NHL Rink Wrap: Flames get best of Bennett, Panthers

NHL Rink Wrap: Flames get best of Bennett, Panthers
Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images

Top players from Tuesday in the NHL

Johnny Gaudreau, Flames

The good news is that Johnny Gaudreau is the version of Gaudreau fans love seeing. He ranks among the NHL’s most electric playmakers, and that was on display in the Flames’ win against Sam Bennett and the Panthers.

Gaudreau collected an impressive four assists, pushing him to 43 points (15G, 28A) in 35 games this season. He’s dangerously close to topping last season, when he generated 49 points in 56 games. There was also a bit of a lull — by his standards — the previous season, as he was limited to 58 points in 70 games in 2019-20.

So far, Gaudreau’s comfortably on pace to average a point-per-game (and change). The last time he did that was 2018-19, when he finished just shy of 100 points with 99. In doing so, he may have set expectations too high.

But, this year, he’s living up to expectations. Which does bring us to the one bit of less-good news: Gaudreau still needs a new contract, and every big game provides another bullet point for a hefty raise.

NHL highlights from Tuesday

Phew, a close call for Semyon Varlamov, and the sort of break you don’t get when you’re on a nine-game losing streak like the Flyers.

A strange goal. Being that Mark Jankowski scored it, you may even be tempted to call it janky.

Tom Wilson has scored in three straight games for the Capitals, and this one was an overtime game-winner:

Congrats to Jets rookie Cole Perfetti for scoring his first NHL goal, likely one of many to come. Especially if he develops anywhere as well in real life as he does in Franchise Mode.

Tuesday NHL Takeaways

Watch the Bruins retire Willie O’Ree’s number 22

In a wonderful ceremony, the Bruins retired number 22 in honor of Willie O’Ree becoming the first Black NHL player on Jan. 18, 1958. You can read more about that here, but check out the ceremony inn the video below.

NHL, NHLPA announce that asymptomatic players will not be tested for COVID

Yes, this development carries a weary air of inevitability. For better or worse, it’s the direction many in the world — especially the sports world — are heading. But time will tell if the NHL and NHLPA relaxing COVID testing standards following the 2022 NHL All-Star break (asymptomatic players won’t be tested) ends up being a wise idea.

Although, with the way players fight off injuries, and teams refuse to provide much details on injuries, maybe we’ll be in the dark if tweaked NHL COVID policies end up ill-advised? (Like, say, if family members get ill?)

Anyway, read up on the details here.

Other NHL news: Canadiens name new GM, “Last Men In” revealed for All-Star Game

Two other bits of NHL news from Tuesday worth noting:

Things are getting “award press conference” bad for the Oilers

Yeesh, this exchange between Leon Draisaitl and Jim Matheson is profoundly uncomfortable. And thus entertaining.

Flopping Flyers see losing streak grow to nine games

Not that long ago, there were rumblings that the Flyers didn’t want to trade the likes of Claude Giroux because they still had playoff dreams (faint or not). Well, you might need a microscope to view how small the Flyers’ playoff chances are after seeing their losing streak grow to nine games after falling to the Islanders.

If the Flyers aren’t trading off pieces now, one half-wonders if Chuck Fletcher is just too preoccupied with worrying about his own job security.

Before the Flyers lost yet again on Monday, PHT’s Adam Gretz broke down how things have gone wrong for Philly.

Flames get the latest laugh, even if Sam Bennett scored a goal

Remember when the Flames traded Sam Bennett to the Panthers? Honestly, things were a lot grimmer for both the Flames and Bennett when that trade went down.

While Bennett exploded out the gate with Florida, Calgary suffered for the rest of last season. Although they’ve stumbled lately, it’s clear that Darryl Sutter is getting more out of the Flames in 2021-22. It almost makes you wonder if Bennett may have thrived in that scenario.

But Bennett’s thriving with the Cats. He came into the NHL action on Monday with a very MLB pitcher stat line (15G-8A for 23 points), and scored his 16th against the Flames in Calgary. That would end up being the Panthers’ lone goal against the Flames, as Calgary got the best of Bennett on this occasion.

