Five players looking for a fresh start in 2020

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The year is winding down and some people around the NHL will be happier to see it come to an end than others. 2019 was kind to players like Ryan O'Reilly, Nikita Kucherov and Mark Giordano, but there are others who are ready for a fresh start and a new year.

Who needs a new beginning?

Let’s take a look:

Andreas Athanasiou – Detroit Red Wings: 

Athanasiou put together his first 30-goal campaign last season, which increased expectations for him heading into 2019-20. But things haven’t gone nearly as well for him this year. The Red Wings forward has scored just five times in his first 32 games. And although the plus/minus stat is no longer as relevant as it used to be, it’s hard to ignore his league-worst minus-35 rating.

As difficult as this season has been for him, there would be no shortage of teams willing to trade for him if the Red Wings made him available. He’s fast, he can score and Detroit would be silly to give him away.

General manager Steve Yzerman wasn’t born yesterday, so he knows that players like Athanasiou don’t grow on trees. The rebuilding Wings should be as patient as they can be with their speedy winger, but he needs the calendar to turn to 2020 in a hurry.

•  Alex Galchenyuk – Pittsburgh Penguins: 

Since the start of 2018, Galchenyuk has played for three different teams and he’s been traded twice. He went from Montreal to Arizona and then from Arizona to Pittsburgh. That’s not a good sign for any player, let alone someone who is still relatively young and who’s scored 30 goals in the NHL before.

The Coyotes gave up Max Domi to get their hands on Galchenyuk, who they believed could be a full-time center in the NHL. Not only did he not last down the middle, but the ‘Yotes decided they had seen enough of him in just one year. They didn’t give him away, as he was part of a trade for Phil Kessel, but that’s probably not the scenario they had in mind when they acquired him.

Things haven’t gone much better for him in Pittsburgh, either. He’s battled through injuries and a lack of consistency that has seemed to plague him for a while now. Even with all the injuries the Penguins are going through, Galchenyuk remains on the team’s fourth line.

Galchenyuk’s had multiple changes of scenery and they haven’t worked out well for him. What’s next?

•  Shayne Gostisbehere – Philadelphia Flyers:

Gostisbehere is a prime “change of scenery” candidate heading into the new year. The 26-year-old struggled last season under head coaches Dave Hakstol and Scott Gordon, and not much has changed with Alain Vigneault behind the bench in 2019-20.

After scoring 65 points in 78 games in 2017-18, Gostisbehere managed to pick up 37 points in the same amount of contests last year. This season, things have gotten even worse offensively, as he’s amassed five goals and 11 points in 32 contests.

The Flyers defender was even made a healthy scratch in three consecutive games between Nov. 23-27. Yeah, that’s how bad things have been for him this season. Now that he’s put together back-to-back difficult seasons, it wouldn’t be surprising to see general manager Chuck Fletcher unload him before the trade deadline.

• Ilya Kovalchuk – Free Agent: 

Imagine signing a three-year, $18 million deal on July 1st 2018 and never even making it to the mid-way point of the contract. That’s exactly what happened to Kovalchuk in Los Angeles. The Kings were so fed up with the 36-year-old that they were willing to keep dead money on the cap this year and next year just to get rid of him.

The Russian winger put up respectable numbers last season when he scored 16 goals and 34 points in 64 games, but those didn’t justify the commitment they made to him two summers ago.

Now, Kovalchuk is reportedly willing to play for peanuts and he wants to be on a contender. The questions is, who is willing to take him on at this point?

If you pro-rate last year’s totals over 82 games, he was on pace to score 21 goals. You’d think that a team would be willing to take a shot at a 20-goal scorer if it were to cost them around $1 million. Will anyone do it? Is a general manager going to pull that trigger on that kind of deal?

P.K. Subban – New Jersey Devils:

Expectations around the New Jersey Devils increased once they acquired Subban from the Nashville Predators on Day 2 of the 2019 NHL Draft. Instead of taking them to another level, the veteran has struggled mightily. He’s accumulated just two goals and three assists in 33 games this season and he’s failed to pick up a point in 21 straight games.

The 30-year-old has two years remaining on his contract that comes with a cap hit of $9 million. That means that he’ll probably have to work through his current issues in New Jersey, as it would be shocking to see anyone trade for him at this point.

