Jesperi Kotkaniemi

NHL on NBCSN: Bruins a big test for Canadiens team trying to make its mark

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins. 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.

For the past four years the Montreal Canadiens have been stuck in hockey purgatory.

They haven’t made the playoffs since the 2016-17 season, they haven’t won a playoff round since 2014-15, and they haven’t really taken a step in any real direction as an organization. They are not really a rebuilding team, but they have clearly not been a Stanley Cup contender, either. They just kind of exist in the middle of the league trying to find their way and make their mark in a top-heavy division that has been dominated by three of the league’s best teams the past three years.

On Tuesday night they get a major test against one of those teams — the Boston Bruins — in the latest chapter of one of the league’s fiercest rivalries. It will be a pretty good measuring stick game for a team that has showed flashes of potential this season.

One of the biggest positives in Montreal has been an offense that has been one of the league’s best through the first 14 games.

They enter Tuesday’s game fifth in the league in goals per game, sixth in shots on goal per game, and already have six players with at least four goals scored on the season, including three players with at least five goals. And that is with two of their best young players for the future — Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki — not yet having a breakout offensively.

Jonathan Drouin has started to play like the impact player the Canadiens hoped he would be when they traded Mikhail Sergachev for him, Brendan Gallagher is still one of the league’s most underrated players as a possession-driving, 30-goal forward, and veterans like Tomas Tatar and Max Domi are still solid top-six wingers that can contribute to a contender.

[COVERAGE OF HABS-BRUINS BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

When you look at how the Canadiens have played there’s a lot to like in their game. They are tilting the ice in their favor (as the shot attempt and scoring chance numbers illustrate) and they can obviously score a little bit. But results have not always been there yet as they have played at a 93-point pace entering Tuesday’s game.

That would almost certainly just barely leave them on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture yet again (they missed with 96 points a year ago). It would be an almost identical repeat of the 2018-19 season, and it just reinforces the single biggest problem with the current Canadiens’ organization — they are good, but not quite good enough and missing that one significant piece to help them break through the glass ceiling they have seemingly constructed over their heads.

The encouraging thing about this season is their territorial advantage is starting to produce more goals (something that was a problem last year) and should give them a chance to pick up the few extra wins they need, especially if Carey Price can be Carey Price when he plays (a capable backup to give him a break on occasion would also help).

Getting two points on Tuesday would be a nice step toward building something positive this season, especially as the schedule starts to lighten over the next couple of weeks. Their next 11 games after Boston include matchups against: Philadelphia (twice), Los Angeles, Columbus (twice), Ottawa, New York Rangers, and New Jersey (twice). There is a chance to stack some wins and get some points.

And for as good as Boston has been this season, and as dominant as the top line of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron has been, the Canadiens are catching a little bit of a break here with the schedule. While Montreal was sitting at home on Monday, the Bruins were playing a grueling back-and-forth game with the Pittsburgh Penguins, which was followed by an overnight trip to Montreal. There is an opportunity there for the Canadiens to pounce on a tired opponent, win a measuring stick game, and maybe start building something for this season.

Kathryn Tappen will anchor tonight’s studio coverage with Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter. John Forslund and Mike Milbury will have the call from Bell Centre in Montreal, Que.

NBC Sports will premiere “The Russian Five” documentary, a feature on the first five Russians to play hockey together in the NHL, Wednesday, November 6, following Wednesday Night Hockey between the Red Wings and Rangers. The documentary tells the story of how Sergei Fedorov, Slava Fetisov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Slava Kozlov, and Igor Larionov were able to defect from their homeland and transform the Detroit Red Wings into perennial contenders and back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions in 1996-97 and 1997-98.

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: Sharks bleeding goals; Panthers heating up

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Another Monday morning, another PHT Face-Off setting up the week to come in the NHL. Now that we’re officially in the month of November, we have to start taking some of these on-ice trends a little more seriously. Let’s take a look at what stand outs and what may continue to stand out over the next seven days.

• Two points per game for Pastrnak:

Many players in the NHL are off to incredible starts, but Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak is the only player in the league that’s averaging more than two points per game this season. Pastrnak has 13 goals and 27 points in 13 games (2.08 PPG). As you’d imagine, he’s been out of this world this year. When he’s on the ice, the Bruins control more than 58 percent of the shot attempts, 68 percent of the goals scored, almost 59 percent of the scoring changes and 58.49 percent of the high-danger chances. (all stats via Natural Stat Trick)

Through 13 games, the Bruins’ top line of Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand have combined to score 58.7 percent of Boston’s goals (27 of 46). Sure, they’re top heavy, but who cares? That’s flat-out dominance. No matter the match up, the Bruins have have been the better side. They’ve dropped just three games all season (one in regulation) and although they’ll have a busy week, they should continue to find success.

