PHT Morning Skate: Joe Thornton’s heating up; Carter Hart’s maturity

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Predators have made a few trades already, but they need to be all-in before the trade deadline. (The Hockey News)

• Even though he’s just 20 years old, Flyers goalie Carter Hart has shown a level of maturity that is remarkable. (NHL.com)

Joe Thornton is healthy and playing his best hockey of the season. (Mercury News)

• Stars video coach Kelly Forbes didn’t get to spend the mom’s trip with his mother because she passed away in January. But Arlene Forbes was the one pushing for the mothers to spend time on the road with their boys. (Dallas News)

• Dick Patrick finally gets to see his name on the Stanley Cup. It took a lot of work, but he finally got there. The Washington Post has the incredible story of the Patrick family and their link to the hockey world. (Washington Post)

• Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians met before the Bolts’ game on Saturday night. (Tampa Times)

• There’s certain issues the Penguins will have to work through before the start of the playoffs. They have to figure out if they have enough depth and they need to know if they can count on their goaltending. (Post-Gazette)

• WEEI takes a deeper look at who the Bruins might add before the trade deadline. (WEEI)

• Ducks ownership sent a letter to their season ticket holders. Here’s what they had to say after they fired Randy Carlyle: “This has been a surprisingly difficult season. We supported Bob Murray’s previous decision to allow the players and staff to battle out of this situation. While no one person should take the blame for our current predicament, recent results dictated that Bob needed to make this move.” (Anaheim Calling)

• If Brandon Pirri isn’t scoring for the Vegas Golden Knights, it’s hard for them to utilize him. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• Young cancer survivor Brock Chessel got to spend a day with the Toronto Marlies. (BarDown)

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.

Newcomer Brandon Pirri making decision tough on Vegas brass

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By W.G. Ramirez (Associated Press)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Brandon Pirri has become a welcome headache for the Vegas Golden Knights.

Since being called up from the Chicago Wolves on Dec. 20, the 27-year-old has six goals and three assists in seven games, and he’s helped ignite the team’s hottest line. He and primary linemates Alex Tuch and Paul Stastny have a combined 12 goals and 10 assists in those games.

Vegas wants to keep the party going, but that might be difficult with Max Pacioretty expected off injured reserve soon.

General manager George McPhee and coach Gerard Gallant have a difficult decision:

Send down Pirri, who wouldn’t have to clear waivers since he’s only been with the team for seven games.

Or risk losing a different player on the waiver wire in an effort to keep Pirri on the active roster.

”We want people making hard decisions for us,” Gallant said. ”Pirri’s come up here and done everything we’ve asked him to do, so when we have to make a tough decision, we’ll sit down and we’ll decide what we’re gonna do.”

Pirri, Tuch and Stastny have become a formidable trio. Stastny, a 14-year veteran, has urged his younger linemates to stay aggressive, and they’ve been finding each other all over the ice.

”He’s in the right spot at all times,” Pirri said of Stastny. ”His character is so good, he talks on the bench, he makes my life and Tuckie’s life really easy. He tells you where he’s gonna be and we get him the puck.

”We got a good thing going here and it’s a lot of fun being on this line.”

Pacioretty has skated with the team this week and could return as soon as Friday night’s game in Anaheim. Someone will have to be re-assigned to Chicago, and it could be Pirri, who was named an AHL All-Star after leading the league with 41 points.

The other likely options would all have to be exposed to waivers and could be lost to another team. Those candidates include Oscar Lindberg, Ryan Carpenter, Tomas Nosek or recently acquired Valentin Zykov, claimed off waivers on Dec. 29.

Pirri, Tuch and Stastny have outscore the team’s other active forwards by two points since Pirri’s recall.

”I gotta be consistent, make the (upper) brass’ job really difficult,” Pirri said. ”That’s all I can control, I’m just trying to work hard every day. If I’m consistent, that’s what every NHL team is looking for and it’s gonna show up night in and night out.”

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

The Buzzer: Vegas keeps their train back to the top rolling

Getty Images

Three stars

1. Brandon Pirri, Vegas Golden Knights

It’s not often we get to pick three stars from one game. But that’s all there was to glean from on a very light night on the NHL schedule.

Pirri is a name you won’t likely see here on most nights, but you might if he keeps this pace up.

Pirri had another goal on Sunday night in a 5-1 win against the Arizona Coyotes, bringing his total to five in six games since he was called up from the American Hockey League. Pirri also had an assist and now has seven points in those six games.

Pirri played just two games last season in the NHL but had three goals in those games. He just might stick around this time.

2. Paul Stastny, Vegas Golden Knights

Stastny missed a lot of action because of injury earlier in the year, but his return has come as advertised when the Golden Knights signed him as a free agent in the offseason.

Stastny had a goal and an assist to bring his totals to five goals and nine points in 12 games so far.

3. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights

Sorry, Arizona. When you lose 5-1, you get shutout of the three stars.

Fleury, to his credit, deserves to be on here on after making 29 saves, including seven of eight on six Coyote power plays.

‘Flower’ is now 6-0-3 in his past nine decisions and is a big reason why Vegas is now tied for first place in the Pacific Divison on 50 points with the Calgary Flames.

Vegas is back.

Highlights of the night

Pirri’s goal:

Some slick passing here:

We’d be remiss not to go back to the World Junior Hockey Championships for one of these.

Every seen this before?

Factoids

Scores

Golden Knights 5, Coyotes 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

The Buzzer: Kucherov takes over scoring lead; Khudobin stops 49 shots

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Three Stars

1. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. With his second consecutive four-point game in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s wild 6-5 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night, Nikita Kucherov officially took over the lead in the NHL’s scoring race with 61 points so far on the season. He not only has at least four points in his past two games, but he is also on a run of four consecutive multi-point games. Over his past 20 games he has at least a point in 19 of them, at least two points in 13 of them, and at least three points in seven of them. He is on a roll.