Subban has dealt with a couple of different injuries over the last few seasons, including a back ailment he had to fight through over the last few seasons. Is that what’s slowing him down right now?

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.

Mitch Marner extends Maple Leafs-record points streak to 21 games

Mitch Marner
USA Today
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TORONTO — Mitch Marner extended his franchise-record points streak to 21 games with a second-period goal and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Los Angeles Kings 5-0 on Thursday night.

Marner gave Toronto a 4-0 lead with his 11th goal of the season, scoring on a slap shot after a Los Angeles turnover inside its blue line.

Marner became the 10th player in the past 35 years to string together a streak of 21 or more games. He has 10 goals and 16 assists during the run.

Auston Matthews, Pierre Engvall, David Kampf and William Nylander also scored for Toronto. Ilya Samsonov made 29 saves for his first shutout with the Maple Leafs and the seventh of his career.

Toronto has won seven of eight to improve to 17-5-6.

Los Angeles dropped to 14-11-4 with its seventh loss in 10 games. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick made 36 saves.

Penguins’ Kris Letang returns to practice 10 days after stroke

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
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PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang returned to practice with his teammates just 10 days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

The 35-year-old Letang remains out indefinitely, with the club describing him as “day to day.”

Letang said he felt “pretty good” after being greeted by stick taps from his teammates when he skated onto the ice at the team’s practice facility. Still, the married father of two called the experience “scary,” particularly for his family.

“My kids, they don’t care if I’m a hockey player or not,” he said. “They care about having a dad. Same with my wife. She could care less about hockey. She knows there’s so much more. After hockey, there’s a long time and you want to be able to enjoy those moments with your family, with your kids.”

Letang missed more than two months in 2014 after his first stroke, which was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. The condition also led to the second stroke, which Letang suffered on Nov. 28 after dealing with a series of debilitating headaches.

This time, the symptoms have resolved themselves much more quickly, according to team physician Dr. Dharmesh Vyas, who described this stroke as “smaller” than the one Letang endured in 2014.

Letang began skating on his own just two days after the diagnosis and was cleared to return to practice on Thursday though both Letang and Vyas stressed they are in no rush for him to play in games.

“We don’t think this is accelerated in any way,” Vyas said. “We are taking all the right precautions to make sure that it is safe to go out and play and when that time comes we’ll let him go back to playing his sport.”

Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said it was a “relief” to see Letang back at work.

“It’s a great visual that he’s making progress,” Sullivan said. “Our medical team that has monitored him extremely closely feels comfortable with some of the progress that he’s making and the steps he’s taken. Everyone was excited for him to join the group.”

Letang signed a six-year contract extension over the summer that will carry him into his 40s if he decides to play that long. Vyas said the data around strokes is “evolving” though it is unclear if Letang is now more susceptible to having additional strokes now that he’s had a second one.

The six-time All-Star is cautious but optimistic.

“We’ve been through this,” Letang said. “Me and Dharmesh have a clear understanding that we’re going to take all the time we need and make sure the research is possible and it’s no danger for me to keep going.”

The Penguins are 8-1-1 over their last 10 games and have won three straight heading into a home-and-home series with the Sabres. They’re also eager to have Letang’s familiar No. 58 back in the lineup, but only when he’s ready.

“He’s been here for a long time and his experience and everything that he brings on and off the ice, the way he competes (is important),” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “But I think in the (locker) room, (he has) poise and (he’s) somebody who’s been around a long time and whose experience you feel when he’s around.”

Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus

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Russell LaBounty/USA TODAY Sports
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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tage Thompson matched an NHL record by scoring four times in the first period and finished with five goals and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres won their third straight road game, 9-4 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

Thompson is the second U.S.-born player to score five goals in a game. He is the fourth player in NHL history to record four goals in the first period of a regular-season game, joining Peter Bondra (1994), Grant Mulvey (1982) and Joe Malone (1921). He is also the fourth active player to score five goals in a game, joining Timo Meier (Jan. 17, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 5, 2020) and Patrik Laine (Nov. 24, 2018).

“It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Thompson said. “You’ve spent a lot of years working to get to this point and to be rewarded for it is a pretty good feeling and it just leaves you hungrier.”

Thompson’s outburst helped Buffalo score six times in the first 16:40.

