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Golden Knights are red-hot, but have some issues

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After a bumpy start to their second season, the news has been mostly good for the Vegas Golden Knights lately.

By beating the surprisingly feisty Islanders 3-2 on Thursday, Vegas is now measurably hot, winning nine of their last 11 games. Plenty of underlying numbers indicate that this could very well be a team to stay, or at least one that can really make opponents uncomfortable with their frenetic pace.

Unfortunately, you can also see a red flag pop up for the Golden Knights here and there.

Few players fit the dichotomy of the Golden Knights’ short-term/long-term situation quite like Marc-Andre Fleury.

On one hand, “MAF” has put together a commendable 2018-19 so afar, a run that makes it easier to accept his middling save percentage of .909. While his individual stats have been up and down (just check his strong November vs. weak October and December), Fleury’s been an absolute workhorse, appearing in 29 of Vegas’ 33 games. He edges Craig Anderson for the most games played and minutes played so far this season, and both goalies are getting up there in age and wear-and-tear (Anderson is 37, Fleury is 34).

The Athletic’s Jesse Granger notes the troubling history for workhorses in recent postseasons (sub required):

Of the 13 starting goaltenders that have hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup since the beginning of the salary cap era in 2005, none played more than 70 games in the regular season. In fact, only two of the 13 played more than 60 games. Fleury is currently on pace to play 72.

Last season, we saw wizard-like Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (now 24) and eventual champion Braden Holtby (now 29) admit that they were worn down, and both of those netminders have faced way fewer pucks over their careers than “The Flower.”

To some extent, this might be part of Gerard Gallant’s M.O. with goalies. During his years with the Florida Panthers, he seemed comfortable with leaning fairly heavily on Roberto Luongo, who logged 61 and 62 GP at ages 35 and 36. That’s not monstrous, yet it’s also more than ideal; it feels akin to an NFL team handing far too many carries to a RB, arguably shortening that runner’s career in the process. Could Luongo’s workload partially explain his health struggles? Maybe.

This isn’t to say Gallant is outrageous, as Malcolm Subban‘s really struggled this season, generating a lousy .859 save percentage in five appearances. It would be easier to criticize Gallant’s choices if he … had other good ones.

Still, there’s likely a safer medium between throwing away starts (if Subban can’t rebound) and running MAF into the ground, as Friday game against the Devils represents Fleury’s 12th consecutive start.

The Fleury situation is far from the only curious one, as it seemed like Max Pacioretty might be a healthy scratch. After some digging, the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s David Schoen unearthed that Pacioretty might sit instead of playing through an injury:

At this point, the goal is to parse coach-speak. After all, Schoen reports that Gallant said that “there’s nothing wrong” with Pacioretty. That could mean that this is merely a minor issue, or it could mean that it would have been more of a coach’s decision.

Overall, it’s still a situation to watch. Pacioretty has absolutely had his relative struggles during his first campaign with Vegas. “Patches” only managed two goals and zero assists through 10 October games, but seemed to right the ship with 16 points in his last 18 contests. Granted, in the last three games, Pacioretty was held without a shot on goal twice (though he managed four SOG in that other contest), so maybe there are subtle signs of struggle.

It’s a bummer for hockey dorks (raises hand) that Pacioretty could miss Friday’s game, as Paul Stastny is slated to finally return. Many of us were intrigued by the prospect of seeing a seemingly rejuvenated Pacioretty with Stastny, particularly since Alex Tuch has been pretty fantastic since he got back into the swing of things upon recovering from his own injury.

Alas, it looks like we’ll need to wait a little longer, unless the Golden Knights decide to let him play through his minor injury and/or minor struggles.

Overall, things are looking up for the Golden Knights, but they’re not perfect. Luckily for Vegas, you could say that about virtually every other team, including Friday’s opponent in New Jersey.

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.

The Buzzer: Stamkos, Giroux post four-point nights; Holtby blanks Blue Jackets

Associated Press
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Three stars

1. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

Two goals and two assists for Stamkos, who helped the Lightning crush the Colorado Avalanche 7-1 and win their sixth straight game.

Stamkos scored the first two goals of the game 10:10 apart in the first period and they proved to be all the Lightning needed in the win.

Stamkos has been his steady self all season and has 12 goals and 30 points in 31 games now.

2. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers needed a win. They had just two wins in their previous nine games coming into Saturday.

With Sean Couturier out of the lineup due to injury, ‘G’ made the move back to center and thrived, scoring and adding three helpers as the Flyers picked on the Buffalo Sabres in a 6-2 win. The Flyers scored all six of their goals after the Sabres took a 2-0 lead. Giroux scored the winner in the third.

Giroux now has three goals and four assists in a three-game point streak.

3. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

Holtby needed that one after giving up 10 goals over his previous two starts — both losses.

