The Buzzer: Toews dazzles; Tkachuk hits 45

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Three stars

1. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

Some thought he was petering out as an elite hockey player in the NHL. Few expected the type of season Toews is having.

Captain Serious scored his career-high 35th goal of the season and added the only goal that mattered in the shootout to push the Blackhawks past the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday Night Hockey. Toews now has a career high in goals and points and needs one assist to make it a career-high hat trick with helper No. 45.

A season for the haters.

2. Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa Senators 

The Senators are playing for next year (or perhaps three years down the road), and Tkachuk is set to feature in Ottawa’s lineup for a long time, which is a good thing.

Tkachuk had a goal and an assist to given him 45 points in 69 games in his rookie season. It’s been a trying year in Ottawa on and off the ice, but Tkachuk has been a bright spot.

3. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

Another goal (his 42nd) and another assist (his 65th) came off the stick of Kane in Chicago’s win.

Kane came into the game with 105 points, one shy of his career-best 106 that he set in 2015-16 when he won the Art Ross. He won’t win that award this season, Nikita Kucherov has that locked up, but Kane’s two points established a new career mark with 107.

Highlights of the night

This is tremendous:

This, too:

Getzlaf can still fake out defenders:

Kane’s sick mitts:

Factoids

Scores

Senators 4, Rangers 1
Blackhawks 4, Blues 3 (SO)
Ducks 3, Flames 1


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

Kucherov making plenty of points for NHL’s MVP consideration

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Connor McDavid knows better than to risk making end-of-season NHL award projections.

Through no fault of his own, the Edmonton Oilers captain was not included among last year’s three MVP candidates, causing a stir back home. So McDavid understandably deferred when recently asked to list his Hart Trophy front-runners this year.

”After last year, I’m not commenting,” McDavid said, chuckling. ”I have no idea who will win it at all.”

McDavid, who won the Hart in 2017 after leading the Oilers to their first playoff berth in 11 years, isn’t likely to be included among this year’s finalists even though he entered the final week of the season second in the league with 115 points. Trouble is, the Oilers have already been eliminated from playoff contention, and McDavid and everyone else are being overshadowed by the numbers Nikita Kucherov is putting up with the President’s Trophy-clinching Tampa Bay Lightning.

With 125 points through 80 games, Kucherov has already matched Joe Thornton‘s league-leading total in 2005-06. The highest total after that is Jaromir Jagr’s 127 points in 1998-99, and the last player to top 130 points was Mario Lemieux, who had 161 in 1995-96.

”It’s not at all surprising. He was unbelievable last year, and seemed to get no recognition for it,” McDavid said, noting how Kucherov finished third in the NHL with 100 points last season. ”They’re a team that scores a lot of goals. And he’s in on most of them. It’s pretty impressive.”

Kucherov is tied for the Lightning lead with seven game-winning goals and part of a team that became only the NHL’s third to win 60 or more games. Kucherov has also led the points race since Dec. 28, and gone no more than two games without registering a point this season.

That’s not to say there aren’t others worthy of mention.

Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau, with a career-best 97 points already, has played a key role in helping the Flames clinch their first division title in 13 years.

Though Sidney Crosby‘s production has tailed off with just three assists in Pittsburgh’s past nine games, the Penguins could have been in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2006 if not for their captain’s team-leading 95 points. Chicago’s Patrick Kane, who enjoyed a 20-game point streak, would deserve consideration if not for the Blackhawks sitting last in the Central Division.

Former NHL executive-turned broadcaster Brian Burke said it’s difficult to consider anyone ahead of Kucherov, suggesting he has essentially ”lapped the field.”

”You’d have to be statistically such an aberration, such a unicorn, that voters would have no choice but to say, ‘OK, that’s the guy,”’ Burke said.

”But that’s not the case where you’ve got Kucherov. So there’s no unicorns,” Burke added. ”You’ve already got a guy who’s blowing everyone away.”

