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The Buzzer: Kucherov’s five point night; Bergeron, Kovalchuk with big returns

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Three Stars

1. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. The Tampa Bay Lightning look unstoppable right now. After their 6-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night they are still averaging more than four goals per game on the season and are 11-0-1 in their past 12 games (and also 16-2-1 in their past 19 games). Leading the way on Saturday night was Nikita Kucherov with a five-point night to give him 57 points in 37 games this season. That is a 126-point pace over 82 games. The five points is a new season-high for him and already the eighth time this season he has recorded at least three points in a game. He is now just two points back of Colorado Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen (59 points) for the league lead in the scoring race.

2. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins. What a difference he makes when he is on the ice. Patrice Bergeron returned to the Boston Bruins’ lineup on Saturday afternoon for the first time since November 14 and it was like he never left. He finished with a four-point performance (two goals, two assists) in a 5-2 win over the Nashville Predators and was his usual dominant self in all phases of the game. He is now up to 31 points in 20 games this season for a Bruins team that has been trying to stay afloat despite some brutal injury luck this season. Getting a healthy Bergeron back will obviously be a huge boost to that lineup.

3. Phillip Danault, Montreal Canadiens. Entering play on Saturday Montreal Canadiens forward Phillip Danault had not scored a goal in 11 consecutive games, had just one in his past 30, and just two for the entire season. He topped that season total with three goals in a 4-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights. Given that he had scored just 10 goals since the start of the 2017-18 season, and only 27 in 223 career games, he is probably one of the most unlikely players to net a hat trick this season.

More big performances from Saturday

Jeff Skinner scored his 26th goal of the season for the Buffalo Sabres. That total is good enough for second place in the NHL behind only Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin. He continues to play his way toward a huge contract in the coming months.

Roberto Luongo turned aside 33 shots for the Florida Panthers in a 2-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings.

Cam Atkinson scored two more goals for the Columbus Blue Jackets to help lift his team to a 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, handing rookie goalie Carter Hart his first NHL defeat.

Pheonix Copley, Laurent Brossoit, Matt Murray, and Linus Ullmark all recorded shutouts on Saturday.

David Perron had two points for the St. Louis Blues in a 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames.

Alexander Radulov had two points, including the game-winning goal with just 10 seconds to play in overtime, to help lift the Dallas Stars to a 2-1 win over the Minnesota Wild.

Mark Scheifele‘s 22nd goal of the season, which came with just under 1:30 to play in regulation, helped lift the Winnipeg Jets to a 1-0 win in Vancouver. It is his fifth game-winning goal of the season.

— Mitch Marner thought he had a hat trick for the Toronto Maple Leafs until one of the goals was awarded to Andreas Johnsson. He instead had to settle for two goals and an assist in a 5-3 win over the New York Rangers. Johnsson also had three points in the win.

— The Arizona Coyotes allowed a three-goal third period lead to slip away against the Colorado Avalanche but were able to rebound for a 6-4 win thanks to a pair of late goals from Brad Richardson — the game-winner with less than four minutes to play, and then an empty net goal to secure the win.

Steven Stamkos scored two goals for the Tampa Lightning and hit the 20 goal mark for the 10th time in his career. He is one of the best players in the league and is only the third leading scorer on the Lightning, a testament to how good and deep the Lightning roster currently is.

Highlights of the Night

This is what the Los Angeles Kings had in mind when they signed Ilya Kovalchuk over the summer. It has not worked out as planned so far, but he had his bet game of the season on Saturday afternoon in a 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks by scoring two goals, including the game-winning goal in overtime.

The Sidney Crosby to Jake Guentzel connection is rolling in Pittsburgh. Guentzel scored two more goals on Saturday night in a 3-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, while Crosby picked up an assist on all three Penguins goals. The passing on Guentzel’s second goal was crisp.

Speaking of crisp passing, this John Tavares to Mitch Marner play is pretty great, too.

Factoids

Rasmus Dahlin scored a goal in the Buffalo Sabres’ 3-0 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night and is off to an incredible start to his career.

More on Ilya Kovalchuk’s big game for the Los Angeles Kings.

A perfect time for Pheonix Copley to record his first NHL shutout.

