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The Buzzer: McDavid, Crawford should’ve given spoiler alerts

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Three Stars

1. Corey Crawford leads a group of spoiler goalies

Quite a few goalies made life miserable for teams in desperate situations, and Crawford topped the list. He generated an impressive (and, for the Canadiens, deeply annoying) 48-save shutout on Saturday, absolutely stealing a win for the Blackhawks. Even with Chicago now on a five-game winning streak, it would be surprising if we look back at that shutout as anything more than the Blackhawks spoiling a chance for Montreal to improve its playoff chances.

Again, that was in the air on Saturday.

Red Wings fans are likely reading through prospect rankings and wondering who will run the team in the future right now, but getting wins at this time of year? They might be rooting for the opposite, at least those who cross their fingers for higher draft lottery odds.

With that in mind, Jonathan Bernier wasn’t just a spoiler for the Islanders in making 41 out of 42 saves; he was, to an extent, a spoiler for his own team … depending upon how you look at things.

Blues goalie Jordan Binnington is doing the opposite of spoiling the Blues’ season, but he certainly robbed the Penguins often, making 40 of 41 saves. (Also of note: Anders Nilsson generated 35 saves as the Senators upset the Maple Leafs.)

2. Alex Killorn

It’s difficult to differentiate some strong three-point performances from Saturday, except one stands out as pretty tough to deny. Killorn generated a hat trick as the Lightning beat the Capitals in a testy game.

Killorn now has 16 goals in 2018-19, leaving him three behind his career-high of 19.

If you want to bring it back to playing spoiler again: the Lightning have basically everything locked up right now, so they messed up the Capitals’ chances of fattening their lead for the Metropolitan Division title.

3. Connor McDavid

Again, this is tough. Among other candidates, two Panthers (Evgenii Dadonov and Aleksander Barkov) enjoyed three-point games.

Like Dadonov, McDavid generated two goals and one assist for his three points (Barkov had thre assists).

McDavid gets the edge in some ways, and no, it’s not just that he’s Connor McDavid. For one thing, McDavid nabbed a game-winning goal with his overtime-winner. For another, McDavid scored this way for his other goal, generating arguably the highlight of the night:

So, slight advantage: number 97.

(Oh yeah, and the Oilers beat the Coyotes in OT, spoiling Arizona’s efforts to get a full two points.)

Highlight of the Night

Actually, I’m call it: that McDavid goal was the highlight of the night. So, with that, enjoy a bonus: the latest Hurricanes win celebration goes the “curling” route.

Question: does this mean they’re only getting more ingenious with their celes, or are they running out of ideas?

Factoids

  • McDavid now has multiple points in seven-consecutive games. Only two other Oilers have done that: Wayne Gretzky (15 times!) and Mark Messier (once). McDavid’s seven-game streak ties two other players for the longest run in 2018-19: Nikita Kucherov and Auston Matthews.
  • Connor Hellebuyck hits the 30-win mark once again. This makes for a nice feat for him, and quite the indictment on those who came before him, as he’s the only Thrashers/Jets goalie to post consecutive 30-win seasons.
  • Jordan Staal scored his 500th point, allowing him to join his brother Eric Staal on a select list of siblings:

Scores

STL 5 – PIT 1
DET 2 – NYI 1
FLA 4 – LAK 3
WIN 2 – CGY 1
BOS 2 – CBJ 1 (OT)
CHI 2 – MTL 0
OTT 6 – TOR 2
TBL 6 – WSH 3
CAR 4 – BUF 2
MIN 5 – NYR 2
EDM 3 – ARI 2 (OT)
NSH 4 – SJS 2

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.

Saturday was good for Hurricanes, bad for Penguins, ugly for Habs

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As this PHT post argues, the Montreal Canadiens haven’t been particularly lucky lately, but Saturday pushed such thoughts to the extreme.

The Habs fired a robust 48 shots on goal against Corey Crawford, but couldn’t beat the veteran goalie once. With that, the Blackhawks won 2-0, handing Montreal not just a loss, but a defeat in regulation.

The Canadiens can’t even really look on the one broad bright side of Saturday (that a lot of other East teams struggled), either, as the most crucial ones gained ground while Montreal’s running out of time to get its act together.

(That’s particularly true of that putrid power play, which went 0-for-4 on Saturday.)

The Canadiens are now stalling out at 81 points in 72 games played. Here’s a rundown of the rest of today’s most pertinent East action, in order of teams with the most on the line.

Blue Jackets lose, but they get a point

Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron made the difference for the Boston Bruins in a 2-1 OT win, as the dynamic duo generated a goal and an assist apiece. While Montreal can’t question its overall effort, Columbus might be at least a bit frustrated with the fact that they only forced Jaroslav Halak to face 25 SOG.