Their hot start is even more impressive when you consider that they went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final last season. The teams around them in division (Toronto, Tampa Bay) have struggled out of the gate. The Bruins have been all business and they owe a lot of that to their top forward, Pastrnak.

• Ryan Poehling gets his shot: 

On Sunday, the Montreal Canadiens recalled Ryan Poehling from the AHL’s Laval Rocket. Poehling was Montreal’s first-round pick, 25th overall, in the 2017 NHL Draft. He had three strong years at St. Cloud State, he was also named the M.V.P. at the World Junior Hockey Championship for Team USA last year and he made quite an impression in his NHL debut at the end of the 2018-19 campaign.

After signing his entry-level contract late in the season, the 20-year-old got to play in his first NHL game on the last day of the regular season. Not only did Poehling suit up against the Toronto Maple Leafs last April, he scored a hat trick in his debut and he added the game-winner in the shootout.

Well, now that Jesperi Kotkaniemi is on injured reserve, Poehling will get a chance to take on another big rival, as the Bruins will pull up to the Bell Center on Tuesday night (you can watch that game on NBCSN, by the way).

We’ll find out if he’s here to stay or if he still needs time to marinate in the minors.

• Panthers coming on strong: 

Panthers center Aleksander Barkov picked up three assists in his first five games of the season. What has he done since then? It took him some time to score his first goal of the season (he did that on Oct. 30), but he’s now scored in back-to-back games and he’s picked up an incredible 14 points in his last nine games.

Teammate Jonathan Huberdeau, who might be the most underrated star in the NHL (he had the quietest 92-point season ever in 2018-19), is also off to a blazing start. He’s scored an impressive nine goals and nine assists in 14 games already this year. Understandably, everyone is talking about the duos of Marchand and Pastrnak in Boston and Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton, but the Panthers’ top duo is currently 10th and 11th in NHL scoring right now.

The Panthers have suffered just one regulation loss in their last 11 games and they’re not occupying one of the top three spots in the Atlantic Division. Impressive.

• How about those Vancouver Canucks:

Raise your hand if you thought the Canucks were going to be one of the best teams in the NHL through the first month of the season. What? Nobody?

Well, the Canucks have been getting the job done. They were consistent in October and they’re off to a 1-0-1 start in November. Elias Pettersson is definitely leading the charge for the Canucks, as he’s accumulated 20 points in 14 games in his second season, but his supporting cast has been strong too.

Brock Boeser (16 points in 14 games) and J.T. Miller (15 points in 14 games) have also carried their weight. Bo Horvat is right below that point-per-game clip, while Alex Edler has managed to stay healthy so far (he’s averaging over 25 minutes of ice time per game). And rookie Quinn Hughes is sidelined with an injury now, but he’s also up to 10 points in just 13 games. Even goaltender Jacob Markstrom has done a nice job between the pipes.

Let’s see if they can keep this going.

• Sharks can’t keep puck out of net: 

The San Jose Sharks probably aren’t happy with the amount of goals they’ve scored this season, but keeping the puck out of the net is a major issue for them, too.

The Sharks, who are 4-10-1, have surrendered 56 goals in 15 games. The only teams that have given up more goals than them are Los Angeles and Detroit, who have both given up 57. Yeah, that’s bad. Everyone expected the Kings and Wings to be bad, but no one thought the Sharks would be this brutal.

As you’d imagine, they’re bleeding high-danger chances so far. According to Natural Stat Trick, their 138 high-danger chances against is tied for second with Washington. Only the Winnipeg Jets have surrendered more of those. Also, no team has given up more goals from high-danger chances than San Jose (25).

Erik Karlsson doesn’t look right, Marc-Edouard Vlasic hasn’t been very good and a lot of the older players look, well, old.

There’s still time for them to get this turned around, but at a certain point you are what your record says you are.

What’s coming up this week

• Islanders look to push their winning streak to 10 games vs. Ottawa, Tue. Nov. 5, 7 p.m. ET.

• The defending Stanley Cup champion champion St. Louis Blues go head-to-head against Connor McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl, Wed. Nov. 6, 8:30 p.m. ET.

• NHL Global Series continues with Tampa Bay and Buffalo on Friday (2 p.m. ET) and Saturday (1 p.m. ET) in Stockholm, Sweden.

