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Klingberg surgery wraps up tough week for NHL injuries

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An injury to one of the NHL’s best defenders on Thursday night wraps up what has been a pretty costly week on the injury front.

Let’s take a quick look.

First, the Dallas Stars announced on Friday that defenseman John Klingberg, currently the team’s second-leading point producer, is going to be sidelined for the next four weeks after undergoing hand surgery.

He was injured in the Stars’ 4-3 win over the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night when he was hit by a puck.

It is a pretty significant blow to a Stars team that is starting to get on a bit of a roll (6-2-1 in its past nine games) after a slow start.

The 26-year-old Klingberg is coming off of a career-year in 2017-18 that saw him finish with 67 total points and a sixth-place finish in the Norris Trophy voting. Given the way he was playing at the start of this season he was once again going to be in that Norris Trophy discussion this season. This injury is certainly going to be an obstacle in that quest.

In his absence rookie standout Miro Heiskanen will take on an even bigger role (and he is already playing more than 22 minutes) and work the point on the top power play unit.

Klingberg’s injury was not the only big one this week.

In Tampa Bay, the Lightning learned they will be without forward Ondrej Palat will be out for an additional four weeks due to a lower-body injury.

Palat had already been sidelined for the past six games after blocking a shot all the way back on Oct. 26. He has only played in nine games this season, recording five assists, but when healthy he is a great complementary piece to the Lightning’s star forwards. Unfortunately for him injuries have forced him to miss at least 20 games in two of the past three seasons. He has played more than 75 games in a season just once in six years.

Meanwhile, the Canucks have not had one of their best young players — winger Brock Boeser — on their current six-game road trip as he continues to deal with a groin strain. Not only has he not played since the team’s 7-6 overtime win against the Colorado Avalanche on Nov. 2 (a game where Boeser recorded two goals and two assists), but the team sent him back to Vancouver this week to see a specialist in an effort to recover from the injury he has been dealing with since the middle of October.

The Canucks are one of the NHL’s biggest surprises this season with a 10-6-1 record through 17 games and are one of the highest scoring teams in the league. They have done that even though their two best young players (Elias Pettersson and Boeser) have combined to miss 10 man games due to injury.

Without Boeser on this current road trip the Canucks have collected three out of a possible four points and are coming off of a huge 8-5 win in Boston on Thursday night. The Canucks have four more games on this current road trip which continues on Saturday night in Buffalo, before wrapping up with games at the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, and Minnesota Wild.

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.

Rookie sensation Pettersson channels Gretzky, makes history

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More young players are making an immediate impact in the NHL with each passing year, but even acknowledging that, Vancouver Canucks wunderkind Elias Pettersson is practicing hockey witchcraft, somehow at just age 19.

Call it a tired trope if you’d like, but Pettersson really is making it look easy right off the bat. Even Michael Matheson hitting him with his finishing move only slowed the Swede for a little bit.

Breaking records/ankles

Pettersson made some history – and recreated a historical moment – by scoring an emphatic goal that was his 10th in as many games during Tuesday’s shootout loss to the Red Wings, doing so in an eerily similar way to a memorable game-winner by Wayne Gretzky. The Canucks were kind enough to drive the parallels home in this comparison:

Pretty tough to deny the comparison, and it’s been even tougher to deny Pettersson from getting on the scoreboard.

To reiterate, he already has 10 goals in his first 10 NHL games, and also generated six assists for 16 points. As you might expect, such production is highly unusual for a rookie, and you can drop most caveats when you compare Pettersson’s start to other red-hot beginnings.

Here’s a quick rundown of where Pettersson’s run ranks in NHL history, via the Canucks’ Derek Jory:

-Pettersson became just the 17th player in NHL history to score 10+ goals through his first 10 career games, and just the fifth to do so outside of the NHL’s inaugural season.

-Pettersson is the only teenager in the last 30 seasons (1988-89 to present) to open their career with at least 10 goals through their first 10 career games played.

-Pettersson is the first player to record 16+ points through his first 10 career NHL games since 1992-93, when Dimitri Kvartalnov and Nikolai Borschevsky accomplished the feat.

(Jory gets more into Canucks-specific marks in that article.)

Dynamic fun

A lot of Canucks fans are simply enjoying the ride, as Vancouver games have felt like old-west (or Gretzky-era?) shootouts, with Pettersson and Brock Boeser pacing some wild offensive games.

