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The Buzzer: Wheeler keeps dealing; big apples

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Three Stars

1. Blake Wheeler

What a night for the wildly underrated Winnipeg Jets captain.

Wheeler scored a goal and four assists, crossing 400 for his (again, wildly underrated) career. That milestone helper came as he read Nathan MacKinnon to create a turnover and set the table for Nikolaj Ehlers. Three of Wheeler’s four assists were primary helpers, too.

As usual, the winger brought a great all-around game, earning a +3 rating and logging a significant 3:13 of shorthanded time.

This virtuoso performance extended Wheeler’s point streak to nine games (two goals, 15 assists). Wheeler’s now at 21 points on the season, with 18 of them being assists, which ranks second in the NHL.

Mark Scheifele had a strong game against the struggling Avs, too, scoring a goal and two assists.

2. Mikael Granlund

The Wild absolutely dominated the Ducks, who seem to have no gear other than “hope John Gibson and a few deadly shooters can save the day.”

Granlund and Jason Zucker both generated three points, so you could consider them tied for the second star. Granlund gets the slight edge because he scored two goals and one assist, while Zucker generated two assists and one goal. Again, you could make the argument that Zucker should get that nod instead (or be the third star, if you’re really being difficult), as he had five SOG to Granlund’s two, and Zucker’s tally was the GWG.

Still, Granlund enjoyed a slightly more impressive night, including really making it easy for Zucker on his goal.

The Wild are quietly heating up, with wins in nine of their last 11 games. Bruce Boudreau just finds ways to keep his team’s regular-season-relevant, doesn’t he? Granlund and Zucker deserve serious credit for stepping up with Eric Staal banged up.

3. Chad Johnson

Friday was a solid night for goalies around the NHL. Sergei Bobrovsky earned praise from Torts and had the same number of saves (33) as Johnson. Like Bob, Frederik Andersen only allowed one goal while making 38 stops.

Chad Johnson is the only goalie who earned a shutout on Friday, though.

Considering Jake Allen‘s substantial struggles, the Blues might want to lean on Johnson for a while, as the journeyman goalie has – on occasion – shown that he can carry a team in net at times during certain stretches. The Blues have been able to occasionally create a really nurturing atmosphere for hot-and-cold goalies (like Brian Elliott, Johnson’s creasemate from last season), so perhaps Johnson could go on a mini-run? If nothing else, this was a nice win, especially if Mike Yeo is in any way looking over his shoulder at Joel Quenneville.

In other Blues news, Ryan O'Reilly is on a nine-game point streak.

Highlights

It didn’t translate to a goal, but this bit of Scheifele wizardry was magical:

Speaking of magical, Nick Foligno‘s beautiful pass to Oliver Bjorkstrand played a trick on three Capitals opponents:

Andreas Athanasiou ranks as one of Friday’s honorable mentions, scoring the goal that sent Detroit’s game against the Rangers into OT, then setting up Dylan Larkin for this OT game-winner:

Lowlight

Here’s hoping referee Brad Meier is feeling OK after this uncomfortable fall:

Factoids

Wheeler’s 400th assist wasn’t the only milestone from Friday. Patrick Marleau didn’t do a whole lot for it (Nazem Kadri ended up batting down a puck for a nice goal), but most of his 600 career assists have surely been impressive. (These two assist milestones explain the big apples part of this post’s headline, in case that wasn’t clear.)

Kinda cool to see his old buddy Joe Thornton on this list with him:

Chad Johnson’s enjoyed some nice peak moments in the NHL, but it’s been a while since he’s enjoyed a night like Friday.

Rarely a bad time to see your name next to Wayne Gretzky’s, eh, Blake Wheeler?