2. Anton Khudobin, Dallas Stars. Anton Khudobin played one of the best games of his NHL career on Thursday night when he stopped all 49 shots he faced in a 2-0 win over the Nashville Predators.

3. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames. The Calgary Flames snapped a three-game losing streak on Thursday night with a big win over the top team in the Western Conference, the Winnipeg Jets. Leading the way, as he always does, was Johnny Gaudreau with a three-goal night. He continues to be on pace for career highs across the board offensively.

Other notable performances on Thursday

Phil Kessel scored two goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins in their 5-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings.

Paul Stastny had two points for the Golden Knights, including an assist on Brandon Pirri‘s game-winning goal, in their 2-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche.

Ryan O'Reilly scored against his former team, the Buffalo Sabres, in the St. Louis Blues’ 4-1 win.

Highlights of the Night

It came in a losing effort but Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux scored one of the best goals of the year against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

John Gibson has been the best goalie in hockey this season, and this is one of the best saves you will see.

The Columbus Blue Jackets extended their winning streak to five games thanks to Pierre-Luc Dubois‘ overtime goal against the New York Rangers.

Factoids

Elias Petterson just keeps on rolling for the Vancouver Canucks.

Patrick Kane‘s hat trick for the Chicago Blackhawks took him to the 20-goal mark for the season.

Brent Burns played in his 1,000th NHL game on Thursday night.

 

Scores

New Jersey Devils 5, Boston Bruins 2

Columbus Blue Jackets 4, New York Rangers 3 (OT)

Pittsburgh Penguins 5, Detroit Red Wings 2

Washington Capitals 3, Carolina Hurricanes 1

Tampa Bay Lightning 6, Philadelphia Flyers 5 (OT)

St. Louis Blues 4, Buffalo Sabres 1

Dallas Stars 2, Nashville Predators 0

Calgary Flames 4, Winnipeg Jets 1

Chicago Blackhawks 5, Minnesota Wild 2

Vancouver Canucks 4, Edmonton Oilers 2

Vegas Golden Knights 2, Colorado Avalanche 1

Los Angeles Kings 2, Arizona Coyotes 1

San Jose Sharks 4, Anaheim Ducks 2

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.

It won’t be pretty, but Capitals can still contend

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Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan admitted that his team is experiencing a championship “hangover” without the benefits of a Stanley Cup, which sounds even worse than a headache without the party.

And, no doubt about it, this last swing for the fences was the mightiest they could muster.

MORE: MacLellan on the championship hangover without the championship

Still, it’s easy to linger on this letdown and forget that sports can be pretty strange. Sometimes a big run happens well after people expect it.

Who, in their right mind, expected Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks to shock LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2011? Hockey has plenty of examples of surprise runs, including the Predators going from the 16th-ranked playoff team to two wins from a title.

No doubt about it, the Capitals will feel the sting in losing Justin Williams, Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, Marcus Johansson, Nate Schmidt, and maybe a little confidence in Barry Trotz.

Even so, the very Pittsburgh Penguins team that torments them can also be a beacon of hope: you don’t need a perfect regular season to win it all.

The Capitals are no longer in a position to run away with the Presidents’ Trophy each year. Instead, they just need to make the best of things like … you know, just about every salary-cap era contender.

An aging core … but not an old core

Look, the most important members of this team no longer qualify as spring chickens. Alex Ovechkin‘s gray hair stands as a reminder of our mortality, really.

via Getty Images

Rather than being a reason for panic, the ages of their most important players emphasize the notion that they need to keep hammering away:

Andre Burakovsky: 22
Evgeny Kuznetsov: 25
John Carlson: 27
Braden Holtby: 27
Nicklas Backstrom: 29
Matt Niskanen: 30
T.J. Oshie: 30
Alex Ovechkin: 31

Sure, some of those important contributors might slip, but that’s still a core group most franchises would envy. They still have an elite goalie, dangerous scorers, two strong centers, an experienced head coach, and some capable defensemen.

Promotions?

One key development might be the rise (or fall?) of Jakub Vrana.

The 21-year-old has enjoyed solid – though not spectacular – success in the AHL, and also got his feet wet at the NHL level. He didn’t go wild for Washington, but with that first-round pedigree (13th pick in 2014) and solid numbers in Hershey, there’s some reason to believe that he could at least be a meaningful contributor.

Vrana could ease the sting of losing one of those key forwards.

In defending keeping Brooks Orpik around, MacLellan points to a similar possibility among Washington’s defensive prospects:

Diving into the bargain bin

Here’s some advice for MacLellan: as painful as times are now, don’t go on vacation just yet. The Capitals should take advantage of a free agent market that is low on stars but potentially high on value.

The Capitals could go with veteran forwards such as Jaromir Jagr,* Thomas Vanek, or Jiri Hudler. All three of those guys aren’t that far removed from success.

They can also take on some interesting “reclamation projects.” Nail Yakupov and Brandon Pirri are just a couple of players who could be this year’s answer to Sam Gagner.

And, yes, the pickings are slimmer on the blueline, but Cody Franson and John-Michael Liles could provide solid depth help.

MacLellan seems aware that these options are out there, at least broadly speaking.


Is this situation perfect? No, not really.

Still, the Capitals have suffered despite seemingly boasting championship rosters on paper. Maybe they can win ugly after all these painful times losing with the prettiest roster?

* – Yes, he had a bad stay in Washington, but that was approximately a billion years ago.