The Tampa Bay Lightning head to the holiday break as the best team in the NHL at the moment.

His team did not get the win, but Connor McDavid is still having yet another incredible season.

Scores

Boston Bruins 5, Nashville Predators 2

Columbus Blue Jackets 4, Philadelphia 3

Florida Panthers 2, Detroit Red Wings 1

Montreal Canadiens 4, Vegas Golden Knights 3

Los Angeles Kings 3, San Jose Sharks 2 (OT)

St. Louis Blues 3, Calgary Flames 1

Arizona Coyotes 6, Colorado Avalanche 4

Buffalo Sabres 3, Anaheim Ducks 0

Toronto Maple Leafs 5, New York Rangers 3

Washington Capitals 4, Ottawa Senators 0

Pittsburgh Penguins 3, Carolina Hurricanes 0

Dallas Stars 2, Minnesota Wild 1 (OT)

Winnipeg Jets 1, Vancouver Canucks 0

Tampa Bay Lightning 6, Edmonton Oilers 3

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Parity making NHL teams more willing to fire coaches early

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By STEPHEN WHYNO (AP Hockey Writer)

Peter Chiarelli didn’t feel like he could wait another day.

The Edmonton general manager didn’t sleep well after another tough loss, put the wheels in motion to replace coach Todd McLellan with Ken Hitchcock and made the move on Tuesday – a game day. After no in-season coaching changes around the NHL last season, there have now been four in less than three weeks.

The standings are still so close and volatile that it’s almost never too soon to decide to fire an NHL coach.

”Unfortunately as it is, that’s the way it’s trending,” Chiarelli said. ”The margins are thin and you look for edges and that’s one of them.”

Los Angeles fired John Stevens on Nov. 4, Chicago fired three-time Stanley Cup winner Joel Quenneville two days later, St. Louis dismissed Mike Yeo late Monday and Edmonton followed suit with McLellan on Tuesday morning. The Kings had played 13 games, the Blackhawks 15, the Blues 19 and the Oilers 20, but it is no longer surprising to see such a drastic move before the quarter mark of the season.

Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens, now an NHL Network analyst, won the Stanley Cup as a player after a late-season coaching change and took over as co-head coach with New Jersey during the 2014-15 season. He said he was only caught off-guard by Quenneville’s firing and understands why so many GMs are pulling the trigger so early.

”I think a lot of times the GM has the pulse of everything that’s going on and knows when the time’s right to make that move,” Stevens said. ”I believe every team thinks they have a chance to win the Stanley Cup. … Everyone feels they have a chance to win, and sometimes you just need a little luck.”

Or at least a big change.

”You can’t trade every player, so they fire the coach to try to get everybody’s attention,” NBC Sports analyst Pierre McGuire said.

The calendar got Chiarelli’s attention because Thanksgiving typically serves as a barometer of which teams will make the playoffs. It’s an uphill climb for Hitchcock, the Kings’ Willie Desjardins , Blackhawks’ Jeremy Colliton and Blues’ Craig Berube to try to lift their teams out of rough starts and make it.

Sometimes, interim or replacement coaches are wildly successful after arriving during the season. The Penguins in 2009 with Dan Bylsma and 2016 with Mike Sullivan and the Kings in 2012 with Darryl Sutter won the Cup. The Flyers in 2010 with Peter Laviolette reached the final.

McGuire, himself a midseason replacement with the Hartford Whalers in the 1990s, said he believes this recent run of firings has something to do with the Vegas Golden Knights reaching the final last season as an expansion team, causing frustration around the league about quick results. Still, early-season coach firings are a time-tested part of the NHL.

”Coaching changes right around this time made huge differences,” McGuire said. ”People look at this over history and they say this can happen. Pittsburgh and L.A. are good examples of that.”

UPPER HAND SHORTHANDED

The Arizona Coyotes have killed off a league-best 91.7 percent of power plays, and their 10 short-handed goals are six more than the next-closest team. Michael Grabner has four, Brad Richardson three and Arizona has only allowed five power-play goals through its first 19 games.

Coach Rick Tocchet said Grabner, Richardson and his other penalty killers have done an excellent job of applying pressure with three players and the fourth making smart reads to take it the other way.

