PHT Face-Off: Marino’s rookie season; Vrana’s even-strength prowess

It’s Monday which means it’s time for the weekly PHT Face-off column. We’ll break down five stats/trends around the NHL ahead of a fresh week of action.

Here we go:

• Wild saved by play at home

No one expected the Minnesota Wild to be a playoff team this year. They’re not currently in a playoff spot, but they’re in the conversation. As of right now, they’re seven points behind the Edmonton Oilers for the final Wild Card spot (Minnesota has two games in hand). Even though that’s a steep hill to climb, it’s not an impossible number for them to overcome.

The Wild have been terrible away from home. They’re 9-14-2 on the road and that’s one of the big reasons why they’re not in a postseason spot this year. Thankfully for them, they’ve had to play just two road games since Dec. 21.

The reason they’re still somewhat alive in the playoff race is because they’ve found a way to accumulate points at the XCel Energy Center, where they have an 11-5-4 record. Only three teams in the NHL have fewer than five regulation losses on home ice (Boston, St. Louis and Philadelphia).

“This building has got to be two points for us night in and night out,” forward Eric Staal said after a win at home over the Winnipeg Jets earlier this month, per NHL.com. “Divisional game, important points, we’d like to do it in regulation, but it was a good job fighting with it and getting that game tied up and picking up the two points.”

There’s good news and bad news if you’re a fan of the Wild: The bad news, is that the Wild dropped a 4-1 decision at home to Vancouver last night. They’ve now dropped back-to-back games at home. On the bright side, seven of their next eight and 11 of their next 13 games will be at home.

This next stretch will either make or break their season.

• Keep an eye on Marino

John Marino isn’t going to win the Calder Trophy this year, but his rookie season has exceeded everyone’s expectations. The Pittsburgh Penguins defender has turned into an incredibly importance piece of the pie. Marino has 22 points in 43 games and he’s averaging 20:24 of ice time per game. Since Dec. 30, he’s played at least 21:51 in all but one game.

The 22-year-old was originally drafted in the sixth round of the 2015 NHL Draft by the Edmonton Oilers. Last summer, the Oilers traded him to Pittsburgh for a sixth-round draft choice. At the time, the Edmonton Journal’s headline read: “Edmonton Oilers trade marginal prospect John Marino for a draft pick.” Yikes.

In fairness to the Oilers, Marino wasn’t going to sign with them (they had his rights until August of 2019). Getting something for him is better than nothing. But you can’t help but feel that had they pushed to give Marino a contract a little earlier, they may have been able to get a deal done. We’ll never know for sure.

What we do know, is that the youngster is turning heads in the NHL right now.

• Vrana killing it at even-strength 

Raise your hand if you thought Capitals forward Jakub Vrana was going to be third in even-strength goals at the midway point of the season. Anybody? Thought so.

Vrana has been a terror for opposing teams at even-strength. The 23-year-old is up to 20 goals in 46 games this season. That currently puts him on pace for a career-high 36 goals. Of those 20 goals, only one has come on the power play. The rest have come at even-strength. That puts him in some elite company.

Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews leads the league with 23 even-strength goals. Sabres captain is second with 20, and Bruins winger David Pastrnak has 19. That’s it. Everyone else in the league has fewer even-strength goals than Vrana.

Alex Ovechkin, who is Vrana’s teammate, has scored 17 of his 26 goals at even-strength. He’s second on the team.

We’ll see whether or not he can keep this up, but it’s already impressive enough that he’s been able to put up these kinds of numbers halfway through a season.

• Perron enjoys winning games

Blues forward David Perron was one of the players voted into the 2020 NHL All-Star game by the fans. Perron may not be the biggest name at the event, but it’s hard to argue with the public’s decision to have him at the All-Star festivities.

The 31-year-old is having an amazing season. He’s picked up 20 goals and 46 points in 46 games this season, which puts him six points clear of Ryan O'Reilly for the lead on the team.

“Well-deserved, and we’re all pretty happy for him, for sure,” Blues head coach Craig Berube said of Perron being voted into the All-Star game, per NHL.com. “It’s a nice thing for him, it really is. It means a lot to him. It means a lot to us. He’s been a real good player for us.”

