John Tavares

Roundtable: Biggest surprises, disappointments at NHL All-Star break

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What player has been your biggest surprise of the first half of the 2019-20 season?

SEAN: Tristan Jarry, Penguins. A season ago the Penguins netminder played only two games in the NHL having lost the backup job to Casey DeSmith. This season he’s usurped Matt Murray for the No. 1 job and helped backstop the team into contender status as the roster has dealt with numerous injuries.  He’s top five in even strength save percentage, goals saved above average, and has helped Pittsburgh to 16 wins in 22 starts.

JAMES: John Carlson, Capitals. Look, we all knew Carlson could score. He’s been rising up the defensive scoring ranks for a while now (interestingly, increasing even after he got paid). Still, 60 points in just 49 games, placing him comfortably in front of Auston Matthews for 10th overall in the NHL right now? Yeah, can’t say I saw that coming.

ADAM: Bryan Rust, Penguins. He has always been a pretty good complementary player, but this year his play has just reached an entirely unexpected level. He is on a near 50-goal, 100-point pace over 82 games! No one ever expected that from him. Even if he cools off in the second half he is still going to have career year.

JOEY: David Perron, Blues. He’s currently on a point-per-game pace and he’s also top 20 in league scoring. We knew he was a good hockey player, but he’s playing at a totally different level right now.

SCOTT: Artemi Panarin, Rangers. High-priced free agents have a long history of failing at Madison Square Garden but Panarin has been everything the Blueshirts could have hoped. The Russian winger is on his way to his first All-Star game and could be the star player that helps the Rangers right the ship.

What team has been your biggest surprise so far?

SEAN: Blue Jackets. They lose their two biggest stars and their trade deadline pick ups walk in free agency. The enter 2019-20 with one goaltender who posted back-to-back seasons with a sub-.900 save percentage and another who had spent his entire pro career in Switzerland. So of course they’d be sitting in a wild card spot on the heels of third place in the Metropolitan Division at the All-Star Break. Just as we all expected.

JAMES: Blue Jackets. Honestly, I’d expected the Blue Jackets to be scrappy, but without that extra oomph to avoid being (word that rhymes with scrappy). Instead, they’re in the thick of the East wild-card races, not that differently from last season, when they still had Sergei Bobrovsky and especially Artemi Panarin. Managing to hang in there with a legitimately crushing run of injuries makes them even more surprising.

ADAM: Canucks. The easy answer here is probably Columbus or Arizona, but I had fairly high hopes for both at the start of the season. So I am going to say the Canucks get the call for biggest surprise. I liked Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, and figured Quinn Hughes would make a big impact, but the rest of the team just seemed like it was years away from contention. 

JOEY: Blue Jackets. Somehow, they’ve found a way to be in a Wild Card spot at this point. John Tortorella is doing the coaching job of his life and he’s been able to get some reliable goaltending from unlikely candidates. It would be awesome to see them make it back to the postseason after losing Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel.

SCOTT: Blues. I felt there was potential for a huge letdown after a surprising championship run last season and the Vladimir Tarasenko injury only strengthened those beliefs. However, they have been dominant at home and are sitting on top of the most competitive division in the NHL.

[MORE: PHT’S MIDSEASON NHL AWARDS]

What player has been your biggest disappointment?

SEAN: Andreas Athanasiou, Red Wings. There’s a lot of work to be done in Hockeytown to make the Red Wings a playoff team again, but there is a small core of players for GM Steve Yzerman to build around. Athanasiou is supposed to be one of those players but has struggled mightily after posting 30 goals last season. Through 36 games he only has five goals and 19 points. You’d expect his 5.7 shooting percentage to jump in the second half, which he needs since he’ll be an RFA this summer and can earn himself a nice raise.

JAMES: P.K. Subban, Devils. The hope was that Subban would bounce back from a troubling 2018-19. After all, it seemed like Subban was injured. Instead, things have gone worse, as his offense dried up while he continues to struggle defensively. I’m not totally giving up on P.K. — he might still be less than 100 percent — but I’m not exactly betting on him being a $9M defender again, either.

