PHT Face-Off: Pacioretty’s career year; Hart’s strong start

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The PHT Face-Off is back every Monday to break down some of the trends and storylines around the NHL.

Let’s take a look at what’s on tap this week:

Carter Hart has had a good year:

Last week, the Flyers goaltender officially hit the one-year mark in his NHL career, and it’s actually gone pretty well when you consider his age and position. Hart and backup netminder Brian Elliott were splitting starts at one point, but the youngster is now the regular between the pipes for Philly this season.

Those numbers aren’t terrible, especially when you consider how much the NHL has changed over the last two seasons. Offense seems to have gone up quite a bit and point totals are also on the rise. With all that in mind, it’s easy to see why the Flyers are excited about their future when it includes Hart. How long has it been since they’ve had a real difference-maker in goal?

Ryan Strome fitting in nicely with Rangers:

Sure, Strome has had the benefit of playing with Artemi Panarin for a good chunk of this season, but the fact that he’s accumulated 30 points in his first 35 games of the season is still impressive. The Strome’s success looks even better for New York when you realize that all they gave up for him was Ryan Spooner, who’s now playing in Europe.

On the flip side, when you look at his numbers without Panarin, you quickly realize just how good the Russian winger is at making those around him better. Almost all of Strome’s individual numbers drop when Panarin isn’t by his side, according to Natural Stat Trick.

With Panarin, Strome has a 47.39 CF%, a 47.86 FF%, a 61.76 GF% and an XGF% of 48.79 percent. Without him, he has a 43.6 CF%, a 42.91 FF%, a 45.45 GF% and an XGF% of 41.76.

Yeah, those numbers are definitely inflated by a talented linemate, but nobody will really mind if he continues to put up points throughout the season.

• Veterans coming through for Wild: 

Nobody really expected much from the Minnesota Wild this year, but a solid couple of months has them in the mix for a playoff spot heading into the Christmas break. Eric Staal, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter have a lot to do with the teams recent play.

Parise has 16 points in his last 19 contests, Staal has picked up 11 points in his last nine games and Ryan Suter has seven points in his last six games and, oh by the way, he’s averaging over 25 minutes of ice time per game for the season. There’s no denying that the Wild are an aging team and they’re still not likely to make the playoffs, but maybe this group of old timers (no offense) can get them back into the postseason one last time.

This is a stat that dates back to last week, so the numbers have changed a little bit, but look at the balanced scoring they’re receiving and look at the names of the players contributing.

Overcoming the Zucker injury won’t be easy (he’s expected to miss a month). The good news is that the team has activated Joel Eriksson Ek from injured reserve.

Max Pacioretty is playing best hockey of career:

The Golden Knights paid a huge price to land Max Pacioretty from the Montreal Canadiens last fall, as they gave up Tomas Tatar, top prospect Nick Suzuki and a second-round draft pick. Tatar has been solid for the Habs and Suzuki has made quite the impression during his rookie season, but you can’t overlook what Pacioretty has done in his second year with Vegas.

The 31-year-old is on pace to score 32 goals this year, which wouldn’t be a career-high, but he could also surpass the 70-point mark for the first time in his career. Even though Pacioretty is known as a scorer first, he’s found a way to help set up teammates this year. He and Mark Stone have given the Golden Knights another incredible forward line.

He’s heading into this week with 10 points in his last seven games. On top of all that, his CF%, SF% XGF%, SCF%, and HDCF% are all at 55 percent or higher, per Natural Stat Trick.

The fact that he’s no longer playing in a hockey-crazy market like Montreal seems to be helping him.

“I haven’t really thought about it, but that’s kind of my personality. Not really attention-grabbing,” Pacioretty told The Athletic. “You’re never as good as they say you are. You’re never as bad as they say you are, so I try to stay even keel. Good news is right now we’re getting contributions from everybody and we’re winning as a team.”

• Are the 200-minute penalty men back?

Last season, only one player surpassed the 150-minute penalty mark, and that was San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane. In all, only six players had more than 100 minutes in the sin bin (Kane, Tom Wilson, Antoine Roussell, Ian Cole, Brendan Lemieux and Zack Kassian. Yes, those numbers would’ve been higher had each of those players not missed games, but those are still low totals.

This year, the high-end penalty minute takers appear to be back in find form. Leading the way this season is Erik Gubranson of the Anaheim Ducks, who has 86 penalty minutes in just 33 contests. That puts him on pace for 203. Lemieux is right behind him, as he has 85 PIMs in 33 contests. Kane is right behind both of them with 83 minutes in 35 games.

This is what happens when Lemieux and Gudbranson go head-to-head:

What’s coming up this week?

• The Christmas break runs from Dec. 24 to Dec. 26, but that means we’re loaded with hockey games on Monday and Friday night.
• The World Junior Hockey Championship begins on Boxing Day.

NHL on NBCSN

• New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers, Mon. Dec. 23, 7 p.m. ET
• Minnesota Wild vs. Colorado Avalanche, Fri. Dec. 27, 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.