The Blue Jackets gain a step on Montreal, finishing the night with 84 points in 72 GP.

Hurricanes have the best Saturday of anyone at or near the bubble

After former Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner scored early into Saturday’s game, Carolina scored four straight goals to eventually win 4-2. Justin Williams‘ 21st goal of 2018-19 was really something:

Carolina is likely more focused on Tuesday’s opponent slightly ahead of them for the Metro third spot (the Penguins), than the Hurricanes are about the bubble teams behind them. Carolina now has 85 points in 71 GP.

Penguins lose badly

Speaking of Pittsburgh, they had a rough afternoon, falling to the Blues 5-1 despite 41-26 SOG advantage. As rocky as his St. Louis start was, moments like these make you wonder if Patrick Maroon might benefit the Blues more when the games get bigger:

(Nice to see those “NHL 19” moves work out in real life every now and then, huh?)

The Penguins failed to gain breathing room ahead of Carolina (and Columbus, to a lesser extent), and also didn’t give themselves a better chance at the Metro’s second seed, as the Penguins sit at 87 points in 72 GP.

Most likely Metro Division winners idle

Both the Capitals (91 points in 72 GP) and Islanders (89 points in 71 GP) lost in regulation in their respective games, falling short of improving their odds at a division title. The Islanders leave themselves at least somewhat vulnerable to losing a round of home-ice advantage, depending upon how things shake out.

***

So, almost everyone lost, with the Blue Jackets at least salvaging a very, very important point. All things considered, you can’t totally blame the Hurricanes if they’re thinking big — as in at least rising above the wild-card ranks.

Looking at the landscape, the Canadiens must be awfully worried. It doesn’t look great for their chances, so they need to turn things around soon. This crisis of confidence is coming at a terrible time for a team that exceeded just about everyone’s expectations this season.

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: Perlini does it again; Rooney steps up for Devils

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Three stars

1. Brendan Perlini, Chicago Blackhawks 

The Blackhawks have won four straight and Perlini has played a pivotal role in the past two games, scoring a hat trick against the Arizona Coyotes on Monday and then producing a one-goal, two-assist performance on Wednesday to help lead the Blackhawks to a nail-biting 5-4 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs

Perlini’s goal was the second of a four-goal first period for the Blackhawks and he made a slick cross-ice pass to Alex DeBrincat to put the Blackhawks up 5-0 in the second frame.

Collin Delia gets an honorable mention here, and deservedly so. He faced 29 third-period shots and stopped 26 after coming in completely cold with Corey Crawford succumbing to the flu after the second period.

2. Kevin Rooney, New Jersey Devils

New Jersey needed someone to step up after their ugly 9-4 loss a night earlier. Kevin Rooney was one of six Devils to score in the game, and he also added an assist for a two-point night. The 25-year-old rookie has three goals in his past six games and is seeing more ice time now with all of New Jersey’s missing players.

3. Tyler Motte, Vancouver Canucks

Neither the Canucks nor the New York Rangers have much more than pride to play for heading down the home stretch here — neither are going to taste the postseason. But pride is what Motte gave the Canucks on Wednesday, scoring twice in a 4-1 win to snap a 15-game drought. Oh, and he scored both of his markers in an 11-second span.

Highlights of the night

Perfectly placed pass:

All by himself:

This was just well placed:

Stretch pass and one heck of a finish:

Factoids

Scores

Blackhawks 5, Maple Leafs 4
Devils 6, Oilers 3
Canucks 4, Rangers 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

Blackhawks survive late Leafs assault to win fourth straight

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Score five straight goals against the Toronto Maple Leafs and hold on for dear life.

It’s a plan that the Chicago Blackhawks executed to perfection (planned or otherwise) on Wednesday night in a ___ win against their Original Six foes. And my goodness did they ever have to hold on.

Chicago came out with the determination of a team needing two points to keep their playoff dreams going. They scored four times in the first period — chasing Frederik Andersen after he allowed four on 14 shots — and added a fifth later in the second period, appearing to seal it with less than half a game to go.

The Leafs have been struggling since beating the Calgary Flames 6-2. And it’s unraveled now, after getting made to look like the JV squad against the Tampa Bay Lightning and then decimated once again against the Blackhawks.

A 5-0 deficit seemed like the next chapter in their recent story, but Andreas Johnsson‘s goal with 1:33 left in the second period seemed to give the Leafs some life.

The Leafs owned the third period, with Chicago looking content to sit back and wait for the final buzzer. It didn’t help Chicago’s cause that Corey Crawford, who was solid through the first two periods, didn’t emerge for the third after falling ill with the flu. Collin Delia had to come in cold and the game became very interesting.