• 2018 Stanley Cup Final rematch: Golden Knights at Capitals, Sat. Nov. 9, 7 p.m. ET.

NHL on NBCSN
• Bruins vs. Canadiens, Tue. Nov. 5, 7:30 p.m. ET
• Blackhawks vs. Sharks, Tue. Nov. 5, 10 p.m. ET
• Lightning vs. Sabres from Stockholm, Sweden, Fri. Nov. 8, 2 p.m. ET

Wednesday Night Hockey
• Red Wings vs. Rangers, Wed. Nov. 6, 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.

 

Max Domi continues to excel in year two with Habs

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When the Montreal Canadiens acquired Max Domi from the Arizona Coyotes in the summer of 2018, they were landing a player that had nine goals and 38 and 45 points in his two previous seasons. But in his first year as a Hab, he took his game to another level. He finished the season with a career-high 28 goals and 72 points in 82 games while playing down the middle. What does he do for an encore in year two?

Usually, the leading scorer on a team will get to play with some of the better players on the roster, but Domi’s in a bit of a unique spot. Montreal’s “first” line is made up of Phillip Danault, Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher, who have played together since last season. They’re a very effective line and head coach Claude Julien likes having them together.

The “third” line is made up of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Joel Armia (when healthy) and Jonathan Drouin, who spent a considerable amount of time playing with Domi last year (they weren’t overly effective together). So that doesn’t leave many options for the 24-year-old, who opened the season with offensively-challenged winger Artturi Lehkonen and rookie Nick Suzuki.

Lehkonen is a responsible winger while Suzuki struggled to get his footing early on. Paul Byron, Drouin and Jordan Weal have all spent time on that “second” line at five-on-five. Now that Suzuki has started producing on a different line, Julien is promoting him back to Domi’s line ahead of Thursday’s game against the San Jose Sharks. How have the rotating players affected Domi’s on-ice performance in 2019-20? It hasn’t affected him negatively at all.

As of right now, he’s picked up three goals and nine points in nine games. He has a CF% of 56.36, a SCF% of 57.14, a HDCF% of 63.41 and a very reasonable PDO of .994.

The Habs forward has also contributed to an improving Montreal power play that ranked 30th last season. He’s currently tied for the team lead in power-play points, with four. This is a Canadiens team that missed the playoffs by three points last year. If they can continue to get solid production from their special teams unit, that could be the difference between staying home in April and making it to the postseason.

[MORE: Q&A: Max Domi on the pressure in Montreal, getting Canadiens back to playoffs]

The once controversial trade of Domi for Alex Galchenyuk is no longer being questioned in Montreal. Domi has been so much better and healthier than Galchenyuk that this has become one of the biggest steals of general manager Marc Bergevin’s tenure with the Canadiens.

What makes his time in Montreal even more impressive is that he’s putting up these numbers while transitioning from wing to center. Yes, he struggled with defensive-zone coverage at times last year and he won just 44.9 percent of his face-offs, but those are two things that should improve as he gains experience. We’ll see if he can keep it up, but he’s already winning 50 percent of his draws through nine games.

If he had 72 points last year and he continues to improve, it’s fair to wonder just how high his ceiling is. Can he become a point-per-game player on a yearly basis? That’s entirely possible. Another interesting storyline to follow will be his next contract (he’s going to be a restricted free agent at the end of the year). When he was acquired by Montreal, he signed a two-year bridge deal worth $3.150 million per year. If he builds on last season’s numbers and stays healthy, it’s entirely possible that he could fetch upwards of $7 million or $8 million annually on a long-term deal.

Whatever the price ends up being, Bergevin will probably be happy to pay it given how well this trade has turned out for an organization that has been dying for a talented center like Domi for more than decade.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Canadiens vs. Lightning on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

These Atlantic Division foes meet for the first of four times this season as the Canadiens continue with the third game of their four-game homestand. The Lightning, on the other hand, play away from home for the fifth time in six games this season.

One of the biggest questions for Tampa entering this season was when Brayden Point would re-sign. The 23-year-old is coming off a season in which he set career best marks in goals (41), assists (51) and points (92). On September 23, he signed a three-year contract to stay with the Lightning, the only team he’s played for as he begins his fourth season. Point missed the first three games this season while recovering from off-season hip surgery but made an immediate impact in his season debut, scoring twice against Toronto and adding an assist.