Scores

TOR 6 – NJD 1
CBJ 2 – WSH 1
DET 3 – NYR 2 (OT)
STL 4 – SJS 0
WPG 5 – COL 2
MIN 5 – ANA 1

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Duchene trade impact; avoiding Nylander

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

BREAKING: Blackhawks fire Joel Quenneville

• The Matt Duchene trade set the Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche on two entirely different paths. [Mile High Hockey]

• Settle down. No need to worry about Patrick Maroon’s offense. It’ll come. [St. Louis Gametime]

Jake Allen’s new mask for Hockey Fights Cancer month incorporates a photo of Mandi Schwartz, the sister of his St. Louis Blues teammate. [Blues]

• Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Louis Domingue will have drawings from young cancer patients on his mask for HFC month. [NHL.com]

• Don’t criticize the Toronto Maple Leafs defense in front of Morgan Rielly. [TSN]

• To learn more about his team, Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery has reached out to the man who used to run the bench there — Ken Hitchcock. [Dallas Morning News]

• Golfer Bryson DeChambeau injured his hand, which was noticeable on Sunday at the TPC Summerlin tournament, ringing the siren before Saturday’s Vegas Golden Knights game. It didn’t affect him as he won the tournament shooting a -21. [Golf Week]

Max Pacioretty is enjoying life outside of the Montreal fishbowl. [Sportsnet]

• Injuries across the lineup will affect GM Jim Nill’s ability to make decisions for the future. [Blackout Dallas]

• A case for why the Carolina Hurricanes should resist chasing William Nylander. [Section 328]

• Canes GM Don Waddell says Victor Rask should be back in early December. [Hurricanes]

• Coming to NHL 19 are these reinvented Original Six jerseys. [ESPN]

• Those days when the Pittsburgh Penguins were one of the NHL’s fastest teams seem long gone. [Pensburgh]

• Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Henri Jokiharju is getting an education playing alongside Duncan Keith. [Sun-Times]

• Some players down the lineup are making the most of their opportunity with the Washington Capitals. [NBC Washington]

• Get your first-round picks right and you’ll find them making a major impact. [The Hockey News]

• Finally, the shortest and tallest NHL players met over the weekend:

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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.

As losses pile up, seat gets hotter for Blues’ Mike Yeo

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Take a gander at the Western Conference standings right now and you have to scroll a bit to find the St. Louis Blues, who currently reside next-to-last with a 2-4-3 record and seven points, two better than the last place Los Angeles Kings.

Thursday night’s 7-4 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets was not an ideal way to kick off a seven-game homestand, especially when there’s plenty to fix. Head coach Mike Yeo was probably already on the hot seat heading into this season and if this keeps up, he’s possibly in his final days as Blues head coach. 

“Heck my job should be in question right now,” Yeo said Thursday night. “Of course that comes with the trade. But I’m not going to coach to try to save my job. I’m going to coach to try to win a Stanley Cup. I believe in this group, so whatever we need every single day, I’m going to try to do that.”

It wasn’t that long ago that Yeo found himself in a similar situation behind the bench. 

Through the first half of the 2014-15 NHL season Yeo’s Minnesota Wild team were struggling mightily. Mired near the bottom of the West standings and last in the Central Division, he went ballistic during an early January practice. Numerous expletives were hurled and there was some angry stick smashing on the ice. 

Who knows how much the tirade helped in the team’s turnaround since there was a bigger factor involved. Seven days after Yeo went bonkers the Wild acquired Devan Dubnyk. They would finish with the second-best record in the league from Jan. 7, 2015 on and Dubnyk saved his career and ended up a Vezina Trophy finalist that June.

Unless the second coming of Jan. 2015 – May 2015 Dubnyk is going to be available, there’s no savior coming in for the Blues.

The Blues are in Year 3 with Yeo, which has featured a second-round loss in 2017 and watching the entirety of the 2018 playoffs last spring. Now after a summer where general manager Doug Armstrong brought in Ryan O’Reilly, Tyler Bozak, David Perron, Patrick Maroon, the pressure is on to win.

And while the Blues are scoring fine (3.22 goals per game) and the power play is clicking (28.2 percent), everything else is a sub-par.

• 4 goals against per game (second-most)
• 24 goals allowed at 5-on-5 (tied for second-most)
• 47 percent Corsi, per Natural Stat Trick
• 18 third period goals allowed (most in NHL)
Jake Allen‘s .896 even strength save percentage is 15th out of 16 goalies with 300 minutes played, per Corsica

A closed-door meeting was held after the loss to the Blue Jackets, a meeting that also included Yeo. The message of needing to be better was reinforced but talking will only do so much as the losses pile up.

