Jonathan Marchessault

Getty Images

The Buzzer: McDavid, Matthews deliver on opening night

1 Comment

Three Stars

1. Leon DraisaitlOilers

The big Oilers forward blew away previous career-highs last season, scoring an impressive 50 goals and 105 points. Considering the 21.6 shooting percentage he rode, and previous seasons of 70 and 77 points, many expected Draisaitl to come down to Earth.

Well, he began the 2019-20 season just as hot.

Draisaitl was the only player to score three points on Wednesday (one goal, two assists), and the Oilers needed all three of them in a snug 3-2 win against the Canucks. Draistail also generated a +2 rating, six shots on goal, and logged a defenseman-like 26:46 TOI in that win (about five minutes more than Connor McDavid‘s 21:40).

2. Auston MatthewsMaple Leafs

Matthews continues to be a force on opening nights, generating two goals as the Maple Leafs shook off a shaky start to cruise against the Senators. One of Matthews’ two goals ended up being the game-winner, and both came off absolutely splendid passes (from William Nylander and Mitch Marner respectively).

John Tavares ended up being named captain instead of Matthews (understandably), but if you handed out an “O” for opening nights, you’d have to hand that letter to Matthews.

Matthews had a +2 rating and eight SOG.

3. Reilly SmithGolden Knights

If you prefer, you might name Mark Stone as the better Golden Knight of that dominant win for Vegas, as Stone generated two points (1G, 1A) of his own while being great all-around as always.

It felt like Smith was everywhere whenever given a chance, though. Smith scored two goals, including a shorthanded laugher, and could easily have had two shorthanded tallies if not for a great breakaway save by Martin Jones.

Wednesday was quite a display for Vegas’ long-running top (or 1A/1B?) line of Smith (five SOG), William Karlsson (two assists, six SOG), and Jonathan Marchessault (an unusually deferential one SOG).

Highlight of the Night

Connor McDavid’s goal wasn’t necessarily the prettiest of the first night of the 2019-20 season, but it ranks as one of those moments where McDavid makes NHL defensemen look overmatched and, well, not like professionals. While the Oilers haven’t been on most preseason picks lists, few would be that shocked if McDavid, Draisaitl, and a select few other players find a way to drag Edmonton to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Especially after watching goals like these:

Factoids

  • Cody Glass already made history by becoming the first Golden Knights draft pick to play an NHL game for Vegas. He followed that up by scoring a nice goal, becoming the youngest Golden Knights player (20 years, 184 days apparently) to score a goal.
  • Again, Matthews is really good at this Game 1 thing.

Apparently this is McDavid’s sixth goal in an opener, setting an Oilers record.

Golden Knights did a thing

Scores

TOR 5 – OTT 3
WSH 3 – STL 2 (OT)
EDM 3 – VAN 2
VGK 4 – SJS 1

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’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.

Breaking down Golden Knights’ lopsided win vs. Sharks

1 Comment

The Vegas Golden Knights closed out an exciting opening night of the 2019-20 season by easily handling the San Jose Sharks 4-1 on Wednesday.

Let’s bat around some takeaways from that contest while the Golden Knights hope Nate Schmidt‘s injury is minor, and the Sharks likely hold out the same hopes for Kevin Labanc.

Vegas probably could basically have “two first lines”

Early on in Wednesday’s game, Mark Stone reminded people of why he’s such a two-way force that he’s a rare winger who might be able to win a Selke Trophy. Stone emphatically opened the scoring on a booming power-play goal, added an assist later in the contest, and generally looked like an irresistible force. Cody Glass was Stone’s centermen alongside a possibly rejuvenated Max Pacioretty, while Paul Stastny occasionally took defensive zone faceoffs. Considering how easy Stone and Pacioretty made it for Glass on his first NHL goal, you get the feeling that any line with Stone could be a borderline top trio …

Yet, you can’t declare Stone the consensus player of the game.

That’s because Reilly Smith and the Golden Knights’ more established top line with William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault ended up being frighteningly dominant. Smith’s second goal of the night, a shorthanded tally, felt like the story of Wednesday’s game, as Karlsson and Smith passed back and forth against an overmatched Martin Jones.

