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Plekanec announces NHL retirement as Canadiens terminate contract

Tomas Plekanec’s NHL career came to an end on Friday.

The Montreal Canadiens announced that the 36-year-old Plekanec was being placed on unconditional waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract.

“I always wanted to retire a Montreal Canadien,” Plekanec said.

General manager Marc Bergevin said that with the development of the team’s young centers — Phillip Danault, Max Domi and Jesperi Kotkaniemi — he felt it was time to move on and go with the kids.

“The organization made a hockey decision regarding the future of Pleky,” said Bergevin. “It was a tough decision to make. Tomas will always be a part of the Canadiens family.”

The decision, according to Bergevin, was mutual, and Plekanec’s $2.25M cap hit will come off the team’s books.

Plekanec isn’t sure what’s next, only that he wants to continue playing and will try to do so in Europe, possibly joining HC Kladno of the Czech Republic, the team that Jaromir Jagr plays for and owns.

The 15-year veteran played only three games this season after returning to Montreal following a brief stop with the Toronto Maple Leafs at the end of last season. Plekanec, a third round pick of the Habs in 2001, reached the 1,000-game mark on Oct. 15 and leaves the NHL with 233 goals and 608 points.

All but 17 of his 1,001 NHL games came with the Canadiens.

“I’m going to miss the guys. It’s another family, coming here every morning,” Plekanec said. “Now, it’s gone. It’s something I’m going to miss, for sure. I’m going to watch them and cheer for them.”

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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.

The Buzzer: Kotkaniemi’s breakout game, Koskinen’s shutout, Flames’ rally

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Three Stars

1. Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets. Laine entered Thursday’s game against the Florida Panthers with just three goals and five total points in his first 12 games, and had gone five consecutive games without a point. You can now consider that slump over. Laine matched his goal total for the season entering Thursday with a hat trick performance in his home country as the Jets picked up a 4-2 win over the Panthers in Finland. Even with the slow start it was only a matter of time until Laine had a breakout game. He still managed 17 shots on goal in the previous five games and is simply too good and too talented to be held off the scoresheet for that long. Especially when he was still generating shots the way he was. Eventually they were going to start finding the back of the net for him. On Thursday afternoon they started to.

2. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Montreal Canadiens. Kotkaniemi, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 draft, scored his first two NHL goals on Thursday night to help lead the Canadiens to a 6-4 win over the Washington Capitals in a game that also saw his team set an NHL record for fastest two goals by one team. His goals were also big ones for the 2018 rookie class as now all of the top-four picks from this year (Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov, Kotkaniemi, and Brady Tkachuk) have scored at least one goal in the season following their draft year. That is something that has not happened since the 2009-10 season.

3. Mikko Koskinen, Edmonton Oilers. The Edmonton Oilers won for the fourth time in their past five games by shutting out the Chicago Blackhawks, 4-0. Drake Caggiula scored twice in the win, but backup goalie Mikko Koskinen played the best game of his brief career by stopping all 40 shots he faced. Koskinen’s addition to the Oilers roster was a bizarre one over the summer given how much they paid him, the fact they guaranteed him a roster spot, and the fact he had not played a game in the NHL since 2010-11 … and even then he only played four games. He came through in a big way on Thursday night. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, extended their current losing streak to four games.

Other notable performances from a busy night

• The Calgary Flames trailed the Colorado Avalanche by three goals entering the third period before erupting for five consecutive goals to take a 6-5 win. Among those scoring in the comeback: Elias Lindholm who has already scored nine goals for the Flames after coming over in the Dougie Hamilton trade over the summer. Free agent acquisition James Neal also scored a big goal, tying the game as part of a four-minute stretch where the Flames would score three goals.

Sergei Bobrovsky has not looked like himself yet this season but finally did on Thursday night, stopping 44 of the 45 shots he faced in a 4-1 win over the San Jose Sharks, whose six-game point streak came to an end. Before Thursday’s game the Sharks had recorded at least a point in eight of their previous nine games.

