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.

My Favorite Goal: NHLers reflect on Sidney Crosby’s golden goal

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Welcome to “My Favorite Goal,” a regular feature from NBC Sports where our writers, personalities and NHL players remember the goals that have meant the most to them. These goals have left a lasting impression and there’s a story behind each one.

Today, Matt Dumba, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Matt Duchene reflect on Sidney Crosby‘s golden goal from the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games.

The road to gold was a tough one for Canada’s men’s team at the 2010 Olympics. Faced with the pressure of winning on home soil in Vancouver, the team finished second in their group to the U.S. and found themselves needing to stay alive in the qualification playoffs. From there they topped Germany, knocked out Russia, and edged Slovakia to set up a gold medal final against the Americans, who beat them 5-3 in the final preliminary game.

What once was a 2-0 Canada lead evaporated and overtime was needed after Zach Parise‘s tying goal with 24 seconds left in the third period. It was then in overtime that Crosby called for a pass from Jarome Iginla and beat Ryan Miller to win gold.

You check out previous “My Favorite Goal” entries here.

Jay Bouwmeester will not play again for Blues this season

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Jay Bouwmeester met with the media on Wednesday for the first time since suffering a cardiac episode during a Feb. 11 game in Anaheim.

The defenseman, who began the press conference by thanking the training staffs of the Blues and Ducks, will not play again this season, according to general manager Doug Armstrong. While a comeback this season is out of reach, Bouwmeester has not closed the door on his future.

“There’s been a lot going on,” he said. “I think that’s something I’m going to definitely have to evaluate, but to say I’ve done that, I wouldn’t say fully yet. There’s decisions I’m going to have to make. That’ll come later.”

“We talked about longer term things that may or may not happen and both feel that it’s February,” added Armstrong. “You don’t have to make long term decisions at this point. He’s going to take time and again back in with his family and get around the team and he’ll address those things as the summer progresses.”

Bouwmeester, who will turn 37 in September, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. He was revived with defibrillator and quickly taken from Honda Center to a local hospital. He later had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator procedure to restore the normal rhythm of his heart.

“I’m at the point now where I feel pretty good,” Bouwmeester said. “That’s kind of the weird thing about this is you go from something that happened totally out of the blue and unexpected to being in the hospital for a couple of days and then now there’s some restrictions as to what I can do.”

The Blues-Ducks game was postponed and rescheduled for March 11.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Can Maple Leafs survive on defense with Muzzin out one month?

Maple Leafs defense with Jake Muzzin out one month
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A season of extremes continues for the Maple Leafs, as their defense must find answers with Jake Muzzin out about one month. Muzzin broke his hand blocking a shot, souring Tuesday’s otherwise sweet win against the Lightning.

Everything about the timing fits the soap opera narrative of “As the Maple Leaf turns …”

  • Toronto lost Muzzin for a month in the first game after signing him to a contract extension.
  • It’s also the first game following a trade deadline that mixed the good with the bad. On one hand, it turns out that keeping Tyson Barrie was wise, warts and all. On the other, GM Kyle Dubas’ critics will argue that he still didn’t do enough.
  • Oh yeah, the Maple Leafs follow up this potentially devastating injury with an enormous Thursday game against the Panthers in Florida.

Woof. Dubas is a different cat, so naturally he tweeted out this very Zen approach to dealing with the Muzzin news.

(If you’re like me, you’re imagining Dubas trying to meditate after being thrown under the bus by Toronto media and fans. It’s kind of fun.)

The Maple Leafs defense has been, uh, flawed for some time now. Subtract Muzzin, and put him on an injured list that already includes Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci, and you might feel very UnDude.

Let’s take a look at the tattered remains of a Maple Leafs defense that may resemble seven wild horses.

Looking at the Maple Leafs defense with Muzzin out

Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston and others shared the Maple Leafs’ defense pairings from practice:

Travis DermottJustin Holl
Rasmus Sandin – Tyson Barrie
Martin MarincinTimothy Liljegren
Extra: Calle Rosen

Do you look at that group as seven wild horses, or seven broken ones? (Don’t make any glue factory jokes, please.)