”Especially for PK guys, they really have a good hockey IQ on knowing when to attack pressure,” Tocchet said. ”The guys have done a nice job, like Richardson and Grabner especially, of making really good reads on when there’s a time to pressure and where that read is going to be. Sometimes you guess wrong but I think this year we’ve done a nice job guessing right.”

GAME OF THE WEEK

The defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals on Saturday visit the New York Rangers, who have been among the league’s biggest surprises under first-year coach David Quinn.

LEADERS

Goals: David Pastrnak (Boston), 17; Assists: Mikko Rantanen (Colorado), 24; Points: Rantanen, 32; Ice time: Drew Doughty (Los Angeles), 26:53; Save percentage: Pekka Rinne (Nashville), .942; Goals-against average: Rinne, 1.69.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Coyotes’ penalty kill has been incredible

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The Arizona Coyotes dropped a 5-4 overtime decision to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night. In the end, it had to be a mostly disappointing result given that they entered the third period with a two-goal lead, but they were still able to collect another point and are now 6-2-1 in their past nine games after winning just one of their first five.

Still a lot of good news if you are a Coyotes fan when it comes to the big picture outlook for the season.

One of the biggest reasons they were able to collect another point on Thursday was yet another incredible performance by their penalty killing unit which might be, through the first month of the season, the single most impressive unit in the league.

They not only killed off all three Flyers’ power plays on the night, but they also scored two more shorthanded goals. Those two shorthanded goals came on the same penalty kill in the second period, and were just 23 seconds apart.

On its own that would be an incredible performance, even if just for one game. But the Coyotes have been doing this all season, and have already scored nine shorthanded goals in only 14 games. 

They have only scored 22 goals at even-strength in those 14 games. Even more ridiculous is the fact their own power play has only scored seven.

Since the start of the 1990 season only five teams have had more than five shorthanded goals this far into November. The 1993-94 St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers both have seven. The 1991-92 Philadelphia Flyers, 2005-06 Montreal Canadiens, and 2008-09 New York Rangers all had six.

The Coyotes, once again, currently have nine.

There were only five teams in the entire league a year ago that scored more than nine shorthanded goals for the entire season.

They have scored those nine goals on only 45 penalty kills, the sixth lowest number in the league. That means they are scoring on exactly 20 percent of their penalty kills. To put that number in perspective, there are currently 14 power play units in the NHL (including the Coyotes’) that are converting on less than 20 percent of their power play opportunities.

These are absurd numbers, and it is not just about the goals scored.

They are generating a ton of shots, too, at least relative to the rest of the league. So far this season they are averaging more than 20 shots on goal per 60 minutes of penalty kill time. No other team in the league is averaging more than 18, while only four averaging more than 15. The league average is around 12.

What makes the performance offensively even more incredible is they are not giving it up at the other end. It is not the result of an overly aggressive strategy that is leaving them exposed defensively where they give up as much as they score or generate. As of Friday, their penalty killing unit is also allowing the third fewest total shot attempts per 60 minutes of PK time.

They have only allowed four goals and currently have a league-best 91.1 percent success rate when down a player.

Overall, they still have a positive goal differential at plus-five.

Only one team in the league is better than minus-four (the San Jose Sharks are at minus-three).

So what is behind this performance? When it comes to the goals they are scoring there is almost certainly an element of luck and circumstance at play here. No matter how good your penalty killing unit it you don’t need me to tell you that it unreasonable to expect a team to keep scoring shorthanded goals at that pace (and outscoring opposing power plays) over an entire season.

Still, given the number of chances they are creating and the number of shots the unit is generating (as well as the shots they are not allowing their opponents to register) suggests there is also plenty of skill on the unit as well. Goaltending will always play a big role for a team’s penalty kill, and when healthy the Coyotes have an outstanding goaltender in Antti Raanta.

But when it comes to the skaters a lot of the success has to start up front where the Coyotes boast two of the best penalty killing forwards in the league when it comes to generating shorthanded opportunities in Michael Grabner and Derek Stepan.

