Curtis McElhinney

Mikael Granlund #64 of the Nashville Predators celebrates his game tying last second goal
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The Buzzer: Hats off to Ryan, Kubalik; Granlund’s late-game heroics

Three Stars

1) Bobby Ryan, Ottawa Senators

He struggled to fight off the tears as Senators fans chanted his name at Canadian Tire Centre late in the third period after Ryan completed his fifth career hat trick to seal Ottawa’s 5-2 victory against the Vancouver Canucks. It was Ryan’s second, and first at home, since returning from an extended absence in order to deal with an alcohol addiction problem. Ryan scored in a variety of ways including a slick redirection, a short-side snipe and an empty-net tally as Ottawa snapped a four-game losing streak.

2) Dominik Kubalik, Chicago Blackhawks

The Czech rookie starred in a five-goal third period for the Blackhawks as they defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-2. The 24-year-old collected goals 27, 28, 29 for his first NHL hat trick while Chicago snapped a two-game losing streak. Kubalik knotted the game at 2-2 shortly after Brandon Saad opened the scoring for Chicago. The Blackhawks’ rising star relentlessly followed the puck and finally lit the lamp on his third chance of the sequence. Chicago took a two-goal advantage when Kubalik fired a blistering one-timer past Curtis McElhinney. He would complete the hat trick with an empty netter in the final minutes of the third. The playoffs are out of reach for Chicago this season, but Kubalik’s emergence will help the Blackhawks return to the postseason in the coming years.

3) Mikael Granlund, Nashville Predators

The saying “every second counts” applied to the Predators as Granlund score with one-tenth of a second remaining to force overtime against the Calgary Flames. The Predators didn’t give up during the final moments of a hectic finish and Filip Forsberg slid a puck to Granlund’s stick before the equalizer. Granlund wasn’t finished until he notched the overtime winner to send Bridgestone Arena into a frenzy. A loss would have had costly ramifications on the Predators’ playoff pursuit, but Granlund’s heroics allowed Nashville to slide into the second wild card spot for the time being.

Highlights of the Night

Charlie Coyle batted the puck out of mid-air to even the game at 1-1 late in the first period.

Evander Kane kicked the puck to himself and then fed Logan Couture, who netted the game-winning goal in his second game back from an ankle injury.

Colton Parayko finished off the Islanders with this wraparound in overtime to lead the Blues to a 3-2 victory.

Tomas Tatar stickhandled back and forth until an opening presented itself.

Auston Matthews‘ 44th of the season helped Toronto capture an important 5-3 victory against the Florida Panthers.

Mathew Dumba scored twice including this one-timer as the Wild scored seven in their victory against the Red Wings.

Alexandar Georgiev turned the puck over but recovered with this spectacular save.

Stats of the Night

Scores

New York Rangers 5, Montreal Canadiens 2

Chicago Blackhawks 5, Tampa Bay Lightning 2

Toronto Maple Leafs 5, Florida Panthers 3

Boston Bruins 4, Dallas Stars 3

Ottawa Senators 5, Vancouver Canucks 2

Minnesota Wild 7, Detroit Red Wings 1

St. Louis Blues 3, New York Islanders 2 (OT)

Nashville Predators 4, Calgary Flames 3 (OT)

Winnipeg Jets 3, Washington Capitals 0

San Jose Sharks 3, New Jersey Devils 2 (OT)


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

The Buzzer: Oilers dominate latest Battle of Alberta; goalies fight for records, too

Oilers latest Battle of Alberta Leon Draisaitl buzzer
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Three Stars

1. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers

The second “Battle of Alberta” of the week ended up lopsided. Leon Draisaitl ended up being a big part of that.

Impressively, Draisaitl collected four assists in Edmonton’s 8-3 win over Calgary. Draisaitl exits Saturday with a commanding lead in the Art Ross race with a resounding 83 points. Last season’s jump to 105 points was incredible, no doubt. Yet, Draisaitl is almost at last year’s assist total of 55, as he reached 54 on Saturday. That’s about a 130-point pace.

The German-born forward has been especially hot lately. Draisaitl pushed his point streak to 11 games, scoring 22 points during that span. That four-point outburst also gives Draisaitl a streak within a streak: five consecutive multi-point games.

