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Fight proves costly for Flames’ Travis Hamonic

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Dillon Dube didn’t see Erik Gudbranson coming, which resulted in the Calgary Flames rookie getting drilled by the Vancouver Canucks defenseman during Wednesday night’s opener. That led to a scrum, which later led to Travis Hamonic sticking up for his teammate later in the game.

The kid was certainly appreciative of Hamonic.

“It shows how big of a leader (Hamonic) is,” Dube said afterward. “I can’t thank him enough for what he did. When you do that for a teammate, it means a lot. That’s the presence he has. I was even nervous to go talk to him, because I didn’t know if he’d be mad at me for having to go fight. He was really happy about it. He was proud. I can’t say enough about that leadership.

“That really makes me feel welcome in the room when somebody will go and do that for me.”

The good news is that Dube was fine. Now the bad news.

As you see, Hamonic took an upper-cut that ended the fight. He would go get checked out and return to play the remainder of the game sporting protection around his mouth. The defenseman didn’t participate in Thursday’s practice and the Flames announced that he suffered a facial fracture and is considered “week-to-week.”

Rasmus Andersson has been recalled from AHL Stockton.

This will put a hold on the developing chemistry between Hamonic and Noah Hanifin and impact the team’s No. 1 penalty kill unit. It almost might reignite — in some corners — the fighting debate, and in an instance like this, with a clean, hard hit, was Hamonic’s defense of the rookie a smart move now considering the injury?

The decision certainly had an impact inside the Flames’ locker room given the comments of Dube and others. That culture still exists in hockey, and while fighting overall may be exiting the game slowly, instances like this won’t go away anytime soon.

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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.

The Buzzer: Capitals keep party going, Matthews starts strong

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Three Stars

1. Auston MatthewsWith a booming shot to tie the game up 1-1, Matthews made a compelling argument that he probably deserved more reps on the Maple Leafs’ power play unit all along. In overtime, Matthews took a great feed from Patrick Marleau and scored the overtime game-winner.

Matthews certainly wants to be more than this, but if an Austin Powers nickname doesn’t work (Ron Howard: “It doesn’t), then “Mr. Opening Night” could at least be a good placeholder for the American forward.

With a contract year providing that extra bit of human nature motivation, and hopefully a clean bill of health this season, Matthews could put together a truly massive 2018-19 season.

He’s already shown that he has a knack for making great first impression, as tonight’s two-goal performance inspires inevitable comparison to Matthews making NHL history with four goals in his first game. Sure, he scored half as many goals, yet the Maple Leafs won this time around.

Also, if you’re into this sort of thing: Matthews: 2, John Tavares: 1.

2. John GibsonOpening night featured quite a few similar performances for goalies. You could make a legitimate argument for any one of Frederik Andersen and Jacob Markstrom enjoyed very similar nights, propping up their teams during moments of duress.

Gibson justified his status as something of a critical darling with a night like this, largely stealing this game against a loaded Sharks team. He stopped 31 out of 33 shots, and both of San Jose’s goals were brilliant. It seemed like they needed to be.

Via Natural Stat Trick, the Sharks generated a 14-2 advantage in “high-danger” chances, but it didn’t matter. Gibson was that good.

3. Evgeny KuznetsovMuch like with Gibson (and Matthews), you could quibble with Kuznetsov’s placement in the top three tonight. After all, many players generated two points, and some hit three (including Rickard Rakell, Kuznetsov’s teammate Nicklas Backstrom, and Jakob Silfverberg).

Kuznetsov didn’t just stand out for scoring two goals (including a 2-0 tally that really started to dig the hole for Boston). The Russian center was a consistent nuisance for the Bruins, nearly netting a hat trick while firing five shots on goal.

As much as people wonder about Washington’s chances to repeat, consider that Kuznetsov generated 83 points last season, and might just be able to do that, well, back-to-back.

Highlight of the Night: Goodness gracious, Tomas Hertl scored a ridiculous shorthanded goal for the San Jose Sharks. It wasn’t enough to earn the Sharks a win or even a “charity point,” but it dropped jaws all the same.

Rough stuff

Along with Brad Marchand bloodying Lars Eller (way more on that here), Erik Gudbranson really got the best of Travis Hamonic to add injury to the insults of a tough night for Calgary.

Factoids

If Auston Matthews is “Mr. Opening Night,” then Martin Jones is … well, not. Or at least Jones isn’t “Mr. Opening Minutes.”

It seems like the Canucks might be the Auston Matthews of NHL teams … at least when it comes to opening night. Elias Pettersson made quite the rookie first impression in his own right, collecting a goal and an assist.

Chin up, Bruins fans; at least it’s been a long time since Boston’s endured such a rough opening night of NHL action.

Tonight’s scores

Maple Leafs 3, Canadiens 2 (OT)
Capitals 7, Bruins 0
Canucks 5, Flames 2
Ducks 5, Sharks 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.

Hockey teams fearing ‘Fortnite’ is pretty adorable

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If you want to be bummed out, if not lose hope for humanity, just scroll through the news of the day. Unfortunately, the odds are high that you’ll feel worse than when you started.

It’s in these trying times that we can soothe our souls with the sheer, lovable goofiness that is the latest talk about how teams fear the impact of the wildly popular video game “Fortnite” on prospects.

To review, TSN’s Rick Westhead made some waves with this tweet regarding OHL prospects, something we should all really take a step back and just enjoy:

Oh, hockey people. Your understanding of that outside world/museums cannot ever be understated.

It must be said that this is far from the first time that “Fortnite” has been tarred. In case you missed it, Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek discussed during an episode of the “31 Thoughts” Podcast that an unnamed “first-round pick” from a prominent NHL team whose career may never take thanks to an addiction to the battle royale game.

It’s all … funny, honestly.

Granted, there is the concern that a player with high-level hands will develop a dreaded case of “Nintendo Thumb.”

Scary stuff, gang.

Now, yes, it’s true that the American Psychiatric Association is taking a look at gaming disorder as a legitimate concern, but this all smells of us oldies not quite understanding what those young’uns are into these days. One could picture scouts being terrified over a young prospect needing to “collect them all” to the detriment of on-ice development back in 1992:

Erik Gudbranson really gets at the heart of the matter: a lot of us don’t get “Fortnite” because we’re old, and we might as well get used to being passed by thanks to the next thing those whippersnappers end up becoming obsessed with.

“To be honest with you, these kids are too good at this game,” Gudbranson said recently, via TSN’s Mark Masters. “I go on there, I get roasted, and you just get sick of it.”

(True. Few things sting as deeply as getting schooled by a teenager, especially when that was Auston Matthews or Mitch Marner.)

The fear of the polygonal unknown is honestly kind of charming, although it shines a light on how out-of-touch people can be when they’re deep in their hockey bubbles.

Maybe hockey teams do need to keep an eye on a player if such activities become an extreme outlier, but overall this feels like the hockey equivalent of being afraid to televise Elvis swiveling his hips. This is a far cry from rumbling about “Dry Islands,” after all. Such concerns would be easier to respect if scouts also worried about players spending too much time on golf courses, or other things they’re actually familiar with.

It must be surreal for Westhead, in particular, to discuss the perils of “Fortnite.” After all, Westhead tends to report on concussions, i.e. issues that actually do make a major impact on the lives and careers of hockey players.

A player indulging in too much Playstation should be filed under good problems to have, particularly when you consider the other ways one can spend their time. When you think of some of the extremely ugly scandals that surface in sports, “Fortnite phobia” borders on charming.

Instead of worrying about “Fortnite,” we should instead just enjoy the barbs.

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.

It’s Vancouver Canucks day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vancouver Canucks.

2017-18
31-40-11, 73 pts. (7th in the Pacific Division, 14th in the Western Conference)
Missed playoffs

IN
Antoine Roussel
Jay Beagle
Tim Schaller

OUT
Henrik Sedin
Daniel Sedin
Jayson Megna
Michael Chaput
Nic Dowd
Jussi Jokinen

RE-SIGNED
Sven Baertschi
Markus Granlund
Jake Virtanen
Derrick Pouliot
Darren Archibald

– – –

The Vancouver Canucks weren’t expected to move the needle much last season and they obliged many preseason predictions that had them finishing in the basement of the league.

Trying to turn around this ship with the additions of Thomas Vanek, Michael Del Zotto and Sam Gagner weren’t exactly the earth-shattering moves needed. Sure, the Canucks were a busy bunch last summer as they tried the fix-on-the-fly strategy, but that’s almost always a futile task.

The 2018-19 Canucks were a team that couldn’t score (26th fewest). They gave up too many goals (sixth most). Their team save percentage was among the worst in the league (.902, 26th) and neither goalie outworked the other to be called a bona fide No. 1.

[Under Pressure: Benning | Breakthrough: Boeser | 3 Questions]

These are the days of an NHL rebuild and a team waiting for promising young talent to emerge and take over.

Perhaps, then, it was as good a time as any for the Sedin twins to retire. Daniel and Henrik called it a career after 17 years of heroics in Vancouver. Even in their elder years as NHL players, the Sedins were still responsible for a good chunk of Vancouver’s offense, which is a hole that someone is going to have to fill.

The bad news is that likely won’t happen this season. It’s quite likely the Canucks wallow at the bottom of the tank for another year.

The good news is that among the rubble of the rebuild is several signs of life.

Brock Boeser may have given Mathew Barzal a run for the Calder if not for an apparent scary back injury that forced him to miss the final 20 games of the season. His 29 goals led all rookies until Kyle Connor of the Winnipeg Jets pipped him for the title late in the year. He finished with 55 points in 62 games and 23 power-play points, which was second among rookies and helped the Canucks to a top-10 showing with the man-advantage.

Bo Horvat‘s season was also derailed by injury. A fractured foot forced him to miss over six weeks from early December to late January. How’d Vancouver fare without him in the lineup? They were 4-12-2.

Horvat still managed 22 goals, a career-high. He likely would have set a new mark in points, too, if not for those 18 missed games. He finished with 44 points and appears to be coming into his own as a top-line NHL center.

The Canucks went out and added once again this offseason.

It’s highly unlikely that Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle or Tim Schaller are going to be world-beaters, but that’s not what they’re being tasked with.

Their purpose is to help the Canucks’ young core along and provide Vancouver with the ability to develop some of those prospects in the minors instead of slotting them into the Show earlier than they need to be. Continued development is key, and there are several models the Canucks can look to around the league to help them resist those temptations.

A quick note on team defense: It certainly needs to improve, but it should be noted that a healthy Chris Tanev and Erik Gudbranson should go a long way to helping that. The duo missed a combined 70 games last season.

Prospect Pool

Elias Pettersson, C/RW, 19, Vaxjo (SHL) – 2017 first-round pick

One prospect that likely won’t need much seasoning in the minors is Pettersson. He’s already played among men in the Swedish Elite League, where he dominated as an 18-year-old, scoring 24 goals and 56 points in 44 games.

That kind of production helped his team to a league championship, the honor of being named the top forward in the SHL, its MVP, it’s top point-producer, it’s playoffs MVP and it’s rookie of the year. Those are just some of his accolades from last year, too. He also won a silver medal at the world juniors and followed that up with gold hardware at the world championships.

Did we mention he’s Swedish? Vancouver loves their Swedes.

Quinton Hughes, D, 18, University of Michigan (NCAA) – 2018 first-round pick

Hughes had a solid freshman season with the Wolverines with 29 points in 37 games, garnering him a spot on the NCAA (B1G) All-Rookie Team. He captured bronze at the world juniors and the world championships with Team USA, contributing five assists across 17 combined games in both tournaments.

He was also the best player at this summer’s world junior showcase.

“He’s going to be that type of player that young kids try to emulate — that they want to be, that they strive to be — but it’s going to be very difficult to duplicate what he does,” said Hughes’ U-18 coach John Wroblewski. “With this guy, he’s another generational-type talent, and he’ll be an influence on defensemen for years to come. I truly believe that.”

Thatcher Demko, G, 22, Utica (AHL) – 2014 second-round pick

We’ve highlighted one forward, one defenseman and now one goalie that could change the landscape for the better in Vancouver.

Demko is Vancouver’s future in goal, and he was solid with Utica last season in the American Hockey League with a .922 save percentage and 25 wins in 46 games played. For his efforts, he was named an AHL All-Star and got his first NHL start and subsequently his first NHL win on the last day of March.

Demko is likely to see more time this season in Vancouver, but there needs to be a fine balance of not letting him sit when he could be hogging the crease in the AHL. The Canucks aren’t shooting for the playoffs, so keeping him where he will play the most seems like the best option until the Canucks are willing to give him plenty of action as their backup.


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

Ryan Johansen receives game misconduct for spearing Canucks’ Gudbranson (video)

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Ryan Johansen, what were you thinking?

The Predators forward let his emotions get the better of him during Friday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks. With Vancouver leading 2-1 midway through the third period, Johansen decided to spear Canucks blue liner Erik Gudbranson.

Take a look for yourself:

Johansen received a five-minute major and a game misconduct as a result of the play.

As you might remember, Johansen openly complained about Ducks forward Ryan Kesler spearing him after Game 2 of last spring’s Western Conference Final.

“He just blows my mind, I don’t know what’s going through his head out there,” Johansen said of Kesler at the time, per Sportsnet. “His family and friends watching him play, I don’t know how you cheer for a guy like that.

“It just doesn’t make sense how he plays the game. I’m just trying to go out there and play hockey, and it sucks when you have to pull a stick out of your groin after every shift.”

Oh, how the tables have turned.

By the way, Daniel Sedin scored on the ensuing power play, but Nashville still managed to win the game, 4-3, in overtime.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.