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The Buzzer: Kotkaniemi’s breakout game, Koskinen’s shutout, Flames’ rally

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Three Stars

1. Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets. Laine entered Thursday’s game against the Florida Panthers with just three goals and five total points in his first 12 games, and had gone five consecutive games without a point. You can now consider that slump over. Laine matched his goal total for the season entering Thursday with a hat trick performance in his home country as the Jets picked up a 4-2 win over the Panthers in Finland. Even with the slow start it was only a matter of time until Laine had a breakout game. He still managed 17 shots on goal in the previous five games and is simply too good and too talented to be held off the scoresheet for that long. Especially when he was still generating shots the way he was. Eventually they were going to start finding the back of the net for him. On Thursday afternoon they started to.

2. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Montreal Canadiens. Kotkaniemi, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 draft, scored his first two NHL goals on Thursday night to help lead the Canadiens to a 6-4 win over the Washington Capitals in a game that also saw his team set an NHL record for fastest two goals by one team. His goals were also big ones for the 2018 rookie class as now all of the top-four picks from this year (Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov, Kotkaniemi, and Brady Tkachuk) have scored at least one goal in the season following their draft year. That is something that has not happened since the 2009-10 season.

3. Mikko Koskinen, Edmonton Oilers. The Edmonton Oilers won for the fourth time in their past five games by shutting out the Chicago Blackhawks, 4-0. Drake Caggiula scored twice in the win, but backup goalie Mikko Koskinen played the best game of his brief career by stopping all 40 shots he faced. Koskinen’s addition to the Oilers roster was a bizarre one over the summer given how much they paid him, the fact they guaranteed him a roster spot, and the fact he had not played a game in the NHL since 2010-11 … and even then he only played four games. He came through in a big way on Thursday night. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, extended their current losing streak to four games.

Other notable performances from a busy night

• The Calgary Flames trailed the Colorado Avalanche by three goals entering the third period before erupting for five consecutive goals to take a 6-5 win. Among those scoring in the comeback: Elias Lindholm who has already scored nine goals for the Flames after coming over in the Dougie Hamilton trade over the summer. Free agent acquisition James Neal also scored a big goal, tying the game as part of a four-minute stretch where the Flames would score three goals.

Sergei Bobrovsky has not looked like himself yet this season but finally did on Thursday night, stopping 44 of the 45 shots he faced in a 4-1 win over the San Jose Sharks, whose six-game point streak came to an end. Before Thursday’s game the Sharks had recorded at least a point in eight of their previous nine games.

• It was another rough night for the Southern California teams as the Anaheim Ducks dropped a 3-2 shootout decision to the New York Rangers, losing for the seventh time in a row. The Kings, meanwhile, dropped a 5-2 decision to the Philadelphia Flyers and have now lost seven of their past eight games. They have scored two goals or fewer in all of the losses during that stretch.

• The Ottawa Senators snapped a four-game losing streak with a win over the Buffalo Sabres, and it was Craig Anderson playing a starring role as he stopped 46 out of 48 shots.

• Break up the … Detroit Red Wings? After going the first 10 games of the season without registering a regulation win (and only one shootout win total) the Red Wings have now three games in a row thanks to their 4-3 win over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday. All three of those wins have come in regulation.

Anton Khudobin stopped 31 shots as the Dallas Stars shut down the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs are now 2-4-0 in their past six games.

• The St. Louis Blues got a much-needed win with a 5-3 performance over the Vegas Golden Knights. The difference in the game was Oskar Sundqvist, who scored a pair of goals. That matched his career goal total entering the night (two goals in 72 career games).

Highlights of the Night

In what might have been a Stanley Cup Final preview the Nashville Predators continued to roll on Thursday night with a 4-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The play of the night was this Ryan Johansen pass to set up Roman Josi for the eventual game-winning goal.

Factoids

It was a big night for personal milestones around the NHL as Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Ron Hainsey and Buffalo Sabres forward Jason Pominville both played in their 1,000th career games on Thursday night. Both teams were on the losing end of their games, but Pominville did score a goal on his special night.

