James Neal

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The Buzzer: Another big night for Eichel; Neal’s bounce-back continues

Three Stars

1. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres. Having lost nine of their previous 10 games the Buffalo Sabres desperately need to start stacking some wins together. They got a big one on Sunday when they crushed the Florida Panthers, 5-2, to snap what had been a three-game losing streak. Eichel was one of the big stars in this one as he finished with a goal and two assists in the win. He now has 12 points over his past six games.

2. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes. The Carolina Hurricanes’ 2-0 win over the Detroit Red Wings was a one-goal game until the final minute when they added an empty-net goal, but it was never really that close. Carolina was in control from the very beginning and ended up nearly doubling up the Red Wings on the shot chart, holding them to just 19 shots on goal for the game. Aho was the big star for the Hurricanes by scoring the game-winning goal and adding an assist on Teuvo Teravainen‘s empty-net goal. After a slow start that saw him record just one point in his first six games, Aho now has 19 points in the 17 games since.

3. James Neal, Edmonton Oilers. His bounce-back year continues. He scored his 14th goal of the season — and 10th on the power play — in the Oilers’ 4-3 shootout win over the Arizona Coyotes. Keep in mind this is the Oilers’ 26th game of the season. He scored seven goals in 63 games a year ago for the Calgary Flames before they traded him this offseason. No player on the Flames currently has more than 11 goals so far this season. Sunday’s win moved the Oilers into sole possession of first place in the Western Conference, moving them two points ahead of the St. Louis Blues.

Other notable performances from Sunday

  • James Reimer stopped all 19 shots he faced for the Hurricanes on Sunday to record first shutout of the season and his first as a member of the Hurricanes.
  • Zemgus Girgensons scored two goals for the Sabres in their win against Florida, while starting goalie Linus Ullmark stopped 43 out of 45 shots in net.
  • The Coyotes gained another point in the standings and defenseman Alex Goligoski played a big role in that with a three assist night.

Highlights of the Night

Eichel’s goal on Sunday was a great example of how he can make opposing defenders look silly and how quick his shot is.

Factoids

  • Andrei Svechnikov is the second teenager in Hurricanes/Whalers history to have a point streak of at least eight games, joining Ron Francis from the franchise’s Hartford days. [NHL PR]
  • Connor McDavid‘s point streak reaches 11 games, making it the second longest streak of his career. He also scored the game-winning goal for the Oilers in the shootout. [NHL PR]
  • The Sabres’ win snapped a six-game losing streak in Florida against the Panthers. [NHL PR]

Scores

Buffalo Sabres 5, Florida Panthers 2
Carolina Hurricanes 2, Detroit Red Wings 0
Edmonton Oilers 4, Arizona Coyotes 3 (SO)

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.

Fumbling Flames must not panic — certainly not with Gaudreau

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Things are pretty miserable for the Calgary Flames right now.

After suffering their fifth consecutive loss, Calgary saw its current spot solidified: out of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, if they began today. They’re “below .500” at 10-11-3, and whenever they need to add insults to their injuries, they merely need to glance at the latest snarky update about James Neal vs. Milan Lucic.

Johnny Gaudreau (and to an extent, Sean Monahan) haven’t been immune to tough times, either. Their lackluster play relative to their usual work is a cause for concern.

One might look at, say, Gaudreau’s RAPM chart from 2018-19 (via Evolving Hockey):

Then compare it to the slow start so far in 2019-20:

And start to wonder if there are deeper concerns than merely a star player experiencing a slump that also is extending to a big chunk of the team around him, one that came into 2019-20 with pretty high expectations.

That’s when things start to get a little bumpy. On Monday, The Athletic’s Darren Haynes goes as far as wonder: if it’s time for the Flames to trade Gaudreau (sub required)?

Amusingly, in arguing that the Flames waited too long to trade Jarome Iginla, Haynes uses basically the exact same phrasing I would deploy to talk Calgary off the ledge if there was any notion of trading the superstar winger.

Iginla’s situation remains a textbook example of the perils of listening to the heart, not the head, when it comes to the handling of star players on a team getting worse, not better, or underperforming and in need of a shake-up.

For those who actually need it, here’s why the Flames would be using anything but their heads in the hypothetical knee-jerk reaction of trading away Johnny Gaudreau.

