Brock Nelson

Bortuzzo on suspension: ‘I’m not a malicious player’

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When the St. Louis Blues visit the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night they will be getting veteran defenseman Robert Bortuzzo back in the lineup following his four-game suspension for repeatedly cross-checking Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson in the back a little more than a week ago.

That incident has received plenty of attention not only because Bortuzzo is a repeat offender, but also because Arvidsson was injured as a result of the play and will remain out of the Nashville lineup for several more weeks.

Bortuzzo spoke on Monday ahead of his return to the lineup and said that while the cross-check was “maybe a little excessive,” his intent is never to injure an opponent. He was also asked if multiple offenses has caused him to develop the wrong kind of reputation around the league.

“I’m going to play the game hard,” Bortuzzo said, via The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford. “I feel like I do a good job of walking the line. I’m not going to go through all my instances. I’m sure it’s easy to dissect things for other people.

“The temperature of the game is high at times. Again, I’m not a malicious player. I’m not out here trying to injure people and I stand by that. It’s a game I have to play, on that edge, and I’m proud of the way. I play hard without being malicious.”

The problem for Bortuzzo here is that it is very easy for other people dissect things because he keeps giving other people things to dissect. He has an extensive track record of cross-checking incidents, including one on New York Islanders forward Brock Nelson that was virtually identical to the one that earned him his most recent suspension.

Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was asked about the Avridsson play on Monday ahead of their game, and on top of calling it a “horse [expletive] play,” he added this, via the Daily Herald:

“Nothing against guys that play hard,” Toews said. “That’s why I love playing this team (the Blues) because they play us hard all the time. But to me (the NHL is) doing everything to get rid of head shots and get rid of head injuries, but that to me seems like an intent to injure.

“Just because it’s not contact on a guy’s head doesn’t mean it’s not just as severe. So I thought it was pretty bad.”

On top of these two incidents there was a cross-check away from the play last year that injured Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin, a cross-check against Boston’s Jordan Szwarz that resulted in a fine, and that incident with Dallas’ Esa Lindell in last year’s playoffs where Bortuzzo became frustrated with his opponent flopping.  The bottom line here is this is now three times he has been disciplined for cross-checking incidents (two fines and a suspension) on top suspensions for two different kinds of infractions.

The tape does not lie, and he is very much a repeat offender which is going to put a pretty big target on his back in the eyes of the league. If he steps over the line again the next suspension could be significant. 

Related: Blackhawks will be shorthanded for game on Monday

Adam Gretz is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Power Rankings: Incredible run takes Islanders to top spot

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In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we move the New York Islanders to the top spot because it is really the only logical choice.

They have the best record in hockey, they are on an incredible 15-0-2 run that has seen them collect a point in 17 consecutive games, and they continue to prove to any lingering doubter still waiting for them to fail that their 2018-19 turnaround was no fluke.

One of the biggest drivers of their recent stretch has been the play of the Brock Nelson, Anthony Beauvillier, and Derick Brassard line that has been dominant over the past few weeks. They helped keep the point streak alive in Pittsburgh this past week by powering a late third period rally. This season that trio has outscored teams by an 8-2 margin when together during 5-on-5 play while they have been one of the team’s most dangerous lines offensively.

Along with them, Mathew Barzal has been better than a point-per-game player during the streak, the defense has been a rock, and the goaltending duo of Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss has been outstanding (especially Greiss).

Right now they are the only choice for the top spot.

After them, we have a couple of new teams crack the top-five this week.

Where does your team currently sit?

To the rankings!

1. New York Islanders. Lot of under-the-radar contributors for this team but perhaps none more than Brassard who seems to have rediscovered his career here.

2. Boston Bruins. Only five players in Bruins history have scored 50 goals in a season, and no one has done it since Cam Neely during the 1993-94 season. David Pastrnak has 59 games to get 30 goals to accomplish it. He can do it.

3. Dallas Stars. A few weeks ago they looked like a team that needed a coaching change. Since then they are 13-1-1, have rocketed up the standings, and are looking like the team they were supposed to be. Great goaltending helps a lot.

4. Washington Capitals. Would not be a surprise to see this team playing into mid-June and skating around with a big trophy at the end of it.

5. Carolina Hurricanes. That four-game losing streak at the start of November is looking like a distant memory. They have won six out of seven and seem to be back on track.

6. Edmonton Oilers. I give them credit for opening the week with the best record in the Western Conference. I am still having trouble going all in on them, though. After starting the season 7-1-0 they have played 18 games and won nine of them. That is … okay.  They are still entirely dependent on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to be better than everyone else.

7. St. Louis Blues. It is impressive the way they have collected points without Vladimir Tarasenko but the offense is still a big question mark.