That said, here is The Associated Press list of end-of-season award contenders:

HART (MVP)

In the conversation: Crosby, Gaudreau, Kucherov and Brad Marchand (Boston).

Who should win: Kucherov.

Comment: To quote Burke: ”There’s no unicorns.”

NORRIS (Top defenseman)

In the conversation: Brent Burns (San Jose), John Carlson (Washington), Mark Giordano (Calgary), Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay).

Who should win: Giordano.

Comment: A career-best season for a captain on the Pacific Division’s top team.

VEZINA (Top goalie)

In the conversation: Ben Bishop (Dallas), Darcy Kuemper (Arizona), Carey Price (Montreal) Pekka Rinne (Nashville) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay).

Who should win: Vasilevskiy.

Comment: Tightest race to call and could include Islanders’ tandem of Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss, though each eliminate each other by splitting starts.

SELKE (Top defensive forward)

In the conversation: Aleksander Barkov (Florida), Patrice Bergeron (Boston), Sean Couturier (Philadelphia), Mark Stone (Vegas), Ryan O'Reilly (St. Louis).

Who should win: Stone.

Comment: Before being traded to Vegas, Stone had an exceptional plus-13 rating on a Senators team that has currently allowed an NHL-worst 285 goals.

CALDER (Top rookie)

In the conversation: Rasmus Dahlin (Buffalo), Andreas Johnsson (Toronto), Elias Pettersson (Vancouver) and Brady Tkachuk (Ottawa).

Who should win: Pettersson.

Comment: Pettersson leads rookie forwards in averaging 18:20 of ice time per game.

JACK ADAMS (Top coach)

In the conversation: Craig Berube (St. Louis), Jon Cooper (Tampa Bay), Bill Peters (Calgary), Barry Trotz (Islanders).

Who should win: Cooper.

Comment: Though Berube and Trotz deserve consideration, it is difficult to overlook the job Cooper’s done with a 60-win team.

THEY SAID IT

Blue Jackets John Tortorella wasn’t initially in the mood to divulge what was discussed during a team meeting after a 4-1 loss at Edmonton on March 21 that extended Columbus’ skid to 0-2-1.

”That’s none of your business,” he responded. Pressed further, given how Columbus rebounded to win its next five, Tortorella said: ”We (stunk) against Edmonton. I mean it was pitiful against Edmonton, so we tried to clean some things up.”

Quinn Hughes made quite the debut for Canucks

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When Quinn Hughes joined Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser on the ice during 3-on-3 overtime for Vancouver on Thursday, you couldn’t really blame Canucks fans for thinking “The future is now.”

(Granted, they might have thought that in a less-cliched, but maybe more profanity-laced way. Depending upon the specific Canucks fan, of course.)

Hughes made his NHL debut during Vancouver’s 3-2 shootout win against the Los Angeles Kings, and showed why fans were chanting “We want Hughes!” before his first shift. The 19-year-old didn’t disappoint, either, showing why people think he was a steal as the seventh overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft.

Hughes grabbing an assist in the game wasn’t promising merely because he already produced offense. Instead, it really encapsulated a lot of the reasons people think he’s going to be a big deal. During the play, he absolutely bamboozled Trevor Lewis with his excellent skating and anticipation, banking the puck to himself, and then letting go a shot that created a juicy rebound. Brock Boeser then fired it home, so this was very much a primary assist by Hughes:

And that 3-on-3 OT sequence seemed like a portal into a future — a future where Pettersson, Boeser, and Hughes give opponents fits.

Hughes’ skating and scoring ability seem like they’ll translate incredibly well to the modern NHL game, and that showed on Thursday.

It’s also a reminder that, while this ranks as another painful season for the Canucks, it’s tough to dismiss the feeling of hope in Vancouver. For all GM Jim Benning has done wrong – and the list isn’t necessarily small – it sure seems like he’s hit it out of the park multiple times with draft picks, at least in the first round.

