Jonathan Bernier

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The Buzzer: Malkin a comeback; Bernier’s bad day

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Three Stars

1. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

If you really wanted to, you could really pile up Penguins (and to some extent, Canucks, what with Quinn Hughes generating three assists) in the top three. Jake Guentzel managed two goals and two assists, while Bryan Rust had a four-point night (1G, 3A).

But Malkin led the way with a five-point night on the strength of two goals and three assists. The fact that one of his tallies was an empty-netter feels trivial.

This Penguins team has been running on defense more than expected, yet nights like these remind you that this team is a chameleon that seems to find ways to win, whether that means adapting styles or dealing with injuries.

Read more about the Penguins’ wild win against the Canucks in this post.

2. Jonathan Bernier, Detroit Red Wings

OK, look … you can swap Bernier out for someone from the team that won Wednesday’s game 6-0. Choose a Maple Leafs player such as Andreas Johnsson (2G, 1A) or Frederik Andersen (25-save shutout).

To me, though, Bernier deserves recognition for even appearing in the game.

Bernier had been dealing with flu-like symptoms, so he apparently didn’t even dress for Wednesday’s contest. Yet, with Jimmy Howard getting hurt as the Maple Leafs scored a 3-0 goal against the Red Wings, Bernier was pressed into action.

Toronto fired 26 shots on goal during the second period alone, forcing Bernier to make 37 out of 40 saves to keep the game at least in the same zip code. While some might give Bernier demerits for spoiling the coveted emergency goalie experience, he deserves credit for working this hard while sick and that close to a holiday.

3. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

If hockey was pro wrestling – and sometimes it feels like it almost is, considering the overlap in fans – then Lundqvist might have demanded a “You still got it” chant on Wednesday.

Lundqvist made 41 saves in helping the Rangers steal one against the Hurricanes, with this stop against Martin Necas ranking as a candidate for highlight of the night:

Other highlights of the night

Speaking of still having it, Alex Ovechkin produced a beauty here, and kudos to Evgeny Kuznetsov for a well-timed and well-placed drop pass:

Max Pacioretty tied things up for the Golden Knights and Predators with .3 remaining in regulation, and Vegas ended up beating the Predators in OT. Ouch. If you want to frame-by-frame it, the video shows when the puck hits the net somewhere between the .4 and .3 mark at around the minute mark of the clip.

Factoids

  • Paul Stastny reached the 700-point milestone during the Golden Knights’ comeback win against Nashville. NHL PR notes that Paul and Peter Stastny became the third father-son combo to reach 700+ points apiece, joining Gordie and Mark Howe and Brett and Bobby Hull.
  • Sheldon Keefe is the first Maple Leafs coach to win the first three games of his NHL coaching career, according to NHL PR.
  • Phil Kessel joins a rare group of seven NHL players to play 800+ games in a row, via NHL PR.
  • Sportsnet points out that Patrik Laine already has at least one goal against every Western Conference opponent.
  • Another from Sportsnet: Matthew Tkachuk‘s 23 third-period goals since 2018-19 leads all NHL players.

Scores

CGY 3 – BUF 2 (OT)
BOS 2 – OTT 1
TOR 6 – DET 0
STL 4 – TBL 3
NYR 3 – CAR 2
PIT 8 – VAN 6
WSH 4 – FLA 3
PHI 3 – CBJ 2
VGK 4 – NSH 3 (OT)
ARI 4 – ANA 3 (SO)
COL 4 – EDM 1
LAK 4 – NYI 1
WPG 5 – SJS 1

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: Big night for goalies; Draisaitl keeps rolling for Oilers

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Three Stars

1. Jonathan Bernier, Detroit Red Wings. Robby Fabbri was not the only Red Wings player to have a big night in their upset win over the Boston Bruins. Bernier had a huge night making 26 saves — including a highlight reel glove save on David Pastrnak that you will see down below — and recording two assists. He is the first goalie since Tuukka Rask in 2016 to record at least two assists in a single game.

2. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets. Even with a makeshift defense the Jets are still doing their best to hang around in the Western Conference and picked up a big win on Friday night against Vancouver, beating the Canucks, 4-1. While Kyle Connor had a goal and an assist to help drive the offense, Hellebuyck was the Jets’ big star by making 32 saves including a desperation glove save on Bo Horat to help protect the lead late in the third period.

