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The Buzzer: Guentzel’s hat trick leads rally; Hurricanes go bowling

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Three Stars

1. Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pittsburgh Penguins trailed by three goals after one period on Friday night, and then stormed back for a 7-4 win to hand the Anaheim Ducks their 10th loss in a row. There were a lot of stars in the win for the Penguins (Sidney Crosby was dominant even if he only recorded one point, Tanner Pearson scored two goals, Evgeni Malkin had four points) but it was Jake Guentzel that played a huge role, recording his second hat trick of the season. He scored two goals early in the second period to help the Penguins tie the game, and then added an empty netter later in the game to help put it away. He is now just one goal away from matching his season total from a year ago (22 goals).

2. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes. Jeff Skinner was back in Carolina on Friday night as a visiting player for the first time (and he scored his 30th goal of the season) but it was Sebastian Aho that ended up stealing the show with a pair of goals in the Hurricanes’ 4-3 win. They were both kind of fluky goals that went in the net off of Sabres defenders, but the Hurricanes will take them as they try to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Aho is now up to 18 goals on the season and continues to be one of the Hurricanes’ best players.

3. Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets. The Jets haven’t been playing their best lately, but they have still found a way to win three of their past four games thanks to their 4-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night. Blake Wheeler scored a goal and recorded his 49th assist, but Kyle Connor was the big contributor for the team with a three point night, scoring a goal and adding a pair of assists in the win. He is now up to 16 goals and 34 points on the season and remains one of the Jets’ most underrated players.

Highlights

The Carolina Hurricanes continued their season of fun victory celebrations by allowing team captain Justin Williams to go … bowling. Williams also scored a goal on the night.

Phil Kessel gets credit for the game-winning goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins and he absolutely refused to be denied.

How bad were the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night? John Gibson gave up six goals and was by far their best player. In the first period he was making saves like this.

Factoids

  • Jeff Skinner’s goal was his 30th of the season, and the fourth time he has scored 30 goals in his career. He is the first Sabres player to score at least 30 goals in a season since Jason Pominville did it during the 2011-12 season [Sabres PR]
  • Bryan Little recorded his 500th career point on Friday night and is the third player in the history of the franchise to record 500 points with it. [NHL PR]
  • No player in the NHL has ore points than Johnny Gaudreau‘s 38 since the start of December [Sportsnet Stats]

Scores

Carolina Hurricanes 4, Buffalo Sabres 3

Winnipeg Jets 4, Detroit Red Wings 2

Calgary Flames 4, Florida Panthers 2

Pittsburgh Penguins 7, Anaheim Ducks 4

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.

Chuck Fletcher’s plate will be full as new Flyers GM

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The Philadelphia Flyers have made it official and hired Chuck Fletcher as their new executive vice president and general manager, replacing Ron Hextall, who was fired on Nov. 26.

“At the conclusion of a rigorous review of GM candidates, Chuck Fletcher clearly stood out from the field of talented and capable executives we considered,” said Comcast Spectacor Chairman and CEO David Scott in a statement.  “Chuck has earned success throughout his impressive NHL career and offers the right mix of expertise, business acumen and leadership qualities that the Flyers need today as we work to achieve our ultimate goal, the Stanley Cup Championship.”

“The Flyers are proud to have Chuck Fletcher as the new general manager of our hockey club,” added Flyers president Holmgren. “Throughout his career he has helped shape teams that have consistently competed in the playoffs. In addition, Chuck’s tireless work ethic, wealth of knowledge and experience in the hockey community will be instrumental in leading our team into the future. I’d like to personally welcome Chuck to the Flyers family.”

The New Jersey Devils had employed Fletcher as a senior advisor this season, and when Hextall was fired the Flyers asked for permission to interview the 51-year-old, who was considered the front-runner. Holmgren said last week that the new GM would be from outside of the organization and someone who has a “bias for action,” a shot at Hextall’s desire to remain patient and not make irrational moves in the face of tough times.

