Where does Alex Ovechkin sit in MVP race?

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GR8NESS: OVI’S CHASE FOR 700: As Alex Ovechkin approaches 700 career NHL goals, PHT is going to examine all aspects of his goal-scoring prowess. We’ll break down and provide context for his amazing stats, project if he can top Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894, and take a look at his most important goals.

Thursday night’s coverage (livestream link) of Capitals-Avalanche will be the second half of an NHL doubleheader on NBCSN, immediately following originally-scheduled coverage of Flyers-Panthers, which begins at 7 p.m. ET. Pre-game coverage at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live.

When it comes to the 2019-20 NHL MVP race Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin has not yet received a ton of attention.

The discussion at this point is mostly centered around players like Nathan MacKinnon, Edmonton teammates Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and Boston’s David Pastrnak.

As the season goes on, and assuming Ovechkin continues on his current path, that should begin to change.

At least if the voting follows the same trend it has in recent years.

Entering the Capitals’ game on Thursday against the Colorado Avalanche (9:30 p.m. ET NBCSN), Ovechkin is in the middle of a back-and-forth goal-scoring race with Pastrnak and Toronto’s Auston Matthews for the top spot.

As he continues his pursuit of 700 career goals (just two away), he is on track to score 50 goals for the ninth time in his career (which would tie an NHL record) and has a very real shot at his second 60-goal season.

He also has a very good chance of winning an NHL record ninth goal scoring crown.

That is where his name is going to get put into the MVP race.

The argument for him

Leading the league in goals isn’t always enough to win the award, but it is almost certainly enough to get a player near the top-five of the voting. Especially if they play on a good team, as Ovechkin currently is.

We can look at past voting results to get a sense for how Ovechkin’s season might be perceived when ballots are due at the end of the regular season.

Going back to the 1999-00 season, players that finished with at least a share of the NHL’s goal-scoring crown had an average finish of 6th in the Hart Trophy voting, while 12 of those players finished somewhere in the top-five. All but four finished inside the top-10. The only ones that finished outside of the top-10 were Ovechkin during the 2013-14 season (team missed playoffs), Jonathan Cheechoo in 2005-06 (his teammate and linemate, Joe Thornton, won) Rick Nash in 2003-04 (team missed playoffs), and Milan Hejduk in 2002-03.

[COVERAGE OF AVS-CAPITALS BEGINS AT 9:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Among players that won the goal scoring crown outright during that stretch, they averaged a top-five finish in the MVP voting.

The bottom line here is goals ultimately get noticed, and when you score the most goals for a good team that is going to put you in the discussion. The Capitals are leading the Metropolitan Division (again) and in contention for yet another Presidents’ Trophy, and Ovechkin has doubled up every other player on his team in goals and has scored 20 percent of the Capitals’ total goals.

The argument against him

What’s interesting about Ovechkin in that context, however, is he hasn’t always received quite as many votes as other top goal scorers in recent years.

Of the 17 players to win the goal-scoring crown outright since the start of the 1999-00 season, only six of them did not receive at least one first-place vote. Ovechkin represents three of those occasions, including three of the past four since the start of the 2005-06 (and each of the past two seasons).

The only other outright winners to not get at least one first-place vote were Cheechoo, Hejduk, and Pavel Bure. Ovechkin and Bure were the only players to not receive a first-or second-place vote, something that has happened to Ovechkin twice during that stretch (including this past season).

Bure played on a team that missed the playoffs, while Cheechoo and Hejduk were teammates of the winners that season (Thornton-Cheechoo; Hejduk-Peter Forsberg).

I think a lot of it comes down to the negative perception of Ovechkin’s game and playing style from critics that followed him around for a significant portion of his career.

When the Capitals did not win, it was always about Ovechkin not playing the right way, or being too one-dimensional, or not doing enough to lift his team whether it was fair or not.

The problem for Ovechkin this year is there are several players around the league that truly have been more impactful in all phases of the game, while Ovechkin’s biggest value right now is driven almost entirely by his ability to score goals.

In the end, it is probably going to play out for him the way it has in recent years: If he wins the goal crown outright he will probably get enough third, fourth, and fifth places votes to get a top-10 (maybe even top-five) finish in the Hart Trophy race, but ultimately end up behind some combination of MacKinnon and McDavid and another couple of contenders.

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.

Kreider, Panarin push Rangers past Blackhawks

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The New York Rangers don’t want to see key pieces sold off at the NHL Trade Deadline in the coming days.