3. Mikko Koskinen, Edmonton Oilers. A clean sweep for goalies when it comes to the stars of the night as Koskinen turned aside all 26 shots he faced in a 4-0 win over the New Jersey Devils. It is his first shutout of the season, improved his record to 6-1-1 in eight appearances, and pushed his save percentage for the season over .920. The goaltending being a pleasant surprise has been a huge part of the Oilers’ early success this season.

Other notable performances from Friday

  • Leon Draisaitl extended his current point streak to eight consecutive games when he opened the scoring for Oilers in the first period, scoring on a breakaway for his 14th goal of the season. More on that below, including a look at the goal.
  • Fabbri took advantage of his first opportunity with the Red Wings by scoring two goals. Read more about it here.
  • Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn, and Yanni Gourde all scored goals for the Tampa Bay Lightning as they started to regain some of their swagger in a win over the Buffalo Sabres in the Global Series. Read all about that game here.

Highlights of the Night

This is Bernier’s highlight reel save on Pastrnak that was mentioned above, by far his best save of the night.

Speaking of great saves, here is Hellebucyk’s game-saving stop on Horvat in Winnipeg.

Draisaitl gets behind the Devils’ defense and scores his 14th goal of the season, making it look easy.

Blooper of the Night

It was not as costly as the 3-on-0 they gave up in overtime against the St. Louis Blues earlier this week, but the Canucks again literally fell over themselves to set up an easy goal for their opponents. This was an empty-netter by the Jets to put the game away, once somebody decided to actually put the puck in the net.

Factoids

  • Pastrnak is up to 31 points in 16 games, making him just the sixth different Bruins player in the past 25 years to do that. [NHL PR]
  • Draisaitl is the first Oilers player in 20 years to score 14 goals in the team’s first 18 games. [NHL PR]
  • The Jets have won nine games in a row against the Canucks. They have outscored them 31-10 in those games. [NHL PR]
  • Fabbri is just the seventh Red Wings player to ever score two goals in his debut with the team. [NHL PR]
  • Sam Reinhart scored both goals for the Sabres in their 3-2 loss to Tampa Bay, making him the third Sabres player to score multiple goals in a game played outside of North America. Yes, two other Sabres (Thomas Vanek and Luke Adam) have done that. [NHL PR]

Scores

Tampa Bay Lightning 3, Buffalo Sabres 2
Detroit Red Wings 4, Boston Bruins 2
Winnipeg Jets 4, Vancouver Canucks 1
Edmonton Oilers 4, New Jersey Devils 0

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.

The Buzzer: Mantha among boys

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Three Stars

1. Anthony Mantha, Detroit Red Wings

Well, the Predators should feel a little better on Sunday than they did on Saturday. The night before, Nashville fared about as well vs. Mantha, Dylan Larkin, and Tyler Bertuzzi as normal pants hold up against Larkin in Detroit’s 5-3 win. They were stretched too thin and didn’t stand a chance, in other words.

Mantha was even tougher to stop on Sunday. Through the second period and the opening moments of the third, Mantha scored three goals in a row (a natural hat trick), flipping a 2-0 deficit to a 3-2 lead for Detroit over Dallas. The Stars ended up tying the game, but it was all for naught, as Mantha scored the fourth goal, and ultimately the game-winner, with less than a minute remaining.

It’s probably unfair to label the game “Mantha 4, Stars 3,” but that does capture the goal-scoring. The big winger now has five goals and two assists for seven points in two games. Larkin and Filip Hronek factored into that win, too, with two assists apiece.

2. Thomas Greiss, New York Islanders

A lot was made about the Islanders moving on from Robin Lehner to Semyon Varlamov during the offseason, and with good reason. Lehner was a revelation last season, and betting on Varlamov is pretty bold.

But for all the attention Lehner justifiably received for his work in 2018-19, Greiss put up numbers that were almost as outstanding, going 23-14-2 with a magnificent .927 save percentage.

Greiss began this season on a similar note, stopping 35 out of 36 shots from the Jets to help the Islanders beat Winnipeg handily on Sunday. So far, Barry Trotz’s system and the Islanders’ goalies are looking strong.

3. Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes

There were plenty of worthy two-point performances on Sunday that you could argue for, including Roope Hintz of the Dallas Stars, whose two goals gave his team a chance against the Mantha onslaught.