8. Tampa Bay Lightning. It seems like this sleeping giant is starting to wake up.

9. Arizona Coyotes. One of the league’s best goaltending duos is turning them into a playoff team.

10. Pittsburgh Penguins. Mike Sullivan is turning in a Jack Adams level coaching performance this season. Everything about the way this team is playing points to a Stanley Cup contender if they can just keep their best players on the ice.

11. Colorado Avalanche. Once Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog return they will be back in the top-five in a very short period of time. Cale Makar, meanwhile, looks like he is ready to start running away with the rookie of the year race.

12. San Jose Sharks. They are finally starting to look like the Sharks again — a great team that can overcome consistently sup-par goaltending.

13. Winnipeg Jets. Connor Hellebuyck is playing the best hockey of his career and is not getting enough credit for it.

14. Florida Panthers. The Panthers are in the same position as they were a year ago where a playoff caliber offense is getting sunk by lousy goaltending. The problem this year is they just gave a goalie $70 million over seven years in an effort to solve the goaltending problem.

15. New York Rangers. They are very quietly hanging around and starting to play better. Artemi Panarin has been worth every penny.

16. Montreal Canadiens. Losing Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron is going to be a lot for this team to overcome right now offensively.

17. Vegas Golden Knights. They still have not won a game this season that Marc-Andre Fleury has not started. That is a problem, because they can not rely on him to play 65 games.

18. Vancouver Canucks. This current road trip is going to be a big test for them. So far it is off to a promising start.

19. Toronto Maple Leafs. It is only two games but they have looked like a completely different team with Sheldon Keefe behind the bench. Do not be surprised if it continues. This team needed a coach that would let them play to their strength. They needed this change.

20. Philadelphia Flyers. We just need to accept this fact this team is capable of winning six games in a row at any time and losing six games in a row at any time. Which team will you get? That is the mystery!

21. Buffalo Sabres. This season is starting to look an awful lot like the 2018-19 season in Buffalo. This team really does not do anything well.

22. Nashville Predators. Viktor Arvidsson is out for more than a month because of a cheap shot, and Kyle Turris can no longer seem to crack the lineup. There are a lot of problems in Nashville right now.

23. Ottawa Senators. They are not a playoff team right now, but they are not rolling over and giving up. They are a tough team to play right now.

24. Chicago Blackhawks. That four-game winning streak made things a little interesting in Chicago, but they have followed it up with three consecutive losses and their schedule over the next five games is brutal (Dallas, Colorado twice, St. Louis, and Boston).

25. Columbus Blue Jackets. Cam Atkinson only having four goals through the first 22 games of the season is a big problem. He has been one of the most underrated goal-scorers in the league and they need him to get rolling again.

26. Calgary Flames. You had to expect some regression this season, but this is a little much.

27. New Jersey Devils. They made all of those moves this summer and ignored the biggest weakness on the team (their goalies). Very strange.

28. Minnesota Wild. They were two minutes away from putting together their first three-game winning streak of the season, only to completely fall apart against Boston.

29. Los Angeles Kings. Anze Kopitar is having the bounce-back season the Kings needed him to have. Jonathan Quick is not.

30. Anaheim Ducks. Even the goaltending is not there to bail them out right now.

31. Detroit Red Wings. The only good news for the Red Wings is they have a great head start on getting the best draft lottery odds.

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.

NHL Fantasy: Krejci, Perry highlight this week’s top adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Brock Nelson, Islanders – C/LW: Nelson set a career-high last season with 53 points in 82 games and at this rate the 2019-20 campaign will be even better. He has eight goals and 19 points in 21 contests, though that point-per-game pace has been skewed by his recent run of nine points in six contests. It also helps that Nelson is averaging 19:01 minutes a game, which is up from 17:58 minutes in 2018-19 and way up from 14:44 minutes in 2017-18. While I do expect him to slow down somewhat, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him reach the 60-point milestone this season.

Oliver Bjorkstrand, Blue Jackets – LW/RW: Bjorkstrand got off to a pretty rough start this season with just four goals and six points in 19 games. He’s been red hot lately though with a goal and six points in his last three contests. While he’s likely to be a borderline player in standard fantasy leagues overall in 2019-20, he’s worth taking a chance on as long as he’s hot.

Anthony Duclair, Senators – LW/RW: Duclair has been somewhat hot-and-cold this season and right now he’s hot. He has four goals and six points in his last four contests. He’s up to 10 goals and 15 points in 23 contests this season, which puts him on pace to best his previous career-high of 44 points. That’s not surprising though, given that he’s averaging 16:25 minutes per game, which is up from just 12:42 minutes in 2018-19 when he recorded 33 points in 74 contests.