In the process, Draisaitl may have solved the riddle of scoring without Connor McDavid.

The Mike Smith – Cam Talbot goalie fight will grab a lot of the attention. And, really, why not? Goalie fights are too odd not to be fun. But Oilers fans should be just as excited about Draisaitl’s dominance.

2. Jeff Petry, Montreal Canadiens

There’s an argument for Petry over Draisaitl, as they both ended Saturday with an impressive four assists. To me, Draisaitl’s blistering overall play, NHL points lead, and involvement in the “Battle of Alberta” overwhelmed the Petry dish of accomplishments.

Regardless, Petry remains a strong contributor for the up-and-down Habs. Those four assists pushed Petry to 33 points in 53 games in 2019-20. It sure looks like Petry will continue his trend of setting new career-highs (he tied his old mark of 42 in 2017-18, set a new one in 2018-19 with 46, and now has months to flirt with 50+).

3. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

Here is another spot where there are tough calls. Even ignoring other scorers and just focusing on goalies, Lundqvist has competition. Carey Price pitched a 29-save shutout. Curtis McElhinney blanked the Sharks with 30 saves. Ryan Miller didn’t get a shutout, but he stopped 46 out of 47 shots on goal for Anaheim.

But who knows how many more times we’ll see “King Henrik” warrant a three stars nod? Hopefully the answer is “A surprisingly large number of times,” yet it’s unclear.

Lundqvist generated a 33-save shutout against the Red Wings on Saturday. In doing so, Lundqvist earned a shutout for the first time since Nov. 19, 2017. That marks the 64th of his outstanding career. Considering the Rangers’ defensive struggles, Lundqvist and other goalies will have to earn each goose egg.

Also, for what it’s worth: yes, the Red Wings are dreadful, but it was a 1-0 game so New York needed all of Lundqvist’s saves.

Highlight of the Night that’s not a Goalie Fight

No doubt, many will pick Talbot vs. Smith as the highlight of the night. Bask in that glory here, and you know what? This can save you a click:

But it feels worthwhile to give another goalie some of the spotlight. Antti Raanta should practice his “Mortal Kombat” voices after pulling off a scorpion save:

Poor Ryan McDonagh

Consider this one of the lowlights of the night. Sorry, Ryan McDonagh.

Factoids

Scores

BUF 2 – CBJ 1 (OT)
VAN 4 – NYI 3 (OT)
MTL 4 – FLA 0
TOR 2 – OTT 1 (OT)
NYR 1 – DET 0
DAL 3 – NJD (OT)
PHI 6 – COL 3
WPG 5 – STL 2
VGK 3 – NSH 0
BOS 6 – MIN 1
CHI 3 – ARI 2 (SO)
EDM 8 – CGY 3
ANA 3 – LAK 1
TBL 3 – SJS 0

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.

Get ready to learn a lot about the Lightning

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With a cursory glance at the Tampa Bay Lightning’s upcoming schedule, it was tempting to predict that the team will look like a juggernaut again very soon.

After beating the Predators in overtime in an unexpectedly nasty game in Nashville, the opportunity is indeed there to enjoy some home cooking. The Lightning play:

  • Their next three games at home.
  • Seven of their next eight games in Tampa Bay.
  • Could be set for a big December overall with 10 of their next 12 games at home.

Yet, when you dig a little deeper, the situation is even more interesting because a hot streak isn’t necessarily a slam dunk for Tampa Bay. While it’s dangerous to read too much into any month in the marathon that is an NHL regular season, it’s fair to say that we should get a better idea of what kind of team the Lightning might be in 2019-20.

Bumpy start

Chalk it up to a hangover from that jarring sweep at the hands of the Blue Jackets, Brayden Point limping into the early part of the season, or any other number of factors, but it’s clear that something’s been a bit off about the Lightning in 2019-20.

It wouldn’t have been reasonable to expect the Lightning to duplicate 2018-19’s regular-season magic, but it’s still jarring that, as of Dec. 4, Tampa Bay is not in a playoff position.

Now, sure, some of that is misleading. After all, the Lightning have only played in 25 games, the lowest total in the NHL. Still, a 13-9-3 record feels closer to a drizzle than a thunderstorm.

It’s a tad bit unnerving that Tampa Bay’s record is closer to “meh” than dominant when you consider that a decent number of things are going right for the Lightning.

