Andrei Vasilevskiy

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Kucherov leads Lightning past Capitals in round-robin play

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Shootout goals from Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point helped the Lightning beat the Capitals 3-2 in round-robin play Monday.

The first half of the game belonged to Tampa, who lead in possession and on the scoreboard until late in the second period. The Lightning controlled over 60% of shot attempts (per Natural Stat Trick) for most of the opening 40 minutes and built up a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Kucherov and Mitchell Stevens.

Kucherov’s first of the postseason was the result of strong neutral zone play by the Lightning. They won the middle of the ice, and a Capitals turnover allowed Point to dance into the offensive zone and lay a pass off to Kucherov, who then proceeded to wire a shot by Braden Holtby.

Washington flipped the game to their side with a pair of goals 2:08 apart late in the second. First, Richard Panik put home a rebound that squeaked through Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s pads. Evgeny Kuznetsov then followed that up tapping home another puck that the Tampa netminder had trouble with.

No goals in the third period meant bonus hockey. Round-robin games will feature regular-season overtime rules, but 3-on-3 didn’t solve anything, so a shootout was needed.

Current Eastern Conference round-robin standings

Now that each team has played once, here’s where things stand:

• Lightning – 2 pts.
• Flyers – 2 pts.
• Capitals – 1 pt.
• Bruins – 0 pts.

Reminder that these games will determine seeding for Round 1. Any ties will be broken by regular-season points percentage.

Carlson remains out

Norris Trophy finalist John Carlson did not play Monday. The defenseman remained out after suffering an injury during the Capitals’ exhibition game last week against Carolina. He has practiced with the team since the weekend, but head coach Todd Reirden wanted to play it safe.

“We’re not going to put them in a situation where, if something were to go wrong or re-aggravate any injury or anything that’s going on that would potentially cause a chance for him to miss part of Round 1,” Reirden said on Sunday. “So we’ll do the thing that’s right for the player and obviously right for the team. We obviously wouldn’t put him out there in a situation where anything could become worse because he’s such a large part of our team and obviously a guy that had a tremendous year and is a huge part of our blue line.”

Bogosian makes postseason debut

Lightning defenseman Zach Bogosian has played 644 NHL games since breaking into the league with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2008-09. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2008 draft is with his third franchise and finally took part in the postseason for the first time in his career on Monday.

The last time Bogosian was in any sort of postseason? The 2008 Ontario Hockey League playoffs when he was with the Peterborough Petes. They lost their opening round series in five games to P.K Subban’s Belleville Bulls.

Eastern Conference round-robin schedule

Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers 4, Bruins 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Lightning 3, Capitals 2 (SO)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Lightning vs. Bruins, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Thursday, Aug. 6: Capitals vs. Flyers, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Draisaitl, MacKinnon, Panarin are 2019-20 Hart Trophy finalists

Leon Draisaitl (Oilers), Nathan MacKinnon (Avalanche), and Artemi Panarin (Rangers) were named the three finalists for the 2019-20 Hart Trophy. The award is given to the “player judged most valuable to his team” and voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association at the end of the regular season.

Nikita Kucherov was last season’s winner.

This year’s winner will be announced during the conference finals.

It’s worth noting that Draisaitl, MacKinnon, and Panarin weren’t just Hart Trophy finalists, but also the three finalists for the Ted Lindsay Award, the player-voted alternative to the Hart.

[2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule]

Hart Trophy cases for finalists Draisaitl, MacKinnon, Panarin

The Hart Trophy case for Leon Draisaitl

It’s not just that Leon Draisaitl topped all NHL scorers with 110 points. Voters must have struggled with the fact that it wasn’t even close.

Draisaitl’s teammate Connor McDavid finished a distant second with 97 points. Yes, it’s remarkable that Draisaitl was the only NHL player to crack 100+ points in 2019-20, and he added some extra gravy by reaching 110. Remarkably, Draisaitl was going on a goal-scoring tear toward the end of the regular season, finishing with 43 goals.