Hamilton’s all-around performance might have been the most worthy of the third star, though. He scored the goal that sent Sunday’s game to overtime, and also generated an assist. As mentioned in this post on that game against the Lightning, Hamilton is tied for the Hurricanes’ team points lead with four so far in 2019-20.

Hamilton generated three SOG, took a penalty, delivered a hit, and logged 25:19 TOI.

Highlight of the Night

Thanks to Mantha most of all, the Stars lost in regulation, falling to 0-3-0.

The Stars were about as close to sending the game to overtime as you could be, though, especially when Alexander Radulov was hacking away at Jonathan Bernier‘s pads during the waning seconds of the game. Bernier stood strong — or at least strong enough to survive the review process — and secured a perfect weekend for Detroit. Not bad, being that the Stars and Predators both made the playoffs last season, and brought significant expectations into 2019-20.

Factoids

  • Mantha joined John Sorrell (Nov. 12, 1933) and Brendan Shanahan (Oct. 16, 1998) as the only Red Wings to generate a natural hat trick. Sorrell and Mantha are the only two Red Wings to score four goals during a home-opener. (via NHL PR)
  • In coaching his 1,608th NHL game, Barry Trotz broke a tie with Al Arbour to be alone at third all-time. Trotz is only 30 behind Joel Quenneville, so it should be fascinating to see which of those two ends up with more games behind the bench once they’re both done.
  • NHL PR notes that the Hurricanes became the 13th team in league history to win their first three games while overcoming a deficit. The 2005-06 Predators and 1988-89 Kings are the two teams who’ve done it four times. They’re also the third team to start their season 3-0-0 with all three wins coming beyond regulation, according to Sportsnet stats.

Scores

CAR 4, TBL 3 (OT)
DET 4, DAL 3
NYI 4, WIN 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.

Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman practices patience in free agency

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DETROIT — Steve Yzerman is practicing patience in his first year as the Detroit Red Wings’ general manager.

On the opening day of free agency, the Hockey Hall of Famer and former Red Wings great made some subtle moves to improve his roster without saddling the rebuilding franchise with big contracts.

Detroit signed both center Valtteri Filppula and defenseman Patrik Nemeth to two-year , $6 million contracts and added goaltender Calvin Pickard with a two-year deal.

”We’re looking at doing shorter-term deals with everyone that we spoke with,” Yzerman said Monday. ”Being new to the organization, I want to proceed somewhat slowly and kind of get to know what we have within the organization.”

Yzerman is trying to turn around a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2016, its longest drought since a five-year skid ended in 1984 when he was a rookie in Detroit.

The Red Wings have a core of young players, led by Dylan Larkin, to build around and a slew of prospects they hope are pushing for playing time in the NHL. Yzerman is counting on a trio of veterans to add depth as complementary players.

He is also reuniting with Filppula for a third time.

Filppula, who helped Detroit win the 2008 Stanley Cup, played with Yzerman with the Red Wings and was signed by him in Tampa Bay.

”It’s always important to feel like the team wants you,” the 35-year-old Finn said. ”I know Stevie from before and have a good relationship.”

Filppula had 17 goals and 31 points last season with the New York Islanders. He has scored 185 times and has 494 points over 14 seasons with Detroit, Philadelphia the Lightning and the Islanders.

Likely on the second or third line, he is expected to play center to allow Andreas Athanasiou to play on the wing.

”We had a hole in the middle,” Yzerman said.

Nemeth had one goal and 10 points last year in Dallas. The 27-year-old Swede has four goals and 35 assists over six seasons with the Stars and Colorado Avalanche. Detroit may have to replace Niklas Kronwall, a key player on the blue line, to make help on the blue line even more of a priority. Yzerman has said Kronwall, a 38-year-old defenseman, can take his time this summer to decide whether he wants to return to play for the Red Wings or retire.

”With the uncertainty of Nik Kronwall and Trevor Daley and Jonathan Ericsson missed time with injuries and going into the last year of their contracts,” Yzerman said, ”it was important to bring in a defenseman that can play now on the left side and help us in the future as well.”

Detroit signed Pickard to compete with Jonathan Bernier to be Jimmy Howard‘s backup and perhaps to give the team three goaltenders.

”Gives us a little bit of security,” Yzerman said.