• Big win for the New York Islanders on Thursday night over the Pittsburgh Penguins, thanks in part to a tremendous showing from goalie Thomas Greiss.

• Also worth pointing out one more time: The Montreal Canadiens set an NHL record tonight for the fastest two goals scored by one team. Two seconds apart.

Scores
Winnipeg Jets 4, Florida Panthers 2
Dallas Stars 2, Toronto Maple Leafs 1
New York Islanders 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 2 (SO)
Montreal Canadiens 6, Washington Capitals 4
Ottawa Senators 4, Buffalo Sabres 2
Nashville Predators 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 1
Detroit Red Wings 4, New Jersey Devils 3
St. Louis Blues 5, Vegas Golden Knights 3
Calgary Flames 6, Colorado Avalanche 5
Edmonton Oilers 4, Chicago Blackhawks 0
New York Rangers 3, Anaheim Ducks 2 (SO)
Columbus Blue Jackets 4, San Jose Sharks 1
Philadelphia Flyers 5, Los Angeles Kings 2

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.

This looks like the season Sebastian Aho becomes a household name

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With a middling 5-3-1 record so far this season, the Carolina Hurricanes haven’t stormed out of the gate yet in 2018-19. Despite some big roster changes and a dramatically different front office, they feel like the same team: promising, puck-hogging, yet at times snake-bitten.

(The goalies? They remain a question mark, yet have been good enough so far.)

For some time, these critical darlings have felt like a herd of solid players. Jordan Staal – a very, very impressive defensive forward with a certain ceiling on offense – felt like a microcosm of the Hurricanes. They lacked that game-breaking star.

It’s dangerously early, but so far, Sebastian Aho looks like he’s going from “the closest thing the Hurricanes have to a star” to … simply, a star.

Through nine games, the 21-year-old center has four goals and 10 assists for 14 points. Two of his goals have been game-winners, including an overtime-clincher.

Aho was incredible in that game, scoring two goals and two assists. His 14 points put him in a tie for seventh place in scoring with the likes of Connor McDavid and Patrick Kane. Yeah.

Now, sure there’s been a bit of puck luck involved. Aho scored his four goals on 24 shots on net, making for a 16.7 shooting percentage that’s likely to fall at least a bit (his career average points to some shooting skill, though, at 13-percent).

That’s not a everyone-doubting-William-Karlsson-type shooting percentage, though. There should be some drop-off, yet Aho’s unlikely to be fool’s gold.

As much as the flashier numbers bring Aho much-deserved attention (three multi-point games already this season), his consistency is as exciting as anything else. The Hurricanes star hasn’t failed to score in a game yet in 2018-19, and he aims to extend his season-opening point streak to 10 games on Friday as the Hurricanes take on their puck-hogging twins, the San Jose Sharks.

It hasn’t taken long for Dougie Hamilton to note that Aho boasts the sort of skill set that really fits with the way the game is played these days.

“He can get going really fast and still make plays while picking up speed,” Hamilton said, via the Athletic’s Craig Custance (sub required). “That’s the dynamic part of his game. It’s pretty impressive to watch.”

Aho’s also getting the green light from new Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour.

The Finnish forward has been on a steady incline during his short time in the NHL, scoring 24 goals and 49 points in his rookie season (16:47 TOI in 2016-17), while taking another step forward with 29 goals and 65 points as a sophomore (17:55 TOI in 2017-18). Another promising sign for Aho’s climb up the ranks of the elite is that he’s carrying a clearer first-line workload so far in 2018-19, averaging an impressive 19:10 TOI.

Here’s hoping nothing gets in that way, then.

Aho’s possession stats are generally strong, with them only looking iffy relative to his puck-magnet teammates. There’s mild concern over some turbulence regarding his work at center, if he hits a cold streak. As recently as late September, there were rumblings about Aho struggling at center, and maybe face-off wizard Rod Brind’Amour will chafe at the Finn’s hit-or-miss work at draws (46.9-percent winning percentage this season, 46.3 for his career).

Ideally, Brind’Amour would see that the good massively outweighs the bad for Aho, and it’s plausible that the young forward will improve his all-around game with experience. There’s still plenty of time for improvement at 21.

