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Avs’ MacKinnon belongs in best in NHL conversation

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As you can see from this Associated Press piece, there are some hot “best in the NHL” debates going around, with people batting around names like Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, and Auston Matthews.

Colorado Avalanche speedster Nathan MacKinnon‘s name didn’t come up in that conversation, but quite frankly, he’ll be impossible to ignore if keeps this up.

The 23-year-old has scored at least one point in all eight games, and his numbers are positively eye-popping. MacKinnon generated six points in the past two games alone, leaving him with a ridiculous eight goals and six assists for 14 points. As of this writing, only Auston Matthews (16 points in eight games) has generated more offense so far in 2018-19, while MacKinnon’s running mate Mikko Rantanen also has 14.

[More on Rantanen becoming a “driving force” for Colorado]

Remarkably, MacKinnon isn’t subsisting on a red-hot power play, either, as only two of his 14 points have come from the man advantage. With that in mind, it’s less shocking that MacKinnon’s seven even-strength goals currently lead the NHL.

It’s dangerous to rely too heavily on season stats, particularly when we’re still in October, but zooming out to last season really cements MacKinnon’s rise among the league’s most exhilarating scorers.

When you combine last season with these early showings, MacKinnon generated a whopping 111 points in just 84 games, trailing only Connor McDavid (119 in 87) and Claude Giroux (113 in 90). MacKinnon’s 1.31 points-per-game average is second only to … you guessed it: McDavid, at 1.35.

MacKinnon slips under the radar almost as seamlessly as he flies by defensemen for a few reasons:

  • The Avalanche haven’t been very great lately. MacKinnon’s efforts helped Colorado make the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, yet before that, the Avs suffered a three-season drought. The Avs have only made the playoffs twice since 2010-11, and they’ve only won one playoff series since 2005-06.

Even so, looking back at the past illuminates how special MacKinnon’s start has been. MacKinnon scored a goal in his first six games, something Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Milan Hejduk, and many other standout Avs failed to do:

Could he break more club records as he goes?

  • Maybe some of the reluctance to name MacKinnon among the best stems from the speedy center beginning his career as an effective scorer, yet not quite the guy people expected.

Through his first four seasons, MacKinnon only crossed the 60-point barrier once (63 on his way to a Calder Trophy in 2013-14), with his 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons inspiring real concern about his shooting ability. It’s one thing to have bad puckluck for a single season, but through the first four years of his career, MacKinnon shot under 10-percent on three occasions, and his peak was just a flat 10.0 during that rookie campaign.

Well, it’s not clear what precisely changed, yet it’s probably safe to dismiss those concerns already. MacKinnon probably would have hit 40 goals and 100 points if he played every game last season (finishing with 39 goals and 97 points in just 74 games), and he’s off to that red-hot start in 2018-19.

  • There were times when MacKinnon almost felt like comic relief in his apparently long-running Tim Horton’s commercials alongside Sidney Crosby.

Now? He’s still goofy, but in more of an “effective buddy cop movie character” sort of way.

His bond with Crosby and the Canadian coffee chain giant really peaked recently, as the two surprised members of Kenya’s senior men’s hockey team (more about that in this post):

Heartwarming stuff, right?

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To recap: MacKinnon is a speedy center who’s scoring at a near-McDavidian-rate, and he’s building enough evidence that his quantum leap from 2017-18 could be the rule, rather than the exception.

With a rising winger in Rantanen, not to mention a productive, hard-nosed captain in Gabriel Landeskog, MacKinnon also pilots a top line that deserves consideration as the best trio in the NHL.

Oh yeah, MacKinnon also deserves serious consideration for having the best bargain contract in the NHL. Somehow, the Avalanche will receive five more prime-level years of MacKinnon’s services at the ridiculous rate of $6.3 million per season. That’s barely more than half of what McDavid’s getting — and McDavid is worth more than $12.5M.

So, MacKinnon’s on that rare McDavid plane of being lightning fast, yet still boasting the skill and hockey IQ to take advantage of that world-class speed. Maybe it took him more time to harness that, but this seems to be clear today.

It also seems like he’s kind of a goober, and can provide a salty quote here or there.

While it’s true that MacKinnon isn’t totally dismissed as a great player – he was a finalist, falling right behind Taylor Hall for the 2018 Hart Trophy – the point is that the latest Avalanche superstar is worthy of greater hype.

If nothing else, make sure you watch him play. Chances are, his name will pop up more often in “best in the league” conversations if you do.

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.

