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PHT Face-Off: Kovalchuk’s impact on Habs; Bruins shootout struggles

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It’s Monday, which means it’s time for PHT’s Weekly Face-Off column. We’ll break down some of the significant trends and topics in the NHL for the upcoming week.

Here we go:

• What can Ilya Kovalchuk do for Habs?

Kovalchuk has a lot to prove heading into his tenure with the Montreal Canadiens. As general manager Marc Bergevin pointed out last week, this will be the Russian winger’s last chance in the NHL. If he blows this opportunity, it’ll be Europe or retirement for him.

Montreal is so banged up right now that all they need is an NHL caliber forward. With Brendan Gallagher, Joel Armia, Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron all out, the Canadiens had no choice but to bring in a veteran off the street. Bergevin made it clear he wouldn’t sacrifice picks and prospects for immediate help, so this was the logical next step.

What are realistic expectations for the 36-year-old though? In 64 games with the Kings last season, he managed to put the puck in the net 16 times. Those are the facts. If you break that down over an 82-game season, it adds up to 20.5 goals for the year.

The Habs can’t be expecting much more from Kovalchuk. It’s just not realistic. Since we’re at the midway point of the season, it seems reasonable for Bergevin and the Habs to expect 10 goals out of their new winger. Anything more would be a bonus.

Andrei Vasilevskiy is starting to heat up

It’s been a tough year for Vasilevskiy. He simply hasn’t looked like himself for most of the year. But things are finally starting to turn around for the Lightning netminder. He’s now won five games in a row. He’s given up four goals in two of those games, but he’s also held the opposition to one goal in the other three contests.

Even though it’s unfair to suggest that he was holding the Lightning back in the first half the season, there’s a little bit of truth in that statement. He wasn’t living up to the $9.5 million cap hit that he’s commanding and that was a problem. If he can keep this going, the Bolts will continue to climb the standings in a hurry.

This is how tough things have been for him, Sergei Bobrovsky and Carey Price this season:

It’s a weird year for the high-end goalies.

• Bruins not so good in shootouts

The Boston Bruins are currently second in the NHL standings, but they couldn’t possibly be any worse in the shootout. Heading into this week, Boston has an 0-6 record in the glorified skills competition. That’s odd and kind of surprising considering the amount of talent they have on the team.

If we break their team down by attempts, here’s what we come up with:
Brad Marchand: 0-for-6
Charlie Coyle: 2-for-4
Chris Wagner: 1-for-2
David Pastrnak: 1-for-4
Jake DeBrusk: 0-for-2
Patrice Bergeron: 0-for-1
David Krejci: 0-for-1
Charlie McAvoy: 0-for-1

On the goalie’s side of things, here are how the Bruins stack up:

Jaroslav Halak has given up five goals on 13 shootout attempts (61.5 percent)
Tuukka Rask has given up five goals on 11 shootout attempts (54.5 percent)

They’re ranked 32nd and 34th respectively in shootout save percentage. Not so good!

• Arizona’s Taylor Hall vs. New Jersey’s Taylor Hall

Since joining the Coyotes last month, Hall has seen his advanced metrics improve quite a bit. That’s not exactly shocking when you consider how bad the Devils have been though.

Hall has a modest six points in nine games with the ‘Yotes, but they’re way more dangerous when he’s on the ice. Here’s the breakdown via Natural Stat Trick just to give you an idea:

When Hall is on the ice, they have 54.47 percent of the shot attempts, 57.58 percent of the expected goals for, 56.2 percent of the scoring chances and 58.49 percent of the high-danger chances.

Yes, we’re working with a pretty small sample size, but if those trends continue he should be lighting the lamp quite a bit for his new team.

Since landing Hall, the Coyotes have a 5-4-0 record which isn’t great. The positive part of that, is that they’ve now won three games in a row against St. Louis, Anaheim and Philadelphia.

What’s coming up this week?
Semyon Varlamov revenge game: Avalanche vs. Islanders, Mon. Jan. 6, 7 p.m. ET.
Marc-Andre Fleury revenge game: Penguins vs. Golden Knights, Tue. Jan. 7, 10 p.m. ET.
Joe Pavelski revenge game: Stars vs. Sharks, Sat. Jan. 11, 10 p.m. ET.

NHL on NBCSN
• Oilers vs. Maple Leafs, Mon. Jan. 6, 7 p.m. ET (live stream)
• Stars vs. Kings, Wed. Jan. 8, 10:30 p.m. ET
• Predators vs. Blackhawks, Thu. Jan. 9, 8:30 p.m. ET

Wednesday Night Hockey
• Flyers vs. Capitals, Wed. Jan. 8, 7:30 p.m. ET.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Islanders visit Bruins on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Boston has won the last seven meetings against the Islanders and 12 of the last 14 dating back to 2015. New York’s last win vs. Boston was on Jan. 16, 2017 when they won at TD Garden, 4-0. Claude Julien was the Bruins coach and Jack Capuano helmed the Islanders in that game in his final game as coach before Doug Weight took over.

