Jakub Vrana

PHT Face-Off: Marino’s rookie season; Vrana’s even-strength prowess

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It’s Monday which means it’s time for the weekly PHT Face-off column. We’ll break down five stats/trends around the NHL ahead of a fresh week of action.

Here we go:

• Wild saved by play at home

No one expected the Minnesota Wild to be a playoff team this year. They’re not currently in a playoff spot, but they’re in the conversation. As of right now, they’re seven points behind the Edmonton Oilers for the final Wild Card spot (Minnesota has two games in hand). Even though that’s a steep hill to climb, it’s not an impossible number for them to overcome.

The Wild have been terrible away from home. They’re 9-14-2 on the road and that’s one of the big reasons why they’re not in a postseason spot this year. Thankfully for them, they’ve had to play just two road games since Dec. 21.

The reason they’re still somewhat alive in the playoff race is because they’ve found a way to accumulate points at the XCel Energy Center, where they have an 11-5-4 record. Only three teams in the NHL have fewer than five regulation losses on home ice (Boston, St. Louis and Philadelphia).

“This building has got to be two points for us night in and night out,” forward Eric Staal said after a win at home over the Winnipeg Jets earlier this month, per NHL.com. “Divisional game, important points, we’d like to do it in regulation, but it was a good job fighting with it and getting that game tied up and picking up the two points.”

There’s good news and bad news if you’re a fan of the Wild: The bad news, is that the Wild dropped a 4-1 decision at home to Vancouver last night. They’ve now dropped back-to-back games at home. On the bright side, seven of their next eight and 11 of their next 13 games will be at home.

This next stretch will either make or break their season.

• Keep an eye on Marino

John Marino isn’t going to win the Calder Trophy this year, but his rookie season has exceeded everyone’s expectations. The Pittsburgh Penguins defender has turned into an incredibly importance piece of the pie. Marino has 22 points in 43 games and he’s averaging 20:24 of ice time per game. Since Dec. 30, he’s played at least 21:51 in all but one game.

The 22-year-old was originally drafted in the sixth round of the 2015 NHL Draft by the Edmonton Oilers. Last summer, the Oilers traded him to Pittsburgh for a sixth-round draft choice. At the time, the Edmonton Journal’s headline read: “Edmonton Oilers trade marginal prospect John Marino for a draft pick.” Yikes.

In fairness to the Oilers, Marino wasn’t going to sign with them (they had his rights until August of 2019). Getting something for him is better than nothing. But you can’t help but feel that had they pushed to give Marino a contract a little earlier, they may have been able to get a deal done. We’ll never know for sure.

What we do know, is that the youngster is turning heads in the NHL right now.

• Vrana killing it at even-strength 

Raise your hand if you thought Capitals forward Jakub Vrana was going to be third in even-strength goals at the midway point of the season. Anybody? Thought so.

Vrana has been a terror for opposing teams at even-strength. The 23-year-old is up to 20 goals in 46 games this season. That currently puts him on pace for a career-high 36 goals. Of those 20 goals, only one has come on the power play. The rest have come at even-strength. That puts him in some elite company.

Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews leads the league with 23 even-strength goals. Sabres captain is second with 20, and Bruins winger David Pastrnak has 19. That’s it. Everyone else in the league has fewer even-strength goals than Vrana.

Alex Ovechkin, who is Vrana’s teammate, has scored 17 of his 26 goals at even-strength. He’s second on the team.

We’ll see whether or not he can keep this up, but it’s already impressive enough that he’s been able to put up these kinds of numbers halfway through a season.

• Perron enjoys winning games

Blues forward David Perron was one of the players voted into the 2020 NHL All-Star game by the fans. Perron may not be the biggest name at the event, but it’s hard to argue with the public’s decision to have him at the All-Star festivities.

The 31-year-old is having an amazing season. He’s picked up 20 goals and 46 points in 46 games this season, which puts him six points clear of Ryan O'Reilly for the lead on the team.