If you’ve been following the NHL this season, you probably know about the year he’s having. What you might not know about Perron, is that he currently leads the NHL in game-winning goals (he’s scored eight). Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl is right behind him (7), but for now the veteran has the edge in that category.

He’s picked up the game-winning tally in two of his team’s last three games, but he hadn’t had one since Nov. 9.

Perron has also scored a goal in four consecutive games.

What’s coming up this week?
• The Battle of New York twice, Rangers vs. Islanders, Mon. Jan. 13, 7 p.m. ET and Thu. Jan. 16, 7 p.m. ET
Matthew Tkachuk vs. Brady Tkachuk, Sat. Jan. 18, 4 p.m. ET
Max Pacioretty goes back to Montreal, Sat. Jan. 18, 7 p.m. ET
Artemi Panarin revenge game: Blue Jackets vs. Rangers, Sun. Jan. 19, 7 p.m. ET

Wednesday Night Hockey
• Flyers vs. Blues, Wed. Jan. 15, 8 p.m. ET

NHL on NBCSN
• Wild vs. Penguins, Tue. Jan. 14, 7 p.m. ET
• Lightning vs. Wild, Thu. Jan. 16, 8 p.m. ET

NHL on NBC
• Bruins vs. Penguins, Sun. Jan. 19, 12:30 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.

‘Wild’ NHL playoffs move into next stage with final 16 teams

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Derek Stepan gave some words of advice to his Arizona Coyotes teammates not used to the bright lights of playoff hockey.

”It’s the best time of the year to be playing,” he said.

The time of year is different than usual, but the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs haven’t lost any of their luster or penchant for surprises.

After a qualifying round full of upsets, overtime heroics and comebacks, the traditional first round that starts Tuesday with 16 teams left is primed to feature even more entertainment and unpredictability.

”It’s wild,” said Barry Trotz, whose New York Islanders will next face the Washington Capitals he coached to the title in 2018.

”It’s made for TV, really. We didn’t know what was going to happen. We knew that there was going to be some strange things happen in this strange, unusual time and format. But it’s captivating.”

The Chicago Blackhawks that ranked 23rd out of 31 teams in the regular season are still playing, along with the Montreal Canadiens, who were 24th and not given much hope of moving on.

Chicago has a tough task against the Western Conference No. 1 seed Vegas, and Carey Price‘s Canadiens face the Philadelphia Flyers that earned top billing in the East by going 3-0 against Boston, Tampa Bay and Washington.

”It was a tall task to get that No. 1 seed and we did it,” Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. ”We came in here and have been strictly business. I think for us to go out there and get three big wins in a row and get that No. 1 seed is huge for us.”

In a very 2020 turn of events, the Bruins that won the Presidents’ Trophy as the top regular-season team went winless since the restart and now must take on the Carolina Hurricanes that swept their way to this point. It’s a rematch of the 2019 East final but with Carolina looking more prepared for this showdown.

”They swept us last year, which definitely is going to be good opportunity for us to kind of give back what they gave us last year,” Hurricanes forward Nino Niederreiter said.

The Hurricanes, Islanders and Golden Knights look scary, the Lightning could be without top players Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman for at least the start of their series, and the Bruins and Blues that met in last year’s Cup Final haven’t recaptured the dominance they showed until the season was halted in March and combined to go 0-6.

”It doesn’t matter what seed you’re in because you’ve got to beat every team anyways if you want to advance,” Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask said. ”It’s over now and start real hockey.”

Half of the remaining field has been playing real hockey for more than a week now. After knocking off the Nashville Predators, captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson said the Coyotes are ”up for the challenge” of taking on the Colorado Avalanche. The Canucks and Flames should also be feeling good after emotional series victories, though Vancouver must face an angry St. Louis bunch that blew leads in all three games.

”We’re not playing aggressive enough in my opinion,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. ”Getting the real thing going here will be important, for sure.”

It’s all best-of-seven until the Stanley Cup is handed out in late September or early October, though the prospect of playing in quarantined bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton could change the psychological dynamic of the playoffs.

”It’s one of those years it’s easier once you’re down to say, ‘Well, I do miss my kids, it’s not our year,”’ Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said. ”You can sort of have that in the back of your mind and certainly some players are going to go through it, and that’s why I feel that maybe some series will be closed out quicker than previous years.”