On Saturday, there were no goals given up in a 28-save shutout against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets must be sick of seeing Holtby this year. In the spring, Holtby owned Columbus and he did so again on Saturday.

Holtby has two shutouts on the season now.

Other notable performances:

  • Alex Ovechkin had a goal and an assist to push his point streak to 11 games.
  • Jonathan Huberdeau had a goal and two assists in a 5-4 shootout loss to the New York Rangers.
  • The Kings, as a whole, deserve mention. Drew Doughty‘s ‘pathetic’ comment seemed to spark his team. Jonathan Quick made 29 saves in a 5-1 win against the surging Vegas Golden Knights.
  • Craig Anderson stopped 35-of-36 in a 2-1 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
  • Louie Domingue had another solid outing, stopping 29 shots against the Avalanche.

Highlights of the night

Bob was pulled on the night, but not before making this ridiculous save:

Yikes:

Making dreams come true:

Patience is a virtue:

Factoids

Scores

Flyers 6, Sabres 2

Kings 5, Golden Knights 1

Bruins 6, Maple Leafs 3

Senators 2, Penguins 1 (OT)

Islanders 3, Red Wings 2

Lightning 7, Avalanche 1

Rangers 5, Panthers 4 (SO)

Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 0

Sharks 5, Coyotes 3

Flames 5, Predators 2


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

Seven stunning NHL numbers through first two months

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Every month we will take a look around the NHL at some stunning (or even bizarre) numbers that jump out at us.

This month we look at the crazy stat lines for Patrik Laine, Mitch Marner, and Blake Wheeler, take another look at the ridiculous Arizona Coyotes penalty kill unit, and marvel at Alex Ovechkin‘s ability to get pucks on the net. 

Patrik Laine scores all the goals — He has not even played three full seasons in the NHL but the Winnipeg Jets forward is already one of the top-three (probably top-two) goal-scorers in the league.

He has already topped the 100-goal mark for his career, is on track to be one of the league-leaders again this season, and is as dangerous as any other player in the league when the puck is on his stick.

Entering play on Friday he has 21 goals on the season, an incredible number through 27 games.

Also incredible? He only has three assists this season, producing one of the funniest stat lines in the league. He is on pace to score more than 60 goals this season while recording only nine assists!

The fewest assists any player has had in a 50 goal season was the 21 Ovechkin had during the 2015-16 season.

Since the start of the 1987-88 season (via the hockey-reference database) Laine’s three assists are the fewest assists a player has had through the first 27 games of the season while scoring at least 20 goals.

During the 2008-09 season Thomas Vanek had 20 goals and only five assists for the Buffalo Sabres through his first 27 games. He finished that season with 40 goals and 24 assists.

At some point things will start to balance out a bit for Laine (his goal-scoring pace will almost certainly slow down, at least a little bit; he will get more assists) but it is still amazing to look at that stat line in the first week of December.

Wheeler and Marner are the Anti-Laines — At the complete opposite end of the offensive spectrum we have Laine’s Winnipeg teammate Blake Wheeler and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner.

Let’s start with Marner who has already recorded 34 assists through the Maple Leafs’ first 29 games, putting him in some elite company. It is only the 24th time since the start of the 1987 season a player has recorded that many helpers this far into the season, and 10 of those instances belong to either Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky (five times each).

What stands out about Marner’s performance is that he only has six goals to go with those assists.

Craig Janney (seven goals) during the 1992-93 season is the only player on that list to have fewer than 10 goals at this point.

It is certainly possible that Wheeler could join him on that list. Through the Jets’ first 27 games he has already recorded 32 assists, while scoring only four goals.

The Arizona Coyotes’ penalty kill still has a positive goal differential — We touched on this a month ago but it is still true today and it is still absurd so we need to look at it again.

We are more than a quarter of the way through the NHL season and the Coyotes have already scored 11 shorthanded goals this season, more than double any other team in the league.

During the entire 2017-18 season only one team scored more than 11 shorthanded goals all year, and none scored more than 12. Arizona is on pace to shatter that number.

Even more incredible than the number of shorthanded goals is the fact they have still only allowed eight power play goals and are still successful on more than 90 percent of their penalty kills. No other team in the league has allowed fewer than 13 power play goals at this point, while the Coyotes’ plus-three goal differential on the penalty kill is still by far the best in the league.

The Vegas Golden Knights, currently at minus-8, are the only other team in the NHL that are currently better than minus-10 while shorthanded.

The worst Chicago Blackhawks start in 15 years — The window is officially closed.

After missing the playoffs a year ago the Blackhawks have won just nine of their first 30 games to start to the 2018-19 season, making it their worst start since the 2003-04 season when they won just seven of their first 30 games.

It is only the second time since 2000 they have won fewer than 10 games at this point in the season.