That’s a scary thing for opponents, especially since Aho’s found such early chemistry with Teuvo Teravainen and Micheal Ferland.

One wouldn’t expect Aho to maintain his current 127.5-point pace, yet it’s also more than fair to expect a healthy jump from last season’s 65 points. That leap might just be enough to end Carolina’s nine-year playoff drought.

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.

Musing about Hamilton’s slow start with Hurricanes

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When the Carolina Hurricanes traded for Dougie Hamilton, it felt like a near-perfect match. The Hurricanes needed (and maybe still need) finishers to round out a puck-dominant offense; Hamilton’s career has been frustrating in that it feels like he hasn’t always reached his potential.

That frustration is continuing very early on during Hamilton’s first few games with the Hurricanes.

With 39 shots on goal over nine games, Hamilton’s fired the fifth-most pucks on net so far in 2018-19. Hamilton’s generated more SOG than volume-shooters Jack Eichel, David Pastrnak, and Patrik Laine so far this season – not to mention leading all NHL defensemen – and yet he doesn’t have a single goal to show for it.

For a prolific defenseman like Hamilton, his overall stats are frustrating: zero goals and three assists through nine games.

The good news is that the Hurricanes are off to a strong start overall, as they lead the up-and-down Metropolitan Division with 11 points in nine games (5-3-1). While that edge is a little misleading – again, it’s early, and there’s a disparity between games played – it’s a positive sign that Carolina’s been able to shake off frustrations that can come with generating a barrage of chances without finishing many of them. They’re buoyed, for instance, by the continued rise of budding star Sebastian Aho, Forward Version.

Still, Rod Brind’Amour will ultimately be judged by getting the most out of this Hurricanes talent, and optimizing Hamilton stands as one of the greatest opportunities.

So far, irritations from other stops have carried over.

You could argue that Hamilton’s simply the odd-man out. Carolina is brimming with other quality choices as far as right-handed defensemen go, as Hamilton must tussle with Justin Faulk, Brett Pesce, and Trevor van Riemsdyk for different opportunities.

Perhaps that explains why, after averaging a career-high 21:32 TOI last season with Calgary, Hamilton’s down to 19:41 per night with the Hurricanes. (That average oddly matches his mark from 2016-17, and is very close to his 19:46 average from 2015-16.)

Again, the Hurricanes are loaded with defensive talent, so Brind’Amour can pick and choose who he wants to roll out in which situations. Pesce, for instance, would likely be the best guy for tougher defensive assignments.

The point of debate comes on the power play, as would-be perfect minutes are being eaten up by Faulk, a right-handed defenseman many expected to see traded to break up this logjam in Carolina.

Through nine games in 2018-19, Faulk is easily the power-play minutes leader, quarterbacking the top unit while averaging 3:37 PP TOI per game. Hamilton isn’t even the Hurricanes’ second-ranked defenseman, as his 2:18 comes up a bit short compared to Jaccob Slavin‘s 2:26 per contest. Hamilton’s down from his power-play average from 2017-18 with Calgary, and that’s with a Norris-level defenseman in Mark Giordano leading the way.

Brind’Amour and his staff should be asking this question: “Are we leaving goals off the table by putting Faulk on the top unit instead of Hamilton?”

With a 12.1-percent success rate, the Hurricanes currently own the fourth-least efficient power play in the NHL. They were the 10th-worst group last season. That’s not all on Faulk, yet the American-born defenseman also topped all Hurricanes in power-play ice time last season. His modest recent totals (Faulk took until Carolina’s last game to find the net, and only generated 31 points last season) make you wonder if he’s better suited for the secondary unit.

Now, sure, keeping Faulk as the power play QB gives Carolina the opportunity to try to pump up his trade value, if that’s the wider aim. And it’s not like Faulk is terrible he ranked sixth among defensemenin such a role; with 48 goals from 2014-15 through 2016-17.

When you look at per-minute stats from sites like Corsica Hockey, it’s enticing to ponder what Hamilton might be able to accomplish if a team truly unleashes his potential over great opportunities.