The Buzzer: Shattenkirk’s redemption; McDavid’s heroics

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Three Stars

1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers. There really is not anything to say other than what we said earlier: He took over and he single handedly stole a win for the Oilers. Read about it here

2. Kevin Shattenkirk, New York Rangers. Just now entering the second year of his four-year contract, the Kevin Shattenkirk experience has not been what the New York Rangers were hoping it would be when they signed him due to injury and some ineffective play. On Tuesday night they finally got a glimpse of the player they thought they were getting. Shattenkirk was outstanding for the Rangers in their 3-2 shootout win over the Colorado Avalanche, assisting on two goals and then scoring the game-winner in the shootout. He was also one of the team’s best possession players on the shot attempt chart and was not on the ice for either of the Avalanche goals. In other words: He did what a top-pairing defenseman is supposed to do.

3. Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning prevented the Carolina Hurricanes from matching their best start in franchise history with a 4-2 win that was highlighted by a Tyler Johnson hat trick. The Lightning have now won three of their first four games and should still be one of the best teams in the league thanks to their incredible depth up front. Johnson’s hat trick is the fourth of his career in the regular season.

Here come the Golden Knights

The Golden Knights did not have a great start but there was also an awful lot of bad luck at play there, too. They were playing a lot better than their early record might have had you believe and now the results are starting to match the way they were playing. They were 4-1 winners over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night, giving them their second win in a row. As always seems to be the case with them, it was their top-line doing the damage. Jonathan Marchessault scored a pair of goals in the win, giving him four on the year, while William Karlsson finally had a breakout game finishing with three points. After scoring 43 goals a year ago he finally got his first of the year on Tuesday night while also adding a pair of assists.

Barkov helps Panthers rally, gain point in wild game against Flyers

The Florida Panthers had a terrible second period in Philadelphia, giving up five goals to face three-goal deficit. They managed to rally and force overtime — where they would lose in a shootout — thanks to a big-time performance from team captain Aleksander Barkov as he scored a pair of goals including the game-tying goal in the third period. This was also a perfect representation of what the Philadelphia Flyers are this season: A chaotic team that can score a ton of goals and give up just as many. Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds both scored a pair of goals for the Flyers in the win, while Jordan Weal recorded two points (goal, assist) and scored the decisive goal in the shootout.

Highlights of the Night

Connor McDavid is amazing and borderline unstoppable when he gets going at full speed. He showed that on Tuesday night with this goal in the first period.

With that goal, as well as his third period goal and two assists, McDavid had scored or assisted on each of the Oilers’ first nine goals of the season, and each of their past 13 goals dating back to the end of the 2017-18 season.

This save by Darcy Kuemper bailed out the Arizona Coyotes on a 3-on-1 rush. This is tremendous goaltending, even if it was not enough to get a win.

Jamie Benn and the Dallas Stars did not score a goal against the New Jersey Devils but he did take part in vicious fight with Miles Wood.

Brock Boeser helped the Vancouver Canucks continue their surprising start with a 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road. Boeser scored the game-winner in overtime.

Factoids

Kyle Palmieri is on quite the roll for the New Jersey Devils and with his first period goal on Tuesday did something no player in NHL history has ever done before.

The Devils are now 4-0-0 on the season.

Marc-Andre Fleury continues to climb the NHL’s all-time wins list.

Henrik Lundqvist has won a lot of shootouts in his career. He picked up another one on Tuesday night.

 

Scores
Canucks 3, Penguins 2 (OT)
Devils 3, Stars 0
Rangers 3, Avalanche 2 (SO)
Flyers 6, Panthers 5 (SO)
Lightning 4, Hurricanes 2
Wild 2, Coyotes 1
Oilers 5, Jets 4 (OT)
Golden Knights 4, Sabres 1

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.

Marc-Andre Fleury saves the day vs. Flyers (Video)

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Marc-Andre Fleury had himself quite the afternoon as the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Philadelphia Flyers.

While making 26 saves during a 1-0 shutout, Fleury denied the Flyers time and time again Saturday afternoon, preventing numerous high-grade opportunities.

Just ask Scott Laughton, who found himself on a shorthanded breakaway late in the second period. His backhand attempt was stopped.

Just ask Claude Giroux, who stormed in a minute later and tried to wait out Fleury only to get robbed.

Ask Giroux again, who had the the game-tying goal on his stick with 38 seconds left in the third period, but was once again frustrated by the Golden Knights netminder.

The victory snapped a three-game losing streak for the Golden Knights, who finished their five-game road trip (2-3-0) on Saturday.