Of the 160 forwards that have played at least 150 shorthanded minutes since the start of the 2016-17 season, Grabner and Stepan are both among the top-eight (Grabner is second; Stepan is eighth) in shot attempt percentage, while Grabner (currently the team’s top shorthanded option among forwards) is in the top-15 in terms of shot suppression and goals against. His speed is a game-changer and can cause havoc for opposing power plays. He and the rest of his teammates (including Stepan, Brad Richardson, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Alex Goligoski, and Jason Demers) are doing a number on every power play unit they have faced this season.

They are going to get two big tests in their upcoming games when they go on the road to face the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. It will be interesting to see how they fare against two of the most intimidating and talented power plays in the league.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Ten stunning numbers from the first month of the NHL season

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The first month of the NHL season is already in the books, and it was an exciting one that was full of big offensive numbers, surprise teams, and great individual performances.

Each month during the season we will take a look at some stunning numbers, trends, or statistics that stand out.

So what stood out from the first month of the 2018-19 season?

Hurricanes on historic shot on goal pace — After registering 51 shots on goal in their 4-3 overtime loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Friday night, the Carolina Hurricanes are now averaging more than 42 shots on goal per game this season. In the history of the league only one team has ever gone a full season and averaged more than shots on goal, and that was the 1970-71 Boston Bruins. Now, it’s easy to write this Hurricanes number off as “it’s early” and that number is probably due to come down at some point. But even if you just look at it as the first 13 games the Hurricanes are still putting shots on net at an historic rate.

Their 551 shots on goal at this point in the season are more than any team ever at this point in the season, including the 1970-71 Bruins (who had just 536 at this point). Only six teams in league history other than these Hurricanes and the ’70-71 Bruins have managed to top the 500 shot mark at this point in the season.

The difference between this Hurricanes team and that Bruins team? The Bruins finished that season as the highest scoring team in the league by more than 100 goals (399 … the next closest team had 291). These Hurricanes are only 23rd in the league in goals per game.

Coyotes shorthanded goals — Through their first five games of the season the Arizona Coyotes could not score at all, no matter what the situation was on the ice. That has drastically changed in the three weeks since as they are now on a roll, having scored at least four goals in six of their past seven games.

One area where they have excelled is in shorthanded situations, where they are not only only of the best teams in the league at preventing goals, but have already scored seven shorthanded goals.

Brad Richardson has a league best three of them. Free agent acquisition Michael Grabner has two.

As a team, their seven shorthanded goals are by far the most in the NHL and are already more than 14 teams scored all of last season.

Perhaps even more ridiculous: Their penalty kill has only allowed three goals this season, meaning they are somehow have a plus-four goal differential when playing shorthanded. Tampa Bay is a minus-one (three goals against, two for) and San Jose is a minus-two (six against, four for). Nobody else in the league is better than a minus-four.

[Related: Why there is reason to believe in the Arizona Coyotes]

The Elias Pettersson show — The Canucks’ prized rookie has helped make them one of the early season surprises, and his performance is just remarkable.

 

John Gibson is dominating — But it is still not enough for the Ducks.

He has a .936 save percentage through his first 11 starts of the season, and has won just four games. A goalie playing at that level should have more than four wins. Way more.

Since the start of the 1987-88 season there have been 18 goalies that have faced at least 350 shots in his team’s first 14 games and had a save percentage higher than .935. Gibson’s four wins are the fewest out of that group, while only Sean Burke as a member of the 2001-02 Arizona Coyotes won fewer than six games.

Alex Ovechkin is not really slowing down — The Capitals are not off to a great start, but Alex Ovechkin most certianly is. Not only is he off to a great start, he is off to one of the best goal-scoring starts of his career. His 10 goals in his first 11 games ties for the second best start of his career. The only time he scored more goals through his first 11 game was the 2009-10 season when he scored … 11. He also scored 10 during the 2013-14 and 2017-18 seasons. The only one of those seasons where he did not end up leading the league in goals was the 2009-10 season. What is remarkable about his play the past two seasons is that he is currently in his age 33 season. Players are supposed to be slowing down at that age and he … sort of isn’t.

Max Domi is scoring goals … against goalies — He has already scored six goals this season for the Montreal Canadiens. Why is this stunning? All of those goals have come with a goalie in the opposing net (meaning no empty-net goals). During the entire 2017-18 season Domi scored just nine goals … with only five of them coming with an opposing goalie in the net (four of his goals a year ago were of the empty net variety).