Their power play is still humming along with a robust 29.3 percent success rate, third-best in the NHL. Nikita Kucherov isn’t on another 120-point pace, he’s still a dangerous scorer, and the Lightning are getting strong production from Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman (remarkably, 23 points in as many games), and Brayden Point. Beyond the usual suspects, they’re also seeing an even-more-revitalized-than-expected Kevin Shattenkirk (not far behind Hedman with 20 points in 25 GP), and some nice contributions from rising players like Anthony Cirelli.

The Lightning’s even-strength PDO (1.017) ranks seventh-highest in the NHL, a quick reference that indicates that they aren’t suffering from particularly terrible puck luck.

While their goaltending hasn’t been great (Andrei Vasilevskiy and Curtis McElhinney share matching .908 save percentages), it hasn’t been a full-fledged disaster.

So … it’s fair to wonder if this Lightning team might fall closer to good than great. But, again, this stretch will tell us quite a bit about their ceiling — not everything, but quite a bit.

Another look at this home-heavy stretch

Here’s that span of 12 games, with road contests in italics:

Dec. 5: vs. Minnesota
Dec. 7: vs. San Jose
Dec. 9: vs. Islanders
Dec. 10: at Florida
Dec. 12: vs. Boston
Dec. 14: vs. Washington
Dec. 17: vs. Ottawa
Dec. 19: vs. Dallas
Dec. 21: at Washington
Dec. 23: vs. Florida
Dec. 28: vs. Montreal
Dec. 29: vs. Detroit

While the Senators and Red Wings stand as games the Lightning absolutely should win, and there are matches against teams who have been up and down (Wild, Sharks, Stars), it all looks like a set of challenges as much as this is a golden opportunity.

After all, the Lightning are only 6-4-1 so far at home this season, and that’s with that trip to Sweden mucking things up a bit.

***

It’s hyperbolic to say that this is a do-or-die stretch for the Lightning, but it’s still one of the more significant spans of their season.

Consider it the equivalent to an animal storing fat for in preparation for a difficult winter. From Dec. 31 through Feb. 1, the Lightning face what could be a treacherous run of away games: four in a row to begin 2020, 12 out of 15 games on the road. While that set of opponents is softer (at least on paper), it would likely help if they entered that run on a high note.

Do you think the Lightning can take advantage of December to prove that they’re still truly among the elite, or will they continue to face peaks and valleys?

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.

Thoughts on surging Hurricanes’ OT win vs. Lightning

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Early on in the 2019-20 season, it’s proven difficult to protect leads against the Carolina Hurricanes. Probably because they always have the puck.

Sunday’s eventual 4-3 overtime win against the Tampa Bay Lightning began in a way that feels fitting to a Hurricanes team that’s been haunted by a good news/bad news situation for a while now. The good news is, again, Carolina hogs the biscuit with overflowing greed. The bad news is that their goalies maybe fall asleep a bit as a result. When Sunday’s game was 1-1, the Hurricanes had fired seven shots on goal, while Tyler Johnson beat Petr Mrazek for Tampa Bay’s goal on what was, to that point, the Bolts’ first SOG.

Speaking of shots on goal, the Lightning couldn’t muster a single one during the second period. Overall, Carolina generated 44-13 SOG advantage on Sunday.

Maybe you shouldn’t sit on leads against Carolina?

The difference between the 2018-19 Hurricanes (plus, so far, the 2019-20 version) and the teams that suffered through an interminable playoff drought is that the latest, Rod Brind’Amour-led rendition “finds ways to win games.”

One wouldn’t fault the Hurricanes if they were a little frustrated after the first period of Sunday’s game. Despite generating a 17-11 SOG advantage (and more than doubling Tampa Bay in stats like Corsi For at 35-17) during the first period, the Lightning finished the first 20 minutes with a 3-1 lead.