Maybe Brind’Amour will look at zero goals and three assists over nine games and believe that Hamilton isn’t delivering. And it’s fair to call this disappointing, particularly if you drafted Dougie high in your fantasy leagues.

The Hurricanes owe it to themselves to give Hamilton more of a chance, especially on the man advantage. The pay-off could be significant: combining this team’s stout even-strength work with, ideally, a power play that isn’t in the bottom-third of the league.

That’s even scarier than dealing with Hamilton’s one-timers.

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.

Hurricanes are young, fun, worth watching

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Every year we go through the same cycle with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Throughout the summer, in to training camp, and right up to the start of the regular season they are a hot analytically-driven pick to be the surprise team in the league.

Look at the possession numbers, we say. Look at how good the defense is, we scream. If only they could find a goalie, we plead. Then once the season actually begins they typically stumble out of the gate and put themselves in a deep hole, never recover from it because the goaltending never works out and they never have enough pure finishers to take advantage of the possession numbers, and then process repeats itself over the following summer.

It was the same story this summer, especially after the addition of Dougie Hamilton from the Calgary Flames to further bolster their defense, the drafting of Andrei Svechnikov with the No. 2 overall pick, and some of the other promising young forwards that are starting to hit the NHL.

But now that the games have started and the season is underway, things are for once looking a little different on the ice.

Is this the year things finally change? Maybe!

Thanks to Tuesday’s 5-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks, the Hurricanes are off to a 3-0-1 start, which is their best start to a season in years. Over the past six or seven years it’s typically taken them anywhere from ten to 12 games to record seven points in the standings. They have done it this year in four. Even more important than the early wins, is the way they are playing and the way the roster is constructed.

Bottom line: This team looks fun, and there are a lot of reasons for you to pay attention to them.

At the start of the season they are the fourth-youngest team in the NHL, and they finally seem to be working in the type of players up front that they had been lacking in recent years. Specifically, potential impact players.

They have one of the league’s most anticipated rookies in Svechnikov, who has already made a massive impact in what has been a very limited role. Through four games he has averaged less than 12 minutes of ice-time per game and has already averaged a point per game. His potential is massive and if he reaches it could be the franchise-changing player they have been lacking up front.

The rookie that is probably making the most surprising impact has been 22-year-old Warren Foegele, who has already scored three goals this season and , and we haven’t really seen anything from Martin Necas, the team’s 2017 first-round pick, quite yet.

Along with the core of young talent, there just seems to be a different energy around this team. The way they play, and the fact they are trying to just make things … fun.

Stuff like that won’t make a difference in the standings, but it can help build excitement. It can help get eye balls on the team. It can maybe help get more people in the building and give people a reason to take notice of them. And that, too, is important.

If you take advantage of those extra eyes and that extra attention by winning, it’s even bigger.

[Related: Hurricanes’ new victory celebration is pretty awesome]

I argued last season that even after years of preseason anticipation that never manifested itself in victories that this could still be a team on the verge of a Winnipeg Jets-like breakthrough. For years the Jets were another team that had strong talent on paper, would at times be a strong team analytically, but would always fall short because they lacked a couple of key ingredients, whether it be finishers up front or quality goaltending.

The drafting of Patrik Laine at No. 2 helped change that. The development of Mark Scheifele helped changed that. The emergence of players like Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor also helped change that.

While the Hurricanes do not have quite the level of talent that the Jets did up front (to be fair, who does?), the Hurricanes are further ahead of where the Jets were at the start of last season on the blue line.

They may not have quite the offensive depth up front, but they do have talent. Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen are legitimate top-six forwards, Jordan Staal and Justin Williams are solid veteran two-way presences, and we already talked about the rookies.  They still need some things to go right. They need Svechnikov to become their version of Laine. They need Necas and Foegele to work out, and they need somebody to emerge as a reliable starter in goal (though, to be fair, it would be nearly impossible for Scott Darling and Petr Mrazek to play worse than they did a year ago for their respective teams).