Wednesday’s big story

Rangers vs. Maple Leafs: two premium NHL franchises who are currently riding high

Whenever outlets release NHL franchise value estimates, the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs tend to dominate the top ranks. Yet, when you look up at the standings, you rarely see both teams dominating at once. (Sadly for Rangers and Maple Leafs fans, it might be slightly more common to see both teams struggling.)

Yet, during the 2021-22 NHL season, both the Rangers and Maple Leafs can daydream about special things. Sure, some of those dreams might be less realistic than others, but then again, look at how many surprises happen in hockey postseasons.

Heading into the NHL action on Wednesday, the Rangers are 25-10-4, while the Maple Leafs sport a 24-9-3 record.

As you likely know, both the Rangers (Artemi Panarin) and Maple Leafs (Auston Matthews) boast big-money superstars. There’s a better than 50-50 chance you could see some amazing feats. But these are also teams who have been stingy so far this season. Ranking second, the Rangers have only allowed 2.44 goals per game, while the Maple Leafs entered Monday fourth in the NHL at a 2.56 goals allowed average.

Ideally, fans get to see where the Rangers and Maple Leafs might be a touch underrated without that sneaky-stingy play killing all the fun of watching stars trade goals.

NHL scores from Tuesday

Hurricanes 7, Bruins 1
Sabres 3, Senators 1
Capitals 4, Jets 3 (OT)
Islanders 4, Flyers 3 (SO)
Canucks 3, Predators 1
Canadiens 5, Stars 3
Flames 5, Panthers 1
Lightning 6, Kings 4

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.

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    Flyers trade Pride-night boycott defenseman Provorov in 3-team deal

    flyers trade
    Dennis Schneidler/USA TODAY Sports

    PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Flyers have traded Ivan Provorov, sending away the defenseman who boycotted the team’s Pride night as part of a three-team trade that included the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Los Angeles Kings.

    The seventh overall pick of the 2015 draft, the 26-year-old Provorov lands in Columbus and is set to enter the fifth season of a $40.5 million, six-year contract. He was the centerpiece Tuesday of the first major move under new Flyers’ leadership.

    There were plenty of moving parts in the three-team deal.

    — Philadelphia traded Provorov and forward Hayden Hodgson to Los Angeles in exchange for goalie Cal Petersen, defenseman Sean Walker, defenseman Helge Grans and the Kings’ 2024 second-round pick. The Kings lost in the first round of the playoffs.

    — Columbus acquired defenseman Kevin Connauton from Philadelphia in exchange for a 2023 first-round pick (22nd overall) and a conditional second-round pick in either the 2024 or 2025 NHL Draft. Columbus acquired Provorov from Los Angeles in exchange for Connauton.

    The Flyers already hold the No. 7 pick in this season’s draft and now also have the 23rd pick as they start accumulating key assets for long-range success in what is expected to be a deep draft.

    Flyers general manager Danny Briere had said no player was untouchable after the Flyers missed the playoffs for the third straight season and went to work with the Stanley Cup Final still underway. The Flyers named broadcaster Keith Jones team president last month and he is still working the Final for TNT. But it’s clear the overdue rebuild is underway for a franchise that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 48 years.

    “We felt that the picks and the direction that we wanted to go in, it was really enticing, very exciting,” Briere said. “We have a chance to really start building the team the way we wanted. The right way.”

    Briere said the Flyers are “open for business” this summer and that included potentially listening to offers for No. 1 goalie Carter Hart. Coach John Tortorella, Briere and Jones have all tempered offseason expectations for any fan looking for a quick fix. The trio all insist the Flyers have a cohesive plan for the future.

    Provorov had 65 goals and 217 points in 532 career games with the Flyers. The Russian was widely criticized in January when he cited his Russian Orthodox religion as the reason he did not participate in pregame warmups when the Flyers wore Pride-themed jerseys and used sticks wrapped in rainbow Pride tape.