It’s not just Erik Karlsson; it’s not just Jones

When it comes to the Sharks’ occasional struggles to keep the puck out of their net last season, a lot of people blamed the goalies, especially Jones. Some would say that Karlsson and Brent Burns make life tough for their own goalies, not just opposing ones.

While Burns was available Wednesday — as you could see in him colliding with a teammate during Smith’s SHG — Karlsson had to be a late scratch for personal reasons, and the Sharks still struggled mightily on defense. (Smith actually had another great chance on an early penalty kill, too, but Jones was game.)

Overall, Jones made some tough saves to keep the Sharks within striking distance at times, but this was such a lopsided contest that it didn’t matter.

This growing rivalry should be fun, unless you’re on the ice

Yes, this wasn’t an epic back-and-forth like that notorious Game 7, but these two teams boast the sort of firepower (and beef) that means there’s rarely a dull moment. Imagine if Evander Kane wasn’t suspended.

The Golden Knights have only existed for two seasons plus this opener, yet they’ve been a strong Western presence, accelerating the disdain with opponents, especially their Pacific Division rivals in San Jose.

San Jose needs its top guys to stay healthy

The Sharks did a pretty good job navigating a ton offseason. They could have lost Erik Karlsson. They might have taken a big risk on an aging Joe Pavelski. Timo Meier could have broken their salary cap breathing room.

Even so, losing Pavelski and other players (like sneaky-good Joonas Donskoi) means that the Sharks aren’t as deep as they’ve been in the past. If Karlsson or Burns gets hurt, that defense starts to look shaky pretty quickly. Possibly losing Kevin Labanc could be brutal for a team that’s a little thin on the wings.

In general, the Sharks might be vulnerable to lulls this season when they’re core players can’t suit up. Actually, it might be something head coach Peter DeBoer should try to mitigate; maybe you rest a burdened guy during a back-to-back, or lighten minutes when you have a lead?

To be fair to the Sharks, they didn’t exactly get an easy draw. Even with Schmidt out, Vegas is a daunting opponent, particularly at home.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Golden Knights, Sharks renew their rivalry

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks. Coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Golden Knights were defeated by the Sharks in OT of Game 7 in Round 1 last April after a controversial major penalty was called on Vegas’ Cody Eakin for a cross-check to Joe Pavelski in the third period with the Knights leading 3-0. San Jose scored four times on the man-advantage, while Vegas tallied a goal late to force overtime. Barclay Goodrow won it for San Jose in OT and secured one of the most improbable comebacks in postseason history, leading the Sharks into Round 2.

On Tuesday, Sharks forward Evander Kane was suspended three games for physical abuse of an official, stemming from an altercation with Vegas’ Deryk Engelland in San Jose’s final preseason game. Kane swung his stick at Engelland in response to a cross-check, but got a piece of the ref in the process. Then, the ref grabbed Kane and both fell to the ice. Kane appeared to shove the ref while getting back to his feet.

“I get kicked out of the game for getting jumped from behind by a referee,” said Kane. “I’ve never seen a ref take five strides. If you look at his face, he’s getting all this power and he’s trying to drive me into the ice, which is what he did. That’s unbelievable. Talk about abuse of an official? How about abuse of a player? It’s an absolute joke.”

The Sharks and Knights open the season with a home and home series. They open the season Wednesday in Vegas, before meeting again on Friday in San Jose. Vegas is 5-1-2 all-time against San Jose in the regular season. They’ve split their only two playoff meetings.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: San Jose Sharks at Vegas Golden Knights
WHERE: T-Mobile Arena
WHEN: Wednesday, Oct. 2, 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Sharks-Golden Knights stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

SHARKS
Timo MeierLogan Couture – Danil Yurtaikin
Lean Bergmann – Tomas HertlLukas Radil
Marcus SorensenJoe ThorntonKevin Labanc
Melker Karlsson – Barclay Goodrow – Dylan Gambrell

Marc-Edouard VlasicBrent Burns
Brenden DillonDalton Prout
Mario Ferraro – Tim Heed

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Jonathan MarchessaultWilliam KarlssonReilly Smith
Max PaciorettyCody GlassMark Stone
Brandon PirriPaul StastnyValentin Zykov
William CarrierTomas NosekRyan Reaves

Brayden McNabbNate Schmidt
Jon MerrillShea Theodore
Nick Holden – Deryk Engelland

Starting goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury

Brendan Burke and ‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst Pierre McGuire will have the call of Sharks-Golden Knights from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev.