ADAM: Sergei Bobrovsky, PanthersI thought Bobrovsky’s contract was going to be a problem in three or four years, but I figured the Panthers would at least get a couple of quality seasons out of him before that happened. They have not even been able to get that yet. I figured he would be the missing piece to get them back in the playoffs in the short-term, and while they might make the playoffs it is currently in spite of Bobrovsky’s and not because of it. 

JOEY: Alex Galchenyuk, Penguins. The Penguins gave up Phil Kessel in a trade for Galchenyuk, but things just haven’t worked out the way they had hoped with him. Despite all the injuries in Pittsburgh this year, Galchenyuk hasn’t been able to make an impact with his new team. He’s now played for three teams in three seasons and it doesn’t look like his stop in Pittsburgh will be very long. Who knows what’s next for him.

SCOTT: P.K. Subban, Devils. The hope was Subban’s career would be rejuvenated by a trade to the New Jersey Devils. However, not much has gone right in Newark and Subban’s disappointing play has been a factor in John Hynes and Ray Shero losing their jobs.

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What team has been your biggest disappointment?

SEAN: Predators. Teams you expected to be better but aren’t so far can pinpoint poor goaltending as a main factor. You wouldn’t expect that from Nashville but Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros — with a combined .918 even strength save percentage — helped sink Peter Laviolette and have kept the Predators outside of the Western Conference playoff picture.

JAMES: Sharks. How can it not be the Sharks? Looking at the age of that roster, many of us expected a stark reality … just not so soon. The parallels between the 2018-19 version of their hated rivals, the Kings, are honestly getting a little scary. Maybe the Sharks can be respectable again soon … kind of like the Kings, whose underlying numbers indicate they’re actually better than their place in the standings indicates.

ADAM: Sharks. Couple of options here but I think the Sharks take this title pretty easily. You had to know the goaltending was going to be a problem again, but it is far from their only problem. Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns have both had terrible seasons (by their standards), while several forwards have regressed or underperformed. This should still be a Stanley Cup contender and they are not only a disappointment, they are downright bad. 

JOEY: Predators. The Predators made a splash when they signed Duchene in free agency and another one when they dumped P.K. Subban on New Jersey. Unfortunately for them, those moves haven’t made them any better this year. They’ve already fired head coach Peter Laviollette and things haven’t looked much better since then.

SCOTT: Predators. A coaching change could help turn things around, but the Predators expected to compete for the Stanley Cup this season and are currently on the outside looking in.

What current team in a playoff spot will fall out by the end of the regular season?

SEAN: Oilers. Their team even strength save percentage is .909 and Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl make up 35% of their goals scored. Winnipeg and Chicago are right behind them and Nashville is lurking.

JAMES: Blue Jackets. A competitive team is going to finish ninth in the East. To me, the Blue Jackets just don’t give themselves good enough margins for error. Sometimes it’s as simple as looking at goal differential, and when you see that, it seems clear that the Blue Jackets are only slightly outscoring their problems.

ADAM: PanthersI want to buy into the Panthers because I love the way Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau play, but the goaltending question still concerns me and if they fall out of the top-three in the Atlantic Division I question if they can finish ahead of one of those Metropolitan teams in a Wild Card spot. 

JOEY: Blue Jackets. As impressed as I’ve been with the Blue Jackets, it’s hard to envision them making the postseason ahead of teams like Toronto, Philadelphia and Florida. They deserve credit for the job they’ve done, but they still have a long way to go before they clinch a playoff spot.

SCOTT: Blue Jackets. They have overcome great odds to remain competitive but eventually they will feel the loss of three star players. John Tortorella should be in the Jack Adams conversation with a strong first half, but a second-half slump could be looming.

What team currently out of the playoffs make it in?

SEAN: Predators. They’ve underachieved all season and the hole to dig out of isn’t too deep. If Saros and Rinne can start making saves again and Nashville’s special teams can wake up, they can find a way back in the postseason.

JAMES: Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs aren’t perfect. They are brilliantly talented, however, and have been able to unleash the fury since Sheldon Keefe took over. I think that talent will help them push across the finish line.