Long story short, this leaves the Maple Leafs with a relatively inexperienced group.

If you want a glimpse at Toronto’s confidence level in certain players, consider how Sheldon Keefe deployed Sandin on Tuesday. Through two periods, Sandin received just 5:27 time on ice. Once it was clear Muzzin wouldn’t return, Sandin’s ice time skyrocketed to 9:34 during the third period alone.

Dicey stuff, but what’s the best approach, Zen-like, or otherwise? What’s a good mantra for the Leafs going forward?

Accepting reality of the Maple Leafs defense with Muzzin out, and considering Panthers

Despite wildly different approaches and markets, the Maple Leafs and Panthers boast notably similar strengths and weaknesses. After all, they are the only teams in the NHL who’ve scored and allowed 200+ goals so far this season.

So maybe the Maple Leafs should embrace the perception of their most prominent, healthy defenseman in Tyson Barrie, and their perceived identity as a team that needs to outscore their problems, in general?

There’s also the potential silver lining of realizing that players like Sandin and Liljegren might be further along in their respective developments than Toronto realized. Interestingly, Dubas sort of touched on this during his trade deadline presser, before Muzzin was injured.

” … We need to see how our own guys develop,” Dubas said, via Pension Plan Puppets’ transcript. “In a perfect world your own guys develop and quell your concerns you have about the roster and that people on the outside may have about them as well.”

Both Sandin and Liljegren carry pedigree as first-rounders, and have produced some offense at the AHL level. Perhaps they can bring almost as much to the table as they risk taking away with mistakes?

Obstacles, and gauntlets thrown down on top Maple Leafs

When you dig deep on the Maple Leafs’ numbers, you get a more complicated look at their hit-and-miss defense. Either way, they need better goaltending going forward — even if that leads to awkward choices.

No, the Leafs don’t make life easy for Frederik Andersen, but he needs to improve on his .906 save percentage (his -4.25 Goals Saved Above Average points to some fault on his end).

Frankly, it might be just as important that the Maple Leafs show a willingness to turn to Jack Campbell instead. Through four games, Campbell’s generated an impressive .919 save percentage, going 3-0-1.

Of course, the onus is also on their big-money forwards. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and John Tavares have mostly delivered in 2019-20, but the team needs them now more than ever.

The challenge comes in balancing attacking with supporting embattled defensemen. Not hanging them out to dry for icing infractions would be a good place to start:

If patterns continue, there will only be more twists and turns for the Maple Leafs. Maybe they can end up better after facing all of these challenges, but either way, it doesn’t look easy, and might not always be pretty.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Laviolette to coach Team USA at world hockey championships

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Peter Laviolette is returning to the bench after being selected as the coach of the United States men’s national team competing at the world hockey championships in May.

The move was announced by USA Hockey on Wednesday, and comes seven weeks after Laviolette was fired by the Nashville Predators.

Laviolette ranks 16th in NHL wins with 637 covering four teams over 18 seasons, including the 2006 Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes. He also coached the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers.

From Massachusetts, the 55-year-old Laviolette also has extensive experience representing the U.S. as a coach and player on the international stage.

The tournament being held in Switzerland will mark the fourth time Laviolette has coached the U.S. at the world championships, and first since 2014, when the Americans lost to Czech Republic in the quarterfinals in Belarus. He was also U.S. coach in 2004, when the team won a bronze medal, and ’05.

Laviolette also coached the national team to an eighth-place finish at the 2006 Olympics.

As a player, Laviolette was a two-time Olympian in representing the U.S. in 1988 and 1994, when he served as team captain.

”Peter is a terrific coach and someone who has had success wherever he’s been,” said USA Hockey’s John Vanbiesbrouck. ”We’re thrilled to have him back as head coach of our men’s national team.”

Team USA’s roster will begin being stocked once the NHL’s regular season concludes during the first weekend in April. The Americans have been limited to winning just six bronze medals since a silver-medal finish in 1950.

The world championships are scheduled to run from May 8 to 24.