Golden Knights, Sharks ready to renew emotional rivalry

1 Comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks. Coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Game 7 was a new day for the Vegas Golden Knights. Having blown a 3-1 lead in their Round 1 series against the San Jose Sharks, the do-or-die battle inside SAP Center was an opportunity for a clean slate.

One game. One winner would advance.

Little did anyone know that the final game of that series would end as one of the more memorable back-and-forth evenings in recent history. There was controversy, an injury, an emotional comeback, and finally, a series-winning overtime goal.

***

The Golden Knights were playing a perfect road in Jonathan Marchessault’s eyes. The San Jose crowd was quiet having watched their team go down 3-0 nearly four minutes into the third period. Vegas was all over the Sharks, dominating every facet of the game and controlling play.

Five and a half minutes after Max Pacioretty appeared to have put the dagger in the Sharks’ heart, that play happened. You know the one — the push by Cody Eakin off the faceoff that led to Joe Pavelski awkwardly falling backward and hitting his head on the ice. As the blood leaked from the captain’s helmet, the officials gave Eakin a major penalty for cross-checking and a game misconduct.

“I know with [our] team, any given night we’re going to win it,” Marchessault told NBC Sports. “Obviously, the wrong call happened. I pretty much blinked and they were up 4-3.”

The Sharks’ goal-scoring barrage did seem to happen in a blink. Seven seconds after the penalty was called Logan Couture cut the lead to 3-1. Forty-nine second later, it was 3-2, thanks to Tomas Hertl. Couture tied the game with his second of the night 2:44 after that.

The San Jose bench, already galvanized to win it for their injured captain, was a mix of disbelief and utter joy. A game and a season that seemed lost just 10 minutes earlier was given new life. Hertl said the atmosphere in the arena rivaled that of the noise levels hit during the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

“Everybody put everything [into the game],” said Hertl. “We lost to them the year before and we didn’t want to lose to Vegas again. It was an effort from every single guy.”

[PHT PREDICTIONS: EAST / WEST / STANLEY CUP]

Marchessault couldn’t believe it. The goals were coming from everywhere. The Golden Knights, still shorthanded, just didn’t know what to do.

As the Sharks and their fans were still celebrating the game-tying goal, they have reason to remain out of their seats a short while later. Kevin Labanc picked up the puck at the right point and drove toward the Vegas net with a surprisingly amount of time and space and fired the go-ahead goal past Marc-Andre Fleury.

Because this Game 7 was entirely bat—- crazy, there were still twists left to come. Marchessault would force overtime with 47 remaining and the Golden Knights’ net empty. Vegas was still fuming about the call on Eakin, but they took the overtime intermission to reset their emotions and focus on the task at hand: one more goal.

It took nearly all of the first overtime to get a winner, and it came off the stick of Barclay Goodrow at 18:19.

“It’s just still one of the craziest games we ever will play,” said Hertl.

“It was unfortunate,” said Marchessault, who unleashed his anger about the Eakin call afterward. “You’ve got to give them credit. They were down 3-1 in the series, they came back in Game 7 down 3-0, went to overtime and they still won it. … It was a good moment for their team and a good learning [experience] for our team as well.”

Game 7 exploded the rivalry between the two teams, especially the feud between Evander Kane and Ryan Reaves. Their first regular season meeting since that emotional April evening comes Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; live stream) on opening night as part of 2019 NHL Face-off. They won’t miss one another for long as they play again Friday night in San Jose.

“We’re excited. Obviously we have a great rivalry with them,” said Marchessault. “They’re a good team and I think we’re a good team as well. It’s going to go for a couple of years and it’s going to be a good rivalry.”