That is a lot of shots on goal — Ovechkin recorded his 5,000th shot on goal during the Washington Capitals’ win over the Coyotes on Thursday night, becoming the fastest player in league history to reach that mark.

Only seven other players have ever recorded that many shots on goal (at least since shots on goal have been an official NHL stat).

The player immediately behind Ovechkin on the list is Brett Hull, who finished his career with 4,876. The next player on the list that Ovechkin will pass, probably in a couple weeks, is Brendan Shanahan with 5,086.

Hull played 1,269 games in his career. Shanahan played 1,525.

Ovechkin has currently played in only 1,031.

Connor McDavid is being asked to do even more — For the first three years of McDavid’s career he has been asked to be a one-man team in Edmonton, so why should year four be any different?

If anything, he is being asked to do even more this season.

Through the Oilers’ first 28 games he has already contributed to 49 percent of the team’s goals (scoring or assist on 36 out of 76). After the same number of games a year ago he had “only” contributed to 42 percent of the team’s goals (scoring or assisting on 34 out of 80).

Keep in mind he actually missed one of the team’s first 28 games this season.

In terms of the raw numbers it’s not that big of a difference, but it is still stunning that four years into the career of the most dominant offensive player in the league the organization that was lucky enough to get him has not given him any kind of help. When you combine this with Ken Hitchcock’s approach to playing him and Leon Draisaitl seemingly every other shift the Oilers are counting on him to single handedly carry the team even more than before.

Somebody help Craig Anderson — If you like games with a lot of offense and no defense you really need to start checking out the Ottawa Senators.

For as bad as things seem with the organization overall, they do at least have some promising young players that are putting up big numbers. They also have a completely invisible defense. That combination of young, skilled players results in a lot of high-scoring, action-packed games that may not be the best hockey, but are at least very exciting.

One player that is probably not loving it is starting goalie Craig Anderson, who has already had to face 936 shots this season!

Since the start of the 1987 season no goalie has had to face more shots through their team’s first 30 games, while only two (Ken Wreggett in 1995 with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Marc Denis with the 2003 Columbus Blue Jackets) topped the 900-shot mark (both faced 906 shots).

He is currently facing 36 shots per game! If he maintains that pace and plays in the same number of games he did a year ago (58) he would face more than 2,000 shots on goal this season.

That is a lot of shots, but it’s not totally unheard of as it’s been done 108 teams in league history. But almost every goalie that has been a part of the 2,000 shot club in a season did so by playing more than 60 games.

The overwhelming majority played 65 or more.

The only ones that faced more than 2,000 shots while playing in fewer than 60 games were Gump Worsley (59 games in 1960-61),  Bernie Parent (58 games) 1968-69, and Al Rollins (58 games) 1955-56. Somebody help Craig Anderson before he joins that list.

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: Hats off to Ehlers; King of the Hill

via Winnipeg Jets Twitter
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Three Stars

1. Nikolaj Ehlers

Patrik Laine hit a milestone on Thursday, collecting his 100th career goal. Laine added another later on, pushing his league-leading total to 21 for the season, yet he wouldn’t even be in the Jets’ top three against Chicago.

Then again, that thought explains why Winnipeg is so scary: this team is about a lot more than Laine.

Ehlers, for example, stole Laine’s gimmick for a night by collecting a hat trick. Coming off of two straight 60+ point seasons, NHL opponents should tremble at the thought that the 22-year-old might just be coming into his own, from refining his game to becoming more confident.

This top star nod comes with some bonus fun. The coolest part: Ehlers collected a hat trick soon after shaving a design into the side of his head for Hockey Fights Cancer.

The other awesome part: his face after generating that hat trick.

2. Mark Scheifele/Blake Wheeler

Only three players collected three points on Thursday: Ehlers, Scheifele, and Wheeler. In the cases of Ehlers’ linemates, each got their points via three assists.

That trio sent a lot of pucks on net, even when they weren’t beating Corey Crawford. Scheifele fired six shots on goal, Ehlers had five, and Wheeler provided three.

Jets coach Paul Maurice enjoys plenty of decent options as far as the top line goes, including loading up with Laine alongside Wheeler and Scheifele (or Ehlers). Nights like these make you wonder if they should just stick with Ehlers – Scheifele – Wheelers long-term, though.

3. Adin Hill

Craig Anderson collected the other shutout of the night, stopping 27 shots. Hill finished with a 29-save shutout, and did it against a pretty tough (if banged-up) opponent in the Nashville Predators.

Hill suited up for just his fifth NHL start and seventh appearance overall. Interestingly, he’s been quite effective while being used very sparingly in 2018-19. He’s stopped all 35 shots he’s faced with the Arizona Coyotes in 2018-19, seeing a 20-minute appearance and a 15:57 showing in his other two games this season.