And while the Canucks dynamic duo/tremendous trio weren’t exactly lingering in the late rounds of drafts, these weren’t necessarily layup picks like, say, selecting Sidney Crosby first and Evgeni Malkin after Alex Ovechkin.

  • Boeser, 22, went 23rd overall in 2015. The Canucks’ hated foes the Bruins had three opportunities to pick Boeser. Also, Boeser was selected after the likes of Pavel Zacha, Evgeny Svechnikov, and Joel Eriksson Ek. (Sorry, fans of the several teams who whiffed especially badly there.)
  • It feels strange to call the fifth pick of the 2017 NHL Draft a “steal,” especially this early … but Pettersson already looks like a star at 20. If there was a re-draft, Pettersson would go ahead of Nico Hischier, Nolan Patrick, Miro Heiskanen, and Cale Makar … right? He certainly would last as long as fifth.
  • Hughes, 19, went seventh. The opening picks of that draft have made remarkable impacts already, from obvious guys like Rasmus Dahlin and Andrei Svechnikov, to players who maybe had to scrape for their positions in Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Brady Tkachuk. Hughes might not be a “steal” like the other two, but the Canucks would still prosper if he merely ends up being a really useful player.

It’s tantalizing, then, to wonder how much the Canucks may skip in line if they hit another homer in the first round, this time in the upcoming 2019 NHL Draft.

From a fun headlines standpoint, you wouldn’t be able to top the Canucks getting projected top pick Jack Hughes to join his brother Quinn. That’s possible, although unlikely — via the Push for the Playoffs, you can see that Vancouver’s draft lottery odds currently stand at just six percent.

In the likely event that Vancouver doesn’t win the draft lottery, the Canucks have shown that they can make the most of a first-rounder, even when it’s not at the absolute top of a draft. (At least lately, as the jury’s still out on players like Olli Juolevi, who went fifth in 2016.)

Honestly, even if the results are more modest this time around, the future seems brighter every time a new gem is added to the mix, and Hughes looks like he might continue that trend. This trio should also make the Canucks a lot more fun to watch in the present while they build toward that future.

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.

Frustrated Senators owner talks rebuild, arena future

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Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has picked an interesting time to go on a media tour. With just eight games remaining in the Sens’ season and the team sitting in the basement of the NHL standings, Melnyk decided it was a good idea to rip journalists and other teams over the last 24 hours.

“You don’t do a rebuild with a short-term view. You’ve got to have, and it’s tough in sports, a five-year outlook and if you don’t all you’re doing is patching up. I know a team that you know that’s done it for 53 years,” Melnyk said of the Toronto Maple Leafs on CFRA 580 radio in Ottawa. “They’ve been selling out, but all they do is they’ve been patching up. Finally, they collapsed the team, said ‘We’ve got to a rebuild,’ but mistakes were made and somebody forgot about defence.

“They’re going to have a tough time winning a Stanley Cup without defence. They’re hitting the cap. They can’t bring anybody new in, so they’re stuck. And that’s where you have to be extremely careful. [The Senators have] something like 17 draft picks in the next three years in the first three rounds and that’s a huge inventory of draft picks, plus everything we have in Belleville, plus, plus, plus.”

Last time we checked, only five teams in the league have more points than the Maple Leafs, while no team has fewer points than the Sens. Again, it’s an interesting time for him to be saying stuff like this.

During that same interview, Melnyk made sure to put his general manager, Pierre Dorion, on notice too.

“This next six months are going to be critical for [general manager] Pierre [Dorion] and his team, and the whole operations [staff] to get their act together in a big way to be able to use these assets – all the 17 picks we have in the first three rounds for three years, plus all of the other prospects. This core group, that’s sitting in Belleville and playing up already are going to stay. And yes, they’re all going to need those big contracts and I’m prepared to step up for that.”

Melnyk also took a shot at TSN 1200 radio host Ian Mendes.