“Well-deserved, and we’re all pretty happy for him, for sure,” Blues head coach Craig Berube said of Perron being voted into the All-Star game, per NHL.com. “It’s a nice thing for him, it really is. It means a lot to him. It means a lot to us. He’s been a real good player for us.”

If you’ve been following the NHL this season, you probably know about the year he’s having. What you might not know about Perron, is that he currently leads the NHL in game-winning goals (he’s scored eight). Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl is right behind him (7), but for now the veteran has the edge in that category.

He’s picked up the game-winning tally in two of his team’s last three games, but he hadn’t had one since Nov. 9.

Perron has also scored a goal in four consecutive games.

What’s coming up this week?
• The Battle of New York twice, Rangers vs. Islanders, Mon. Jan. 13, 7 p.m. ET and Thu. Jan. 16, 7 p.m. ET
Matthew Tkachuk vs. Brady Tkachuk, Sat. Jan. 18, 4 p.m. ET
Max Pacioretty goes back to Montreal, Sat. Jan. 18, 7 p.m. ET
Artemi Panarin revenge game: Blue Jackets vs. Rangers, Sun. Jan. 19, 7 p.m. ET

Wednesday Night Hockey
• Flyers vs. Blues, Wed. Jan. 15, 8 p.m. ET

NHL on NBCSN
• Wild vs. Penguins, Tue. Jan. 14, 7 p.m. ET
• Lightning vs. Wild, Thu. Jan. 16, 8 p.m. ET

NHL on NBC
• Bruins vs. Penguins, Sun. Jan. 19, 12:30 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.

Hart, Hayes lead Flyers past Capitals

Carter Hart #79 and Kevin Hayes #13 of the Philadelphia Flyers
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The Philadelphia Flyers responded after a disappointing road trip with a 3-2 win against the Washington Capitals on Wednesday Night Hockey.

Kevin Hayes scored a go-ahead shorthanded goal in the second period, Carter Hart made 26 saves and the Flyers snapped a four-game losing streak.

Nicklas Backstrom and Jakub Vrana scored, but the Capitals’ three-game winning streak came to an end. Braden Holtby added 24 saves.

Home is where Hart is

The young Flyers goaltender has been excellent on home ice and improved to 12-1-2 in 15 starts at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

It is common for an inexperienced goaltender to be more comfortable in his natural surroundings, but Hart does need to take the next step in order to solidify the Flyers goaltending position. In 15 road games, Hart is 2-9-1 with a 4.01 GAA and .850 save percentage.

Hart’s strong play at home is an encouraging sign for his development, but the Flyers need Hart to round out his game to be considered a threat in the Eastern Conference.

Ovechkin still tied with Selanne

The Capitals captain scored twice on Tuesday to tie Teemu Selanne for 11th place on the NHL’s all-time goals list but failed to pass the “Finnish Flash” in the loss against the Flyers.

Alex Ovechkin is currently 211 goals short of Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 goals and Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan believes he might be able to achieve something that was thought to be impossible.

“Health is obviously going to play a big factor,” MacLellan said on Sportsnet Wednesday. “He still shoots the puck well. As long as he has the shot, and we have a good enough team surrounding him, and our power play stays in the top 10, he has a chance to play for a long time. I think longevity is the key to him.”

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Capitals vs. Flyers livestream: How to watch Wednesday Night Hockey

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Washington defeated the Senators 6-1 last night on home ice to pickup their third consecutive win and remain undefeated in the 2020 calendar year. Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie each tallied two goals and rookie goaltender Ilya Samsonov stopped 26 of 27 shots he faced as the Caps erased an early 1-0 deficit to come away with the win. Ovechkin’s second goal, his 26th of the season, was the 684th of his career, tying him with Teemu Selanne for 11th place on the NHL’s all-time goals list.