While “fancy stats” become more prominent in hockey debate circles — including among voters — Draisaitl’s blistering scoring pace will be hard to ignore.

Nathan MacKinnon’s Hart Trophy argument

There are two basic arguments against Art Ross winner Draisaitl: a) defense and b) quality of teammates.

MacKinnon enjoys his fair share of help on a talented, young Avalanche team, but injuries to the likes of Mikko Rantanen placed significant pressure on the Avs’ speedy center. While McDavid certainly helped Draisaitl reach 110 points, MacKinnon’s 93 points stands far higher than every other Colorado player (Cale Makar finished second in team scoring with 50).

Fans of more “complete” players might side with MacKinnon. As a Lady Byng finalist, MacKinnon played big minutes but only had 12 PIM. (Then again, Draisaitl only had 18, and Panarin just 20.)

A greater selling point might be that MacKinnon’s improved his defensive game without really sacrificing offense. Considering his promising Hockey Viz chart, via Micah Blake McCurdy’s indispensable site:

Nathan MacKinnon Hockey Viz Hart Trophy finalists

Artemi Panarin’s tremendous first Rangers season helps him rank among Hart Trophy finalists

Remember when people downgraded Panarin, believing that he was merely Patrick Kane‘s passenger?

Panarin keeps proving that he can deliver big numbers in different situations. The late-arriving NHL star also seems to somehow get better every season. Despite being limited to 69 games played, Panarin established new career-highs in goals (32) and points (95). Like MacKinnon, Panarin produced far more than any of his teammates (Mika Zibanejad ranked second on the Rangers with 75).

“The Bread Man” possesses the sort of creativity you love to see on the power play. Even so, Panarin did his greatest damage at 5-on-5, leading the NHL with 71 even-strength points.

Overall, Draisaitl, MacKinnon, and Panarin present viable cases as Hart Trophy finalists. Who do you think should be named the NHL’s MVP for 2019-20?

2020 NHL AWARD FINALISTS

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.

NHL goalies scrambling to regain groove after 4-month break

With no ice time available during the NHL’s four-month pandemic-forced break, Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry had little choice but to let his game go to the dogs.

Diesel and Kitty, his two English mastiffs, to be specific.

“That was something I did almost every day, take the dogs downstairs and play street hockey with them,” Jarry said.

“We didn’t really have anyone to shoot on us over the break and I was just playing catch with my girlfriend at home and playing with the dogs. … That was all we could mimic” he added. “I usually would just stick-handle around, and they would chase me around and try to grab the ball.”

The dog days are most certainly over for Jarry and his counterparts. The Penguins are among the 24 teams entering their second week of training camp in preparation for the league’s expanded playoff format that will be played in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, starting on Aug. 1.

And goalies, with varying degrees of on- and off-ice preparation, are playing catch-up to regain their groove.

“As a shooter, you don’t really need a goalie to work on your shot,” Toronto’s Frederik Andersen said. “But I think as a goalie, you definitely need someone to shoot at you.”

Skaters could practice their shots in driveways, patios or basements. Goalies had no way to replicate facing a 100 mph slapshot, the speed of the game, angles and dealing with the jostle of bodies in front of a net.

“It’s probably all of the above, but I think the one major thing obviously is speed and traffic, people in front of you, the ability to find the puck,” Dallas Stars goalie coach Jeff Reese said. “Would we like them to be in midseason form? That would be great. But compete is going to make up a lot for that. And we’ve got two veteran guys that certainly compete hard.”

Reese was referring to starter Ben Bishop, who was able to hit the ice almost daily in Dallas, and backup Anton Khudobin, who had limited ice time while spending most of the break in his native Russia.

Khudobin worked out regularly instead of taking time off to rest as he would during a normal offseason.

“To me, it was like I would be on injury and the guys would be playing hockey,” said Khudobin, who managed to get some ice time with former NHL player Alexander Semin. “And I would just be getting back into shape and keep working, working, working, and whenever I’m cleared to play, here we go.”