ADAM: Maple Leafs. Toronto is too talented to not make it. I know they have their flaws defensively, but you have to think they are going to do something to address that and I just can’t imagine this roster missing. Do they have enough to get through Boston or Tampa Bay? Maybe not. But they will be in. 

JOEY: Maple Leafs. Yes, the Leafs are without Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin right now, but you have to imagine that they’ll figure things out before it’s too late. Toronto has too much firepower with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares.

SCOTT: Flyers. It has previously taken teams quite a while to adjust to Alain Vigneault’s system. If the Flyers can figure out their struggles on the road and survive Carter Hart’s injury, they have the talent to find their way into the tournament.

What team needs to make a big splash at the February trade deadline?

SEAN: Maple Leafs. Their star core players are off their rookie contracts and three straight Round 1 exits means the pressure is on in Toronto. The blue line is the biggest area of need, especially with Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin out injured. GM Kyle Dubas will need to shore up the back end in order to put them in a better position entering the playoffs — if they get there, of course.

JAMES: Oilers. Look, there are teams like the Bruins, whose windows could close in a hurry. But, frankly, we as hockey fans should be more outraged that Connor McDavid, hockey superhuman, is so rarely in the playoffs. It’s a travesty, and the Oilers need to give him some help. Not just for McDavid, but frankly, for all of us.

ADAM: Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs need to do something on defense. Morgan Rielly’s injury is huge and Tyson Barrie has not quite worked out as hoped. Add to that the fact that Barrie and Jake Muzzin are unrestricted free agents after this season and they need to do something to strengthen the blue line for now and in the future. 

JOEY: Bruins. The Bruins could add a defenseman and/or some secondary scoring before Feb. 24. Boston is good enough to go on a postseason run, but they could definitely use some reinforcements.

SCOTT: Islanders. They have won with excellent coaching and strong defensive play, but they desperately need a big-time scorer up front. They missed out on Panarin this summer and didn’t pull the trigger on Mark Stone last season. Is Lou Lamoriello ready to bring in the proper support to help the Islanders advance through the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

PHT Morning Skate: Underrated players; Time to drop loser point

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Here’s some of the bigger events going on during All-Star weekend in St. Louis. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

• Check out this in-depth look at Patrick Kane‘s road to 1,000 points. (Chicago Tribune)

• It took some time, but the Bolts are finally back on track. (The Hockey News)

Alex Ovechkin is already the greatest goalscorer of all time. (Nova Caps Fans)

• Rangers forward Chris Kreider remains one of the top trade targets for the Bruins. (NBC Sports Boston)

• Has Ryan Johansen‘s role in Nashville changed? (A to Z Sports Nashville)

Kevin Fiala and the Wild are trying to live up to their potential. (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

• Hockey players are finally starting to grow their endorsement deals. (The Score)

• Could the Oilers and Sharks be trade partners? (Oilers Nation)

Alexandar Georgiev might be on the trade block but the asking price isn’t exactly low. (Blue Shirt Banter)

• The Islanders’ offense might hold them back in their quest for a Stanley Cup. (Spector’s Hockey)

• Sportsnet sat down with John Tavares for a wide-ranging Q & A session. (Sportsnet)

Loui Eriksson has been the ideal utility forward for the Canucks this season. (Canucks Army)

• The NHL has to get rid of the loser point. (Blue Seat Blogs)

• Prospect Nick Stutzle moved into third in the draft rankings for 2020. (Rotoworld)

• Yard Barker breaks down the most underrated player on every team. (Yard Barker)

• It’s been a tough time for the NHL’s California franchises. (Featurd)

• Here’s an “NHL 94” retro review for your enjoyment. (Operation Sports)

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.

NHL on NBCSN: William Nylander’s bounce-back season

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

William Nylander‘s 2019-20 season couldn’t be any more different than his 2018-19 campaign. First of all, he actually played in games between Oct and Dec. 1 (he was holding out as an RFA last year). Secondly, when he is in the lineup, he’s actually been producing at a good clip. But how has he been able to do it and can he keep it going?

Through 43 games, Nylander has accumulated an impressive 19 goals and 19 assists. That’s already more than he had in 54 games last year (he managed to score 27 points last season). So the fact that he’s been able to give them an added offensive threat is huge news.