The win was also an historic one for Fleury. As per the NHL, with his 406th victory he moved to within one of tying Glenn Hall for 10th on the League’s all-time wins list among goaltenders. It was also his 49th career shutout, tying him for 29th all-time.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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.

Blowout loss to Sharks shows Flyers still have some big flaws

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Before the start of the season I wrote about the Philadelphia Flyers being one of the ultimate boom-or-bust teams in the NHL. On paper they have the talent to make the playoffs again and maybe even win a round. Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek are outstanding, and they have some excellent young players to help complement them. We saw their “boom” potential in the season opener when they went into Vegas and chased Marc-Andre Fleury.

Over their past two games, and especially in Tuesday’s 8-2 blowout loss to the San Jose Sharks in their home opener, we saw the “bust” potential. That potential comes from the fact that for all of the talent they have up front, and for all of the promise their young defense has, they still have some potentially significant flaws on their blue line and in net.

That was all on display on Tuesday where the Sharks spent the entire night doing pretty much whatever they wanted with the puck, systematically dismantling the Flyers in all three zones and in all situations.

Five-on-five? All Sharks as they outscored the Flyers 5-0 and outshot them by a 34-23 margin at even-strength.

Their inconsistent power play that entered the night 0-for-10 on the season, after finishing 16th a season ago? It went 2-for-5.

Even though the Sharks’ penalty kill surrendered a pair of goals, it also helped make up for it with a shorthanded goal.

[Related: Gritty makes grand entrance before Flyers’ home opener]

It was just total domination. San Jose’s offensive onslaught started early with four goals in the first period, including two 11 seconds apart from Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski.

From there, the Flyers never had an answer for anything the Sharks did, getting outshot 48-33 while starting goalie Brian Elliott was unable to stop anything, giving up all eight goals. It was the first time in his career that he has given up eight goals in a single game. The Flyers likely kept him in to “take one for the team” because they play again on Wednesday night where Calvin Pickard is expected to get the start.

These were the big question marks for the Flyers entering the season that would ultimately make-or-break their season: Would their young defense take a step forward and be good enough to insulate a questionable, unsettled goaltending situation; and would that goaltending situation be able to find a way to give them some acceptable level of play.

You can’t reach any definitive conclusions after three games, because that is all that it is … just three games. This is, after all, a team that at one point last season lost 11 games in a row and still managed to make the playoffs. But there are still very real flaws on this team that can hold them back and on Tuesday night those flaws were out there for everyone to see.

There are a lot of reasons to like this team and the potential that it has.

There are also reasons to be skeptical of it.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Flyers, Sharks meet on NBCSN

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the San Jose Sharks and Philadelphia Flyers at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch that game online by clicking here

The San Jose Sharks started their current five-game road trip with a solid 3-2 overtime win against the Los Angeles Kings on Friday. On Monday, they followed that up with a flat performance during a 4-0 loss to the New York Islanders. They don’t have much time to regroup as they face the Philadelphia Flyers a little more than 36 hours later.

In this particular matchup, the Sharks have dominated and won 18 of their last 23 meetings with the Flyers dating back to 2002.

Joe Thornton (knee) and James van Riemsdyk (lower body) will both miss out.

What could help get the Sharks going is waking up their power play, which is a shocking 0-for-10 so far. They did have nine chances Monday in Brookyln, but failed to capitalize on four opportunities.

Brian Elliott has started every game for the Flyers this season as Michal Neuvirth heals up and they allow Calvin Pickard to settle in after being claimed on waivers from Toronto last week. Philadelphia plays the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday, which would be a good opportunity to give their No. 1 in Elliott a rest.

What: San Jose Sharks at Philadelphia Flyers
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
When: Tuesday, October 9th, 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Sharks-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

Sharks
Timo MeierJoe PavelskiMelker Karlsson
Tomas HertlLogan CoutureKevin Labanc
Evander KaneAntti SuomelaJoonas Donskoi
Barclay Goodrow – Rourke Chartier – Marcus Sorensen

Marc-Edouard VlasicErik Karlsson
Joakim RyanBrent Burns
Brenden DillonJustin Braun

Starting goalie: TBA

[WATCH LIVE – 7:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Flyers
Claude GirouxSean CouturierJakub Voracek
Oskar LindblomNolan PatrickTravis Konecny
Jordan WealMikhail VorobyovWayne Simmonds
Scott LaughtonJori LehteraMichael Raffl

Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere
Robert HaggAndrew MacDonald
Travis SanheimRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Brian Elliott

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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.