The Caps have been pacing the entire league since the beginning of the season. Wednesday will mark the 86th day overall that Washington has led the Metro and will also mark the 67th day overall that the Caps have led the NHL this season.

Philly ended a six-game road trip (1-4-1) Tuesday night at However, things could be turning around in the city of brotherly love as the Flyers will be hosting six of their next seven games beginning Wednesday. Philly has won seven of their last eight games at home (7-1-0) and Wednesday’s game vs. Washington will be their first at the Wells Fargo Center since Dec. 23. The Flyers are 13-2-4 at home this season, while their two regulation losses are tied with Boston for the fewest in the league.

The Flyers ended a six-game road trip Tuesday night with a 5-4 (OT) loss to Carolina. Philly scored the first two goals of the game before giving up the next four. The Flyers rallied to tie the game as Travis Sanheim sent the game to the extra frame with his fifth goal of the season with under five mins to play. Canes defenseman Dougie Hamilton scored in OT to hand Philly their fifth loss of the road trip (1-4-1), but the Flyers earned a much-needed point in the standings as they head back home.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Washington Capitals at Philadelphia Flyers
WHERE: Wells Fargo Center
WHEN: Wednesday, Jan. 8, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Capitals-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Nick BackstromTom Wilson
Jakub VranaEvgeny Kuznetsov – T.J. Oshie
Carl HagelinLars EllerRichard Panik
Brendan LeipsicNic DowdGarnet Hathaway

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovNick Jensen
Jonas SiegenthalerRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

FLYERS
Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny
James van RiemsdykKevin HayesNicolas Aube-Kubel
Tyler PitlickMichael RafflJakub Voracek
Scott LaughtonMikhail VorobyevJoel Farabee

Ivan ProvorovMatt Niskanen
Travis Sanheim – Philippe Myers
Robert HaggShayne Gostisbehere

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside Patrick Sharp and Keith Jones and Bob McKenzie. Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will call Flyers-Capitals game from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Capitals are kings of the comeback

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Capitals have had a successful first half of the regular season. Through 44 games, they’ve gone 30-9-5, which gives them 65 points and puts them eight points ahead the second-place Islanders. As impressive as their numbers are, they haven’t always made it look easy.

As of right now, Washington leads the NHL in wins after trailing first. Their overall record when falling behind is 13-8-2. Arguably the most of the impressive occurred on Sunday night against the San Jose Sharks. After Logan Couture scored an empty-net goal, the Caps were down 4-2 with exactly one minute left in regulation. Jakub Vrana cut his team’s deficit in half with 47 seconds left and T.J. Oshie tied the game with 15 seconds remaining. In overtime, Lars Eller netted the game-winner for the Capitals.

They became just the eighth team in NHL history to win after trailing by more than one goal in the final minute of regulation. These Caps have that never-say-die attitude.

“I think you have to be willing to still stay in it,” head coach Todd Reirden said after Sunday’s victory. “A lot of teams, they won’t even bother pulling their goalie then. It’s a minute left, whatever; we just gave up an empty-netter. That’s not my philosophy or our philosophy as a team. We’ll take the goal against to never quit in a game.”

They also surrendered the first goal to the Ottawa Senators last night before scoring six unanswered goals.

The Capitals just keep finding a way to get the job done. Not only are most of these players veterans, they also have championship experience with their team. And based on their experience, they probably realize that they’ll face adversity in some way, shape or form on their route to another Stanley Cup Final.

At some point, they’re going to be trailing in a playoff game or in a series. When they won the Stanley Cup in 2018, they were down 2-0 in their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. They managed to keep the series on the rails by winning Game 3 in double overtime and they went on to win it all.

On the flip side, the Tampa Bay Lightning faced similar adversity in the first round last year. Unlike the Caps, the Bolts crumbled under the pressure of being down. They blew a sizeable lead in Game 1 and were never able to recover.

Of course, this ability to come from behind doesn’t guarantee any kind of success in the postseason, but it gives them a sense of confidence that they can dig themselves out of a hole.