The 23-year-old’s advanced stats are equally as impressive. When he’s on the ice, the Leafs control 55.86 percent of the shot attempts, 54.58 percent of the expected goals scored, they score nearly 60 percent of the goals and they generate 55.65 percent of the high-danger chances (all stats via Natural Stat Trick).

But the season hasn’t been perfect by any means. Just prior to the Christmas break, Nylander and teammate Kasperi Kapanen were benched for a good chunk of a game against the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 21. At the time, Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe didn’t make a big deal out of it, but it’s clear that Nylander got the message.

“It’s the way it goes … some nights guys are going to play more than others,” Keefe said about the reduced ice time for Nylander and Kapanen, per the Toronto Star. “Willy had an outstanding game (Friday) and was a difference-maker for us. Today it was other guys. That’s part of having a team and an 82-game season.”

Since that night, the Leafs forward has accumulated 11 points in just six games. He’s had two three-point efforts during that stretch and two two-point nights. He’s been nearly impossible to stop.

Of course, Nylander’s been playing with some pretty good players all year. He’s spent the most amount of time on the ice with Auston Matthews (473:19 this season), but lately he’s been skating on a line with captain John Tavares.

We’ll see if he’s able to keep this up the rest of the way, but it’s clear that the Leafs are a better team when they have secondary scoring behind Tavares, Matthews and Mitch Marner. Having other contributors would also allow them to overcome injuries if they were to pop up like they did to Tavares and Marner earlier this season.

The six-year, $45 million contract that general manager Kyle Dubas handed him last year doesn’t seem to be as bad as many fans made it out to be.

Kathryn Tappen anchors tonight’s coverage with Mike Milbury and Keith Jones. John Forslund and AJ Mleczko will have the call from Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

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.

More bad Maple Leafs injury news: Jake Muzzin out week-to-week

Muzzin week-to-week
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The Toronto Maple Leafs are starting to pile up wins … and also, unfortunately, injuries. Following bad news for Ilya Mikheyev, the team announced that defenseman Jake Muzzin is week-to-week with a broken foot.

Clearly, beating the Devils 5-4 in OT on Friday now qualifies as a costly win. Muzzin hurt himself blocking a shot, while that scary skate blade injury will cost Mikheyev months.

Muzzin suffered the injury during the first period, but kept playing and walking. Maybe that made things a bit worse?

Maple Leafs injuries accumulate

Again, the list of injuries is starting to climb, especially if you consider the season at large (with Mitch Marner and John Tavares missing substantial time).

Combine Muzzin and Mikheyev with the losses of wingers Trevor Moore (out indefinitely with a concussion) and Andreas Johnsson (leg, on IR) and things escalate. About the only “perk” is that all of those injuries alleviate short-term salary cap concerns.

Deflecting to that really feels like gallows humor, though.

Maple Leafs might need to keep outscoring their problems

OK, maybe there’s one other indirect perk: still-new head coach Sheldon Keefe gets even more incentive just to let this group loose. However you feel about Muzzin’s effectiveness since joining the Maple Leafs, he’s not really there for elite scoring ability. Theoretically, his replacements may bring more to the table and take more away. Personally, I’d be more than OK with additional games like that 8-6 thrillride against the Hurricanes, but others, are … well, grumpier. Some agree with my high-entertainment preference, though.

At minimum, the Maple Leafs appear refreshed and unleashed under Keefe compared to the dull latter Mike Babcock days.

Even grumbling critics have to agree that they’ve been better in the standings lately. Toronto’s now won six in a row, with a chance to make it seven against the Rangers on Saturday.

Are they messy sometimes? Sure, but personally, I’ll take a messy-fun hockey game over a “perfectly” played snore-fest.

And, frankly, it’s clearly the style of game that behooves Toronto’s bounty of talent. With Muzzin out week-to-week, it might not just be the best choice, but also the only choice.

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.