Only one qualifying round series went to a deciding Game 5: Columbus-Toronto, which also featured two shutouts and each team erasing a 3-0 deficit and winning in overtime. Over nine days, 44 games showed why the league and NHL Players’ Association worked hard to resume the season, and that was just the start of summer hockey madness.

”I’m sure it’ll continue,” Flames coach Geoff Ward said. ”Everybody’s healthy and there’s been extreme parity, but all the teams are playing extremely, extremely hard and that makes for whoever you play a very tough out and a very tough opponent. And I think as these playoffs go on, you’re just going to see more of the same.”

NHL Draft Lottery: No. 1 pick to be awarded Monday night

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The No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft will be announced Monday night during Phase 2 of the NHL Draft Lottery (6 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream)

All eight teams that were eliminated in the Stanley Cup Qualifying Round are eligible and each have a 12.5% chance of winning the No. 1 pick. Rimouski forward Alexis Lafreniere is expected to be chosen with the first overall selection.

Phase 1 of the draft lottery was held in June and won by a team involved in the NHL’s Return to Play. That means that one of the Rangers, Predators, Panthers, Wild, Penguins, Jets, Oilers, or Maple Leafs will pick first when the draft is held Oct. 9-10, 2020.

According to the NHL, since the 1995 draft, no team has held the No. 1 pick finishing better than 26th in the standings.

Here’s a look at the order of the first 15 picks:

ROUND 1 ORDER
1. Placeholder team
2. Los Angeles Kings
3. Ottawa Senators (via San Jose)
4. Detroit Red Wings
5. Ottawa Senators
6. Anaheim Ducks
7. New Jersey Devils
8. Buffalo Sabres
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9. Placeholder team
10. Placeholder team
11. Placeholder team
12. Placeholder team
13. Placeholder team
14. Placeholder team
15. Placeholder team

The seven losing teams from the First Round who do not win the No. 1 pick will fill out spots 9-15 by reverse order of their regular season points percentages. The remaining 16 Round 1 draft picks will be determined by the results of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

WHAT: 2020 NHL Draft Lottery – Phase 2
WHEN: Monday, August 10, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the draft lottery stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

The prospects

Lafreniere will be the No. 1 pick. That’s been settled. After that? It could go a lot of different ways. Quinton Byfield (Sudbury – C- OHL), Tim Stutzle (Adler Mannheim – C/LW – DEL), Lucas Raymond (Frolunda – LW/C – SHL), Jamie Drysdale (Erie – D – OHL), Marco Rossi (Ottawa – C – OHL), Cole Perfetti (Saginaw – C – OHL), Jake Sanderson (D – USNTDP) are among the top prospects expected to be selected early.

Check out Ryan Wagman’s midseason mock draft to further educate yourself on these players.

MORE:
Top NHL Draft Lottery memories

Hockey Hall of Fame postpones 2020 induction

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The Hockey Hall of Fame has postponed its 2020 induction because of the pandemic. The ceremony was to have taken place Nov. 16 in Toronto.

The 2020 class was announced in June and featured forward Jarome Iginla, winger Marian Hossa, defensemen Kevin Lowe and Doug Wilson, Canadian women’s goaltender Kim St. Pierre and longtime general manager Ken Holland.

The Hall said Monday it will discuss rescheduling plans on Oct. 29. Chairman Lanny McDonald said the most likely scenario is to have the ceremony in November 2021, either by waiving the 2021 election or combining the 2020 and 2021 classes. He said a virtual induction ceremony was ruled out.

NHL reports second straight week of zero positive COVID-19 tests

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For the second week in a row the NHL has announced that it had zero positive COVID-19 tests during the Phase 4 portion of its return to play.

The league resumed the 2019-20 season and playoffs in late July with 24 teams playing within two hub cities (Toronto and Edmonton).

Since the participating teams entered their respective bubbles on July 25 they have reported zero positive tests during that time.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The league announced on Monday that it conducted 7,245 tests between August 2 and August 8. Previously the league reported 43 positive tests during the Phase 2 portion of the return (small group workouts at team facilities) and two positive tests during the first week of Phase 3 (return to training camp). But since then the league has reported zero positive tests through the remainder of training camps and, to this point, during the return to play in the hub cities.

The NHL just completed the Qualifying Round and Round-Robin portion of its return to play and will begin the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Tuesday afternoon in Toronto and Edmonton.

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

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.