“We don’t ever want to put ourselves in a situation where we have to score late goals like this,” forward Jakub Vrana said on Sunday, per NHL.com. “But at the same [time], it shows character, shows that we’re a strong group here. We never give up and that’s huge points today we grabbed from this game.”

The Caps will get a desperate opponent in Philadelphia tonight. The Flyers are currently tied with the Blue Jackets for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Florida Panthers are just one point behind them. So, it’s a jumbled mess in the standings in the East right now.

But Washington has had their share of success against Philadelphia. They’ve won five straight games over Philly and they’re 9-2-1 dating back to Jan. 2017.

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside Patrick Sharp and Keith Jones and Bob McKenzie. Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will call Flyers-Capitals game from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa.

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.

Sharks give away crucial point with late meltdown against Capitals

Capitals
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It is going to take an incredible second half for the San Jose Sharks to play their way back into playoff position. They need wins, and a lot of them. They were in a prime position on Sunday afternoon to pick up one of their most impressive wins of the season and were one minute away from winning their third game in a row by beating one of the league’s best teams in Washington.

Then everything fell apart.

The Sharks gave up two goals in the final 47 seconds of regulation, and then a game-winning goal to Lars Eller two minutes into overtime, to drop a 5-4 decision to the Capitals.

How they got there

Evander Kane had a massive game for the Sharks, scoring three goals for his second hat trick of the season to give the Sharks a 3-2 lead late in the third period.

When Logan Couture scored an empty-net goal with one minute to play in regulation to increase the lead to 4-2 everything seemed to wrapped up for the Sharks. Things quickly unraveled from there.

Off the ensuing face-off the Capitals easily gained entry into the Sharks’ zone and then capitalized on a failed clear when Jakub Vrana scored on a spinning shot from between the circles. That cut the deficit to one.

Just 32 seconds later T.J. Oshie scored the game-tying goal when he found a soft spot in the Sharks’ defense and ripped a one-timer into the back of the net. It was all set up by a slick passing play in the corner by Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Here is the game-tying sequence in the closing minute.

Bougher looks for positives

If you’re a Sharks fan and want to look at the bright side of things, they did go on the road and get a point from the best team in the league.

And for 59 minutes they did play really well. That was the message coach Bob Boughner tried to send across in his post-game interview.

“It’s tough to let that one get away, 4-2 with a minute to go. Third period we didn’t allow a lot 5-on-5, defensively we were pretty tight. You can take a million great things out of this game for us, but that’s why they lead the league, why they have the most points because they find ways to win games.

“As disappointed as I am, I am pretty content on the way our 5-on-5 game looks. You get a couple break downs, we don’t get one out on the wall in the 6-on-5. It comes back in our net. We ice one, we can’t get a couple centers out there on the next face-off, and things happen. All of that is forgotten if you score in overtime. We had a post, two-on-one, and a breakaway. That’s the way the game goes. We just have to concentrate on getting a day of rest tomorrow and taking the positives out of this one for the St. Louis game.”

Where they go from here

Bougher’s outlook is surprisingly optimistic given the way that game ended and where the Sharks are in the standings, but he’s also not entirely wrong.

The Sharks did do a lot of good things. There were positives to take out of it. And they have collected at least one point in five of their past six games (eight out of a possible 12). It is not hard to see things trending in a better direction. But still, when you are that far out of a playoff spot with that many teams ahead of you and have a chance to secure that second point you have to get it. You can not allow two goals in the final 60 seconds.

Things do not get any easier from here.

The Sharks’ schedule over the rest of January gets really intense, really fast. Their next 10 opponents include St. Louis, Colorado, Dallas, Arizona, Vancouver (twice), Columbus, and Tampa Bay. Other than Columbus (who is on an 8-1-4 run), all of those teams are currently in a playoff position and are among the hottest teams in the league.

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.