Corey Perry, Stars – RW: Perry is definitely a risk, but one that could pay off nicely. He didn’t make his season debut until Oct. 16th due to a foot injury. After that, he was slow to get going with his new team, scoring two goals and four points in 14 games. Now he’s showing signs of getting going though. He contributed a goal and an assist on Nov. 19th and he registered three assists on Nov. 21st. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Perry as a major offensive threat, but he’s also had a lot of injury troubles in recent years. There’s absolutely a chance that his recent strong performances are nothing more than a blip on the radar, but if you’re feeling bold, this is a time to try him.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld]

Anthony Beauvillier, Islanders – C/LW: Beauvillier enjoyed four consecutive multi-point games from Nov. 13-21. He’s up to eight goals and 16 points in 21 after that run, which is a huge start for him given that he was limited to 28 points in 81 contests last season. That said, his jump in production has gone hand-in-hand with added responsibilities. He logged 14:39 minutes per game in 2018-19, which at the time was a career-high for him, and that’s jumped to an average of 17:52 minutes this season.

David Krejci, Bruins – C: Krejci had 73 points in 81 games last season and the 2019-20 campaign is shaping up to be similarly strong. He has four goals and 15 points in 17 contests so far. He’s only owned 31% of leagues despite his strong offensive numbers. That’s largely due to him being only eligible as a center and because the vast majority of his points coming from assists, but even still, he certainly has value. At the least, you can keep him in mind as a potential stopgap measure if your team takes a hit due to injuries.

Anthony Cirelli, Lightning – C: Cirelli is another center-only option, but he’s a very different case than Krejci. Rather than be just a steady option, Cirelli is someone you’d want to consider taking because of how hot he is. He has four goals and seven points in his last four contests. He’s not likely to be a long-term option, but if you’re hoping to just ride a hot player, then he’s certainly worthy of consideration.

Mats Zuccarello, Wild – RW: Zuccarello had just an assist in his first seven games, but that was probably due in part to him adjusting to life with the Wild. Since then, he’s scored four goals and 10 points in 12 contests. He is only averaging 15:49 minutes, which is somewhat concerning, but given how well he’s done lately, he’s still a good pickup in most situations.

Bryan Rust, Penguins – LW/RW: Rust is still only owned in 34% of Yahoo leagues, but he’s been really good this season. Part of the reason why he’s been able to fly under the radar is because he didn’t make his season debut until Oct. 26th. In terms of his points pace though, he’s been superb with eight goals and 13 points in 12 contests. He’s never recorded more than 38 points in a single season, so it’s reasonable to ask if he can keep this up, but so far he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. He’s only been held off the scoresheet in two contests and is on a four-game point streak.

Brett Connolly, Panthers – LW/RW: With 11 goals and 18 points in 24 contests this season, Connolly has been pretty solid. It’s been something of a hot-and-cold campaign for him, so he might be more of a player to grab in certain situations than to own all the time. Even if that’s the case though, this would be the situation to grab him in given that he’s hot right now. He has five goals and seven points in six contests. 

Players You May Want To Drop

P.K. Subban, Devils – D: I had high hopes for what Subban could bring to the Devils, but he’s ended up doing very little offensively. He has just two goals and five points in 22 games this season. He hasn’t shown any signs of turning around either. In fact, he has no points over his last 10 contests.

Viktor Arvidsson, Predators – LW/RW: Arvidsson is unfortunately a pretty cut-and-dry case. He was injured Saturday night and is projected to miss the next four-to-six weeks as a result. He’s a solid forward, but not good enough that he’s worth holding onto for over a month while he’s notplaying.

Conor Garland, Coyotes – LW/RW: Garland has managed to score 10 goals in 25 games, but he hasn’t done a whole lot else. Those goals have come in bunches too with his latest batch being three goals in four games from Nov. 12-18th.  Now that he’s cooled down again, he’s probably not worth hanging onto, but it would still be good to keep an eye on him as you may want to grab him again later.

Andreas Johnsson, Maple Leafs – LW/RW: Johnsson is one of those forwards whose worth owning in standard leagues when he’s hot, but not at all times. Right now, he’s gone cold with no points in his last six games. There’s also a secondary consideration with him because his role may be somewhat reduced under new head coach Sheldon Keefe. He logged over 18 minutes in six of his final seven games under Mike Babcock. In Keefe’s first two games, he was on the ice for 15:49 minutes and 16:12 minutes. Not a huge drop, but it is noteworthy.