While the Canadiens, who are looking to return to the playoffs for the first time in three years (2017), are coming off an encouraging early-season win, the Lightning, after a record-setting regular season, have already lost as many games this season as they did the entire opening month of last season

Jonathan Drouin played a career-high 81 games last season (tied career high with 53 points). The 2013 third overall pick by Tampa has started this season by recording a point in every game for a total of six points in five games. If he adds to that in this game, he’ll be the fourth Canadiens player in the last 32 seasons to open the year with a point streak of six-plus games.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning at Montreal Canadiens
WHERE: Bell Centre
WHEN: Tuesday, Oct. 15, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Canadiens stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

LIGHTNING
Steven Stamkos – Brayden Point – Nikita Kucherov
Alex KillornAnthony CirelliMathieu Joseph
Ondrej PalatTyler JohnsonYanni Gourde
Patrick Maroon – Carter Verhaeghe – Luke Witkowski

Victor HedmanErik Cernak
Ryan McDonaghKevin Shattenkirk
Braydon CoburnMikhail Sergachev

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

CANADIENS
Tomas TatarPhillip DanaultBrendan Gallagher
Artturi LehkonenMax DomiJordan Weal
Jonathan Drouin – Jesperi KotkaniemiJoel Armia
Paul ByronNate Thompson – Nick Suzuki

Victor MeteShea Weber
Brett KulakJeff Petry
Ben ChiarotChristian Folin

Starting goalie: Carey Price

MORE: Offseason work paying off for Canadiens’ Drouin

Paul Burmeister will host Tuesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter. Gord Miller and Pierre McGuire will call the action from Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec.

The Buzzer: Starting NHL season on a high note — or falling over

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Three Stars

1. Mika ZibanejadRangers

If there’s a single player whose recent work has been lost in the shuffle of New York’s recent plummet, it’s Zibanejad. It’s still kind of hard to believe that the Senators really traded him for Derick Brassard.

There was a lot of scoring in New York’s home win against Winnipeg, and while Artemi Panarin had a nice debut, Zibanejad led the way, scoring one goal and three assists. He also fired seven shots on goal and even blocked two shots.

This could be a big season for Zibanejad, one that makes it impossible to ignore his brilliance — even if the Rangers experience a lot of peaks and valleys.

Fittingly, a lot of other players had big nights in that slugfest, including Jacob Trouba against his former team. Trouba generated a goal and two assists, managing three SOG and two blocked shots.

2. Nikolaj Ehlers, Jets

Good thing Winnipeg didn’t lose this guy in the offseason, as Ehlers topped a lot of wishlists for other fans dreaming of the Jets making a reckless trade. After all, Ehlers had a tough postseason, and if Kevin Cheveldayoff channeled his inner Peter Chiarelli, that might have inspired an overreaction.

This ended up being a good day for Kevin to take off.

Ehlers produced three assists on Thursday, also shooting with abandon (eight SOG). Impressively, all three of Ehlers assists were of the primary variety. If you prefer, you might instead choose linemate Blake Wheeler, who scored two goals on nine SOG.

There are plenty of other nights worth noting, including those of Mikko Rantanen and Conor Sheary, who managed two goals apiece for their respective teams.

3. Matt DuchenePredators

Quite a debut for Duchene.

The speedy center managed an impressive three assists, thwarted from a fourth thanks to a great stop by Devan Dubnyk. It’s quite possible that Duchene could form a fantastic top line with Mikael Granlund and Filip Forsberg. That trio created a lot of offense, and Nashville looks like it could have a winning balance.

Duchene only generated one SOG and “only” went 10-10 on draws, but it was an impressive performance.

Mikhail Sergachev ranks among the better honorable mentions with three assists of his own.

Highlight of the Night

While Dubnyk’s save might be the most impressive moment of Thursday, it was already covered here, and the Wild still lost to the Predators. So let’s honor a runner-up: sensational Sabres sophomore Rasmus Dahlin burned multiple Penguins for a tremendous goal in Buffalo’s 3-1 win. Dahlin shows the sort of hands you don’t normally see from a defenseman, even a very good one:

Blooper of the Night

The Rangers won a wild game against the Jets 6-4 on Thursday, but Lias Andersson didn’t get off to the greatest start, thanks to a pesky cord:

Factoids

Scores

TBL 5 – FLA 2
NYR 6 – WIN 4
BUF 3 – PIT 1
CAR 4 – MTL 3 (SO)
NSH 5 – MIN 2
BOS 2 – DAL 1
COL 5 – CGY 3
ANA 2 – ARI 1

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 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.