The Bruins have lost six of their last seven (1-4-2) since winning eight straight. Boston’s recent struggles have been both on the road and at home, but the home decline is especially notable considering how they started the season. The Bruins began the season without a regulation home loss in its first 16 games in Boston going 12-0-4. They have since lost three straight home games (0-1-2) including suffering that first regulation home defeat.

For the Islanders, despite winning three of their last four, they’ve gone 6-5-0 over the last 11 games since a franchise record 17-game point streak (15-0-2 stretch).

Last season, the Islanders led the league in goals against and have been led again by their defense thus far this season, ranking fourth (2.50 goals against/game). One notable aspect to this is the split time in net by Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov, who have not only each started 16 games but neither have started consecutive games – they’ve alternated each game the entire season.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: New York Islanders at Boston Bruins
WHERE: TD Garden
WHEN: Thursday, Dec. 19, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Islanders-Bruins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

ISLANDERS
Ross JohnstonMatt BarzalJosh Bailey
Anthony BeauvillierBrock NelsonThomas Kuhnhackl
Anders LeeDerick BrassardJordan Eberle
Matt MartinCasey CizikasCal Clutterbuck

Nick LeddyJohnny Boychuk
Adam PelechRyan Pulock
Devon ToewsScott Mayfield

Starting goalie: Semyon Varlamov

BRUINS
Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronDavid Pastrnak
Jake DeBruskDavid KrejciDanton Heinen
Anders BjorkCharlie CoyleChris Wagner
Joakim NordstromSean KuralyDavid Backes

Zdeno CharaCharlie McAvoy
Torey KrugBrandon Carlo
Matt GrzelcykConnor Clifton

Starting goalie: Tuukka Rask

Kathryn Tappen will anchor Thursday night’s studio coverage with Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick. Brendan Burke, AJ Mleczko, and Pierre McGuire will call the action from TD Garden in Boston, Mass.

Bruins sign Coyle, Wagner to long-term contract extensions

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The Boston Bruins announced a pair of long-term contract extensions on Wednesday, signing forwards Charlie Coyle and Chris Wagner to multi-year deals.

Coyle’s deal is a six-year contract that will pay him a total of $31.5 million ($5.2 million salary cap hit), while Wagner’s is a three-year contract that is worth just a little more than $4 million ($1.35 million salary cap hit).

Both players joined the Bruins a year ago, with Wagner signing as a free agent and Coyle being acquired just before the trade deadline from the Minnesota Wild. They were both eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer.

Coyle’s deal is the big one, not only due to the term and the financial investment, but because he plays the biggest role out of the two. When the Bruins acquired him it was with the hope that he could bring some balance to their lineup and take some of the scoring pressure off of the top-line, giving the team a desperately needed secondary scoring option. After a slow start down the stretch run of the regular season, he erupted in the playoffs with nine goals as the Bruins reached Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. So far this season he has five goals and 14 total points in the Bruins first 24 games.

He is never going to be a big-time point producer, but with David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand driving the offense in Boston they don’t really need him to be. If he can give them close to 20 goals and keep playing the strong all-around game he has since joining the Bruins he is going to be an outstanding complementary player to their stars. A six-year contract for a 27-year-old that isn’t a top-line player definitely carries some risk in the future, and those are the types of deal that can easily backfire down the line, but with the Bruins getting their big-three on such team-friendly deals a small overpay for a player like Coyle would not crush them.

Wagner had a career year for the Bruins in his debut season with the team, scoring 12 goals and 19 total points in 76 games. So far this season he has one goal and four assists in 23 games.

More Bruins: Can anyone catch David Pastrnak in goal scoring race?

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: Bruins host Blues in Stanley Cup Final rematch

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Saturday’s Stanley Cup Final rematch between the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blues went their first 50 NHL seasons without a Cup before winning it in their 51st season. That leaves Toronto as the team with the longest active drought, and Buffalo and Vancouver as the teams with the longest drought among teams that have never won before.

Boston has not played since beating Toronto 4-2 at home on Tuesday. So, they’ve had three days off with no travel in between games. On the other hand, St. Louis hosted LA on Thursday, winning, 5-2, for its second straight victory, before traveling to play in Boston.

Vladimir Tarasenko, who is coming off his 5th straight 30-goal campaign, left Thursday’s game with an upper-body injury. He is out for their next two games and will be re-evaluated next week. Tarasenko has 10 points in 10 games this season.