Shayne Gostisbehere, Flyers – D: Gostisbehere set a career-high with 65 points in 2017-18 before dropping to 37 points in 2018-19. This season is shaping up to be another sharp decline for Gostisbehere as he’s scored just a goal and six points in 22 contests so far. He’s also averaging 18:30 minutes, which is his lowest ice time per game since his two-game stint as a rookie in 2014-15.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey. 

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

Blues’ Bortuzzo suspended 4 games for cross-checking Arvidsson

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St. Louis Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo had a disciplinary hearing on Sunday for repeatedly cross-checking Nashville Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson in their most recent game.

The result of that hearing: A four-game suspension for Bortuzzo.

The Predators, meanwhile, announced that Arvidsson will miss the next four-to-six weeks as a result of the play, specifically pointing out that this play was the cause of the injury.

Bortuzzo will miss games against Nashville, Tampa Bay, Dallas and Pittsburgh and be eligible to return to the lineup on December 2 when the Blues visit the Chicago Blackhawks.

Here is a look at the NHL’s explanation for the suspension. This is Bortuzzo’s third suspension in his NHL career.

The concerning thing here is this is not the first time Bortuzzo has done something like this. Over the years he has developed quite a track record of similar incidents where he uses his stick in such a manner.

A couple of years ago he had a similarly violent attack on New York Islanders forward Brock Nelson (resulting in a fine but no suspension) that you can see here.

In last year’s playoffs against the Dallas Stars he took exception to what he considered to be repeated dives from Esa Lindell by giving him another high cross-check. You can see that here.

Although the circumstances were different, he also injured Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin with a blatant cross-check away from the play and in front of the net. You can see that one here.

He also has an additional fine for another cross-checking incident involving Jordan Szwarz of the Boston Bruins late in the 2017-18 season (no video available).

When you add all of those incidents together, combined with the fact he has already been suspended two other times (once for interference; once for elbowing), as well as the fact Arvidsson is sidelined for a significant portion of the season, he is probably very fortunate that this suspension was only four games and not significantly longer.

MORE:
Arvidsson sidelined 4-6 weeks with lower-body injury
Arvidsson injury puts damper on much-needed Predators’ win

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.

Islanders’ point streak hits 16 games, a new franchise record

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The Penguins spoiled the Islanders’ 10-game winning streak, but not the Islanders’ point streak, back on Nov. 7. The Islanders really haven’t slowed down since then, as Thursday’s 4-3 OT win against Pittsburgh extended their latest winning streak to five games, and allowed them to set a new franchise record.

By going 15-0-1 in their last 16 games, the Islanders set a new franchise mark for longest point streak. Yes, that means Barry Trotz’s odds-defying group has accomplished something the dynastic Mike Bossy-powered ’80s group never did.

At this rate, the Islanders might just bank enough standings points that it might not matter much when/if they “come back to Earth.”

In the spirit of Derek Jeter wedging his jersey number into a word where it only kinda sorta works, the Islanders embraced the history of the 16-game streak:

When you’re winning (or at least getting a point) as often as the Islanders have been, you’ll need to win in different ways. After some comeback wins recently, Thursday’s game against the Penguins was a back-and-forth affair where the two teams traded leads, and the Penguins needed a last-minute goal to even get the game to overtime. Brock Nelson‘s two goals were key, including his OT-winner:

There’s been a “cardiac kids” element to this run, especially lately. Thursday’s win marks the third consecutive game where the Isles’ action went beyond regulation, and six of the Islanders’ wins (plus their lone OT loss to the Penguins) have come via either a shootout or overtime goal.

This also marks the best 20-game start in franchise history for the Isles, according to The Athletic’s David Staple.

Just resounding stuff.

It says a lot about the Capitals’ own hot start (16-4-4, 36 points in 24 games played) that the Islanders still aren’t in the lead in the Metro. Of course, the Islanders could close a ton of ground considering their games in hand, as they’re 16-3-1 for 33 points in just those 20 games played.

Looking ahead, the Islanders will go on the road quite a bit as they try to extend this point streak even beyond 16 games. To start, they’ll take a California road trip, and the away-heavy stretch doesn’t end there.

Nov. 23: at San Jose
Nov. 25: at Anaheim
Nov. 27: at Los Angeles
Nov. 30: vs. Columbus
Dec. 2: at Detroit
Dec. 3 :at Montreal
Dec. 5: vs. Vegas
Dec. 7: at Dallas
Dec. 9: at Tampa Bay
Dec. 12: at Florida

As you can see, the Islanders face a run where eight of their next 10 games are on the road. You’d think that maybe there will be stumbles (dare I wonder, *gasp* maybe even a single regulation loss?) along that way, but the Islanders keep buzzing along, and they’re 6-1-0 on the road thus far this season … so who knows?

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.