Pickard is 32-50-9 with a 2.93 goals-against average during his five-season career with Colorado, Toronto, Philadelphia and Arizona. The 27-year-old Canadian was winless in four starts last season with the Coyotes.

Red Wings rebuild won’t be easy, but Yzerman is right GM choice

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Detroit Red Wings fans are right to rejoice. While the move’s been telegraphed for a while, this is indeed a good Friday for the Red Wings, as Steve Yzerman was officially named as their next GM.

Whether it was convincing Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman to sign team-friendly deals, or identifying the league’s general prejudice against smaller players to unearth draft day bargains, Yzerman* did such a great job with the Tampa Bay Lightning, that I’ve called him a magician and/or wizard on multiple occasions.

Even if you’re a vociferous defender of Ken Holland’s latter, sometimes-rebuild-resistant years, chances are, you’re probably very excited about Yzerman’s hiring. The team announced official titles for both Yzerman and Holland, if you like your updates especially granular.

So, to me and plenty others – not just Red Wings fans – this is a shrewd hire.

Still, if there’s one talking point that stands out as especially valid, it’s this: when Yzerman took over the Lightning, he already had an elite center in Steven Stamkos, and a future Norris-winning defenseman in Victor Hedman.

All due respect to Dylan Larkin (who had a strong season, and is only 22) and some other nice players, but the Red Wings don’t have foundational players at quite that superstar level. They do, however, have a pretty interesting setup. If Yzerman is as bright as he seemed to be in Tampa Bay, the Red Wings could really turn things around. All they need is some luck and patience.

Let’s get an idea of the path ahead for Yzerman.

On a Larkin

Look, there’s no shame in Larkin not being quite what Stamkos was in 2010, when Stevie Y took over in Tampa Bay. It’s easy to forget just how potent Stamkos was (the NHL’s most goals [156] and second-most points [283] from 2009-10 to 2010-11), possibly because a few catastrophic injuries briefly derailed his career.

Larkin is fantastic, and stands as the sort of contract you’d build around: a 22-year-old star with a bargain $6.1 million cap hit running through 2022-23.

Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi showed great chemistry with Larkin late in the season, with Mantha in particular boasting the sort of pedigree that points to continued success. One of Yzerman’s early challenges will be to strike affordable deals with Mantha, Bertuzzi, and Andreas Athanasiou, three useful forwards whose contracts expire after 2019-20. Would the best deals come in earlier extensions, or would the Red Wings be wiser to wait? It’s up to Yzerman & Co. to decide, and getting good deals could be key if they want to build a winning core.

Early fruits of rebuild

While I’d argue that Holland dragged his feet multiple times when it came to the rebuilding process, the good news is that when Holland did act, he landed some nice building blocks. In trading away Gustav Nyquist, Nick Jensen, and especially Tomas Tatar, the Red Wings have really loaded up on draft picks, most of which land in the top three rounds.

The development processes are already underway for a few interesting prospects, particularly 2018 first-rounders Filip Zadina (sixth overall) and Joe Veleno (30th). The Red Wings once again pick sixth overall in the 2019 NHL Draft, so it’s up to Yzerman to land another blue-chipper, even if Detroit doesn’t get the luxury of a more obvious choice like Jack Hughes or Kappo Kakko.

Almost as important is that the Red Wings have loaded up on picks like they’re at Prospect Costco:

  • Last year, they had those two first-rounders, plus: two second-rounders, and three third-rounders to go with their normal set of choices (minus a fifth-rounder).
  • Via Cap Friendly’s handy chart, the Red Wings have two extra second-round picks and one additional fifth-rounder in 2019.
  • In 2020, they have an extra second and third-round pick. (The third-rounder could turn into a second-rounder depending upon the San Jose Sharks’ actions.)
  • They already have an extra third-rounder in 2021.

That’s a fantastic start, eh? Even the best drafting teams would admit that there’s a lot of “dart throwing” involved in drafting, so it makes sense to load up on those darts, especially when you get the added precision of picks in earlier rounds.

The Lightning were adept at finding quality talent off-the-beaten-path under Yzerman,* most notably identifying Brayden Point as a third-rounder (79th in 2014) and Nikita Kucherov in a second round (58th in 2011). If Yzerman can carry that success over to Detroit, even partially, the Red Wings could really make some exciting leaps.

