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.

Avalanche stay hot with win over Sabres

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The injury situation is not slowing down the Colorado Avalanche.

Their 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night was their fourth in a row and improved them to 12-3-1 in their past 16 games to help them keep pace in the race for the top spot in the Western Conference.

What makes this current run so impressive is the number of players they have out of the lineup, currently playing without Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Matt Calvert, and starting goalie Philipp Grubauer. It is a testament to the way general manager Joe Sakic and the Avalanche front office has improved the team’s depth over the past year.

That depth was on display on Wednesday night.

J.T. Compher scored the game-winning goal with just under nine minutes to play on Wednesday night, while 20-year-old Martin Kaut scored his first career goal earlier in the night.

The big star of the game for the Avalanche, though, had to be goaltender Pavel Francouz. He continued his outstanding season by stopping 31 out of 33 shots. He helped keep the Avalanche in the game early in the first period, and then made a handful of highlight reel saves late in the third period with the Avalanche trying to protect their one-goal lead. The 29-year-old has been a great find for the Avalanche and earned a two-year contract extension earlier this month.

As for the Sabres, this was their first game after a busy trade deadline that saw them add Wayne Simmonds and Dominik Kahun in an effort to play meaningful games down the stretch, and maybe hang around in the Atlantic Division playoff race. While their recent hot streak has helped bring them closer to the Toronto Maple Leafs for that third spot, they still have almost no margin for error the rest of the way. By failing to gain a point on Wednesday they remain eight points behind the Maple Leafs.

 

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.

WATCH LIVE: Penguins visit Kings on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings. Coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

After falling at Washington on Sunday afternoon for its third straight regulation loss, the Penguins head west for a California swing that has them at Anaheim on Friday and San Jose on Saturday. Prior to dropping its last three, Pittsburgh had gone 16-4-2 since Dec. 27 and has closed the gap on the first-place Capitals in the Metro.

Patrick Marleau is now on his third team in three seasons after spending the first 19 seasons of his career with San Jose. The Sharks drafted him second overall in the 1997 Draft (after Boston selected Joe Thornton), which was held in Pittsburgh, before Marleau signed as a free agent with Toronto in July 2017. He spent two years with the Maple Leafs before the Sharks picked him back up in October when he was a free agent. With the Sharks near the bottom of the standings, Marleau is now back with a contender as he searches for that elusive Stanley Cup after losing to his new team in his only Cup Final appearance.

The Kings are on the other end of the spectrum, as they sit last in the West and will miss the playoffs for the second straight season and fourth time in the last six years. This comes after a run of five straight playoff appearances from 2010-2014, which included two Stanley Cup championships (2012, 2014).

After finishing last season with the second-worst record in the entire league and worst record in the Western Conference, the Kings have continued to struggle this season. They once again sit with the second-worst record in the league and last in the West as they look set to miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in more than a decade.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Pittsburgh Penguins at Los Angeles Kings
WHERE: STAPLES Center
WHEN: Wednesday, Feb. 26, 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Penguins-Kings stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

PENGUINS
Jason ZuckerSidney CrosbyConor Sheary
Bryan RustEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist
Patrick Marleau – Evan RodriguesDominik Simon
Jared McCannTeddy BluegerBrandon Tanev

Jack JohnsonKris Letang
Marcus PetterssonJustin Schultz
Juuso Riikola – Zach Trotman

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

KINGS
Adrian KempeAnze KopitarDustin Brown
Alex IafalloBlake LizotteTrevor Lewis
Trevor Moore – Gabriel Vilardi – Martin Frk
Nikolai Prokhorkin – Mike Amadio – Austin Wagner

Joakim RyanDrew Doughty
Ben HuttonMatt Roy
Kurtis MacDermidSean Walker

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp and NHL insider Bob McKenzie. Alex Faust and analyst Jim Fox will call the action at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, Calif.

Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom to miss at least 2 weeks

Canucks
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Some tough news for the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night as general manager Jim Benning issue an update on the status of starting goalie Jakob Markstrom.

Benning announced that Markstrom underwent a “minor lower-body procedure” on Wednesday and that his return to play status will be re-evaluated in two weeks.

The Canucks are already playing without one of their top wingers, Brock Boeser, due to injury. They are currently in a fight for the top spot in the Pacific Division. Their next game is in Ottawa on Thursday night as they continue their current four-game road trip. They play seven games over the next two weeks and will rely on Thatcher Demko and the recently acquired Louis Domingue to take over the goaltending duties.

It is definitely not an ideal situation for the Canucks. Markstrom may not get a ton of attention league wide, but he has solidified the Canucks’ goaltending position the past couple of years and has been outstanding this season with a .918 save percentage in 43 games.

He is eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer and has certainly played his way to a significant raise on his next contract.

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.

Avalanche vs. Sabres: How to watch Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Buffalo Sabres and Colorado Avalanche. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

With just more than a quarter of the regular season to go for Colorado, the Avalanche sit in a divisional playoff spot as they vie with St. Louis, Dallas and Vegas for the top seed in the Western Conference. The Avs have won three straight and are one of the hottest teams over the last month and half, having gone 11-3-1.

Though the defending champion Blues are on top of the West, both the Avs and Stars are right on St. Louis’ heels. For the second straight season, it appears the Central will come down to the wire (last season, the top three teams – Nashville, Winnipeg, St. Louis – finished the season separated by just one point).

Philipp Grubauer left the outdoor game at Air Force against LA on Feb. 15 with a lower-body injury and has not played since. 29-year-old Pavel Francouz, who made his first NHL start earlier this season, has started all 4 games since Grubauer has been out and allowed just 6 goals (3- 0-1 record, 1.46 GAA, .941 SV%). On the season, Francouz is 16-5-3 with a 2.27 GAA.

The Sabres enter this game having won two straight and five of their last six games. Although they sit in sixth in the Atlantic, this run has managed to close the playoff gap between them and Toronto (third in Atlantic) and Florida (fourth) over the past two weeks, with each of those clubs struggling (Buffalo eight points back of Toronto).

At the beginning of the month it seemed the Sabres would be sellers at the trade deadline and looked to be headed towards another offseason without a playoff appearance. A strong two-week stretch has shifted things a bit as Buffalo is within reach of a playoff spot and did not approach Monday’s deadline as a sell-off.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Buffalo Sabres at Colorado Avalanche
WHERE: Pepsi Center
WHEN: Wednesday, Feb. 26, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Sabres-Avalanche stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

SABRES
Victor OlofssonJack EichelSam Reinhart
Jeff SkinnerMarcus JohanssonWayne Simmonds
Jimmy VeseyCurtis LazarMichael Frolik
Zemgus GirgensonsJohan LarssonKyle Okposo

Brandon MontourRasmus Ristolainen
Jake McCabeHenri Jokiharju
Rasmus DahlinColin Miller

Starting goalie: Carter Hutton

AVALANCHE
Gabriel LandeskogNathan MacKinnonValeri Nichushkin
Tyson JostJ.T. CompherJoonas Donskoi
Vladislav NamestnikovPierre-Edouard Bellemare – Martin Kaut
Mark BarberioVladislav Kamenev – Logan O’Connor

Ryan GravesCale Makar
Samuel GirardErik Johnson
Ian ColeNikita Zadorov

Starting goalie: Pavel Francouz

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp and NHL insider Bob McKenzie. John Forslund, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will have the call from Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.