Auston Matthews and Co. went to work in the third. Matthews grabbed his 32nd of the season at 7:57 of the period followed by Morgan Rielly‘s 19th three minutes later to make it 5-3. With the net empty and 1:31 to go, John Tavares clawed the Leafs back to 5-4, banging in a shot from a bad angle past Delia to set a new career high with his 39th.

Toronto fired 30 pucks on goal in final frame, with Delia getting a game’s worth of shots sent his way in a 20-minute span of complete chaos.

The final 90 seconds, particularly, were epic and well worth the watch.

When the dust settled after the final whistle, the Blackhawks moved four points back of the idle Arizona Coyotes for the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference. ‘

The odds aren’t great, but all Chicago can do is keep winning and let the chips fall where they may.


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

Four stunning numbers as NHL season enters stretch run

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Every month we take a look at some stunning numbers around the NHL.

What is standing out to us lately?

Let’s take a look…

The Islanders’ worst-to-first turnaround

The 2017-18 New York Islanders were one of the worst defensive teams of the modern era. This is not really opinion, either. It is an objective fact no matter what set of numbers you looked at.

But let’s just for now focus on goals against, the ultimate number when it comes to measuring defense.

A year ago the Islanders were giving up 3.57 goals per game, a mark that was the fourth-worst of any team in the salary cap era. The only three teams that gave up more goals were the 2005-06 Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, and the 2006-07 Philadelphia Flyers. Those three teams were also three of the worst overall teams of the salary cap era. They stunk. All of them.

Fast forward to this year, and with 15 games remaining in the season the Islanders are on track to be the top team in the league when it comes to goals against, giving up just 2.36 goals per game. That number is also among the top-40 of all teams that have played in the NHL since the start of the 2005-06 season.

Maybe it’s the Barry Trotz effect. Maybe it’s two goalies in Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss having career years at the exact same time. Maybe it’s a combination of the two. No matter what the reason, it is a stunning turnaround to see a franchise, with largely the same personnel on the backend, go from one of the worst defensive teams in in the NHL in a generation to one of the best in just one season.

The Blackhawks and Senators have replaced the Islanders 

While the Islanders have rocketed to the top of the league when it comes to goal prevention, the Chicago Blackhawks and Ottawa Senators have taken their place among the worst of the worst in this era.

The Blackhawks have been especially bad, entering the weekend having allowed 3.78 goals per game, tied with the ’05-06 Penguins for the worst mark in the league since 2005-06.

It’s actually worse than that.

If you go as far back as the 1995-96 season the only team that allowed more goals per game was the 1999-00 Atlanta Thrashers at 3.82 per game.

The scary thing for the Blackhawks is that it’s hard to see this situation getting any better in the short-term as pretty much all over the major players on the blue line are signed through at least next season, or still under team control. They actually have some salary cap space to play with this offseason, but this is a very bad defensive team with some significant questions in goal given the health issues Corey Crawford has had the past two seasons.

Then we have the Senators.

We knew given everything that happened with this team over the past year regarding its rebuild was going to produce a terrible product on the ice. Consider those expectations reached. Everything about this team defensively is just … bad.

Their 3.74 goals against per game is among the worst in the NHL since 2005-06 (third worst, technically) while the 36.1 shots on goal they allow per game is the absolute worst in the league dating back to the 1993-94 season. It is an impossibly bad defensive team.

Leon Draisaitl is on pace for 50 goals

A lot has been made of the fact that the Edmonton Oilers are set to waste another peak year of Connor McDavid, and it remains as unbelievable as it was earlier in the season. He is going to be a 100-point scorer for the third year in a row, he is the most dominant offensive player in the league, and after this season they will have made the playoffs just one time in four years with him.

But it is not just him.

They are also wasting Leon Draisaitl who never seems to get much respect for his offensive ability.

For example, did you know that he is currently second in the league in goals scored with 41? And that he is currently on pace for 50 goals? Well, he is. And if he manages to pull it off and reach that mark it might be one of the quietest, overlooked 50-goal seasons in recent NHL history.

The Oilers have one player that is on pace for at least 110 points, a different player on pace for 50 goals, they are playing in one of the weakest Wester Conference fields in years, and they are still not even close to making the playoffs.

Stunning, indeed.

The Blues already have nine shutouts

This is a stunning number just because of how bad the Blues’ goaltending was early in the season. It was probably the single biggest reason they had such a slow start, but the emergence of Jordan Binnington has helped save their season.

He is 16-3-0 with a .929 save percentage so far, including five shutouts which is tied for the third-most in the league. He is one of five goalies in the league with at least five shutouts.

The other four have all played in at least 39 games. Binnington has only played 22. That is a shutout every 4.4 games.

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.