1. Obvious buy-low situation for other teams

Any team pondering a rash decision with a player should do one almost-agonizingly obvious thing: look at their shooting percentage, and general luck.

Ding, ding: Gaudreau’s shooting percentage is just 7.8 so far in 2019-20, well below his career average of 12.5, and a far cry from last season’s 14.7. On-ice shooting percentage is a decent (but not perfect) quick-reference way to see if a playmaker’s passes aren’t resulting in as many goals as usual, and Gaudreau is cold there, too, with a nine-percent mark versus his career average of 10.6 percent.

Basically every sign (including PDO) makes this point: if this sustained for all of 2019-20, it would be easily the unluckiest in Gaudreau’s career. As we’ve learned from players ranging from Taylor Hall to Jeff Skinner, the best way to become a notoriously ridiculed GM is to trade someone when their value is at an all-time low.

2. The Flames’ overall luck has been bad, too.

In 2018-19, quite a few Flames enjoyed the best years of their careers, with Mark Giordano finally winning a Norris Trophy and Elias Lindholm loving life with Gaudreau and Monahan. The problem with career years is that, sometimes, you won’t be able to repeat them.

The truth about Calgary is likely somewhere between the red-hot run of the 2018-19 regular season and the ice-cold 2019-20 start.

The instinct might be to make a bold move to shake things up, but that’s exactly the type of situation that could lead to other teams taking advantage of your desperation.

3. Gaudreau is a steal

Thanks to bargains on other second-contract stars like Nathan MacKinnon (somehow $6.3M AAV through 2022-23), Johnny Gaudreau’s contract isn’t the biggest steal in the NHL. That said, Gaudreau carrying a $6.75M AAV through 2021-22 is still “maybe you should have a little talk with your agent” material.

At 26, Gaudreau remains deep in his prime, and at an attractively cost-controlled price. Giving up on that value because of a brief swoon is the sort of mistake that makes you an eternal — and, honestly, justified — punchline on social media.

4. Gaudreau is really popular

Flames GM Brad Treliving has been described as a “riverboat gambler,” but trading Gaudreau would probably be close to losing his deed in a bad bet than even losing his shirt.

Trading away Gaudreau wouldn’t just run the risk of being a bad hockey move and a bad bit of cap management. It would also be a dangerous PR gamble for a team that’s already dealing with some frustrated fans.

***

Look, the truth is that the Flames might not be quite as potent as they thought they were. That’s a bummer, and it’s understandable that they might grasp for answers, but panicking would likely only make things worse — especially if that meant parting ways with Gaudreau.

Frankly, it would be a troubling sign if they’d even consider it.

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.

Oilers snap Sharks’ win streak with big win

After a dreadful start to the 2019-20 regular season, the San Jose Sharks started to look like the perennial playoff contender we have become used to seeing.

A six-game winning streak helped steady the ship in the Bay area, but the Sharks ran into the dynamic tandem of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and fell to the Edmonton Oilers, 5-2.

While the Sharks don’t have the ultimate trophy to back up their run over the past decade, they have long been the class of the Pacific Division.

However, with a new culture in Edmonton, the Oilers are looking to establish themselves as the new elite team in the Western Conference.

Oilers kept foot on the gas pedal

A strong start helped the Oilers capture an early two-goal lead. But their response after Kevin Labanc cut their lead in half is why they left the arena with two points against a division rival. Not only did Jujhar Khaira score late in the first period to restore a two-goal advantage, James Neal recorded his 13th of the season to keep the game out of reach.

Neal has enjoyed a bounce-back season after an extremely tough season with the Calgary Flames last year.

Dave Tippet has installed a system that allows skilled players to flourish in the offensive zone as long as they handle their responsibilities on the other end of the ice.

Through 23 games, the results have been favorable in Edmonton.

Draisaitl deserves more respect

When mentioning the top players of the game throughout the NHL, Draisaitl is often left off most lists.

Connor McDavid’s tantalizing skill set usually overshadows Draisaitl, but the German forward is quietly leading the NHL in points (16 goals, 28 assists) and should be considered a favorite for the Hart Trophy.

Draisaitl is currently riding a 13-game point streak while McDavid extended his own point streak to eight games.