“That was an amazing performance by Tage, and really, the whole group set the table,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought the energy, the collective effort, the focus to start was really good and enabled that to happen.”

Alex Tuch had a goal and three assists, Dylan Cozens added a power-play goal and two assists and Rasmus Dahlin finished with a goal and two assists. Peyton Krebs also scored. Jeff Skinner picked up four assists and Jacob Bryson had two. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 20 shots.

Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist each scored twice for Columbus.

Joonas Korpisalo stopped two shots before being pulled in the first in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 15 shots through the second period. Korpisalo returned in the third and finished with six saves.

Columbus has lost six straight home games and five of its last six overall.

“We didn’t have an answer for that one line,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”

Buffalo dominated from the puck drop, scoring four goals on its first six shots.

Cozens put the Sabres on the board at 3:21 of the first, 53 seconds into a Blue Jackets penalty, and Thompson made it 2-0 just 2:09 later. Dahlin scored Buffalo’s third goal at 7:28 of the first, driving Korpisalo from the net in favor of Merzlikins, who gave up Buffalo goal No. 4 to Thompson 32 seconds later.

Thompson’s third career hat trick and second of the season came on a power-play goal at 12:22 of the first. He followed with his fourth goal, also on the power play, at 16:40.

Columbus scored two goals in just over a minute, with Laine at 10:49 and Nyquist at 12:04, before Buffalo reeled off three straight in just over three minutes to end the period, including Thompson’s fifth, and goals by Krebs and Tuch.

Laine and Nyquist scored in the third period for Columbus.

STREAKING

Cozens has 12 points in his last five games and is riding a career-best, five-game point streak. Thompson has eight goals and five assists in his last five games and 10 multi-point games. Dahlin has a five-game point and assist streak, and Gaudreau stretched his points streak to six games.

NOTES: The Sabres joined the Kraken as the second team this season to score nine goals in a game. … Thompson is the second player in Buffalo history to have five goals in a game, joining Dave Andreychuk, who had five goals and an assist on Feb. 6, 1986.

UP NEXT

Buffalo: Hosts Pittsburgh on Friday.

Columbus: Hosts Calgary on Friday.

Ovechkin, Strome lead Capitals past struggling Flyers 4-1

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Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports
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PHILADELPHIA — Alex Ovechkin scored two empty-net goals, Dylan Strome had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night.

T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who finished 3-3 on a six-game trip. Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves.

Kevin Hayes scored for Philadelphia, which has lost 13 of 15 games. Carter Hart made 23 stops.

Strome broke a 1-all tie with 10:41 remaining when he deflected John Carlson‘s shot from long range past Hart.

Hayes had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Philadelphia power play, but Lindgren made a great right pad save on a try from close range with 8:20 remaining.

Ovechkin iced it, scoring into an empty net with 1:35 left and adding another empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left for his 15th of the season. Ovechkin has 795 career goals, good for third all-time. He is six goals away from tying Gordie Howe for second place. Wayne Gretzky, with 894 goals, tops the list.

Hayes scored his ninth goal of the season for his team-leading 28th point with 4:14 left in the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Hayes rushed to the bench after breaking his stick on a slap shot attempt, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with his new stick.

The Flyers had a power-play goal for the third straight game and have four overall in that stretch. Philadelphia, which began play ranked 30th in the NHL in scoring on the man advantage, now has converted 16.7% (14 of 84) of its chances.

Oshie tied it 3:51 into the second on the Capitals’ fourth power play as the Flyers continued to take sloppy penalties. This time, James van Riemsdyk committed Philadelphia’s third tripping minor of the game. Oshie made them pay with his fifth goal of the season when he finished a nifty passing sequence with Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov with a perfectly placed one-timer over Hart’s left shoulder.

NOTES: Van Riemsdyk returned after missing the last 20 games due to a broken right index finger. . Flyers forward Tanner Laczynski was placed on injured reserve after departing midway through the third period of Monday’s 5-3 win over Colorado with what looked like an injury to his left leg. . Washington was without several injured players, including starting goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper body). Kuemper was with the team, but missed his second in a row. . Carlson had two assists. . Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson, out all season with an upper body injury, has been practicing and is close to returning.

UP NEXT

Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

Flyers: Open four-game trip at Vegas on Friday night.