Jake Guentzel

Getty Images

The Buzzer: Star Wars Storm Surge; Bob beats Blue Jackets

3 Comments

Three Stars

1. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes

Heading into Saturday, Aho only scored in one goal (a goal and an assist) in his past five contests. He made up for that dry spell in a big way against the Wild, generating a hat trick plus two assists.

His third goal was an empty-netter, but Aho’s first tally ended up being the game-winner. Aho was really clicking with Teuvo Teravainen, who finished the night with three assists.

Aho now has 27 points through his first 30 games in 2019-20.

2. Alex Killorn, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning made life miserable for the Sharks on Saturday, feasting by way of a 7-1 score.

Killorn was a big part of that, generating a goal and three assists for four points. Killorn now has three goals and three assists for six points during a three-game streak, giving Killorn 22 points in 25 games in 2019-20.

As effective as Killorn has been over the years, his career-high is 47 points. Chances are, he’s going to slow down (example a 15.7 shooting percentage so far this season, against a 10.5 career average), but if reasonably healthy, Killorn should blow that previous number out of the water.

There were other Lightning players who played really well, as you’d expect from a blowout. Steven Stamkos ranked among those who collected three points, while Andrei Vasilevskiy made 37 saves to exaggerate the distance between the two teams.

3. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Really, you can take your pick between Malkin and Jake Guentzel, as they both enjoyed one-goal, two-assist nights on Saturday, and they both clearly play off each other quite well. As much as Guentzel has been conjoined to Sidney Crosby during his young (and underappreciated) career, it seems like he can click with Malkin, too. Obviously, it’s not difficult to transition from one “NHL 100” player to another who should have made the “NHL 100,” yet … we’ve seen wingers who cannot find chemistry with one or more of Malkin and Crosby. So credit to Guentzel for being deadly with both, and likely making life a little easier for each of them.

Malkin now has a fantastic 26 points in just 19 games, and may very well have his biggest year in a while if he can stay healthy — an uncomfortably familiar phrase for the Penguins for quite some time. (Heck, even spanning back to Mario Lemieux.)

Guentzel now has 31 points in 30 games, and a solid chance to exceed last season’s excellent career-high of 76 points.

Highlight of the Night

Uh, you think the Kings were expecting Johnny Gaudreau to pass when he did? (Don’t lie.) This is just a tremendous combination of speed, skill, and vision as he set up Sean Monahan:

Star Wars Storm Surge

Yay or nay on the Star Wars-themed Storm Surge from the Hurricanes? I’d say solid enough, although it lacked a Bunch of Baby Yoda so … maybe not ideal.

Factoids

  • The Blue Jackets spoiled Sergei Bobrovsky‘s shutout bid a bit more than halfway through the third period. Still, Bob had a strong night with 33 saves. Hot take: Columbus is still probably relieved to not be spending to the tune of Bob’s $10M AAV, considering how infrequently Bob has looked this good.
  • NHL PR notes that the Avalanche extended a point streak to 14 games, while they also gave the Bruins their first regulation loss at home this season.
  • Brady Tkachuk received a fine from the Department of Player Safety for cross-checking Scott Laughton. More on that wild game here.
  • A bit esoteric, but interesting, from NHL PR: Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid are the fifth pair to generate at least 300 points each in 320 games or fewer. They’re the first pairing to pull that off since Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.

Scores

PHI 4 – OTT 3
VAN 6 – BUF 5 (OT)
COL 4 – BOS 1
PIT 5 – DET 3
TBL 7 – SJS 1
FLA 4 – CBJ 1
CAR 6 – MIN 2
TOR 5 – STL 2
NSH 6 – NJD 4
DAL 3 – NYI 1
CGY 4 – LAK 3

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.

Undermanned Penguins shut down Blues: 3 takeaways

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins were facing quite the challenge on Wednesday night.

They had just lost two games in a row, were playing without seven regulars in their lineup (Sidney Crosby, Bryan Rust, Patric Hornqvist, Nick Bjugstad, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and Jack Johnson), and had the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues roll into town riding a four-game winning streak where they had been dominating everyone they faced.

All the Penguins did was put together one of their best and most complete efforts of the season in a convincing 3-0 win.

Three big things that stood out from this one.

1. There might be a goalie controversy in Pittsburgh, at least for now. With No. 1 goalie Matt Murray mired in a month-long slump, backup Tristan Jarry has been getting more starts over the past couple of weeks and got the call again on Wednesday in a huge home game.

He took advantage of the opportunity and stopped all 28 shots he faced to record his first shutout of the season (and the third of his career).

With that performance he is now up to a .936 save percentage for the season and has earned the win in five of his past six appearances, allowing only 10 goals in those games.