Some coaches may lean more on their goalie tandems. That will be especially true for each conference’s top four teams, who can ease in their goalies during a three-game round-robin series to determine first-round playoff seeding.

Assured a first-round spot is a plus for Avalanche coach Jared Bednar, who will take his time choosing between Philipp Grubauer, who hasn’t played since being sidelined by a lower body injury in mid-February, and Pavel Francouz, who went 7-2-2 in taking over the starting job.

“I like the options that we have.” Bednar said. “I think both guys are potential starters for us, and we’ll make our decision as we enter Game 1 of the playoffs and not before then.”

Columbus coach John Tortorella doesn’t have the luxury of time, given the Blue Jackets open their best-of-five series against the Maple Leafs in Toronto.

“I don’t profess to know or want to know about goalies. I just want them to stop the puck,” Tortorella said of having to decide between Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins, who have both missed time due to injury this season. “We’re going to wing it.”

Staying fit and sharp was a concern for Merzlikins, who spent much of the pause holed up in his Columbus apartment.

“It was kind of weird and boring,” he said. “Just stretches and maybe go out for a run. And still I didn’t want to risk it and go run.”

Tampa Bay starter Andrei Vasilevskiy had a far different experience. He kept active by regularly getting out to fish off the Florida coast before having to trade his rod and reel for a blocker and pads.

“I even caught a small shark a few weeks ago,” Vasilevskiy said. “I know it’s a tough time, but at least I had some happy moments during this quarantine.”

NHL lore is filled with stories of goaltending achievements, ranging from the likes of Detroit’s Terry Sawchuk going 8-0 and allowing five goals in 1952 to Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray leading the Penguins to the Stanley Cup championship as a rookie in 2016.

Hockey Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden, who won six championships in eight seasonss with Montreal in the 1970s, said he has no concerns about members of his fraternity overcoming this year’s challenges.

“Goalies will be ready,” he said.

2019-20 Selke Trophy finalists: Bergeron, Couturier, O’Reilly

2020 Selke Finalists Bergeron Couturier O'Reilly
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The NHL announced Patrice Bergeron (Bruins), Sean Couturier (Flyers), and Ryan O'Reilly (Blues) as the 2019-20 Frank J. Selke Trophy finalists.

The Professional Hockey Writers Association votes on the award, which goes to “the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.”

It’s been fascinating to watch the Selke Trophy debate evolve as advanced stats have become increasingly prevalent. While some PHWA voters may still weigh plus/minus heavily, the larger debate has become far more sophisticated.

With that in mind, you may see a wide variety of arguments for would-be Selke Trophy finalists. Despite being a winger, Mark Stone (Golden Knights) has commanded frequent attention. To many, Anthony Cirelli (Lightning) seems poised to go from dark horse candidate to future finalist. You’ll also see names you may not expect, such as Blake Coleman (now of the Lightning).

[2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule]

But let’s consider the three finalists for the 2019-20 Selke Trophy:

The Selke Trophy cases for finalists Bergeron, Couturier, O’Reilly

Four-time Selke winner Patrice Bergeron

Bergeron, 34, may have lost a few steps, but he’s still a key part of a Bruins team that ended up being the only squad in the NHL to eclipse 100 standings points. Bergeron dominates in the faceoff circle, and generally centers an incredible line with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

The Bruins center is tied with Bob Gainey for the most Selke wins all-time with four, while this is a record ninth consecutive time Bergeron has been a finalist.

Sean Couturier continues to gain mainstream attention

We’re finally probably at the point where Sean Couturier isn’t underrated. Or at least we’re getting there.

Couturier continues to be a workhorse who drives play for the Flyers, who enjoyed a surge to the Round Robin level of the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. Couturier logs significant penalty kill minutes, contributes offensively, and is a beast on draws.