The Oilers have eyes on returning to the postseason but will need more secondary scoring to compete for a Stanley Cup. The question general manager Ken Holland will have to answer is, do they have the pieces internally, or does Edmonton need to make an acquisition?

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.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Stromes among this week’s top adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Andre Burakovsky, Avalanche – LW/RW: Washington took Burakovsky with the 23rd overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, but he never had much of a role with the Capitals. Burakovsky averaged 12:45 minutes over 328 career games with the Capitals and his best output was 38 points in 2015-16. Now with the Colorado Avalanche, he’s been given 15:11 minutes per game and has taken full advantage of the opportunity. He’s scored eight goals and 16 points in 20 games this season. Despite that strong start, he’s owned in just 23% of Yahoo leagues, so if you’re interested, the odds are in favor of him being available in your league.

Tyler Ennis, Senators – LW/RW: Early in Ennis’ career, he was a solid top-six forward, but his role declined substantially over the last couple years, to the point where the Maple Leafs gave him just 9:56 minutes per contest over 51 games last season. He’s been given a chance to rebound with the Senators though and so far he’s done alright with it. He got off to a pretty slow start with just two goals and three points in 12 games, but has settled in with three goals and six points in his last eight contests. His long-term value is still in question, but he’s worth the risk while he’s hot. 

Andrew Copp, Jets – C/LW: Like Ennis, Copp is a player who is hot now and thus worthy of short-term consideration, but also with the potential of having some staying power. First off, he has two goals and five points in his last six games, so clearly things have been working out for him lately. He’s never recorded more than 28 points in a single season, but he’s still relatively young at the age of 25, and he’s getting a far bigger role this season. He’s averaging 16:52 minutes, up from just 12:10 minutes in 2018-19. If he continues to get that kind of ice time, then there’s a fair chance that he’ll average out to be a solid secondary scorer.

Vladislav Namestnikov, Senators – LW/RW: Namestnikov began the season with the Rangers, but they traded him to the Ottawa on Oct. 7th in exchange for Nick Ebert and a 2021 fourth-round pick. He only averaged 13:30 minutes in two games with the Rangers prior to the trade, but he’s managed to carve out a sizable role for him with the Senators. He’s averaging 17:27 minutes per game since the trade and that’s led to him contributing six goals and 12 points in 18 games. His eligibility on both wings provides owners with some critical flexibility, making him a solid fallback option if you need injury relief.

Blake Coleman, Devils – LW/RW: Coleman had 22 goals and 36 points in 78 games last season, which isn’t too exciting by fantasy league standards, but his contributions tended to come in waves. That hot-and-cold nature makes him a potentially decent short-term pickup if you get the timing right and right now might be such an occasion. He’s on a three-game point streak heading into Tuesday’s action.

Dylan Strome, Blackhawks – C: Strome looked great after being acquired by Chicago last season, scoring 17 goals and 51 points in 58 games. He’s been somewhat hot-and-cold so far this season, but lately everything has been clicking for him. He has a goal and nine points in his last six contests. Unfortunately he only has center eligibility and that’s a rather deep position, but at the least he’s worthy of consideration while he’s hot.

Ryan Strome, Rangers – C/RW: While you’re at it, you may want to consider Dylan’s older brother, Ryan. The elder Strome has certainly has had some low points in his career already, but he seems to have finally put it all together this season. He has six goals and 18 points in 18 games while averaging 19:09 minutes. If he’s still available in your league, you should grab him.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld]

Zack Kassian, Oilers – RW: Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid have gotten off to an unreal start to the season, but the rest of the Oilers’ offense has been lacking. Kassian has been something of an unlikely exception to that. The 28-year-old has never reached the 30-point milestone, but he already has seven goals and 15 points in 22 contests. A big part of his success has been getting to play alongside McDavid and Draisaitl. Just one of Kassian’s 15 points didn’t involve Draisaitl or McDavid.

Phillip Danault, Canadiens – C: The biggest knock on Danault is that he only has center eligibility, but he’s been good enough that he’s worthy of consideration in spite of that. He has six goals and 15 points in 20 games while averaging 18:23 minutes per contest. He set a career-high last season with 53 points and it’s not unreasonable to believe that he will top that this time around.