“He was terrific,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan regarding Jarry’s play on Wednesday. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now and is seeing the puck well.”

He also added that Jarry was the team’s best penalty killer on a night where the unit was a perfect 4-for-4

Murray is still probably going to end up being “the guy” in Pittsburgh this season, but with the team trying to fight through an absurd injury stretch they are going to need goaltending to help carry them until they start getting some players back, especially on the blue line.

Right now Jarry is the goalie giving them the best chance.

2. Next man up. After losing wingers Rust and Hornqvist in two different practices over the past week (while already being without Crosby and Bjugstad) the Penguins were quite literally running out of forwards and had to sign veteran Stefan Noesen to a two-way contract. He had been playing for the team’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on a minor league deal, and was thrown into second-line duty on Wednesday.

He ended up making an immediate impact by scoring a goal late in the second period to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead.

The most impressive thing about the Penguins’ performance on Wednesday is that it was not the big-name players making the impact. The trio of Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, and Kris Letang combined for zero points in the win, while only one of them (Malkin) was even on the ice for any of their three goals (he was on for one). It was the depth players that stepped up and made the impact with Noesen, Teddy Blueger, and Alex Galchenyuk (only his second goal of the season in 20 games) scoring the goals.

As great as the Malkin, Guentzel, and Letang trio is they are not going to score every night, meaning someone else is going to have to chip in some offense for the team to have a chance with so many players out.

They received those contributions on Wednesday.

3. Binnington was a bright spot for the Blues. Jordan Binnington may have given up three goals, but he also made a handful of huge saves that kept this game close and at least gave his team a shot. It is also kind of tough to really fault him too much for the ones that went in. Blueger’s goal to open the scoring in the opening minute came off a deflection right in front, and he was kind of left on an island on the final two.

One of the biggest questions for the Blues this season in their repeat attempt was always going to be whether or not his success from a year ago was something he could sustain over a full season. There has been nothing in his play so far this season to suggest he can not.

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.

PHT Face-Off: Guentzel without Crosby; Year of the rookie defenseman

1 Comment

It’s the start of another week, so that means it’s time for the PHT Face-Off to look ahead to some of the trends and topics that will dominate over the next seven days.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau had a November to remember:

Unless you’re paying really close attention to the Ottawa Senators, you probably didn’t notice how productive Pageau was throughout the month. He found the back of the net 11 times in 16 games in November. That puts him in some pretty elite company with this franchise:

Now, there are two questions surrounding his situation. First, how long can he keep this going? Only nine players have scored more goals than Pageau so far this season. That list includes: David Pastrnak, Alex Ovechkin, Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Brad Marchand, Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews, Jake Guentzel, Patrick Kane and Elias Lindholm. That’s elite company to be in heading into the third month of the season.

Second, what do the Sens do with Pageau? He’s clearly having a career year and he’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. The 27-year-old has a cap hit of $3.1 million and you’d have to think that he’s going to get a raise. Do they re-sign him? Do they trade him and cash in on some good assets? We’ll see what happens.

• Guentzel can survive without Crosby: 

Guentzel is regarded as a good offensive player, but many fans have wondered whether or not he could keep producing offense without Sidney Crosby by his side. Well, he’s kind of in the middle of answering that question right now.

Crosby underwent surgery to repair a core muscle last month. The Pens captain last played on Nov. 9 against Chicago. Since then, the Penguins have played 10 games. Guentzel didn’t pick up a point in the first two games without Crosby, but he then rattled off a seven-game point streak. He’s up to 13 points in the 10 contests without his linemate.

Crosby isn’t the only that has missed time this season. Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust, Alex Galchenyuk and Patrik Hornqvist have also missed an extended period of time. Guentzel has played in all 27 games and he’s probably the team’s MVP right now.

• The year of the rookie defenseman: 

Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko were the first two picks in last year’s NHL Draft and they’ve both played extensively in the NHL this season, but they aren’t dominating the rookie scoring charts. Instead, Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar lead their rookie class in scoring right now. That’s pretty unique considering both players are defensemen.

Hughes is averaging 20:30 of ice time through 27 contests and he’s managed to pick up two goals and 23 points. Very impressive. He’s also just one three-assist performance away from tying Ray Bourque’s rookie record, which is mind-boggling considering there’s still so much time left in the 2019-20 campaign.

As for Makar, he has one three-plus assist performance under his belt, but he leads all rookies in scoring with 26 points in 26 games. The 21-year-old jumped onto the scene for Colorado last postseason and he’s continued to build on the success he had back then.

Can Makar finish the year at a point-per-game pace? If he does, he’ll be a shoe-in to win the Calder Trophy when it’s all said and done. The NHL’s rookie record for most points in a season by a first-year blueliner is 76 points (Larry Murphy with the Los Angeles Kings in 1980-81). It’s incredible to think that the Avs defender is still on pace to surpass that mark heading into December.

