils are definitely numbered.

The team’s playoff chances are fading by the day, he is months away from free agency, there seems to be no progress in contract talks, and general manager Ray Shero is reportedly listening to offers from other teams around the league.

The Colorado Avalanche have been the odds on favorite to land him, and they were expecting to get an up close look at him on Friday with the Devils making their lone visit to Colorado. That did not happen however as the Devils held him out of the lineup due to what they called precautionary reasons.

 

Pierre LeBrun reported that Hall has not yet been traded but there is traction in trade talks and the Devils do not want to risk playing him at the moment.

With the speculation growing, it was only natural for Hall to be asked about the possibility on Friday ahead of the game.

Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston mentioned on Saturday’s edition of Headlines that teams believe it could take as many as four pieces to complete a trade for Hall. He also added that the Avalanche are pushing to acquire him, perhaps as soon as the holiday roster freeze which begins on Dec. 19.

Why the Avalanche still make the most sense

It’s not hard to see why the Avalanche are so high on the list.

They have one of the best rosters in the league and are already a Stanley Cup contender. Adding Hall to their second line would easily make them one of the most intimidating and dangerous teams in the league. Combine that with the fact they have the salary cap space to fit the remainder of his current contract, as well as possessing the young assets to trade, and they are a near perfect match for the Devils.

The Avalanche, meanwhile, have superstars still in the prime of their careers, with several signed to below market contracts to give them added flexibility.

It might be the right time to pounce and add another superstar to go all in on a championship while the opportunity is there if the price is right.

It all comes down to the cost

At this point Hall is a luxury for the Avalanche.

Make no mistake, he would be a huge addition and probably make them the Stanley Cup favorite. But he is not a necessity, and there are some potential risks that could come with trading for him.

Giving up significant assets — high draft picks, multiple high-end prospects — for a player that could walk in a few months is always going to be a risk a team in Colorado’s spot has to weigh. If you win the Stanley Cup with him, nobody cares. But that is always far from a guarantee.

While their salary cap situation is great right now, re-signing him could also lead to some long-term complications.

Sam Girard has a new contract starting next season. Gabriel Landeskog will need a new deal the year after that. Let’s not forget about Cale Makar and how much he is going to cost in the future given his development.

Hall will also be 29 next season, and while he is still an excellent player he would require a significant investment for a player that’s probably already played his best hockey for someone else.

Set up for success either way

The Avalanche have done enough work to fix their scoring depth, they have a kings ransom of cheap young players coming through their system they can keep building around, and they still have the flexibility to look elsewhere for potential secondary players that might be more cost effective. In terms of both long-term salary cap space and assets they would have to give up.

Trading for him without giving up a Bowen Byram caliber prospect, or re-signing him to a long-term deal that does not crush your long-term salary cap outlook would be a no-brainer for the Avalanche.

But if neither of those things can be accomplished there is nothing wrong with looking elsewhere or standing pat because the team is still set up for long-term success even without him.

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.

Flyers’ Oskar Lindblom diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma

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The Philadelphia Flyers announced on Friday that forward Oskar Lindblom has been diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a form of bone cancer.

He will be sidelined for the remainder of the season as he goes through treatment.

Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher released the following statement:

“Philadelphia Flyers forward Oskar Lindblom has been diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma by leading specialists at the University of Pennsylvania. He will undergo further testing and evaluation next week and begin treatment immediately thereafter. He is not expected to return to play for the remainder of the season. The Flyers will do everything possible to support Oskar and assist him in securing the best care available. Out of respect for Oskar and his family, the team will have no further comment at this time and asks that Oskar be afforded a period of privacy so that he may focus his efforts on his treatment and a return to full health.”

The 23-year-old Lindblom had been sidelined for the past week with what the team had been calling an upper-body injury. He appeared in 30 games this season and was off to the best start of his career.

Ewing’s sarcoma is an extremely rare form of cancer (fewer than 1,000 cases per year) that is usually found in the bones of the legs, arms, chest, pelvis, spine, or skull.  It typically impacts adolescents and young adults.

Adam Gretz is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Pastrnak the Unpredictable: Bruins winger is dominating NHL

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David Pastrnak on the ice these days is like a dazzling young magician who isn’t quite sure how his sleight of hand is going to work out.

When he has the puck, his Boston Bruins teammates don’t know what to expect. Opponents don’t know. He doesn’t even know.

”If you don’t know what you’ll do, then they’re not going to know what to do,” Pastrnak said.

Unpredictability is at the core of Pastrnak’s brilliance. His blend of creativity and skill is the reason the player nicknamed ”Pasta” leads the NHL with 26 goals.

The 23-year-old winger from the Czech Republic has been better than a point-a-game player before and helped Boston reach the Stanley Cup Final last year, but this season has put him in the discussion as one of the best goal-scorers in the world.

”He’s played great hockey this year,” said Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals star who has led the league in goals eight times and may now be passing the torch to Pastrnak. ”He’s a great shooter, a great skater and he’s on the next level this year.”

Pastrnak is on pace to shatter his career high in goals and points. He credits that to chemistry with linemates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand and more of a ”shoot first, ask questions later” mentality that has perhaps taken opposing defenses and goaltenders by surprise.

”I’ve been playing with these two guys so long that I know where they’re at and I know where to find them and they know where to go,” Pastrnak said. ”I’ve been shooting the puck a little more. I think when there is a shot, I take it. It used to be times when I would still look for pass. Now, I think I discover better that if I’m in a good spot, then I should shoot.”

Pastrnak is averaging almost four shots a game, but aside from the faceoff circle on the power play where he can one-time the puck, few know when he’s going to put the puck on net. He has even tried a drop pass on a breakaway this season.

Good luck to anyone trying to anticipate his next move.

”Even his own teammates don’t know what to expect from him,” said Washington defenseman Radko Gudas, who has played with Pastrnak on the Czech national team. ”I think that’s the hardest part is the reading of him, but for a defenseman, you’re staying on the defensive side, there’s only so much you can do. I guess you try to not get dangled by him.”

Teammates only have to worry about that in practice. In games, they benefit from Pastrnak’s magic acts.

Much like skating with a distributing center like Connor McDavid or Sidney Crosby, it’s not easy playing with someone who is abruptly creative, but his linemates are finally getting the trick.

”I just try to stay predictable for him,” Marchand said. ”I tend to go to the same spots or put the puck in the same areas. So when he’s being unpredictable he at least knows what I’m going to do and then I kind of just let him do his thing and try to find space where he isn’t.”

Marchand added: ”He could do 100 different things in a game, so it’s tough to defend that.”

How about coaching it? Bruce Cassidy isn’t worried about Boston’s top goal-scorer going off script – he expects it – and figures Bergeron and Marchand would put Pastrnak back in line, if needed.

The Bruins coach understands his top line’s dynamic allows for Pastrnak and Marchand to be more offensively driven because Bergeron does so much all over the ice.

”With the puck, he’s earned the right to play his game,” Cassidy said of Pastrnak. ”The things we work with David on is playing through frustration, if teams are starting to play you harder. We’ve talked to him about how he can still help the team. We talk about his play away from the puck because he’s on the ice 18, 20 minutes a night, so that’s important.”

Opponents can sense confidence oozing from Pastrnak and see that as the reason for his breakout season. Pastrnak himself is soft-spoken and just trying to enjoy himself and score some goals.

”That’s what it’s about, to have fun, and I think that’s when you play your best hockey,” he said. ”I’m just trying to make plays that I see.”

More often than not, they’re plays no one else can see.