Maybe voters would prefer to give Couturier the award, rather than these other two Selke finalists, who’ve won at least one each?

Ryan O’Reilly goes for two Selke wins in a row

Some viewpoints hinge on which metrics people weigh the most. While there are certain analytics that bump Bergeron and Couturier down in the eyes of some, O’Reilly tends to bridge the “traditional” and “fancy stats” gap the most of the three Selke finalists.

He certainly checks the traditional boxes. ROR is another faceoff beast on a team that can be suffocating defensively. As much as these awards are based on 2019-20, O’Reilly certainly made an impression with his outstanding work during the Blues’ 2019 Stanley Cup run.

Bergeron and Couturier rank as inoffensive choices, but O’Reilly might be the frontrunner overall.

Then again, that’s for you (and eventually, the PHWA) to decide:

NHL AWARD FINALISTS
Ted Lindsay Award: Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon, Artemi Panarin
Calder Trophy: Quinn Hughes, Cale Makar, Dominik Kubalik
Jack Adams Award: Bruce Cassidy, John Tortorella, Alain Vigneault
• Masterton Trophy: Stephen Johns, Oskar Lindblom, Bobby Ryan

Lady Byng Trophy: Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews, Ryan O’Reilly
Vezina Trophy: Connor Hellebuyck, Tuukka Rask, Andrei Vasilevskiy
Norris Trophy: John Carlson, Victor Hedman, Roman Josi
Hart Trophy: Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon, Artemi Panarin

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.

Carlson, Hedman, Josi are 2019-20 Norris Trophy finalists

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John Carlson of the Capitals, Roman Josi of the Predators, and Victor Hedman of the Lightning have been voted finalists for the 2019-20 Norris Trophy. The award is given to league’s top defenseman “who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.”

The Norris Trophy is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association at the end of the regular season.

The winner will be announced during the conference finals.

[2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule]

The case for John Carlson: He led all defensemen in scoring with 15 goals and 75 points. Those 75 points are the fifth-highest total at the position in the last decade. Carlson only played 69 games due to the NHL pause, and his 1.09 points per game is the best by a blue liner since Ray Bourque (1.26) and Sergei Zubov (1.14) were productive in 1993-94. The Capitals’ vet was a plus possession player (51% Corsi), had an expected goals against per 60 of 2.7. This is his first time as a finalist and he’s looking to become the franchise’s first winner since Rod Langway’s back-to-back victories in 1982-83 and 1983-84.

The case for Victor Hedman: The Lightning defenseman was third in scoring among defenseman with 55 points in 66 games.  He averaged 24:04 of ice time per night, posted a 2.14 expected goals against per 60, and his 54% Corsi was in the top 10 for blue liners, per Evolving Hockey. This is Hedman’s fourth straight season as a Norris finalist; he won the award in 2017-18.

The case for Roman Josi: Josi (65 points) finished behind Carlson in scoring among defensemen and, like the Capitals blue liner, led his team in points. His impact on the Predators was noticeable. When he was on the ice, the team had nearly a 20% better chance to score compared to league average versus less than 1% when he was off, per HockeyViz. He posted a 53% Corsi rating and a 53% expected goals for percentage, per Evolving Hockey. This is his first time as a finalist for the award and would be the first winner in franchise history.

NHL AWARD FINALISTS
Ted Lindsay Award: Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon, Artemi Panarin
Calder Trophy: Quinn Hughes, Cale Makar, Dominik Kubalik
Jack Adams Award: Bruce Cassidy, John Tortorella, Alain Vigneault
• Masterton Trophy: Stephen Johns, Oskar Lindblom, Bobby Ryan

Lady Byng Trophy: Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews, Ryan O’Reilly
Vezina Trophy: Connor Hellebuyck, Tuukka Rask, Andrei Vasilevskiy
Selke Trophy: Patrice Bergeron, Sean Couturier, Ryan O'Reilly
Hart Trophy: Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon, Artemi Panarin

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.