• It was another rough night for the Southern California teams as the Anaheim Ducks dropped a 3-2 shootout decision to the New York Rangers, losing for the seventh time in a row. The Kings, meanwhile, dropped a 5-2 decision to the Philadelphia Flyers and have now lost seven of their past eight games. They have scored two goals or fewer in all of the losses during that stretch.

• The Ottawa Senators snapped a four-game losing streak with a win over the Buffalo Sabres, and it was Craig Anderson playing a starring role as he stopped 46 out of 48 shots.

• Break up the … Detroit Red Wings? After going the first 10 games of the season without registering a regulation win (and only one shootout win total) the Red Wings have now three games in a row thanks to their 4-3 win over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday. All three of those wins have come in regulation.

Anton Khudobin stopped 31 shots as the Dallas Stars shut down the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs are now 2-4-0 in their past six games.

• The St. Louis Blues got a much-needed win with a 5-3 performance over the Vegas Golden Knights. The difference in the game was Oskar Sundqvist, who scored a pair of goals. That matched his career goal total entering the night (two goals in 72 career games).

Highlights of the Night

In what might have been a Stanley Cup Final preview the Nashville Predators continued to roll on Thursday night with a 4-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The play of the night was this Ryan Johansen pass to set up Roman Josi for the eventual game-winning goal.

Factoids

It was a big night for personal milestones around the NHL as Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Ron Hainsey and Buffalo Sabres forward Jason Pominville both played in their 1,000th career games on Thursday night. Both teams were on the losing end of their games, but Pominville did score a goal on his special night.

• Big win for the New York Islanders on Thursday night over the Pittsburgh Penguins, thanks in part to a tremendous showing from goalie Thomas Greiss.

• Also worth pointing out one more time: The Montreal Canadiens set an NHL record tonight for the fastest two goals scored by one team. Two seconds apart.

Scores
Winnipeg Jets 4, Florida Panthers 2
Dallas Stars 2, Toronto Maple Leafs 1
New York Islanders 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 2 (SO)
Montreal Canadiens 6, Washington Capitals 4
Ottawa Senators 4, Buffalo Sabres 2
Nashville Predators 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 1
Detroit Red Wings 4, New Jersey Devils 3
St. Louis Blues 5, Vegas Golden Knights 3
Calgary Flames 6, Colorado Avalanche 5
Edmonton Oilers 4, Chicago Blackhawks 0
New York Rangers 3, Anaheim Ducks 2 (SO)
Columbus Blue Jackets 4, San Jose Sharks 1
Philadelphia Flyers 5, Los Angeles Kings 2

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Canadiens set NHL record by scoring two goals in two seconds

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Here is a fun one from Thursday night’s NHL action.

The Montreal Canadiens continued their impressive start on Thursday night with a 6-4 win over the Washington Capitals to improve to 7-3-2 on the season. Few people, if any, saw this sort of start coming from this Canadiens team. But here we are.

The latest win was highlighted by prized rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 draft, scoring his first two NHL goals, and the Canadiens setting a new NHL record by scoring the fastest two goals by one team in NHL history.

How fast?

Two seconds.

It started when Max Domi, who continues to do his part to silence a lot of critics of the offseason trade that sent him to Montreal (including yours truly), scored his sixth goal of the season with just 22 seconds to play to give the Canadiens a 5-4 lead.

The fact he already has six goals this season is especially noteworthy because he only scored nine in each of the past two seasons.

Two seconds later Joel Armia scored on a play right off of the ensuing faceoff.

Sure, it was an empty net goal. But a goal is a goal, and any goal two seconds after another goal is something worth noting. Because it has never happened before.

Quite the way to end a win over the defending Stanley Cup champions.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Canadiens using speed to overwhelm opponents

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Heading into the 2018-19 NHL season, the expectations weren’t very high for the Montreal Canadiens. After all, a team that has struggled to score goals five-on-five traded away Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk. But thanks to their newfound identity, they’ve managed to exceed all expectations  and boast a 5-2-2 through nine games.