Fletcher, who did not have his contract renewed last April following nine years with the Minnesota Wild, takes over a Flyers team out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture and with a number of decisions that need to be made.

• How aggressive will Fletcher be to implement change? Hextall’s patience didn’t mesh with the vision the Flyers’ brass had for the team, and as they kept sinking down the standings and goaltenders continued getting injured, there was no big move made. In fact, Hextall really didn’t make any blockbusters during his tenure. Among his notable moves in Minnesota, Fletcher did acquire the likes of Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Jason Pominville and Devan Dubnyk through trades. He did, of course, sign Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to those massive 13-year contracts and dealt Brent Burns and Nick Leddy away. (He picked up Coyle through that Burns deal, at least.)

• Can he fix the goaltending situation? The Flyers have used five goalies through 25 games, the most by any NHL team this season. Carter Hart, 20, is the future in net, but he still needs time to develop in the AHL before being handed the reins. Stop me if you’ve heard this before but there currently is no answer in goal in Philadelphia. Solving that problem should be atop Fletcher’s to-do list.

• Will Dave Hakstol last? “I hate to say Dave Hakstol’s fate is in the next GM’s hands but it is,” said Holmgren last week. “I’m not going to make that decision.” An 11-12-2 start as December gets rolling isn’t an ideal way to make playoff dreams become a reality. There are certainly names out on the coaching market — Joel Quenneville, Todd McLellan, Alain Vigneault — and you’d expect given all the talk from upper management they’re going to be aggressive to make improvements up and down the team. Replacing Hakstol might be a costly decision, but the Flyers have never been an organization to shy away from splashing the cash.

• What is the future of Wayne Simmonds? The 30-year-old forward is in the final year of his contract. With the addition of James van Riemsdyk and the need to extend restricted free agents Ivan Provorov, Scott Laughton, Travis Sandheim and Travis Konecny this summer, there may not be enough salary cap space to keep Simmonds, who was acquired as part of the Mike Richards trade in 2011.

***

In Fletcher’s nine seasons with the Wild, he went through four head coaches and the team made the Stanley Cup Playoffs six times, managing to get out of the opening round only twice.

The Flyers haven’t won a playoff series since 2012. Let the fun begin.

————

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.

WATCH LIVE: Sabres host Flyers on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers at the Buffalo Sabres at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

PROJECTED LINES

FLYERS

Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny

Oskar LindblomNolan PatrickJakub Voracek

James van RiemsdykJordan WealWayne Simmonds

Dale WeiseScott LaughtonJori Lehtera

Ivan ProvorovRobert Hagg

Shayne GostisbehereChristian Folin

Travis SanheimRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Alex Lyon

[WATCH LIVE – 7:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

SABRES

Jeff SkinnerJack EichelJason Pominville

Tage ThompsonVladimir SobotkaSam Reinhart

Conor ShearyCasey MittelstadtKyle Okposo

Zemgus GirgensonsJohan LarssonEvan Rodrigues

Jake McCabeRasmus Ristolainen

Rasmus DahlinZach Bogosian

Nathan BeaulieuCasey Nelson

Starting goalie: Carter Hutton

Soak it in: Buffalo Sabres are good

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Remember when the Buffalo Sabres were bad?

The answer is we all do. You don’t have to go that far back in the annals of hockey history to find some woefully bad Sabres teams.

But those days of Buffalo being the butt-end of jokes and all of that sort of thing seem to be over with. The western New Yorkers aren’t simply toiling as an embarrassing team anymore. It’s been a bit of a process to turn the ship around, but the fruits of that labor seem to be flourishing so far this season.

Case and point: Buffalo has now cobbled together five straight wins, including triumphs over the Tampa Bay Lightning — tops in the Atlantic Division — and the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild, teams sitting second and third in the Central Division, respectively.

They’ve embraced the grind, have learned to weather storms and are still standing at the end of it.