• When will Kyle Turris get back into the lineup? 

Nashville Predators forward Kyle Turris is only in the second year of his six-year, $36 million contract. That’s problematic when you consider that he’s been a healthy scratch in each of his team’s last seven games. The 30-year-old had just seven goals and 23 points in 55 games last year and his points-per-game pace has improved slightly this year, as he’s picked up nine points in 19 contests.

Seriously, what are the Predators going to do with him?

It’s tough to envision any team being willing to take that contract off GM David Poile’s hands. Maybe Nashville could get rid of him if they add a significant draft pick to a trade, but that’s unlikely. They could buy him out at the end of this season, but again, that will be expensive. If they chose to go down that route, they’d have $2 million in dead money on their cap until 2028.

“I’m certainly not trying to say this is a good situation or anything close to being a perfect situation,” Poile said, per The Athletic. “It’s just a roster decision. Peter Laviolette is our coach, and he will do anything to win a hockey game. He’s putting his best foot forward —  in this case, his best lineup forward — every night. That’s his job. That’s all I can ask from him.

“I am very confident that Kyle’s going to get a chance to play. Hopefully, he’s in a position to take advantage of it, and we turn the page on that. There’s nothing fair or equal in this business, so I can’t operate like that or what have you.”

• High-end goalies struggling:

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Sergei Bobrovsky and Carey Price may just be the three best goalies in the NHL, but their play certainly hasn’t indicated that for most of the season.

Let’s take a look at their numbers individually:

Vasilevskiy: 9-7-1, 2.96 goals-against-average and a .906 save percentage.
Bobrovsky: 9-6-4, 3.48 goals-against-average and a .884 save percentage
Price: 10-9-3, 3.18 goals-against-average and a .898 save percentage.

Raise your hand if you thought Darcy Kuemper (.935) was going to have the best save percentage in the league at the start of December. Connor Hellebuyck and Tuukka Rask are tied for second in that category at .933.

Which one of the three struggling netminders in the Atlantic Division is most likely to come out of this funk first? Is there one of these three that is just going to have a bad season and never wake up from this slumber? This should be an interesting situation to follow.

What’s coming up this week?

• The Sabres will have their Founders’ Night to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the day they were awarded an NHL franchise tonight at 7 p.m. ET.

• Several key players will play against their former teams this week. Artemi Panarin will take on Columbus (Thursday), Phil Kessel gets to see the Penguins (Friday) and P.K. Subban will play Nashville (Saturday).

NHL on NBCSN

• Lightning vs. Predators, Tue. Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. ET.

Wednesday Night Hockey

• Blues vs. Penguins, Wed. Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. ET

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.

The Buzzer: Malkin a comeback; Bernier’s bad day

Getty Images
1 Comment

Three Stars

1. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

If you really wanted to, you could really pile up Penguins (and to some extent, Canucks, what with Quinn Hughes generating three assists) in the top three. Jake Guentzel managed two goals and two assists, while Bryan Rust had a four-point night (1G, 3A).

But Malkin led the way with a five-point night on the strength of two goals and three assists. The fact that one of his tallies was an empty-netter feels trivial.

This Penguins team has been running on defense more than expected, yet nights like these remind you that this team is a chameleon that seems to find ways to win, whether that means adapting styles or dealing with injuries.

Read more about the Penguins’ wild win against the Canucks in this post.

2. Jonathan Bernier, Detroit Red Wings

OK, look … you can swap Bernier out for someone from the team that won Wednesday’s game 6-0. Choose a Maple Leafs player such as Andreas Johnsson (2G, 1A) or Frederik Andersen (25-save shutout).

To me, though, Bernier deserves recognition for even appearing in the game.

Bernier had been dealing with flu-like symptoms, so he apparently didn’t even dress for Wednesday’s contest. Yet, with Jimmy Howard getting hurt as the Maple Leafs scored a 3-0 goal against the Red Wings, Bernier was pressed into action.

Toronto fired 26 shots on goal during the second period alone, forcing Bernier to make 37 out of 40 saves to keep the game at least in the same zip code. While some might give Bernier demerits for spoiling the coveted emergency goalie experience, he deserves credit for working this hard while sick and that close to a holiday.

3. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

If hockey was pro wrestling – and sometimes it feels like it almost is, considering the overlap in fans – then Lundqvist might have demanded a “You still got it” chant on Wednesday.