Charlie Coyle, Bruins – C/RW: Coyle had 18 goals and 56 points in 82 games in 2016-17, but he hasn’t come close to that since. I’m not confident that this will be a bounce back season for him, but if you’re looking for a short-term pick up, then Coyle is pretty hot right now. He’s on a four-game point streak with two goals and five points over that span.

Players You May Want To Drop

Jonathan Drouin, Canadiens – C/LW: Drouin hit the ground running this season with three goals and eight points in his first eight games and 12 points in his first 13 contests. He was limited to three assists in six contests from Nov. 2-15 though and now he’s out with an upper-body injury. It’s not clear how long he’ll be sidelined for, but he was moved to the injured reserve list. Between the injury and his hot streak being over, it might be time to move on.

Tyson Barrie, Maple Leafs – D: This is a tough one. Barrie had 57 points in 2017-18 and 69 points in 2018-19, but he’s done very little offensively with the Maple Leafs. Through 22 games, he has no goals and six assists. The big X-Factor here is what might happen with Toronto’s coaching situation. There are certainly Leafs fans calling for Mike Babcock to be fired given the team’s shaky start, but is that actually going to happen? If it does, the new bench boss could make substantial changes that might lead to Barrie bouncing back. Those are some big ‘ifs’ though and in the meantime, he’s not much help.

James Neal, Oilers – LW/RW: Neal had an incredible nine goals in his first eight games this season, but his offensive contributions have dried up. He’s scored three goals and five points in his last 14 games and has only found the back of the net once in his last eight contests. It wouldn’t be surprising if he eventually got hot again, but that might not happen for a while and in the meantime he doesn’t have much value to fantasy owners.

Matt Niskanen, Flyers – D: Niskanen is another player who got off to a great start with a new team.  The defenseman had two goals and five points in nine contests and eight points in 14 games to start the campaign. He’s fizzled out though with an assist over his last six contests. Niskanen does chip in offensively, but not enough to make him worth owning long-term in standard fantasy leagues.

Nick Schmaltz, Coyotes – C/LW/RW: Schmaltz had 21 goals and 52 points in 78 games in 2017-18, but he was limited to 40 contests last season. So far this season he’s stood out with four goals and 16 points in 21 games, but those numbers are skewed by a stretch from Oct. 10-Nov. 5 where he scored four goals and 14 points in 13 games. Over his last six games, he’s been limited to two assists. I’m also a little worried about his role with the Coyotes. He’s averaging 15:48 minutes, which is down from 18:14 minutes in 2017-18 when he had those 52 points and 17:50 minutes last season.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey. 

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

The Buzzer: Eichel scores 4; Milestones for Stamkos, Coach Q

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Three Stars

1. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres. Entering play on Saturday the Sabres had lost seven of eight, were riding a six-game losing streak, and needed something to go their way to get things back on track. Their captain came to the rescue in a big way. Eichel scored four goals and provided all of the offense for the Sabres in a 4-2 win over the Ottawa Senators. It was the 10th four-goal game in Sabres franchise history and the first since Thomas Vanek did it during the 2009-10 season. It is already the the fourth four-goal game in the NHL this season, joining David Pastrnak, Anthony Mantha, and James Neal.

2. Derek Grant, Anaheim Ducks. Sometimes you need an unlikely hero to step up and the Ducks got that on Saturday when Grant scored three goals for his first career hat trick in a 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues. The win snapped what had been a nine-game point streak for the Blues, as well as a five-game losing streak for the Ducks. Entering Saturday Grant had scored just two goals on the season and only 18 in 228 career games.

3. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. The absence of linemates Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog has not slowed down MacKinnon one bit. He took over on Saturday night with two goals — including the overtime winner — and an assist in a 5-4 win for the Avalanche. His overtime goal was a highlight reel tally that helped the Avalanche secure the two points after allowing a two-goal lead to disappear in the final three minutes of regulation. He is now up to 29 points in his first 20 games this season and has three three-point games over the past five. Rookie defenseman Cale Makar also deserves some attention for his four-point game.