    “I respect everybody’s choices,” Provorov said after the game. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”

    Now, he’s traded during Pride month.

    Briere said the backlash over Pride night had nothing to do with trading Provorov.

    The Blue Jackets, who missed the playoffs this season, were ready to take a flier on a defenseman seemingly with many productive years ahead.

    “Improving our blue line has been a priority for us and acquiring Ivan gives us an established left-shot defenseman who is still a young player with his best seasons in front of him,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He immediately improves our group on defense as he is durable, has great skill, skates well, is an excellent passer with an accurate shot and can effectively play at both ends of the ice.”

    Provorov said at the end of the season he wasn’t necessarily happy the Flyers planned to rebuild but understood the decision. Briere declined to say if Provorov wanted out of Philadelphia.

    “I wouldn’t say it’s the most positive news you can hear, but there’s a bright future here, and there’s a lot of great players that can keep growing,” Provorov said in April. “Obviously, it depends on how quick everybody gets better and how quickly the team game gets better. I think that’s what determines the length of the rebuild.”

    Turns out, the potential success out of the haul the Flyers got for Provorov just may determine the length of the rebuild.

    Golden Knights take 2-0 lead in Stanley Cup Final with 7-2 win over Panthers

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    LAS VEGAS — No team in over 25 years has been more dominant than the Vegas Golden Knights through the first two games of a Stanley Cup Final.

    They have outscored the Florida Panthers by eight goals, including a 7-2 victory in Game 2 that put the Knights two wins from the first championship in the franchise’s short six-year history.

    It will take a rare rally for the Panthers to come back as the series shifts to Florida for Game 3 on Thursday. Teams that took a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final are 31-3 in the expansion era, but the Panthers opened the playoffs by storming back from 3-1 down to beat the heavily favored Boston Bruins.

    Florida will have to significantly up its level of play to beat a Vegas team that won by three goals on Saturday and then five in this game. The last team to win the first two games of a Cup Final by more than eight combined goals was the 1996 Colorado Avalanche – who outscored the Panthers by nine.

    “I think our depth has been a strength all year,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It is the biggest reason we are still here, why we beat Winnipeg, Edmonton, Dallas. I just feel that we have the best team from player one through 20.”

    Jonathan Marchessault scored twice for the Knights and started an early blitz that chased Sergei Bobrovsky, the NHL’s hottest postseason goalie.

    Marchessault also had an assist to finish with three points. His 12 postseason goals set a Golden Knights record, with all of them coming after the first round. The only player with more following the opening round was Pavel Bure, who scored 13 for Vancouver in 1994.

    “They want to set the tone with being undisciplined like Game 1 and we set the tone back,” Marchessault said. “It was scoring that first goal there. But we’re still pretty far from our goal here.”

    Brett Howden scored twice for the Knights, who also got goals from Alec Martinez, Nicolas Roy and Michael Amadio. Six players had at least two points for Vegas, all 18 Knights skaters were on the ice for even-strength goals and their nine goal scorers through the first two games are a Stanley Cup Final record. The Knights’ seven goals tied a franchise mark for a playoff game.

    It was too much for Bobrovsky, who was removed 7:10 into the second period down 4-0. It was the fifth time in 12 games the Knights have chased the opposing goalie.

    Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, carried Florida through the Eastern Conference playoffs. Coming into the Stanley Cup Final, he had won 11 of his past 12 starts with a 1.95 goals-against average and .942 save percentage during that stretch. But he’s given up eight goals in 87 minutes against Vegas, compiling a 5.52 GAA and .826 save percentage in the series.

    “We can be a little better in front of our goaltender,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “I got him out to keep him rested.”

    Matthew Tkachuk and Anton Lundell scored for Florida.

    Adin Hill continued his stellar play in net with 29 saves for the Knights. Hill once again brought his feistiness as well as his A-game. He stopped Carter Verhaeghe on a breakaway in the first, and later that period hit Tkachuk, who was in his net, with his blocker and then slashed him with his stick.