The Canadiens don’t have a superstar up front or an elite player on defense (Shea Weber is still injured), and Carey Price hasn’t even been dominant yet, but they’ve managed to remain competitive thanks to their ability to move the puck quickly. Also, newcomers like Max Domi, Tomas Tatar, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Xavier Ouellet have fit in really nicely, and they’ve all contributed to the speed the team is playing with.

Not every player on the roster is fast, but Claude Julien and his staff have found a way to change their approach after a horrendous year in 2017-18. Coaching additions like Dominique Ducharme and Luke Richardson have also helped with that change.

When things are going well for the Canadiens, you can tell by the little time they spend in their own end. Last season, it seemed like they would get hemmed in the defensive zone all the time. Now, their defenders have found a way to move the puck quicker. The fact that the forwards have made themselves more available to receive those quick passes has helped the team get out of their own end with relative ease. Moving the puck allows the Canadiens to play a quick transition game, which eventually leads to some offensive output.

That’s why a veteran like Karl Alzner hasn’t been able to get into the lineup consistently. The Habs have favored skating defensemen like Jeff Petry, Victor Mete, Noah Juulsen, Mike Reilly and Ouellet, and it’s made all the difference.

The other interesting thing about Montreal, is that they can come at you with four lines. Some nights, Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Danault and Tatar will lead the way. Other times, it will be Jonathan Drouin, Domi and Artturi Lehkonen. The team has also used Kotkaniemi, Joel Armia and Paul Byron together, and they have fourth-line options that include Andrew Shaw, Matthew Peca, Charles Hudon, Nikita Scherbak and Nicolas Deslauriers.

“I wouldn’t say we’re superstars, but everybody is working hard,” Tatar said. “That’s the key. Without that, you’re not able to win a game. We have four lines rolling and everyone is chipping in. That’s a strength for sure.”

Even though they’re coming off a loss in Buffalo last night, no one predicted that they’d have just two regulation defeats in their first nine games, especially because they went up against Toronto and Pittsburgh (twice).

The biggest question mark surrounding the Canadiens is whether or not they can keep this up. Playing fast and being aggressive on the forecheck every night takes its toll on a team. Keeping that in mind, they’re not an overly big team, either, so they might wear down a little quicker, too.

When they hit the dog days of the season, they’ll need Price to be stellar. For now, they just have to find a way to keep this going for as long as they can.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Changing face (and pace) of NHL underdogs

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Sports fans love underdogs, yet for far too long in the NHL, defying the odds meant slowing hockey down to an agonizingly boring level.

As surreal as it was to see the 2010 Canadiens shock the Capitals and Penguins thanks to an out-of-body experience by Jaroslav Halak, you wonder if upsets like those sent the wrong message: just turtle and hope your goalie can save the day. Such tactics made fans of the sport as a whole shudder back to the Devils trapping the Red Wings into oblivion during the 1995 Stanley Cup Final, and probably long before that. Maybe a team could steal wins with such tactics, but viewers became the biggest losers.

We’re still very much in the “don’t get fooled by early results” portion of the 2018-19 season, yet I can’t help but wonder: are NHL underdogs becoming … fun?

Pushing the pace instead of lagging behind

Amusingly enough, the current rendition of the Montreal Canadiens could be the latest example of a team realizing that they’re not particularly imposing on paper, shrugging their shoulders, and throwing caution to the wind.

The Habs are off to a 3-1-1 start, and while gravity will almost certainly pull them down a bit, they haven’t been riding good luck alone.

So far, they’re firing a hail of pucks on opponents, averaging 36 shots on goal per contest while giving up just 26.6 against. Even the NHL’s elite teams don’t tend to generate such a massive differential of scoring chances over the long haul of an 82-game season, but the point is clear: through five games, this Canadiens team has been relentless.

[How the Habs could exceed expectations this season]

That stretch included an overtime loss to the Maple Leafs, plus two impressive wins against the Penguins. In the past – and in past editions of the Habs – they probably would’ve merely tried to slow down those seemingly mighty teams.