The Blueshirts have seen impact players such as Ryan McDonagh, Mats Zuccarello, Rick Nash and others shown the door this time of year the past two seasons and hope their 6-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday can change Jeff Gorton’s mind.

Chris Kreider had three points and Artemi Panarin recorded his 30th goal of the season in the Rangers’ fourth victory in the previous five games.

“We got to make the GM’s job tough and wins like this will do that,” Ryan Strome told Bryan Boucher on NBCSN following the game.

Dominik Kubalik scored twice and Drake Caggiula added another, but the Blackhawks fell for the second consecutive game and for the seventh time in the last eight games.

Value of Rangers assets keeps increasing

Kreider is the top rental available and the Rangers’ front office hopes a bidding war develops over the next few days. The speedy power forward converted a slick breakaway midway through the third period which turned into the eventual game-winner.

NHL insider Bob McKenzie reported on the pregame show that five teams were interested in Kreider’s services. The Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, New York Islanders, St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals have expressed interest, according to McKenzie.

In addition to Kreider, the Rangers have several other commodities that could intrigue playoff contenders. Ryan Strome netted his career high 51st point, Pavel Buchnevich scored, and Tony DeAngelo returned to the lineup.

“Honestly, we have been doing a pretty good job,” Strome said when asked about the potential movement. “We have got some guys that have been around and some young guys that are probably a little bit oblivious. That probably helps a little bit.”

The playoffs are a longshot for New York this season, but the question they need to answer internally is, how far away from the postseason are they?

Keith’s milestone assist

The alternate captain has been the foundation of the Chicago Blackhawks defense since arriving in the NHL for the 2005-06 season.

In the second period against the Rangers, Keith delivered a beautiful no-look, cross-ice pass to set up Kubalik’s game-tying goal. It was Keith’s 500th career assist.

Keith became the seventh player in franchise history to reach that accomplishment and joined Doug Wilson as the only defensemen in that group.

The 36-year-old was rightfully included in the 100 Greatest Players in NHL History announced during the League’s centennial celebration and continues to ensure that his No. 2 will float in the rafters with his three Stanley Cup championship banners at the United Center.

 


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Benn ejected for boarding Ekman-Larsson (Video)

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Jamie Benn was ejected midway through the second period for boarding Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The Coyotes captain stayed down on the ice for an extended period of time before heading directly to the locker room.

Ekman-Larsson did return for the third period.

Due to a rule change this season, the referees had a chance to review the major penalty but confirmed the call and sent Benn off for the remainder of the game.

Ekman-Larsson and Benn had a slight history dating back to December when the Coyotes blueliner caught the Stars captain with a blindside hit.

The NHL Department of Player Safety will certainly take a look and Benn could miss more time in the near future.


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Rangers vs. Blackhawks: 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 New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks. 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 over six weeks to go in the regular season, the Rangers and Blackhawks find themselves on the wrong side of the playoff dividing line with several teams ahead of them in the Wild Card race. New York currently has three teams to jump ahead of to get into a playoff spot, while Chicago has four

New York’s season-high four-game win streak was snapped on Sunday at MSG against Boston, 3-1, as the Rangers now hit the road for away games in five of their next six contests. Overall, Chicago has lost six of its last seven games (1-4-2) with its sole win coming two games ago at Calgary, an 8-4 affair on Saturday – the Blackhawks most goals scored this season.

New York’s high-priced offseason acquisition, Artemi Panarin (7-year/$81.5M), leads the team in goals (29), assists (49), points (78 – fifth in NHL)– to name a few. The Russian playmaker, who set a career high in pts (87) last season with the Blue Jackets, is on pace to set new highs in goals, assists and points. The 28-year-old began his career with the Blackhawks (undrafted), winning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2015-16 before being traded to Columbus after two seasons

Chris Kreider has come on of late with 29 pts in the last 29 games after just 13 points in his first 28 games. Kreider, who is on pace for his first career 30-goal season, is set to become a free agent after this season. There were reports last week that Kreider’s agent and the Rangers have been discussing a possible contract extension, while he has also been linked with a possible trade to his hometown Bruins (from Boxford, Mass.). Kreider was drafted 19th overall by New York in 2009 and has spent his entire career with the Blueshirts.