The Buzzer: Another 2-goal game for Bergeron; Perron keeps Blues rolling

NHL Scores
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Three Stars

1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins. There is no stopping Bergeron right now. He scored two more goals for the Bruins in their 3-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night, giving him three consecutive two goal games. He also has nine goals in his past nine games. With 17 goals in 30 games, he is having one of the best goal-scoring seasons of his already incredible career. He is the just the fifth different Bruins player to ever score multiple goals in at least three consecutive games, and the first to do it since Cam Neely during the 1988-89 season.

2. Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers. With two goals and an assist in a 6-4 win, Zibanejad continued his outstanding season for the Rangers. He is averaging more than a point-per-game and has once again been one of the bright spots for the Rangers. His first goal came on an absolutely ridiculous no-look, behind-the-back pass from Chris Kreider that you can see in the highlights down below. The Rangers still have their flaws and do not always win pretty, but with Artemi Panarin (who also recorded three points on Friday night) they have some serious impact talent than can keep them in games and give them a chance on most nights.

3. David Perron, St. Louis Blues. With Vladimir Tarasenko sidelined the Blues needed some other forwards to help step up and provide the offense. Perron has been one of those players. He scored another overtime goal on Friday (already his fourth this season) to help lift the Blues to a 4-3 win against the Winnipeg Jets and extend their current winning streak to seven games. Perron has 24 points in his past 22 games.

Other notable performances from Friday

  • William Nylander and John Tavares both had three points for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they extended their winning streak to six games. The only bad news in the game was Ilya Mikheyev leaving the game with a serious cut to his wrist. Read about that here.
  • Robin Lehner made 38 saves against his former team to lead the Chicago Blackhawks to a 5-2 win over the New York Islanders.
  • Tristan Jarry picked up another win for the Pittsburgh Penguins and their depth scoring had a huge night in a 5-2 win over the Nashville Predators.
  • The Minnesota Wild rallied past the Colorado Avalanche in the third period. Read more about their win and their recent hot streak here.
  • Andrew Mangiapane scored 11 seconds into the game and finished with three points as the Calgary Flames won the first Battle of Alberta for this season, 5-1, over the Edmonton Oilers.
  • The Anaheim Ducks scored three goals in 97 seconds then held on to beat the Vegas Golden Knights by a 4-3 margin.
  • The Los Angeles Kings overcame a 2-0 third period deficit to beat the San Jose Sharks, 3-2, in overtime. Martin Frk scored his first two goals of the season to tie the game, setting the stage for Jeff Carter to win it in overtime.

Highlights of the Night

Check out this behind-the-back pass by Kreider to set up Zibanejad for the Rangers’ first goal of the night.

This pass from Richard Panik to set up Carl Hagelin is an absolute beauty. The Capitals were 2-1 winners in overtime thanks to a T.J. Oshie game-winning goal.

It came in a losing effort for the Avalanche, but Gabriel Landeskog scored a beauty of a goal against the Wild.

Blooper of the Night

Damon Severson scored an overtime goal for the wrong team. Read more about it here.

Factoids

  • Alex Ovechkin‘s assist on T.J. Oshie’s game-winning goal was his 36th career regular season point in overtime. Only Patrik Elias has more. He also made the decision tonight to not play in the 2020 NHL All-Star game. Read about his reasoning here.  [NHL PR]
  • Cale Makar played his 30th career regular season game for the Avalanche and joined some exclusive company in the process. [NHL PR]
  • Jeff Carter scored the game-winning goal for the Kings, giving him 11 career overtime goals. No player in Kings history has more. [NHL PR]

Scores

Boston Bruins 3, Buffalo Sabres 0
Toronto Maple Leafs 5, New Jersey Devils 4 (OT)
New York Rangers 5, Carolina Hurricanes 3
Washington Capitals 2, Columbus Blue Jackets 1
Minnesota Wild 6, Colorado Avalanche 4
Pittsburgh Penguins 5, Nashville Predators 2
St. Louis Blues 5, Winnipeg Jets 4
Chicago Blackhawks 5, New York Islanders 2
Calgary Flames 5, Edmonton Oilers 1
Anaheim Ducks 4, Vegas Golden Knights 3
Los Angeles Kings 3, San Jose Sharks 2 (OT)

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.