It’s Monday, which means it’s time for the PHT Face-Off to break down some of the trends and topics around the NHL.
• Ilya Kovalchuk is making his case to stick in Montreal
By now, if you pay attention to the NHL at all, you’ve probably heard about Kovalchuk’s incredible comeback. After parting ways with the Los Angeles Kings earlier this season, the veteran waited until January to sign with the Montreal Canadiens. It was a one-year, two way contract for “small” money.
At the time, it wasn’t viewed as a terrible signing, but it wasn’t expected to be a home run, either. Things couldn’t have worked out much better for the Habs and Kovalchuk.
He has six goals and six assists in 15 games with Montreal. He’s scored three game-winning goals, including Saturday’s overtime goal against the rival Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s also added two key goals during shootouts. He’s helped the Habs get back into the playoff picture. They have a long way to go, but whether or not they make the playoffs is irrelevant in Kovalchuk’s case.
He’s been so good that general manager Marc Bergevin has to consider keeping him beyond this season. It might be a simple one-year deal with performance bonuses attached.
🚨 ILYA KOVALCHUK OT WINNER!!!!!!!!!
2-1 #Habs win pic.twitter.com/DL2MtmjtOG
— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@HeresYourReplay) February 9, 2020
Check out the passion after the goal against Toronto. Holding on to him beyond the trade deadline almost looks like a no-brainer right now.
• Elvis is in the building
Elvis Merzlikins have given the Blue Jackets hope. The 25-year-old has five shutouts in his last nine games and he’s given up two goals or fewer in seven of his last nine outings. Look, head coach John Tortorella gets a lot of credit for keeping his team afloat because most franchises would’ve crumbled after losing Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky.
But you can’t deny that rockstar goaltending has helped get the Jackets back in a playoff spot. There’s credit that needs to go all over, but Merzlikins’ play has been shocking.
[NHL on NBCSN: Ovechkin’s chase for 700th goal continues Monday at 7 p.m. ET]
He owns a 12-7-4 record with a 2.19 goals-against-average and a .930 save percentage this season. Those are incredible numbers in a small sample size. Can he keep it up? Can he turn the Calder Trophy race on its head?
Yes, Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar and Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes are the front-runners to win the rookie of the year award, but what happens if Merzlikins keeps this up? What if he keeps the Blue Jackets in one of the top three spots in the Metropolitan Division?
He might not win the Calder, but he might just be the most valuable rookie when the 2019-20 season is all said and done.
Holy Elvis…Merzlikins is 12-2-0 last 14, 5 shutouts…have seen him at World Championships last couple years and thought “maybe this is why @BlueJacketsNHL aren’t panicked about Bobrovsky leaving…love watching this kid play
— Ray Ferraro (@rayferrarotsn) February 8, 2020
• Door is open for Cal Petersen
Last week, the Los Angeles Kings traded Jack Campbell to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Yes, the Kings need to accumulate draft picks, but they also had to make room for one of their top prospects.
Petersen made his first start of the season on Saturday against the New Jersey Devils. He allowed three goals on 34 shots and he lost the game. The Kings aren’t going to win much between now and the end of the season, but that doesn’t mean this period of time won’t be valuable to the youngster.
The 25-year-old might be the goalie of the future. For now, he’ll split the workload with veteran Jonathan Quick, but the Kings would be wise to give him an extended look between now and the end of the season.
“It’s time to get him games in the NHL,” Kings General Manager Rob Blake said on Thursday, per the team’s website. “He’s done what we had expected in the American League. So, if we project him to be the starter in a few years, he’s now going to learn from a Hall of Famer in Jonathan Quick, the competitive nature and how he prepares every day.”
“We understand where we want to go with him, we want him to learn from Jonathan Quick, and Jonathan’s going to push him every day because he’s so competitive,” Blake added. “So that, going forward, kind of solidifies what we’re going to do for the next few years, but we felt a need to get Cal in games this year. We had to get a look at him and get him growing into that role.”
It’ll be interesting to see just how much he’ll develop over the next few months.
• Flyers getting healthy
This is a big week for the Flyers. They’ve found a way to stick around in the playoff race despite losing some key bodies to injury, but they’re finally getting healthy.
It sounds like Carter Hart will be back in the lineup tonight. The 21-year-old has missed the last nine games with an abdominal injury. Brian Elliott has done a good job in his place, but they need Hart to play some critical games going forward.
19-year-old Joel Farabee has missed the last two games with an illness. He expected to return at some point in the near future, but he was at practice today.
And the really good news is that Nolan Patrick is continuing to practice with his teammates. Shayne Gostisbehere is still banged up. It’s unclear when he’ll return.
But give the Flyers some credit. They’re not in a playoff spot right now, but they’re tied for the final Wild Card spot with the Carolina Hurricanes. As they get healthier, the Flyers should only get better. They’re a long way from securing a playoff spot, but things are looking up for them.
What’s coming up this week?
• Ovechkin closing in on 700 goals: Ovie is two goals away and the Caps have the Islanders (Monday), the Avalanche (Thursday) and the Coyotes (Saturday).
• Sedin tribute night: The Canucks are retiring Henrik and Daniel’s jersey numbers on Wed. Feb. 12, 10:30 p.m. ET
• Crosby, Malkin vs. Stamkos, Kucherov: Tue. Feb. 11, 7 p.m. ET.
NHL on NBCSN
• Blue Jackets vs. Lightning, Mon. Feb 10, 6:30 p.m. ET (livestream)
• Islanders vs. Capitals, Mon. Feb. 10, 6:30 p.m. ET (livestream)
• Flyers vs. Islanders, Tue. Feb. 11, 7 p.m. ET
• Flyers vs. Panthers, Thu. Feb. 13, 7 p.m. ET
WEDNESDAY NIGHT HOCKEY
• Canadiens vs. Bruins, Wed. Feb. 12, 7:30 p.m. ET
• Flames vs. Kings, Wed. Feb. 12, 10 p.m. ET
NHL on NBC
• 2020 Stadium Series: Kings vs. Avalanche, Sat. Feb. 15, 8 p.m. ET
HOCKEY DAY IN AMERICA – SUN FEB. 16
• Red Wings vs. Penguins, 12:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
• Bruins vs. Rangers, 3:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
• Blues vs. Nashville, 6 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.