Carolina kept at it, though, getting a power-play goal in each of the second period (via Erik Haula) and third (Dougie Hamilton) before Jaccob Slavin fired home the overtime game-winner:

The Hurricanes are now 3-0-0 despite falling behind in all of their first three games …

  • Again, Carolina was down 3-1 in the first period, only to roar back against Tampa Bay to win 4-3 in OT on Sunday.
  • The Hurricanes entered the third period of Saturday’s game against the Capitals down 2-0, yet Carolina ended up winning 3-2 in overtime thanks to Jake Gardiner‘s game-winner.
  • During Thursday’s season-opener, Carolina saw a 2-0 lead devolve into a 3-2 deficit against the Habs through the first 40 minutes. A Haula goal sent that contest to overtime, and then Dougie Hamilton potted the shootout-winner.

Much like in that opener, the Hurricanes broke out the “Storm Surge.” At this pace, they might need to pay Justin Williams to be a consultant on celebrations, because they can only lean on the classic cele for so long …

That defense is getting it done

Defensemen have scored the decisive goals in Carolina’s three wins so far: Hamilton for the shootout victory, Gardiner’s sneaky OT goal on Saturday, and Slavin on Sunday night.

That production extends beyond the most clutch moments, too. Hamilton is tied with Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen for the team lead with four points. Slavin has scored two goals so far in this young season, while Hamilton, Gardiner, and Brett Pesce all have one apiece.

Naturally, they’re doing great work in suppressing chances against, as they’ve doubled opponents in the high-danger scoring chances category at even-strength so far at 38-19 (according to Natural Stat Trick).

A great Haula

Gardiner isn’t the only Hurricanes addition who is paying early dividends.

Haula has three goals in as many games, and big ones at that. Ryan Dzingel got his first assist of the season on Sunday. If James Reimer finds his game this season the way Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney did in the nurturing cocoon that is the Hurricanes’ system, then that would make for another shrewd move. Considering how unrelenting Carolina can be at times, would anyone be that surprised if Reimer ends up rejuvenated?

Hogging that puck

Even Jackson Pollock might think that the Hurricanes are heavy on the paint:

via Natural Stat Trick

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 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.

PHT’s 2019-20 Eastern Conference predictions

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season begins with Wednesday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals when the Blues raise their 2019 Stanley Cup banner. Coverage begins at 6:30p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

An historic season ended in a sweep. The Islanders used Barry Trotz’s defensive genius to reach 100 points. Those “Bunch of Jerks” in Carolina became everyone’s darlings. The Maple Leafs once again fell short at the hands of the Bruins. And the Senators, well, in the words of GM Pierre Dorion they were “a team.”

A lot has happened since. Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky went elsewhere in the Eastern Conference. Joel Quenneville is now behind the bench in Florida. Ray Shero and the Devils went all-in to get back into the playoffs, as did their rivals in the Rangers.

The 2019-20 NHL season begins Wednesday night, so let’s take a conference-by-conference look at how we’re feeling about where teams will finish and who will rep the East in the Stanley Cup Final. Playoff teams are outlined in red.

[PHT PREDICTIONS: WESTERN CONFERENCE / STANLEY CUP]

Let us know in the comments how you see both Eastern Conference divisions shaping up.

EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPION

SEAN: The one good thing about being swept in Round 1 last season was the fact that the Lightning got plenty of rest this summer. That extra time of thinking about how it all went so horribly wrong should serve them well in 2019-20. Dominating the regular season as they did, Tampa took their foot off the gas in the second half and lost that edge that cost them dearly against the Columbus Blue Jackets. That won’t happen again.

JAMES: The Lightning had a meltdown last year, sure, but this team has shown an aptitude for deep playoff runs during the Stamkos era, and they’re so loaded that I just can’t pick against them. Do I feel good about it considering how foreboding the Atlantic is? Of course not.

JOEY: Tampa Bay has to get over the hump at some point, right? They were swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season and I think they’ll learn from that experience. Oh, and they still have a dynamic roster. Brayden Point is signed, they made small additions like Pat Maroon, Kevin Shattenkirk and Curtis McElhinney. This is the year.

ADAM: I think the Washington Capitals have another championship run in them. Braden Holtby and Nicklas Backstrom are in contract years and should be on top of their games, the team is still really good around them, and they had a couple extra months off after their 2018 Stanley Cup run.

PHT’S SEASON PREVIEW:
2019-20 NHL Power Rankings
PHT’s 2019-20 season previews
Which 2019 NHL playoff teams are in danger of missing this season?
• NHL Awards, free agent busts, overhyped teams
Breakout players, bold predictions for 2019-20