Boston’s top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak continues to be the team’s primary source of offense. They are the top three scorers on the team, and aside from solid production from d-man Torey Krug, no one else on the team has more than three points so far.

In the team’s last game on Tuesday, Tuukka Rask played in his 500th regular-season game. He is the 28th goalie in history to play 500 games for one team, and the first to do so with the Bruins.

David Krejci (upper body) is doubtful to play against the Blues after skating with the team on Friday. Krejci, who is coming off a career year in which he set a personal best in assists (53) and tied his high in points (73), has missed the last three games after suffering an injury against Anaheim on Oct. 14.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: St. Louis Blues at Boston Bruins
Where: TD Garden
When: Saturday, Oct. 26, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blues-Bruins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLUES
Jaden SchwartzBrayden SchennOskar Sundqvist
Alex SteenRyan O'ReillyDavid Perron
Zach SanfordTyler BozakRobert Thomas
Mackenzie MacEachernIvan BarbashevSammy Blais

Colton ParaykoAlex Pietrangelo
Jay BouwmeesterJustin Faulk
Vince DunnRobert Bortuzzo

Starting goalie: Jordan Binnington

BRUINS
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Jake DeBruskCharlie CoyleBrett Ritchie
Anders Bjork – Par LindholmDanton Heinen
Joakim NordstromSean KuralyChris Wagner

Zdeno CharaCharlie McAvoy
Torey Krug – Brandon Carlo
Matt GrzelcykConnor Clifton

Starting goalie: Tuukka Rask

Mike Emrick, Mike Milbury and Brian Boucher will call Blues-Bruins from TD Garden in Boston, Mass. Kathryn Tappen will anchor Saturday’s doubleheader coverage with Keith Jones and Anson Carter.

After Bruins-Blues, coverage heads outdoors to Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan, at 10 p.m. ET (livestream), when Patrik Laine and the Winnipeg Jets face Johnny Gaudreau and the Calgary Flames in the 2019 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic.

Bruins’ fourth line continuing to shine during Stanley Cup run

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BOSTON — It was an eighth straight win for the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final Monday night, and it was another game where the fourth line contributed heavily.

The Bruins’ “Perfection Line” of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak received deserved attention entering the series against the St. Louis Blues, but Boston is three wins away from another title because of their depth. From that depth has come the production from Sean Kuraly, Joakim Nordstrom, who make up two-thirds of the fourth line in the absence of injured Chris Wagner, who’s been replaced by Noel Acciari.

“It’s unbelievable,” said forward Marcus Johansson after Game 1. “And I think everyone says this, but one of the strengths of this team is that we have four lines that can produce at any given time and on any given night. What a better time to do it than tonight. It’s not just that they scored the goals, they led the group to taking the game over and playing more physical, and that’s what led us to winning this game.”

Monday night it was Kuraly, who was acquired in the Martin Jones trade in 2015, who broke the 2-2 tie 5:21 into the third period to give the Bruins the lead for the first time. Kuraly also had the primary assist on Connor Clifton‘s tying goal 1:16 after Vladimir Tarasenko gave the Blues a 2-0 lead early in the second period.

The goal was another big moment for the 26-year-old Kuraly, who has a knack for this kind of stuff. According to the NHL, nine of his 21 career goals have either tied the game (3) or ended up as the winner.

The production of the fourth line brings back memories of 2011 and the famed “Merlot Line” of Shawn Thornton, Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell. Named after the color of their practice jerseys, the trio combined for 29 goals and 62 points during the regular season and another four goals and 11 points during their run to the Cup that spring.

“That line was huge for us the one year and even in playoffs came in and scored some big goals and [provided us] some momentum that we needed at times during games,” said Patrice Bergeron. “It’s a fair comparison when you look at Sean and his line, what they’ve been able to do for us night in, night out, and stepping up in big moments. They’ve been doing it since the start of the year and they just keep showing up for us.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The trio, which had included Wagner before he broke his hand in the Eastern Conference Final, has produced regularly, with Kuraly leading the way with three goals and seven points. The line can do it all. They skate well, forecheck well, move the puck well, and their teammates continually say they wouldn’t be playing at this point of the season without them.

“I wouldn’t want to play against that line nor any other line on our team,” said Clifton.

The fourth line has been shining all postseason and now that that’s continuing as the spotlight gets brighter and brighter, their teammates are happy to share in the attention.

“I think a lot of times you overlook those type of players or lines,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, “how big they play, especially during the season, they not necessarily get on the scoresheet, but they do so much for the team besides scoring. It’s great they’re getting recognition and a lot of credit because in the playoffs you have to rely on [those lines].”

Blues-Bruins Game 2 is Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET from TD Garden on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

MORE: Stanley Cup Buzzer: Kuraly, Bruins overwhelm Blues

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.