“We sign great players and maybe think like goals and chances will come right away because we have such a good roster on paper,” said Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo via the Post-Dispatch. “Now things don’t go our way, so this may be a little bit different expectations (from) what everybody expects. But like I said, there are two ways: Stay here or try to find a way to get out.”

The Blues players were all pointing fingers at themselves following the game and supporting their head coach and Allen, who’s been left out to dry on a number of occasions this season but can still be much better. They’re not a confident team right now and Saturday will be another chance to right the ship as they host the Chicago Blackhawks. After that, it’s four full days off to continue working on fixes — or making big changes — before the Vegas Golden Knights visit.

“I don’t know ‘fragile’ is the right word. We’re not mentally strong enough right now to consistently play the type of game that we want to,” said Alex Steen. “We can sit here and talk about everything, X’s and O’s. It’s not about that, it’s about work and doing it for 60 minutes and we’ve done that only once, maybe twice so far this year and our record shows it.”

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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.

Torts on Bobrovsky’s struggles: ‘Bob has not been Bob’

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No player makes a bigger impact on a hockey game than a goalie, yet they’re very tough to forecast for a host of reasons.

For one thing, they’re basically the opposite of NFL QBs. While quarterbacks begin every (non-Wildcat?) play with the ball in their hands, wielding incredible decision-making power, goalies must let pucks come to them. Those pucks are usually going very quickly, changing directions rapidly, and generally placed in ways that make their lives more difficult. No wonder netminders are so eager to handle the puck … even, seemingly, to their detriment.

So, it’s unfair to say that a contract year is putting the same vise-like pressure on Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky that Bob felt during postseason struggles.

It is fair, however, to claim that there’s been some impact, as Bob himself admitted as much. Heading into this season, he simply explained: he’s only human.

That human has struggled to stop pucks by virtually every measure early in 2018-19.

Bobrovsky sports an ugly 3.87 GAA and hideous .872 save percentage through six games, making his 2-4-0 record almost look lucky. For some perspective, consider that – for all the upheaval modern NHL goalies experience – Bob has only been under a .900 save percentage once in his career: a .899 mark over 29 games in 2011-12, his last season with the Flyers. Bobrovsky’s overall career save percentage underlines his most-of-the-time brilliance: a fantastic .919 mark, which goes up to .922 if you only look at his seven years with Columbus.

Bob’s numbers don’t really get healthier when you dig deeper into stats like goals saved above average, either:

While Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella doesn’t brutally throw Bobrovsky under the bus, he acknowledges to the Columbus Dispatch’s Brian Hedger that something’s been off so far this season.

“Bob has not been Bob,” Tortorella said. “It’s a unique position, that goaltender position, but the past two games the opposing goaltender has been better than our goaltender. That doesn’t happen often with Bob, but it has been there this year.”

Breaking down his struggles a bit more

When your numbers are as bad as Bobrovsky’s so far, it might seem like pouring salt in open wounds to peek any deeper. So, Bob, it’s OK if you click on another story.

Bob gone now? Fair enough, let’s consider that: Bobrovsky’s even-strength save percentage is .882 so far, ranking him ninth-worst in the NHL. That’s not ideal, yet it’s in the same neighborhood as Jake Allen and Martin Jones, struggling-but-certified starters.

The penalty kill is where Bob is really hurting, and might be the area where Torts and company should dig deepest for answers. So far, Bob’s save percentage on the PK is just .778, as he’s allowed six power-play goals on 27 shots. Last season, Bobrovsky wasn’t as effective at that phase of the game as Joonas Korpisalo, yet his .831 save percentage in PK situations would be a welcome improvement nonetheless.

Team in front of him

Checking Natural Stat Trick’s handy team stats, the Blue Jackets are in the top third of NHL teams in Corsi For percentage, and they’re a top-five team when it comes to limiting scoring chances against. The worry really isn’t quality chances allowed over quantity, either, as the Blue Jackets rank as a top-five team when it comes to limiting high-danger scoring chances, too.

While those numbers make Bobrovsky’s struggles more confounding and frustrating, it’s promising that Columbus might be able to put Bob in positive situations where he can work things out.

Maybe most promising, though, is that Seth Jones is back. Tonight’s game against the Blues marks the Norris-level defenseman’s mere second game of 2018-19, so it won’t hurt to play in front of another elite talent.