At what point does the NHL have to get involved in this? Even if they don’t want to force him to sell the team, they have to find a way to keep him quiet. The situation in Ottawa has become embarrassing enough that they don’t need the owner to come out and say controversial things about reporters and other teams.

During an interview on the FAN 590 in Toronto, Melnyk also discussed the possibility of the team building that downtown arena everyone’s been talking about.

“It’s dead as far as the process is concerned. They’re now talking about all sorts of different machinations of things and they’re looking at dividing it up into six little projects. I think it’s very fluid right now especially in an election year.

“If there’s an opportunity there, we’ll listen to them. At this point, we’re not in any hurry. I’m still trying to pursue it, but if it doesn’t happen, I’m just as happy to stay in Kanata and do what we’re doing out there and actually expand upon what we’re doing and what we have.”

On the ice, the Sens have some solid youngsters like Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, Colin White, Erik Brannstrom and a few others, but it takes more than that to be a legitimate Stanley Cup threat. By their own admission, they’re in rebuild mode, but Melnyk is convinced that this team can turn things around fast. Really fast.

“The whole objective is that three years out we have a true Stanley Cup contender and that we don’t have the gaps that some teams have and that we stay within the cap,” he said. “We know what the cap is going to be but my worry is you’re going to be bumping into that if you have five or six real starts that you’re paying $10 million to.”

Good luck with that, Eugene.

And, oh yeah, the bots are back!

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Matthew Tkachuk gets first hat trick before Keith did

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Three Stars

1. Matthew Tkachuk

Matthew generated his first NHL hat trick at age 21 … and 89 days. His father, Keith Tkachuk, generated his first hat trick at age 21, but at 209 days. Getting to that mark sooner than Keith? That’s impressive stuff.

Tkachuk’s third goal was an empty-netter, but he also had an assist in Calgary’s 6-3 win against Vegas, so that’s an impressive four-point night overall. He now has 29 goals and 67 points in 69 games this season, lining himself up for a substantial second contract.

The Flames were so potent offensively, they deserve at least two of the top three spots. At least since no one else really produced on the same scale on Sunday.

As a bonus, there’s this remarkable photo from Getty Images, with also includes Brady Tkachuk, who’s basically unmistakable:

via Getty Images

2. Michael Frolik

As is often the case with the three stars, your preference likely comes down to what you weigh the heaviest. It seems too boring to just reward the entire “3M Line” with all three stars, really, so we’re going to need to make a distinction here.

Again, Mikael Backlund has a strong case. He scored two goals and one assist, with his helper being a primary assist. All of those points came before Tkachuk’s empty-netter.

One of Frolik’s four assists were on that empty-netter, but … four assists, everyone. That’s quite impressive.

It’s been an up-and-down season for Frolik, as this four-point outburst ended what was a six-game pointless streak. Frolik has been a healthy scratch this season, and has generally struggled to convince Bill Peters that he should maintain the 3M-edness of “The 3M Line.” Nights like Sunday argue that, maybe, Peters should take the K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid) approach here.

3. Pheonix Copley

No goalie generated a shutout on Sunday, but there were some nice performances nonetheless.

Both Jaroslav Halak and Matt Murray provided strong performances in an exciting Penguins win against the Bruins, with Murray stopping 39 out of 41 shots. It’s tempting to give Murray something of a “weekend achievement” award after he made some astounding stops on Saturday, too.

Yet, Copley gets the slight nod. Copley made 33 out of 34 saves to help the Capitals beat the Jets on Sunday. As sparsely used as Copley is, he’s now on a five-game winning streak.

Highlight of the Night

From the great Sidney Crosby pass to the fantastic goal by Jake Guentzel, the GWG from the Penguins – Bruins game gets the nod:

Factoids:

Scores

FLA 6 – DET 1
WSH 3 – WPG 1
PIT 4 – BOS 2
CGY 6 – VGK 3
LAK 3 – ANA 2

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.