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

WHAT: New York Rangers at Chicago Blackhawks
WHERE: United Center
WHEN: Wednesday, Feb. 19, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Rangers-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS
Chris Kreider – Mika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich
Artemi Panarin – Ryan StromeJesper Fast
Phil Di GiuseppeFilip ChytilKaapo Kakko
Brendan LemieuxBrett Howden – Julien Gauthier

Brady SkjeiJacob Trouba
Tony DeAngeloMarc Staal
Ryan LindgrenAdam Fox

Starting goalie: Igor Shesterkin

BLACKHAWKS
Dominik KubalikJonathan ToewsDrake Caggiula
Brandon SaadRyan CarpenterPatrick Kane
Alex DeBrincatKirby DachDylan Strome
Matthew HighmoreDavid KampfAlex Nylander

Duncan KeithAdam Boqvist
Erik GustafssonConnor Murphy
Slater KoekkoekOlli Maatta

Starting goalie: Robin Lehner

Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will call the action from United Center in Chicago, Ill. Ahmed Fareed will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Keith Jones and Mike Milbury and NHL insider Bob McKenzie.

The Miracle on Ice – 40th Anniversary, featuring Al Michaels, who called the momentous matchup in 1980, and Mike Tirico, will premiere on Wednesday night at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. 40 years to the month, this 30-minute special will feature Tirico’s wide-ranging conversation with Michaels about the buildup to the game, his iconic call, as well as the legacy of the moment that became bigger than sports and still resonates today.

NHL Trade Deadline primer: Tomas Tatar, Montreal Canadiens

Tomas Tatar Trade
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With the NHL trade deadline getting close (February 24, 3 p.m. ET) the Pro Hockey Talk crew will be taking a closer look at some individual players that could be on the move. Today we focus on Montreal Canadiens forward Tomas Tatar.

Player: Tomas Tatar
Current Team: Montreal Canadiens
Position: Forward
Contract: One year remaining after this season with a $5.3 million salary cap number.

Why the Canadiens might trade him. If you squint really hard and give it your best effort you can maybe find a decent argument for why it makes sense for the Canadiens to keep Tatar.

He is an excellent player, and a very underrated one. He is signed through the end of next season and is not in danger of leaving as a free agent after this season. He has also been a great fit in Montreal since joining the team at the start of the 2018-19 season after coming over from Vegas in the Max Pacioretty trade. There is also the fact that the Canadiens might still believe they could be a playoff team next season, so it would make sense to keep your good players.

But all of that kind of goes out the window when you look at the current situation and the harsh reality that this team just is not very good.

The Canadiens are on track to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. They are completely going down the tube this season with five consecutive losses, including a dreadful 4-3 loss to Detroit on Tuesday where they blew a 3-1 lead to go 0-4 for the season against a team that currently has just 15 wins for the season and might be single the worst NHL team of the modern era. On top of that, the Canadiens are going to have a ton of contractual decisions to make over the next two seasons regarding Max Domi, Brendan Gallagher, Philip Danualt, and Jeff Petry.

With Carey Price and Shea Weber signed to monster contracts, they can’t keep everyone.

And given the current situation, why would they keep everyone?

There is also the fact that the price for players with term remaining on their contracts is sky high right now. Pounce while you can.

Teams that could/should be interested. Colorado Avalanche, Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues, New York Islanders

What he provides. Whether it is traditional box score numbers or a more analytical look, Tatar stacks up extremely well with other top-line two-way wingers around the league. He is on track for a career year offensively this season (close to 30 goals, more than 70 points) and in a normal year is still going to give you 25 goals and 50 points.

His possession numbers have always been strong no matter what team he has played for, and this year they have reached an elite level.

Maybe you have a sour memory of him as a trade deadline acquisition after what happened with him Vegas two years ago, but small sample size decisions lead to mistakes. He is a good player and could be a great addition for a contender.

The Colorado Avalanche would be an intriguing option because they have the salary cap space to take him on and could be in the market for a winger with Mikko Rantanen sidelined (and just to give themselves a better chance to win).

Worth noting that Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin is in Denver on Wednesday night to watch the Avalanche-Islanders game in person.

Predicted Destination. A team like the Avalanche has a lot to offer and the flexibility to do it, but I have a suspicion that Bergevin is going to set an extremely high price, not get the offer he wants, and stand pat with the belief this team is closer to contending than it actually is.

More NHL Trade Deadline:

• Trade Deadline primer: Chris Kreider
Trade Deadline Primer: Ilya Kovalchuk
• Trade Deadline Primer: Jean-Gabriel Pageau
• Trade Deadline Primer: Joe Thornton
• Trade Deadline Primer: Robin Lehner
• Teams that need to be active at trade deadline

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.