Speaking of the Sedin twins, one of Pettersson’s most clever moments came when he set up Boeser for this goal, which echoed the preternatural chemistry Daniel and Henrik shared:

Blissful stuff.

Now, apologies to Canucks fans who’d rather luxuriate rather than complicate things when it comes to enjoying Pettersson’s work, but let’s … complicate things. How likely is it for Pettersson to replicate these results? Take a moment to dig a little deeper.

Can he keep this up?

Most obviously, Pettersson’s shooting is going to slow down, even if his shoot truly earns the Joe Sakic/other hyperbolic-or-are-they-hyperbolic? comparisons.

His 10 goals have come on 28 shots on goal, meaning Pettersson’s shooting percentage is 35.7. For some context, Mike Bossy ended his career with a ridiculous 21.2 shooting percentage, and he was firing pucks against goalies who weren’t outfitted like tanks. In other words, it would be impressive if Pettersson could go a full season with a shooting percentage at half of that 35.7 percent.

Talk of shooting isn’t just going to shoot him down, though.

While Pettersson won’t maintain that pace over the long haul (not going to throw a might not in here; he won’t), it’s clear that he’s already getting the green light to fire away. His 28 SOG means he’s close to three SOG per game. He might be able to push that to a full three per night if his already-solid ice time (17:49 TOI average*) jumps up another beyond-his-years level.

Pettersson’s likely already getting that bump. His average is diluted by that Matheson game, and being limited in his first-ever NHL game (where he still scored a goal and an assist, easy peasy). Pettersson has received more than 22 minutes of ice time during his past two games, and has been beyond 20 for three in a row.

Just about every luck-related percentage (shooting percentage, factoring in teammates with an on-ice shooting percentage of 14.3-percent, a PDO of 106.5) is bound to come screaming back to Earth, yet Pettersson seems likely to be a factor even when he loses his alien form.

The 9-6-1 (19 points) Canucks have 66 games remaining in the regular season, so let’s cross our fingers and hope Pettersson can appear in all of them. If he were to maintain his 2.8 SOG-per-game pace, that would translate to about 185 SOG. A 15 shooting percentage would leave Pettersson just under 40 goals, so you can see that there’s serious potential there for Pettersson to have a glorious rookie campaign even once gravity’s inevitable pull begins.

Pettersson can also make up for some of the difference in regression by improving as a player. He already seems to see the game at a higher level, and he’s still becoming acquainted with his teammates.

Granted, Pettersson’s also never experienced an 82-game season against grown men who happen to be the best players in the world (even if Pettersson often makes them look like less of an impediment than turnstiles). Last season, his campaign with Vaxjo HC spanned 44 regular-season contests plus a playoff run. You can factor international play into the mix and you still wouldn’t account for the kind of grind that’s ahead.

Such challenges could lead to cold spells, and sometimes that provides a greater test to a coach’s patience than a player’s endurance and confidence. “He’s just 19” will be a sentiment uttered when Pettersson inevitably slips, and we’ll have to see if head coach Travis Green allows his Swedish star to go through ups and downs. As silly as it can be, plenty of bench bosses get skittish at such thoughts.

So, no, Pettersson’s not going to score at a goal-per-game pace. It won’t be easy – yet it’s quite possible – that he might end up with a goal every other game, which is basically the gold standard in a league where it’s still incredibly difficult to score.

Either way, it sure seems like the Canucks have something special in Pettersson, with the main question being “How special?” If this sneak preview is any indication, finding out will count as must-see TV.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Should you buy the fast starts by Islanders, Canucks?

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Two of the biggest surprises in the NHL this season have to be the Vancouver Canucks and New York Islanders. When the season began, nobody had any realistic expectations for these two except for them to lose and probably lose a lot.

So far, the opposite has been happening.

The Canucks, 7-6 overtime winners against Colorado on Friday in a completely insane game, are now 9-6-0 through their first 15 games and are being powered by their two young standout forwards, Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser.

It is a surprising start because over the previous three seasons no team in the NHL (Vegas excluded, having only played in one of those seasons) had won fewer games, they lost two of their top-scorers from a year ago to retirement, and outside of the promise of Pettersson, Boeser, and Bo Horvat didn’t really have much going for them.

The Islanders, meanwhile, lost their best player — John Tavares — in free agency, entered the year with several more top players in contract years, and spent the offseason stacking a roster that was already full of depth players on long-term contracts with even more depth players on long-term contracts. It made no sense, and honestly, still probably doesn’t.