Kings’ offensive offense — Everybody in the NHL is scoring more goals this season. Everybody except for the Los Angeles Kings. Through their first 12 games they averaging just two goals per game, by far the lowest number in the league. This has been a dull offensive team for years now, even when it was winning, but when it comes to this season and the modern NHL the rest of the league seems to have lapped them a number of times.

Colorado’s top line — The trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog is making a strong case for being the best line in the league. When they are together during 5-on-5 play, they are outscoring teams by a 14-7 margin (the Avalanche are 14-14 without any of them on the ice), while Rantanen and MacKinnon are in the top-two in scoring, having already topped the 20-point mark. Together, they have combined for 27 goals. Or … three more than the Los Angeles Kings have scored as a team.

[Related: Nathan MacKinnon on breakout season — PHT Q & A]

Vegas is getting PDO’d — I think most people expected some sort of a regression from the Vegas Golden Knights in year two because pretty much everything went their way in their debut season. What’s weird about this regression is the Golden Knights are actually doing a lot of things really, really well. They are one of the best teams in the league in terms of their 5-on-5 shot differential and  they are one of the best teams in the league when it comes to generating and preventing scoring chances. The problem is none of their chances are going in and their goalie can not stop anything. Injuries to Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty, their two big offseason acquisitions are not helping, nor is the suspension to Nate Schmidt, one of their top defenders. But as of Saturday the Golden Knights have the worst 5-on-5 shooting percentage in the league (5.04 percent) and the worst 5-on-5 save percentage (only .886). Those percentages are crushing them. 

The Islanders’ goaltending is keeping them in it — The post-John Tavares era in New York is off to a far better than expected start as the enter the weekend tied for first place in the Metropolitan Division after a home-and-home sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The driving force behind that early success is the play of their goaltenders, Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner. Together they have a .931 save percentage that is the third best team save percentage in the league (behind only the Arizona Coyotes and Anaheim Ducks). It is surprising because their save percentages a year ago were .892 (Greiss) and .908 (Lehner). Goalies, man. They can change a team, and you never really know when one is going to go on a roll.

(Data via Hockey-ReferenceNatural Stat Trick and NHL.com)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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: Coyotes visit Wild on NBCSN

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Arizona Coyotes and Minnesota Wild at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

As they look to stop their slow start to the season, the Arizona Coyotes received good news on Tuesday. Alex Galchenyuk, who’s get to play this season since being acquired over the summer from the Montreal Canadiens, practiced with his teammates for the first time since suffering an injury during preseason.

Galchenyuk will likely take over No. 1 duties when he’s completely healthy. For now, he’s been cleared for contact but there’s no timetable for a return.

The Wild traveled home after Monday’s 4-2 loss to the Nashville Predators staring at a 1-2-2 record and last place in the Central Division. Head coach Bruce Boudreau emphasized the imporatance of putting together a few wins together, especially with a weekend back-to-back away at Dallas and at home against Tampa Bay.

“If you look at our schedule, we have to get to .500 quick, and then you have to start moving above .500 if you want to stay in this race,” he said.

What: Arizona Coyotes at Minnesota Wild
Where: Xcel Energy Center
When: Tuesday, October 16th, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Coyotes-Wild stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

Coyotes
Richard PanikDerek StepanClayton Keller
Lawson CrouseDylan StromeChristian Fischer
Michael GrabnerBrad RichardsonNick Cousins
Brendan PerliniJosh ArchibaldVincent Hinostroza

Oliver Ekman-LarssonJason Demers
Alex GoligoskiJordan Oesterle
Kevin ConnautonNiklas Hjalmarsson

Starting goalie: Darcy Kuemper

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Wild
Jason ZuckerEric StaalJordan Greenway
Zach PariseMikko KoivuMikael Granlund
Nino NiederreiterEric FehrCharlie Coyle
Marcus FolignoMatt HendricksJ.T. Brown

Ryan SuterMatt Dumba
Jonas BrodinJared Spurgeon
Nick SeelerGreg Pateryn

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule