Gabriel Landeskog

Blues Avalanche preview Grubauer
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NHL on NBCSN: Can Grubauer, Avalanche get on track vs. Blues?

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

About a month ago, a Blues – Avalanche game would present a battle for Central Division supremacy. As we’ve learned all too often in the turbulent NHL, a lot can change — fast.

The Blues took care of their end — and then some. While their eight-game winning streak ended on New Year’s Eve, they’re running away with the top spot in the Central and West. Their most relevant battles might instead be for the Presidents’ Trophy, and they’re rightfully perched among the league’s best during their impressive defense of that first-ever Stanley Cup championship.

Meanwhile, cracks are forming for the Avalanche.

Colorado on the edge of a crisis?

Despite injuries to Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar, and Gabriel Landeskog, the Avalanche found ways to keep winning.

Lately, that train came to a screeching halt, even with such key players returning to action. The Avs ended 2019 with a thud, falling 7-4 to the Jets to slip to 1-4-1 over their last six games.

You can almost feel the Avs’ confidence fading.

“It feels like it’s hard to win right now,” Rantanen said following that loss to the Jets, via the Denver Post’s Mike Chambers. “We play good periods at times, but then we shoot ourselves in the leg. I think it’s in our minds. When it’s a tie game, or we’re up one or down one, we get scared that (a collapse) is going to happen again.”

That doesn’t sound like a resilient team. Really, a team that was snatching victory from defeat is now experiencing the opposite.

“We’re finding different ways to lose every night lately, and it’s frustrating,” Erik Johnson said, also via Chambers.

Goalie battle brewing?

Looking at win-loss records alone, you’d assume Philipp Grubauer has mainly been struggling recently. After all, he’s only managed a single victory since Dec. 4.

The larger truth might just be that the Avs aren’t propping Grubauer up the same way.

The deeper you drill into Grubauer’s stats, the clearer it is that he’s been just OK all season. Grubauer actually managed a better save percentage during his one-win December (.910) as he did in a 3-4-0 November (.903).

Overall, Grubauer sports a mediocre 10-9-3 record, and a middling-but-not-catastrophic .911 save percentage.

In a more anxious hockey market, you’d probably hear all about how a goalie battle should be brewing. Maybe that hypothetical nervous group of fans would have a point, too.

Pavel Francouz stepped in when Grubauer was hurt, and now it’s fair to wonder who will start each night.

Even after a tough loss to the Wild on Dec. 27, Francouz’s numbers sparkle. The 29-year-old is 11-3-1 with a splendid .927 save percentage. That tough night against Minnesota ended a four-game winning streak, and Francouz also saw the end of an impressive eight-game point streak (7-0-1).

Avalanche count on history repeating with Grubauer?

Looking at Francouz’s numbers, it’s fair to wonder why he received such scant opportunities during his career. The undrafted goalie managed strong (if not brilliant) numbers basically everywhere he went. One could validly argue that the Avs should let him run with these chances.

On the other hand, what if Grubauer repeats the narrative from last season.

Consider that Grubauer was putrid before the All-Star break last season (.891 save percentage over 21 games), only to catch on fire afterward (.948 in 16 games), closing it off with a strong playoff run.

It’s easy to see why the Avalanche weigh that experience — and, frankly, their larger financial commitment to Grubauer — more than Francouz’s superior recent play.

That said, it’s absolutely a situation to watch, and one the Avs can’t afford to ignore. The Blues won’t be shy about testing Colorado’s goalies, either.

John Forslund and Brian Boucher will call the action from Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.

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: Another 2-goal game for Bergeron; Perron keeps Blues rolling

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Three Stars

1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins. There is no stopping Bergeron right now. He scored two more goals for the Bruins in their 3-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night, giving him three consecutive two goal games. He also has nine goals in his past nine games. With 17 goals in 30 games, he is having one of the best goal-scoring seasons of his already incredible career. He is the just the fifth different Bruins player to ever score multiple goals in at least three consecutive games, and the first to do it since Cam Neely during the 1988-89 season.

2. Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers. With two goals and an assist in a 6-4 win, Zibanejad continued his outstanding season for the Rangers. He is averaging more than a point-per-game and has once again been one of the bright spots for the Rangers. His first goal came on an absolutely ridiculous no-look, behind-the-back pass from Chris Kreider that you can see in the highlights down below. The Rangers still have their flaws and do not always win pretty, but with Artemi Panarin (who also recorded three points on Friday night) they have some serious impact talent than can keep them in games and give them a chance on most nights.

3. David Perron, St. Louis Blues. With Vladimir Tarasenko sidelined the Blues needed some other forwards to help step up and provide the offense. Perron has been one of those players. He scored another overtime goal on Friday (already his fourth this season) to help lift the Blues to a 4-3 win against the Winnipeg Jets and extend their current winning streak to seven games. Perron has 24 points in his past 22 games.

Other notable performances from Friday

  • William Nylander and John Tavares both had three points for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they extended their winning streak to six games. The only bad news in the game was Ilya Mikheyev leaving the game with a serious cut to his wrist. Read about that here.
  • Robin Lehner made 38 saves against his former team to lead the Chicago Blackhawks to a 5-2 win over the New York Islanders.
  • Tristan Jarry picked up another win for the Pittsburgh Penguins and their depth scoring had a huge night in a 5-2 win over the Nashville Predators.
  • The Minnesota Wild rallied past the Colorado Avalanche in the third period. Read more about their win and their recent hot streak here.
  • Andrew Mangiapane scored 11 seconds into the game and finished with three points as the Calgary Flames won the first Battle of Alberta for this season, 5-1, over the Edmonton Oilers.
  • The Anaheim Ducks scored three goals in 97 seconds then held on to beat the Vegas Golden Knights by a 4-3 margin.
  • The Los Angeles Kings overcame a 2-0 third period deficit to beat the San Jose Sharks, 3-2, in overtime. Martin Frk scored his first two goals of the season to tie the game, setting the stage for Jeff Carter to win it in overtime.

Highlights of the Night

Check out this behind-the-back pass by Kreider to set up Zibanejad for the Rangers’ first goal of the night.

This pass from Richard Panik to set up Carl Hagelin is an absolute beauty. The Capitals were 2-1 winners in overtime thanks to a T.J. Oshie game-winning goal.

It came in a losing effort for the Avalanche, but Gabriel Landeskog scored a beauty of a goal against the Wild.

Blooper of the Night

Damon Severson scored an overtime goal for the wrong team. Read more about it here.

Factoids

  • Alex Ovechkin‘s assist on T.J. Oshie’s game-winning goal was his 36th career regular season point in overtime. Only Patrik Elias has more. He also made the decision tonight to not play in the 2020 NHL All-Star game. Read about his reasoning here.  [NHL PR]
  • Cale Makar played his 30th career regular season game for the Avalanche and joined some exclusive company in the process. [NHL PR]
  • Jeff Carter scored the game-winning goal for the Kings, giving him 11 career overtime goals. No player in Kings history has more. [NHL PR]

Scores

Boston Bruins 3, Buffalo Sabres 0
Toronto Maple Leafs 5, New Jersey Devils 4 (OT)
New York Rangers 5, Carolina Hurricanes 3
Washington Capitals 2, Columbus Blue Jackets 1
Minnesota Wild 6, Colorado Avalanche 4
Pittsburgh Penguins 5, Nashville Predators 2
St. Louis Blues 5, Winnipeg Jets 4
Chicago Blackhawks 5, New York Islanders 2
Calgary Flames 5, Edmonton Oilers 1
Anaheim Ducks 4, Vegas Golden Knights 3
Los Angeles Kings 3, San Jose Sharks 2 (OT)

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.

WATCH LIVE: Avalanche host Wild on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Friday’s matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The League returns from the Christmas break with 11 games on the schedule, including this Central Division matchup – the third of five regular-season meetings between the Wild and Avalanche. Each team has won at home against the other with the Avs winning, 4-2, on Oct. 5 (second game of the season for both clubs) and the Wild pulling out a 3-2 victory on Nov. 21.

Colorado, looking to return to the postseason for the third straight year, sit second in the Central, while Minnesota is in the thick of the Wild Card hunt – two points back of Calgary for the second position – and certainly not out of the race for a division spot, just three points behind Winnipeg. The Wild missed the playoffs a season ago after making six consecutive appearances from 2012-13 to 2017-18.

Nathan MacKinnon was voted an All-Star captain for the second straight season. Having another MVP caliber season (was the Hart Trophy runner-up two seasons ago), the No. 1 pick in 2013 has played in all 37 games this season and leads the Avs in most major statistical categories – goals (21), assists (34), points (55), shots (168), power-play goals (7), power-play points (20).

Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk missed over a month with a family issue, playing on Nov. 16 and then coming back on Dec. 19. He’s played in three games since his return (two starts). He allowed five goals at Arizona in a win in his first game back and then had the shutout against Calgary on Monday.

The consistent line of Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen is now fully healthy and the second line of Andre BurakovskyNazem KadriJoonas Donskoi, which is entirely new this season, has been just as productive a trio. After MacKinnon (21), it’s Burakovsky and Donskoi (13 each) and Kadri (12), who are tops on the team in goals this season.

[COVERAGE OF BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Minnesota Wild at Colorado Avalanche
WHERE: Pepsi Center
WHEN: Friday, Dec. 27, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Wild-Avs stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

WILD
Zach PariseEric StaalMats Zuccarello
Ryan DonatoJoel Eriksson EkKevin Fiala
Jordan GreenwayNico SturmLuke Kunin
Marcus FolignoVictor RaskRyan Hartman

Ryan SuterJared Spurgeon
Jonas BrodinCarson Soucy
Brad HuntMathew Dumba

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk

AVALANCHE
Gabriel Landeskog – Nathan MacKinnon – Mikko Rantanen
Andre Burakovsky – Nazem Kadri – Joonas Donskoi
Matt NietoPierre-Edouard BellemareMatt Calvert
Tyson JostJ.T. CompherValeri Nichushkin

Cale MakarSam Girard
Nikita ZadorovRyan Graves
Ian ColeErik Johnson

Starting goalie: Pavel Francouz

Kathryn Tappen will host Friday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones. Chris Cuthbert will handle play-by-play duties alongside Pierre McGuire at Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.

Episode 2 of the three-part docuseries “Road To The NHL Winter Classic” will air on Friday, Dec. 27, at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. The season finale will be presented on Monday, Jan. 6, at 10:30 p.m. ET immediately following Oilers-Maple Leafs on NBCSN. 

The series will chronicle the Stars and Predators as they prepare to meet outdoors in the 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on January 1 at Cotton Bowl Stadium at 1 p.m. ET on NBC.

The Buzzer: McDavid, Draisaitl, Eichel can’t be stopped

McDavid Draisaitl Eichel
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Three Stars

1. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs

Gauging which player was the best of Saturday’s three-point men is difficult. Matthews (two goals, one assist) isn’t a certain choice for the top player on his team, as Zach Hyman also scored two goals and an assist in Toronto’s win.

That said, Matthews presents a worthy argument. He generated a primary assist, and offered up the game-winner.

The 22-year-old extended his multi-point streak to three games (4G, 3A). While Toronto’s been dysfunctional with injuries and inconsistency, Matthews keeps delivering, producing 23 goals and 41 points through 37 games.

Matthews could catch Jimmy Carson for a milestone among U.S.-born snipers if he keeps this up.

2. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues

The Blues scored two empty-net goals, but Schwartz didn’t feast on either of them. Instead, Schwartz served all steak, no sizzle: two primary assists and the game-winner.

(OK, Schwartz probably dished out at least some sizzle.)

With at least one point in four of five games (2G,4A), Schwartz has 28 points in 37 games. Maintaining such a pace would place at about 62 points over 82 games. Of course, Schwartz must stay healthy to flirt with that type of production.

3. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets

Hellebuyck came into Saturday as one of the league’s GSAA leaders, bailing out Winnipeg frequently. The netminder bumped that up with a 31-save shutout against Minnesota.

Yes, the Jets winning 6-0 takes some of the shine off of that. Not all, though, and Hellebuyck deserves recognition for saving Winnipeg’s season during certain stretches. Josh Morrissey serves as another Winnipeg option, as he collected three assists.

Highlight of the Night

Connor McDavid failed to make the three stars, but he was great as usual. McDavid scored another highlight reel against the Canadiens, rendering Max Domi and his highlight reel goal just a bit short of the mark.

Oopsie of the Night

Jaroslav Halak ranks as one of the NHL’s best backups, and plenty of teams wouldn’t mind employing him as their starter. After seeing this, I’d argue he should probably not try to evoke Hasek thwarting breakaways again anytime soon, though:

Naughty and nice

Factoids

Scores

BUF 3 – LAK 2
ANA 6 – NYI 5 (SO)
WPG 6 – MIN 0
NSH 4 – BOS 3 (OT)
TOR 4 – DET 1
PHI 5 – OTT 4 (SO)
WSH 3 – TBL 1
FLA 4 – CAR 2
CBJ 5 – NJD 1
EDM 4 – MTL 3
CHI 5 – COL 3
VAN 4 – PIT 1
STL 5 – 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.

Landeskog fight, Keith hit makes Blackhawks-Avs a rough one

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With the Blackhawks fading and the Avalanche rising, the two teams don’t jump out as natural rivals. Watch Gabriel Landeskog fight Dennis Gilbert, and Duncan Keith‘s hit on Joonas Korpisalo. After witnessing such violence, you’ll likely agree that the two teams won’t be exchanging gifts during the holidays.

Gabriel Landeskog fights Dennis Gilbert

Gilbert fights with frequency for the Blackhawks, while Landeskog hasn’t dropped the gloves in almost exactly one year. Even so, Landeskog loves to mix physicality with scoring, so it’s not too shocking that he got into such a spirited fight with Gilbert.

First, the two traded feisty hits. Next, they decided to settle the matter by fighting. You can watch that bout in the video above; it’s quite the tussle.

Duncan Keith delivers a hard hit

When you think about Duncan Keith, a tremendous finesse game likely first comes to mind. Keith bares his teeth often enough that you have to respect his physical side, though.

Keith caught Avalanche forward Joonas Donskoi with the sort of check that might make you cringe:

The veteran defenseman spoke about playing with more of an edge earlier this week. Then Keith backed it up.

The Blackhawks upset the Avalanche by a score of 5-3 on Saturday night.

Landeskog ended up having a rough game, finishing the evening without a point and suffering with a -4 rating. Keith couldn’t generate a point either, but his partners in crime Jonathan Toews (2G, 1A) and Patrick Kane (1G, 1A) came through.

Saturday continued opposite trends for the two teams. Colorado lost its second game in a row, dropping three of the Avs’ last four. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks pushed their winning streak to two games and have won three of four.

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.