    “He’s been unreal for us,” Vegas forward William Carrier said. “He’s been unbelievable.”

    A group of four fans behind one of the nets wore sweaters that spelled out his last name, and Hill has often received the loudest cheers from Knights fans, reminiscent of when Marc-Andre Fleury was in goal for Vegas in its first three seasons.

    “It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey,” Hill said. “I’m just enjoying it, cherishing every day. It’s been awesome to be part of the journey with this team.”

    The Knights were dominant early, taking a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from Marchessault and Martinez. It was Vegas’ third game in a row with a power-play goal, its first such stretch since Christmas week.

    The Panthers lost their biggest, toughest defenseman early in the game when Radko Gudas was injured on a hit by Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev. Gudas left 6:39 in and did not return.

    That was one of several big hits by Barbashev, the Golden Knights’ biggest trade-deadline acquisition, a Stanley Cup champion with St. Louis in 2019. Barbashev broke the sternum of Colorado defenseman Samuel Girard during the playoffs last year, also on a clean hit.

    Vegas had its own scare late in the second period when Jack Eichel was nailed in the right shoulder by Tkachuk. Eichel returned in the third and set up Marchessault’s second goal for his second assist of the game.

    “We did a good job managing momentum tonight,” Eichel said. “And we got some timely goals.”

    Ducks hire former Leafs, Islanders assistant Greg Cronin as head coach

    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

    ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Anaheim Ducks have hired veteran NHL assistant and AHL head coach Greg Cronin to be their new head coach.

    Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek announced the decision to hire the 60-year-old Cronin, who will be a first-time NHL head coach.

    Cronin has 12 years of experience as an NHL assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs and in two stints with the New York Islanders. The Massachusetts native has been the head coach of the AHL’s Colorado Eagles since 2018, and he spent six years as a collegiate head coach at Northeastern.

    Verbeek called Cronin “the ideal fit” to take over a young, rebuilding team.

    “I felt we needed a teacher of the finer points of the game, and someone who has worked extensively over time with talented young players, helping them develop into successful NHL players,” Verbeek said. “Greg has done all that and more.”

    Cronin replaces Dallas Eakins, whose contract wasn’t renewed in April after the Ducks finished their fourth consecutive losing season of his tenure. Anaheim finished in last place in the overall NHL standings at 23-47-12.

    The Ducks never finished higher than sixth in the Pacific Division during Eakins’ four years in charge. They’ve missed the playoffs in a franchise-record five straight seasons, and Anaheim was the NHL’s worst defensive team of the 21st century by several measures during the just-completed season.

    Cronin takes over a struggling team that is still loaded with young talent, including the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft and a wealth of farm prospects seemingly ready to break into the NHL. Anaheim has a solid long-term base with playmaking center Trevor Zegras, two-time All-Star Troy Terry and promising forward Mason McTavish.

    Cronin has never led an NHL bench, but he interviewed for the Boston Bruins’ vacancy a year ago.

    He becomes only the Ducks’ fourth permanent head coach since Henry and Susan Samueli bought the franchise from Disney in 2005, joining Randy Carlyle, Bruce Boudreau and Eakins.

    Canadiens sign Cole Caufield to 8-year, $62.8 million extension

    David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

    MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens signed Cole Caufield to an eight-year, $62.8 million contract extension.

    The deal, which will pay the 22-year-old winger an average annual salary of $7.85 million, runs through the 2030-31 season.

    Caufield scored 26 goals and added 10 assists in 46 games in 2022-23 before he underwent season-ending surgery on his right shoulder in February.

    Despite missing nearly half the season, Caufield led the Canadiens in goals for the second consecutive season, tied with Nick Suzuki.

    Montreal selected Caufield in the first round (15th overall) of the 2019 draft.

    Since making his NHL debut in 2020-21, the forward has 84 points (53 goals, 31 assists) in 123 NHL games.