Looking at Hill’s stats at lower levels and during his other, rare NHL looks, it’s tough to imagine him keeping this up. Maybe that’s the true tiebreaker against Anderson, then: Hill might not be here again.

(Stranger things have happened, though. Right, Andrew Hammond?)

Highlights of the Night

In most cases, if a highlight gets its own post or is featured in a post, it may merely get linked. (For example: Nikita Kucherov‘s nice goal lives here.) Elias Pettersson‘s great effort and no-look pass is so good, though, that it’s foolish to risk you missing it. So here it is, again:

Matt Duchene is red-hot, and so is this puck movement:

Factoids

This post details that Patrik Laine became the fourth-youngest player in NHL history to reach 100 goals. He’s been especially fantastic during the month of November, too, as this nugget shows:

Matt Duchene’s month might be even better, somehow.

Ken Hitchcock coming up with the revolutionary strategy of “playing Connor McDavid more” helps the Oilers’ cause, but Mikko Koskinen delivering strong goaltending might be Edmonton’s most important development since all of those times they struck draft lottery gold.

Scores

BOS 2 – NYI 1 (SO)
CBJ 4 – MIN 2
OTT 3 – NYR 0
TBL 5 – BUF 4
ARI 3 – NSH 0
WPG 6 – CHI 5
EDM 3 – LAK 2
VGK 4 – VAN 3

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.

The Buzzer: Martinook gets first hatty; Skinner continues heroics

Associated Press
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Three stars

1. Jordan Martinook, Carolina Hurricanes

Martinook put the Hurricanes on his back with a hat-trick on seven shots that helped them to their third straight win. It took Martinook 269 NHL games to get it, scoring his third into an empty net late in the game to make sure the Florida Panthers had no chance of getting back into the game.

2. Calvin Pickard, Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers needed this one. A 31-save shutout by Pickard helped the Flyers end a four-game skid. The Flyers looked the part of a team determined, putting up 46 shots in their 4-0 win. For all that Philly’s crease has endured this season, Pickard provided a bright spot in Friday’s matinee on NBC.

3. Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres

Who are you going to call when you need another late comeback? Well, it’s gotta be one of the hottest players in the NHL at the moment. Jeff Skinner scored his 16th with 2:26 remaining in the third period to send Buffalo to overtime against the Montreal Canadiens and then scored 3:06 into the extra frame on the player to notch his 17th goal of the season and, more importantly, Buffalo’s eighth straight win.

Other notable performances:

  • It’s not every night a shutout doesn’t cut it as a star, but it’s not every night that there is the maximum number of games in the NHL. Marc-Andre Fleury regained the shutout lead in the NHL with his fourth in a 29-save effort for the Golden Knights. He did so against the Flames, who had 13 goals in their previous two games.
  • Speaking of shutouts, Aaron Dell posted his second in as many starts after making 19 saves in a 4-0 win for the Sharks over the Canucks. He blanked the St. Louis Blues on Nov. 17.
  • Two goals and an assist for Sean Couturier in the Flyers win. He’s on a three-game point streak.
  • Another strong outing for John Gibson, stopping 27 shots in a 2-1 win for the Ducks over Edmonton in overtime.
  • Rickard Rakell had the OT winner in that game and also assisted on the Ducks’ other goal in regulation.
  • Nino Niederreiter took a fourth-line demotion in stride, scoring a goal and adding an assist on Eric Staal‘s game-winner as the Wild came back from 2-0 down in the third period to beat the Jets 4-2.
  • Tom Wilson had a goal and an assist to push his point streak to four games. He’s got three goals and five assists in six games this season.
  • Thomas Griess stopped 39 shots in a 4-3 overtime win for the Islanders over the Devils.
  • Cam Atkinson has scored in six straight games.
  • Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog each recorded two-point nights because that’s what they do.
  • Craig Anderson faced 54 shots, stopping 48 of them as Ottawa decided not to play defense in front of their starter.
  • Erik Karlsson had a goal and two assists for the Sharks.

Injury news

Highlights of the night

For this one, we go back to one of the day’s matinees

Eat your heart out, Brian Burke:

Martinook’s hatty:

Boyle scores on Hockey Fights Cancer night in New Jersey:

Madness in Minnesota:

Factoids

Scores

Flyers 4, Rangers 0

Ducks 2, Oilers 1 (OT)

Wild 4, Jets 2

Sabres 3, Canadiens 2 (OT)

Islanders 4, Devils 3 (OT)

Capitals 3, Red Wings 1

Golden Knights 2, Flames 0

Blue Jackets 4, Maple Leafs 2

Bruins 2, Penguins 1 (OT)

Lightning 4, Blackhawks 2

Hurricanes 4, Panthers 1

Avalanche 5, Coyotes 1

Blues 6, Predators 2

Stars 6, Senators 4

Sharks 4, Canucks 0


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