After completing a home-and-home sweep of the Penguins this past week, they enter Saturday’s game against New Jersey tied for first place in the Metropolitan Division and riding a four-game winning streak.

The early results are great, and early results matter. A lot. If they are good, they can give you a big cushion for later in the season when you might hit a slump and fall back to the back a little bit. If they are bad, like the early slow starts by the Kings and Panthers (which we wrote about here), they can end your playoff chances remarkably early because the points are almost impossible to make up.

But for as important as the results are, the process behind the results is often times just as important — if not more important — when it comes to sustaining them over the duration of the season.

That is where we start to see some red flags with the Canucks and Islanders because there is a lot of evidence that these two teams may not be playing as well as their early results might indicate, and that unless something changes there they could each be a house of cards just waiting to fall over.

Heck, the Canucks have actually been outscored this season by four goals and are 22nd in the league when it comes to goals against per game. The fact they are 9-6-0 right now with those two numbers is nothing short of insane. And it’s not like the Canucks haven’t had decent starts in recent years. In 2015-16 they were 6-2-4 (a 110-point pace) after 12 games. They won four games in a row to start the 2016-17 season. A year ago they were 8-5-2 after 15 games (only one point off their current start). All of those starts resulted in finishes that had them near the bottom of the Pacific Division and Western Conference.

The Islanders, meanwhile, are currently being carried by incredible starts by their two goalies (Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss). If those two see any sort of a regression things could turn ugly for the Islanders very, very quickly.

[Related: Ten stunning numbers from first month of NHL season]

Both of these teams have the same flaws when it comes to the way they are playing. They are both among the bottom-five teams in the league in terms of controlling shots and scoring chances, both sitting south of the 45 percent barrier when it comes to shot attempt share and scoring chance share. In other words, both teams are getting badly outshot and outchanced on a nightly basis.

There are a handful of teams in the league that are able to outperform their shot attempt numbers because they have difference-making high end talent or exceptional goaltending. Or both. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals the past two years come to mind. The Montreal Canadiens over the past few years had a season or two like that because Carey Price would be able to stand on his head and steal games. But most teams when they have that much of a territorial disadvantage tend to lose. A lot.

Since the start of the 2007-08 season there have been 18 teams that were below the 45 percent mark in terms of shot attempt differential and scoring chance differential on Nov. 3 (Saturday’s date). Of those 18 teams only five of them ended up making the playoffs that season. Only one of the six teams since the start of the 2011-12 season were able to do it.

Now, that is not entirely relevant to the situations the Islanders and Canucks are in because a lot of those teams managed to get off to terrible starts in the standings. The results were matching the way they playing. Things made sense.

But what about the teams that exceeded their early season shot and chance numbers and managed to actually win some games, collect points, and get off to decent starts?

Well, let’s take a look at them specifically.

There have been 10 teams since the start of 2007-08 that were under 45 percent in both shot attempts and scoring chance share through the first month of the season and managed to have a points percentage above .500 in those game.

Five of them went on to make the playoffs. Five of them collapsed, at times in spectacular fashion (looking at you, 2013-14 Toronto Maple Leafs).

Obviously a bit of a mixed bag in terms of season-long results and an ability to either maintain the early success, or improve upon the process.

It should go without saying that it is better to win these games early in the season even if you’re not playing all that well. The points matter, and they help and they can put your team in a good position. Think of it as a head start in a race. Especially if you are a team like the Canucks that is playing in a division as completely craptacular as the Pacific Division currently is because, honestly, who among that collection of mediocrity scares you?

But even with the early wins, and even with the brilliance of Elias Pettersson, the surprising play of Lehner and Greiss in New York, and the fact the Islanders have a sleeping giant of a superstar in Mathew Barzal that hasn’t really erupted yet this season, there are a lot of reasons to be skeptical of these teams being able to maintain what they have already done. And recent history of teams in their position and playing the way they have does not paint a completely promising picture.

(Shot attempt, scoring chance data 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.

The Buzzer: Pettersson notches five points; Luongo wins in return

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Three Stars

1. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks

You get the sense that this kid is going to be written in this top spot many times over the next 15 years. He’s just bloody special. Pettersson had two goals and five points in a 7-6 win against the Colorado Avalanche. His second goal of the game came with the score 6-5 Avalanche and 35 seconds left on the clock in the third period. Clutch. Also clutch? An assist on the game-winner in overtime. Pettersson has nine goals and 15 points now in nine games and is starting to run away in the rookie of the year race in early November.

2. Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers 

Luongo wasn’t supposed to feature in Finland at first. Then he was brought on the trip, taken off injured reserve and placed into the net for the first time since around the 32-minute mark of Florida’s season opener. And Luongo picked up right where he left off, saving a lot of pucks. ‘Lou’ shut the door 32 times against the Winnipeg Jets as the Panthers earned a split in Finland. The win was Florida’s third of the season. James Reimer and Michael Hutchinson have been south of brutal thus far so Luongo can stay healthy, it’s likely Florida can start clawing its way back.

3. Antti Raanta, Arizona Coyotes

You have to hand it to a goalie who stopped 48 of 51 shots against a high-power Carolina Hurricanes team. Raanta was the savior on special teams as well, turning aside nine power-play shots on six Carolina power plays. Carolina was 0-for-6 on their opportunities. Raanta and the Coyotes survived a flurry in the third period after getting outshot 23-5 in the final frame. Raanta then had to make a clutch save in overtime to boot to help ‘Yotes to their fifth straight win.

A couple other notables:

  • Brock Boeser snapped an eight-game goalless streak with two goals against Colorado
  • Nathan MacKinnon had a three-point night, including two goals and is up to 11 markers on the season.

Highlights of the Night

Holy moly:

That footwork:

Goalie hat trick:

Factoids

Scores

Panthers 4, Jets 2

Coyotes 4, Hurricanes 3 (OT)

Canucks 7, Avalanche 6 (OT)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule


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: Walk with Elias (both of them)

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Three Stars

1. Elias Pettersson

Last season, Brock Boeser dazzled as a sniping rookie for the Canucks, eventually becoming perhaps the most well-coiffed All-Star Game MVP in NHL history (only because Al Iafrate didn’t get it, agreed).

This season, Elias Pettersson is dazzling just as much. Honestly, in some ways, the 19-year-old’s been even more impressive, as he’s been mixing quality shooting with magical playmaking.

One thing’s clear: it’s the type of debate that must really delight Vancouver fans hoping that this rebuild is on track.

Pettersson scored two goals on Monday, giving him seven tallies in as many games as he storms out of the gate in the Calder race. The young Swede put together a brilliant all-around game, firing three shots on goal, enjoying a +2 rating, and even blocking three shots. Considering all of the injury headaches in Vancouver, the Canucks will probably ask him to maybe dial that habit back a notch or three.

2. Elias Lindholm

It’s such a good night for dudes named Elias, the headline just needed to be a reference to the WWE superstar. (Honestly, the Devils should have lowered Patrik Elias’ jersey just to raise it up again for this momentous occasion.)

Lindholm isn’t a rookie, yet he is new to Calgary Flames fans, and so far he’s – for the most part – been a dynamite addition to Calgary’s lethal top line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.

Much like Pettersson, Lindholm generated the game-winning goal for his team on Monday. Lindholm’s assist was also a primary one, which boosts him a bit beyond Monahan (who had a goal and an assist, but his was a secondary helper … also his goal was the GWG).

This gives Lindholm 12 points in as many games. If reasonably healthy, he should demolish his previous career-high of 45 points.

3. Jacob Markstrom

OK, so Monday was a pretty strong night for Swedes, even ones not named Elias.

It’s easy to forget that Markstrom was once arguably the most hyped goalie prospect during his development years, frequently dubbed “the best goalie outside of the NHL” as he tried to claw his way to a full-time gig with the Florida Panthers.

The big netminder was sharp against the Flames, making 37 out of 39 saves, including all 17 in the third period as Minnesota was trailing. Markstrom’s start has been up-and-down, but he’s now improve to above .500 in 2018-19 (4-3-0).

Highlights of the Night

Much of the Maple Leafs’ best moments were “almost” moments, like this almost-goal (and Kasperi Kapanen making outstanding moves against Flames, but to no avail).

The Eliases both scored some emphatic one-timer goals. Pettersson probably scored the best one:

Yet Lindholm’s one-timer was pretty nice, too:

Factoids

  • Calgary has been up-and-down this season, but it’s promising that the Flames are closing out games so well.

  • If it weren’t for those trifling Eliases, Monday might have been the day of the Granlund clan. Markus Granlund opened the scoring for Vancouver, while Mikael Granlund extended his point streak to eight games with an assist.
  • No surprise that Pettersson’s making some history with his red-hot start:

Scores

Flames 3, Maple Leafs 1
Canucks 5, Wild 2

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.