Two big milestones

Stamkos scores 400th goal. It came in a losing effort, but Steven Stamkos scored the 400th goal of his career on Saturday. It is a great accomplishment for one of the best goal-scorers of this era, and it also produces a pretty big “what if” question — how many goals would he have today had he not missed so many games in his peak seasons to significant injuries and a lockout? The only active player to hit the 400 goal mark in fewer games than Stamkos is Alex Ovechkin.

Quenneville wins 900th regular season game. Thanks to the Florida Panthers’ 4-3 win over the New York Rangers, Joel Quenneville became only the second coach in NHL history to record 900 regular season wins. Scotty Bowman is the only other coach to hit that number.

Other notable performances from Saturday

  • The Pittsburgh Penguins extended the Toronto Maple Leafs’ losing streak to five games in a dominant win. Evgeni Malkin and Dominik Kahun were the offensive stars for the Penguins as they dominated a Maple Leafs team that continues to look completely lost. Read all about this game here.
  • The Dallas Stars received big contributions from Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn as they overcame a two-goal third period deficit to beat the Edmonton Oilers in overtime. Read about how Seguin and Benn were difference-makers here.
  • Arizona Coyotes goalie Darcy Kuemper stopped all 38 shots he faced for his second shutout of the season. He also nearly sparked a goalie fight by slamming Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk to the ice. Read all about that game right here.
  • The Chicago Blackhawks no doubt remembered Pekka Rinne talking about what an “easy” game he had the first time he faced them this season. His night on Saturday was even easier because he only made it through half the game before being benched in a 7-2 rout. Alex Nylander scored two goals for the Blackhawks in the win.
  • Evgenii Dadonov scored two goals for the Panthers in their 4-3 win over the Rangers.
  • Andrei Svechnikov continued his strong sophomore season with an overtime winner for the Carolina Hurricanes. He is now up to nine goals this season.
  • Big win for the Winnipeg Jets against the Tampa Bay Lightning to improve to 8-3-1 in their past 12 games and remain surprisingly competitive in the NHL’s Central Division.
  • Here come the Sharks. Their 4-3 shootout win over the Detroit Red Wings improved their winning streak to six games.

Highlights of the Night

The New York Islanders’ point streak hit 14 games on Saturday (13-0-1) thanks to an incredible rally that saw them overcome a 3-0 deficit against the Philadelphia Flyers. Mathew Barzal scored the shootout winner and it was an absolute beauty of a goal.

The best shootout goal of the night, though, belonged to Washington Capitals forward Jakub Vrana for this Datsyuk-ian dangle to beat Jaroslav Halak in the fifth round of the shootout against the Boston Bruins. The Capitals won to improve to 14-3-4 on the season. That is the best record in the NHL.

We told you MacKinnon’s overtime winner was incredible, and here it is.

Blooper of the Night

It probably has to be that bizarre disallowed goal in Montreal where Phillip Danault, capping off a chaotic scramble around the goal line. Read all about it here.

Factoids

  • Jonathan Huberdeau now has more assists than any player in Panthers history. [NHL PR]
  • Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are the third set of teammates in the past 30 years to have at least 40 points through their team’s first 22 games of the season. [NHL PR]
  • Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter skated in his 1,000th career game on Saturday, making him the 11th player from the 2003 draft class to reach that milestone. The only other draft class with that many was the 1979 draft class. The Kings were 4-3 winners over the Vegas Golden Knights on Carter’s big day. [NHL PR]

Scores

Carolina Hurricanes 4, Minnesota Wild 3 (OT)
Los Angeles Kings 4, Vegas Golden Knights 3
Dallas Star 5, Edmonton Oilers 4 (OT)
Arizona Coyotes 3, Calgary Flames 0
Winnipeg Jets 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 3
Washington Capitals 3, Boston Bruins 2 (SO)
Buffalo Sabres 4, Ottawa Senators 2
New Jersey Devils 4, Montreal Canadiens 3 (OT)
Florida Panthers 4, New York Rangers 3
New York Islanders, Philadelphia 3 (SO)
Pittsburgh Penguins 6, Toronto Maple Leafs 1
Anaheim Ducks 4, St. Louis Blues 1
Chicago Blackhawks 7, Nashville Predators 2
Colorado Avalanche 5, Vancouver Canucks 4 (OT)
San Jose Sharks 4, Detroit Red Wings 3 (SO)

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.