In Winnipeg on Friday, the Sabres were outshot 12-4 in the first period and survived. In Minnesota on Saturday, they were again pelted in the opening frame, doubled up 18-9 on the shot counter, and still found a way to only be down by a single goal.

And in both games, they battled back in the third, tied the game and then won it late in regulation or in extra hockey, as was the case in Winnipeg. And they did it on back-to-back nights when you’d have forgiven them for packing it in early against Minnesota after Friday’s game, which needed 65 minutes and seven rounds of a shootout.

Summer acquisitions of Jeff Skinner and Carter Hutton have played massive roles in Buffalo’s ascent up the standings a month-and-a-half into the season.

Skinner has 14 goals and 21 points in 20 games this season after coming over from the Carolina Hurricanes.

Hutton is 4-0-0 in his past four games with a 1.42 goals-against average and a .950 save percentage.

Linus Ullmark is 4-0-1 in his backup role and Buffalo had the 11th best team save percentage coming into Saturday. 

Their penalty kill is in the top 10

Jason Pominville has turned back the clock with nine goals and 17 points thus far. Thirty-five years old and the wear and tear of 1,000 games? Pfft. Pominville is laughing at Father Time. 

And most importantly, they’re resilient.

“I just think we bent a little bit but we didn’t break,” Sabres head coach Phil Housley said after Friday’s win in Winnipeg. “I think last year we maybe would have broke a little more and gave the game away. We hung in there. That’s what’s great about this group, that they stick with it. We make some adjustments in between periods and they follow through with those adjustments. But it’s great for them, they’ve shown the resiliency up to this point in the season.”

The Sabres are simply an exciting team to watch these days and they’re positioning themselves to be in the playoff hunt, both this year and in the future.

Imagine that.


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

WATCH LIVE: Sabres host Lightning on NBCSN

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Buffalo Sabres at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

For years, the Tampa Bay Lightning have chased a second Stanley Cup (and first with Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and Nikita Kucherov as their main stars). Meanwhile, the Buffalo Sabres have mainly chased competency.

Both teams seem like they’re heading nicely toward their goals. The Lightning just saw a four-game winning streak end, and with a 12-4-1 record (25 points), they lead the Eastern Conference and rank second in the NHL.

The Sabres have won three of their last four games, placing them at 9-6-2 for 20 points. Entering Tuesday’s action, Buffalo currently holds the East’s second wild-card spot.

[WATCH LIVE – 7:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

While the Lightning combine Stamkos-Kucherov with Brayden Point‘s impressive second line, the Sabres have enjoyed great work from Jack Eichel. Almost as importantly, they’ve seen marked improvements in various areas of the game.

Eichel vs. Stamkos/Point should be fun, and fans can also get a look at Rasmus Dahlin, who’s made a smooth transition for Buffalo after becoming the No. 1 overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft. This game should be an interesting barometer for the Sabres, as they face one of the league’s clearest powerhouses.

[Extended preview for Tuesday’s game]

What: Tampa Bay Lightning at Buffalo Sabres
Where: KeyBank Center
When: Tuesday, November 13th, 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Lightning-Sabres stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

LIGHTNING

J.T. Miller — Steven Stamkos — Nikita Kucherov

Yanni Gourde — Brayden Point — Tyler Johnson

Alex KillornAnthony CirelliMathieu Joseph

Danick Martel — Cedric PaquetteRyan Callahan

Victor Hedman — Dan Girardi

Ryan McDonagh — Erik Cernak

Braydon CoburnMikhail Sergachev

Starting goalie: Louis Domingue

Sabres

Jeff Skinner — Jack Eichel — Sam Reinhart

Vladimir SobotkaEvan RodriguesJason Pominville

Conor ShearyCasey MittelstadtKyle Okposo

Zemgus GirgensonsJohan LarssonTage Thompson

Jake McCabeRasmus Ristolainen

Marco ScandellaZach Bogosian

Nathan Beaulieu — Rasmus Dahlin

Starting goalie: Carter Hutton

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.