Cleanup duty

Which brings us to the messier part.

For all of Holland’s accomplishments, he left behind a shaggy salary structure. There’s dead money (Stephen Weiss’ buyout lingers through 2020-21), scary contracts (Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader, Danny DeKeyser), and, erm, maybe too much of a “veteran presence.”

By that I mean this team is old, at least beyond the core. Niklas Kronwall is 38 with a (mercifully) expiring contract, both Jonathan Ericsson and Trevor Daley are 35, and Mike Green is a very banged-up 33. DeKeyser is oft-criticized and not really a spring chicken, either, at 29.

The goalie duo is also creaky. Jimmy Howard was fantastic in 2018-19, but at 35, it’s still surprising that the Red Wings didn’t trade him, even with the understanding that they’d come calling during free agency time in July. Jonathan Bernier is 30 and his $3M cap hit doesn’t expire until after the 2020-21 season.

Most of those trends are disturbing, and while the Red Wings need more talent basically everywhere, the defense and goaltending likely need the most strenuous surgery.

The good news is that a significant chunk of those contracts aren’t lingering too long after Yzerman takes the reins. Kronwall is headed to free agency (or retirement?), while Ericsson, Green, and Daley come off the books after 2019-20. Howard’s extension only lasts through 2019-20, so maybe Yzerman will get trade value out of the veteran where Holland could or would not.

In the short term, and in the case of a few lengthier deals, there’s a significant mess to clean up. The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t too dim, however.

Some pain for future gains

I’ve seen at least mild arguments to try to win now, with at least a portion of The Athletic’s Craig Custance piece (sub required) mentioning certain surprise stories in the NHL. And, sure, if the goal were only to make it back to the playoffs (and maybe even win a series), then speeding up the rebuild would make sense.

My guess is that mega-winner Stevie Y wants his best chance at a Stanley Cup, not merely getting the Red Wings to the playoff bubble.

The free agent market dries up pretty quickly when you realize that Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky likely wouldn’t find much of a lure to join a rebuilding team in a cold weather city (heck, “Detroiters” even got canceled).

So, instead of chasing mid-tier free agents and settling for mid-tier expectations, Yzerman should use his clout to absorb another rebuild year or two. Doing so would raise the ceiling on this rebuild, for a few reasons:

  • Most directly and obviously, tanking for an even better pick in 2020. If you look at the teams who regularly contend, virtually all of them required high-end talent found early in drafts.
  • Rather than giving valuable playing time to long-in-the-tooth veterans, why not let younger players learn on the job? You might just get an idea of what you have in, say, Michael Rasmussen. Difference-making players are hitting the NHL earlier and earlier, so why not find out which players can actually make a difference?
  • Allow the Red Wings to be a short-term receptacle to clear cap space, with Detroit taking a bribe, whether that means quality draft picks or useful players. See: the Coyotes landing an important scorer in Vinnie Hinostroza in exchange for keeping Marian Hossa‘s contract warm. Yzerman could even call up his buddies in Tampa Bay and offer to absorb the final year of Ryan Callahan‘s contract ($5.8M cap hit). Boy, Anthony Cirelli and/or Mathieu Joseph would look nice with a winged wheel …
  • Going further, getting more cap space means that the Red Wings could position themselves to land better players in trades than they’d likely entice in free agency. Perhaps teams would ready for the expansion draft by sending good, would-be-exposed players to Detroit for something? Maybe the Hurricanes would sour on Dougie Hamilton, or something similar would happen with P.K. Subban, considering his hefty $9M price tag? Could the Red Wings echo former exec Jim Nill in being the next team to say “Why, yes, we’d love to take Tyler Seguin for 25 cents on the dollar, thank you.”

***

This isn’t an easy job, and again, some of this comes down to luck. Still, it’s easy to see why Red Wings fans are excited.

Make no mistake about it, though: Yzerman has his work cut out for him. It could be the fun sort of work that you’d get from tinkering with a car in the garage, and it should be fascinating for those of us who are dorks when it comes to studying how teams are put together.

* – And his staff, including current GM Julien BriseBois. We could have a lengthy, basically impossible-to-resolve discussion about who was most responsible for the great building in Tampa Bay, but it would be pretty fruitless. And, really, wouldn’t all smart GMs want to surround themselves with other smart people?

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.