Dice up the numbers in any variety of ways (high-danger chances, shots, scoring chances), and it’s clear that the Canadiens have been very aggressive to begin the season. It makes earlier comments from Claude Julien seem like more than just boilerplate material about playing with more speed.

“We’re trying not to get painted on the wall and stopped,” Julien said in late September, via Sportsnet’s Eric Engels. “I think we’re in movement a lot more this year and our transition game is better because of that. We talked about our speed and we just want to use our speed more. When you have to stop and take off again, it takes away from that speed. So it’s not about going in circles; it’s about making sure that you’re in movement all the time so that when you do get the puck you’ve already got some of that speed.”

Julien added that “with good transition and quick play you’re able to catch teams off balance,” and in all honesty, the Canadiens caught me off balance, too. It’s fascinating to see this Montreal squad shake off an ugly season and summer to just play, and this could be the latest example of what we should all hope is a larger trend of teams pushing the pace even during perceived rebuilds.

Young legs

Now, again, we aren’t even in November. The Canadiens are certain to cool off, with the main question being how much they slow down.

Early on, they’ve been embracing a youth movement. One thing that sticks out is how their defense is playing a more modern style.

While Shea Weber continues his murky knee injury rehab, slow-footed, expensive defenseman Karl Alzner hasn’t managed to suit up for Montreal yet this season. Instead, the defensive minutes are going to Mike Reilly, Jeff Petry (as usual), and Noah Juulsen. While Petry is 30, Reilly is 25 and Juulsen is 21.

There will be growing pains with such an alignment, and the Canadiens probably can’t manufacture too many wins with Antti Niemi in net instead of Carey Price. There’s also the very real threat of slipping into old, slow, habits once older, slower players return to the mix.

Still, it means a lot that this team is at least bringing energy and enthusiasm to the rink. Other fledgling teams should take note: let your young players play, and let them make mistakes. More often than not, the pros outweigh the cons when you allow skilled athletes to take chances. Really, wouldn’t it be better to lose and be entertaining than to lose and put your fans into a sad slumber?

Excusing mistakes and growing pains hasn’t always been Julien’s calling card, but by going younger on defense and embracing fresh faces like rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi, this Canadiens team has been far more exciting than expected.

“I just never knew where I stood; it was one mistake, you’re coming out of the game,” Reilly said, via The Athletic’s Arpon Basu (sub required). “That’s kind of the way it was, it was one mistake and no trust. So it feels good that you can kind of come in here – obviously you’re going to be held accountable – but if you make one little mistake you’ve got to move on. That’s what I like about this.”

[More on the burst Montreal receives from Kotkaniemi]

To some extent, the Ottawa Senators have also been more refreshing than expected, with Chris Tierney, Brady Tkachuk, and Thomas Chabot powering a respectable start. Their numbers indicate that there’s been more smoke and mirrors involved than with Montreal (again, the Habs have been dictating play).

The point that hopefully gets across to NHL teams – particularly coaches and GMs – is that you don’t need to bog down the game to try to save face, even if your team enters a season looking weak on paper.

Embracing the reality of a faster NHL

Refreshingly, there are examples with larger sample sizes.

The Colorado Avalanche essentially paralleled the Senators and Habs expectations entering 2017-18, only to make the playoffs and occasionally give the Predators fits with their speed and aggressiveness. The New Jersey Devils also carried low expectations into last season. Instead of, well, playing like most people expect the Devils to play, they went for a run-and-gun style that fit their roster and camouflaged a shaky defense. Both experiments were brilliant successes, and each team is off to promising starts in 2018-19.

Amusingly, this emphasis on skill and speed – or even “outscoring your problems” – could possibly be traced back to the repeat champion Penguins, who haven’t ranked as underdogs in ages.

The Penguins and other teams are forging a more lightning-fast NHL, so other teams must decide if they want to adapt or be left behind. Underdogs like the Canadiens aren’t likely to keep pace over the marathon of an 82-game season, but it’s more fun (and probably more effective) to see them race along rather than making like the tortoises of old.

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.