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Granted, it’s not yet clear if Bob will actually start tonight. There’s an argument for sitting him for a game or two to try to sort things out and regain his bearings.

Either way, six games is an incredibly small sample size, and even the best of goalies suffer through similar slumps. Bob has been there himself, although one of the things that makes him stand out is how rare these cold streaks occur.

The odds are high that Bob will be Bob again soon enough.

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.

Blues keep finding ways to lose

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There isn’t much shame to coughing up a lead against the Winnipeg Jets, a team that can become an offensive locomotive when it really gets going. No, for the St. Louis Blues, it was the way they lost last night’s game, seeing a 3-1 lead evaporate into a 5-4 overtime loss.

“I think we’re scared to lose games right now,” Jake Allen said. “We’re behind in the standings, we know that; we know that each point is crucial, and we’re playing in the third period like we’re scared to lose the game. If you lose, you lose, but you gotta go down swinging. We’re just giving teams opportunities, and a team as good as Winnipeg, they’re going to bury them. This loss is on us.”

” … They didn’t beat us. We beat ourselves.”

The Blues fell to a disappointing 2-3-3 record thanks to a disturbing trend: giving up leads and letting wins and points slip through their fingers. The numbers back that up, extending back to last season, but especially right now:

The Blues have only scored eight third-period goals, by comparison, so it’s a troubling sign.

Now, with any pattern established this early in 2018-19, it’s dangerous to make too many sweeping observations.

That aside, it’s also important to ask questions, or else you risk history repeating itself.

How much of this is on the style of play? To be more precise, is head coach Mike Yeo trying too hard to “sit on leads” rather than enhance them?

Sure, there are risks involved with being aggressive on offense, yet every second you spend with the puck on your stick in the opposing zone is another moment where the opposition isn’t threatening to score.

The Blues were getting rid of the puck as if it was a live grenade often through the third period of that eventual loss to Winnipeg. It got to the point where officiating became crucial in a sad way: borderline icing calls. At one point Jets fans serenaded referees for calling an icing after an earlier call was thwarted in part by an official getting in Jacob Trouba‘s way. Later on, it seemed like an icing might have been too hastily whistled against the Blues.

For all we know, a more aggressive approach might have left the Blues losing to the Jets in regulation, rather than at least getting a point in an overtime loss. Hindsight is 20/20, so it’s easy to armchair QB the Blues’ approach after the fact.

You can still wonder about some coaching decisions, however. Why, for instance, was recently scratched defenseman Jay Bouwmeester on the ice in so many crucial situations?

Such mistakes can come back to haunt the Blues in future games where they’re trying to protect leads.

Plenty has been made about buzzwords like “urgency,” as you can see from this Jeremy Rutherford piece from The Athletic (sub required) about a week ago. But how much of that lack of urgency stems back to Yeo’s system, how he might be playing to the score, and the players he’s putting out on the ice in certain situations.

The Blues boast a wealth of options on defense, from established difference-makers such as Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko to an interesting up-and-coming scorer like Vince Dunn. Is it really wise to hope Bouwmeester can carry such of a workload? Is this a case of outdated thinking? Could it be that Yeo was overreacting to this brutal late-game gaffe by Parayko?

Now, look, it’s not all bad for the Blues. Generally speaking, when you open up a 3-1 lead against the Jets – carrying big chunks of play in the process – you’re probably doing quite a bit right.

For one thing, the Blues might have stumbled onto some nice scoring balance, at least between its top two lines.

Early on, Ryan O'Reilly was anchoring a top line with Vladimir Tarasenko. After starting strong, the combo hit a lull, so Yeo reunited last year’s deadly first line (Tarasenko with Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz) while putting ROR with David Perron. So far, O’Reilly (six points in three games) and Perron (five in three games) have been generating serious offense. If that top trio can rekindle some of last year’s magic, they might just build up leads so robust that they can rest on their heels and still win plenty of games.

Nonetheless, the Blues bring high expectations into this season. They gave up some serious futures to land O’Reilly, along with landing Perron and Patrick Maroon in free agency.

On paper, the Blues seem like they should be a contender, even in the cutthroat Central Division. If St. Louis can’t convert that potential to real-life wins soon, the heat could really start to rise.

It’s up to Yeo and others to find answers, and soon.

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.