PHT Face-Off: Eichel can’t be stopped; Jarry can play

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The calendar year is coming to a close in the NHL and there are certain trends that are continuing to develop. The PHT Face-Off breaks down those trends every Monday. We’ll discuss Jack Eichel‘s run, Auston Matthews‘ season, Anthony Duclair‘s goal-scoring prowess and much more.

• Who’s gonna stop Jack Eichel? 

Eichel has been on fire for over a month now. He’s found a way to be a difference-maker for the Sabres on a nightly basis and he’s currently riding a 16-game point streak. The race for the top three spots in the Atlantic Division is wide open. The Sabres are right in the mix. As of right now, they’re sitting in second place.

Whether or not they can keep this up remains to be seen, but it sure looks like their captain is going to do everything he can to drag them into the postseason.

Eichel is currently second in the league in goals, with 20. He’s also tied for fifth in league scoring with 48 points in 34 games. The 23-year-old needs to continue producing at a similar clip if they’re going to make it back to playoffs.

He needs to extend his point streak by two more games to tie the franchise record, which is held by Gilbert Perreault.

You have to think that if the Sabres make the playoffs, Eichel will at least be a finalist for the Hart Trophy.

• Has Auston Matthews been good enough?

Heading into this week’s action, Auston Matthews is rolling at a point-per-game pace. He’s picked up 34 points in 34 games, but the Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur feels like the Leafs star has more to give.

Matthews has been held off the scoresheet in four of his last six games and he has just four points in his last nine games. Arthur points out that the Leafs star’s XGF/60 is down from 1.06 last year to 0.76 this year. So he’s not exactly shooting from areas that are as dangerous, but all of his other individual numbers are up.

His CF% has never been higher (55.77 percent) and neither has his FF% (54.46 percent). When he’s on the ice, the Leafs control 57.67 percent of the high-danger chances, which seems absolutely ridiculous and, oh yeah, he’s been a point-per-game player.

There’s no doubt that Matthews has the potential to be more than a point-per-game player, but he’s also on pace to score over 40 goals this season.

Yes, he’s going through the rough patch in terms of offensive production, but he’ll get in back on the rails soon enough.

• Anthony Duclair is a top-10 goal scorer:

Raise your hand if you expected Duclair to be one of the 10 best goal scorers at this point of the raise. If your hand is up, you’re probably related to him or you’re lying.

Through the first third of the season, the Senators forward has found the back of the net 18 times. He’s just two goals away from tying his career-high of 20, which he set back in 2015-16. If you add it all up, he’s on pace to score 45 goals.

Sure, the Sens are a rebuilding team that never really had serious playoff aspirations coming into this season, but you can’t deny that those are impressive numbers that Duclair has put up. Even if he doesn’t score another goal between now and the end of the season, the fact that he’s scored 18 times is good value for Ottawa.

The 24-year-old has now played for five different teams. He’s making the most of what could’ve been his final opportunity in the NHL.

It’ll be interesting to see what the Sens will do with him as the season progresses. Do they sign him to an extension? Do they capitalize on his production and trade him away for some young assets?

Tristan Jarry dominating between the pipes:

The Penguins have dealt with so many injuries this year and their starting goalie Matt Murray hasn’t been really good. But they’ve found a way to stay in the playoff picture (they’re currently in the first Wild Card spot).

How have they done it? Well, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust have taken their game to another level in Crosby’s absence. The other guy that has stepped up in a big way is Jarry. He’s won eight of his last 10 outings and he’s also posted three shutouts in his last five outings.

Even though Jarry was drafted in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft, the 24-year-old had plenty of question marks surrounding his ability.

Murray will likely take over between the pipes again at some point. But for now it appears as though the Pens have an interesting situation between the pipes.

They might be able to trade a goalie away to get help at another position.

• Geoff Ward has been a perfect fit in Calgary:

Since Ward took over for Bill Peters, his team has gone 7-1-0. That’s quite the turnaround considering the Flames didn’t get off to a great start under Peters.

This incredible run now has the Flames back in the Western Conference playoff picture, as they’re in the second Wild Card spot. Calgary was clearly better than their early-season record would indicate. Now, they’ve found a guy that’s pushing all the right buttons.

Ward made the bold decision to split up Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm, which has resulted in more balanced offense for this group.

What’s coming up this week?

• Thursday’s 10-game schedule will mark the 102nd anniversary of the NHL’s first game. On Dec. 17, 1917, the Montreal Canadiens beat the Ottawa Senators, 7-4, while the Montreal Wanderers beat the Toronto Arenas, 10-9.

Joe Pavelski is scheduled to play his 1,000th NHL on Friday night, when the Dallas Stars take on the Panthers in Florida.

NHL on NBCSN
• Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Buffalo Sabres, Tue. Dec. 17, 7 p.m. ET.

WEDNESDAY NIGHT HOCKEY ON NBCSN
• Colorado Avalanche vs. Chicago Blackhawks, Wed. Dec. 18, 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.

Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

avalanche injuries
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

“Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

“He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

“I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

“I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

“I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

“It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

“Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

“I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.