Lundqvist made 41 saves in helping the Rangers steal one against the Hurricanes, with this stop against Martin Necas ranking as a candidate for highlight of the night:

Other highlights of the night

Speaking of still having it, Alex Ovechkin produced a beauty here, and kudos to Evgeny Kuznetsov for a well-timed and well-placed drop pass:

Max Pacioretty tied things up for the Golden Knights and Predators with .3 remaining in regulation, and Vegas ended up beating the Predators in OT. Ouch. If you want to frame-by-frame it, the video shows when the puck hits the net somewhere between the .4 and .3 mark at around the minute mark of the clip.

Factoids

  • Paul Stastny reached the 700-point milestone during the Golden Knights’ comeback win against Nashville. NHL PR notes that Paul and Peter Stastny became the third father-son combo to reach 700+ points apiece, joining Gordie and Mark Howe and Brett and Bobby Hull.
  • Sheldon Keefe is the first Maple Leafs coach to win the first three games of his NHL coaching career, according to NHL PR.
  • Phil Kessel joins a rare group of seven NHL players to play 800+ games in a row, via NHL PR.
  • Sportsnet points out that Patrik Laine already has at least one goal against every Western Conference opponent.
  • Another from Sportsnet: Matthew Tkachuk‘s 23 third-period goals since 2018-19 leads all NHL players.

Scores

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

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.

Penguins rally vs. Canucks in wild 14-goal game

Getty
6 Comments

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins 8-6 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night was a result they absolutely deserved.

It was also a minor miracle that they were actually able to pull it off.

They were the better team for most of the game only to find themselves trailing by three goals with 15 minutes to play in the third period, mostly due to one of starting goalie Matt Murray‘s worst performances of the season (and a tough luck goal against backup Tristan Jarry after he came on in relief). It was at that point that they rallied for five consecutive goals as part of a six-goal third period to win their third game in a row and extend their current points streak to six games.

Let’s take a look at some of the madness.

1. At one point a win seemed nearly impossible for the Penguins. The Penguins opened the game by scoring two goals in the first 12 minutes and were holding a 12-0 edge on the shot chart. The crazy thing? The game itself was probably even more one-sided than those numbers indicated. It was total domination. But the Canucks found a way to turn the tide in their favor, took advantage of another off night from Murray, and scored six goals in just under 30 minutes of game-time to somehow hold a three-goal lead with 15 minutes to play in regulation.

They were also set to go on a power play at that point after Penguins defenseman Kris Letang was whistled for delay of game. That should have been game over.

According to the hockey analytics site Moneypuck, the Penguins had only a 1.5 percent chance of winning the game at that exact moment.

But after a J.T. Miller hooking penalty negated the power play, the Penguins started their rally with a Dominik Kahun goal at four-on-four which was then followed just 68 seconds later by an Evgeni Malkin power play goal to bring the Penguins to within one.

Just three minutes after that, Zach-Aston Reese scored his fourth goal of the season to tie the game, which was followed by a Kris Letang goal with under four minutes to play to regain the lead for the Penguins. Vancouver made a desperation offside challenge hoping to have the goal overturned, but the call was upheld. Coach Travis Green admitted after the game they weren’t very optimistic about the challenge but felt they had to take the chance.

Malkin added an empty-net goal with less than a second to play, capping off another dominant night for him and his line.

“As I said to the players after the game we love the resilience this group shows,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. “It’s just a never say die attitude regardless of what the score is or the challenge is in front of us. We just go out and play.”

The frustrating thing for the Canucks is they were not only in a position to win, but they received offensive contributions from players beyond their top duo (Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser) and were still unable to finish it.

“It’s unfortunate,” said coach Travis Green. “This could have been one of our best wins of the year.”

2. The Penguins need to get Matt Murray right. This is the one big concern for the Penguins right now. The biggest reason they even needed that late rally was because of the continued struggles of their starting goalie. Wednesday’s game was the sixth time in his past eight appearances that Murray finished with a save percentage under .900, and the seventh time in that stretch he was at .905 or lower.

His 10 save on 14 shot performance on Wednesday lowered his season save percentage to just .901 in 19 appearances. That is simply not good enough. With the way Jarry has performed in his limited work this season he has absolutely earned more starts in the short-term. They have the defense to win. Now they just need to get the goaltending.

3. Evgeni Malkin is back. The big wild card this season for the Penguins was always going to be Malkin’s ability to bounce-back from what was by his own admission a down year.

He is back, and he is dominating.

With Sidney Crosby sidelined due to injury, Malkin has taken the center spot on the top line between Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust, a trio that has been taking over games for the past month. That trio combined for five of the Penguins’ eight goals against the Canucks and has been a complete nightmare for opposing defenses to try and slow down since they were put together.

He finished with five points (his first five-point game since 2012) and is now up to 19 points in 14 games. They have the depth, and now they have one of their best players playing close to his highest level.

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.