I don’t know if the Hurricanes are going to keep winning this year, and I don’t know if they are a playoff team just quite yet. But I do know based on what we have seen so far they are definitely a team worth paying attention and might be able to bring a level of excitement and intrigue that few others can. They also might be able to finally become the team we have been waiting for them to become for years.

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: Sharks spoil Kovalchuk’s NHL return; Brind’Amour gets first win

Three Stars

1. Micheal Ferland, Carolina Hurricanes. I’ve made this point several times since the trade and am going to continuing making it until he gives me a reason not to, but Micheal Ferland was an outstanding addition to the Dougie Hamilton trade for the Hurricanes. He is an underrated offensive player, plays on a fairly cheap, bargain contract, and can play up and down the lineup without being totally out of place in any role. He made a big impact for the Hurricanes on Friday night in their 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets by setting up Sebastian Aho‘s game-winning goal on a slick pass to thread the needle between the defense, and then adding the insurance-marker early in the third period. Aho also had two points on the net, assisting on Ferland’s third period goal.

2. Kevin Labanc, San Jose Sharks. After dropping their season opener against the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday night, the Sharks were able to get their first win in the Erik Karlsson era on Friday night with a 3-2 overtime win over the Los Angeles Kings. Overall it was a pretty strong performance that saw the Sharks limit a relatively punch-less Kings offense to just 21 shots on goal. Kevin LaBanc was the hero of the night for the Sharks as he scored the game-winner in overtime, taking advantage of a tired trio of Kings that were stuck on the ice during an extended shift in the 3-on-3 period of bonus hockey.

3. Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks. Not only did he pick up his first point as a member of the Sharks by setting up LeBanc’s overtime winner, but he played a pretty dominant all-around game on Friday night. He played more 5-on-5 minutes than any other player on the team (20-plus minutes), while the Sharks attempted nearly 70 percent of the total shot attempts and badly outchanced the Kings (all numbers via Natural Stat Trick) when he was on the ice. He also attempted a game-high eight shots, including four on goal. This is what the Sharks were expecting to get when they traded for him and if he keeps playing like that this defense is going to be a force for every team in the NHL to deal with.

Kovalchuk makes his NHL Return

The Kings were desperate for offense this summer and tried to make a big splash by bringing Ilya Kovalchuk back to the NHL after a five-year absence.

They wasted no time getting getting him involved, giving him more than 20 minutes of ice time in his debut with the team. He finished with six total shot attempts, including two on goal, and was a plus-one.

It still seems that his role is a bit of a work in progress in some areas, particularly on the power play where he seemed to spend some time parked in front of the net. Not exactly the place where you expect to see a player with a shot like Kovalchuk’s.

Overall it was a pretty dismal showing by Kings’ offense as they were limited to just 21 shots on goal in 63 minutes of hockey, while their second goal (scored by Tyler Toffolli) was simply a bad goal by Sharks goalie Martin Jones to give up. Given how bad their offense was the last time we saw them on the ice (a four-game playoff series where they scored only three goals) this was not an encouraging start to the year.

Highlights of the Night

The Hurricanes’ win in Columbus was a special one for head coach Rod Brind’Amour because it was his first win as an NHL head coach. He was presented with the game puck in the locker room after the game by Jordan Staal.

San Jose’s Evander Kane scored his second goal in as many games for the Sharks in their win on Friday night, and this shot was an absolute rocket right underneath the crossbar to beat Kings goalie Jonathan Quick.

Factoids

Curtis McElhinney had a great debut for the Carolina Hurricanes, stopping 31 of the 32 shots he faced to help backstop the team to its first win of the season. For McElhinney this gives him a win as a member of seven different NHL teams, something that only a small handful of other goalies in league history can claim.

Wins for seven different teams! He is the modern-day, goalie version of Mike Sillinger.

San Jose Sharks forward Joe Thornton has been around for a long time and is climbing up the NHL’s all-time games played leaderboard. He tied Phil Housley on Friday night and will move ahead of Mike Modano later this month.

Scores

Hurricanes 3, Blue Jackets 1

San Jose Sharks 3, Los Angeles Kings 2 (OT)

 

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.