“It’s almost as big of a rivalry than LA right now,” said Hertl. “I love these games. Not just the playing, but the fans from both sides. They enjoy the games and the rivalry is just building up. I love these games because it seems like playoff rivalry from the first game of the season.”

The Golden Knights can do one of two things with that Game 7 memory: either move on from it or store it upstairs as a reminder. Marchessault said what happened has stayed with him throughout the offseason.

“Always does. Extra motivation, personally,” he said. “I like to remind myself what happened so when it comes around next time in playoffs we don’t take it for granted, you’ve got to battle through adversity. That’s what they did and they won.”

Marchessault was happy to see officials get some help over the summer when the league expanded video review and will allow for major penalties to be reviewed. In the case of Eakin, the call would have been reduced to a two-minute minor. The new rules state a major cannot be rescinded.

As the memories of that third period stay with the Golden Knights they understand they can’t change what happened. The focus is on this season and continuing their trend upward.

“We’re here to win a hockey game, that’s it,” Marchessault said. “We cannot get our emotions too high. They have a good team. We have a good team. We’ll be, I think, in the top teams in the West again. I just wait to get out there and win a hockey game.”

Brendan Burke and Pierre McGuire will have the call of Sharks-Golden Knights from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev.

MORE:
2019-20 NHL Power Rankings
PHT’s 2019-20 season previews
• 2019 NHL free agency tracker
NHL on NBC television schedule

————

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.

Variety of champs shows there’s no one Stanley Cup blueprint

Getty Images
3 Comments

Had the night of June 12 gone differently, maybe NHL rivals would be looking to the Boston Bruins as the model to follow to win the Stanley Cup.

”We were one game away to change the narrative of how teams should be structured,” Bruins defenseman Torey Krug said.

The Bruins lost Game 7 of the final to the big, heavy St. Louis Blues, who bruised and battered their way to the Cup. In recent years, that might have led teams around the league to bulk up and try to follow the Blues’ lead – but that is unlikely.

The differences in recent champions – from fast and skilled to physical and punishing – illustrate how many different blueprints there are to win a championship in today’s NHL. They also show the importance of tailoring style of play to personnel and perfecting team chemistry.

”There’s so many different ways,” Blues playoff MVP Ryan O'Reilly said. ”Most of the players in the league, you’re not going to change. You change little things and make adjustments, but you’re not going to change the players that they are. So it’s finding your group of players and getting them to play the most effective way.”

Over the past decade, the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins won it all with speed, skill and talent. The Los Angeles Kings, Washington Capitals and Blues had plenty of skill, sure, but also used size to wear down opponents.

In a sport where whoever lifts the Cup tends to swing the pendulum on how to build a winner, it’s become more of a race to see which team can impose its will come playoff time.

”Every year is different,” said Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, who started in two finals and was the backup when Boston won the Cup in 2011. ”The way you build your team, everybody needs to be comfortable with that. You can win many different ways as long as your team’s comfortable playing that style of game.”

The Blues under coach Craig Berube got comfortable playing a defense-first style predicated on taking the body and winning series by attrition. O’Reilly concedes a lot has to go right to play that way.

The 2016 and 2017 Penguins battled attrition and overcame injuries to win the Cup. They weren’t the biggest team by any means but had the ingredients to go toe to toe with anyone when it mattered most.

”Playoffs is a whole different beast, and obviously there’s more hitting,” Chicago winger Alex DeBrincat said. ”Even if you’re a skilled team, you’re going to hit more.”

Jonathan Marchessault, whose Vegas Golden Knights lost to the Capitals in the 2018 final, said it’s important to ”stay true to the identity of your team” – whatever that is. Yet there remains a notion that when the regular season ends and the playoffs begin, the NHL trend toward speed and skill ruling the ice is no longer the case.

”It’s different hockey,” said Anze Kopitar, who won with the Kings in 2012 and 2014. ”In order to get into the playoffs, you’ve got to be fast and skilled and everything. Playoffs is a little bit different. You’ve got to wear teams down, and that’s what it is. It’s not as high-scoring as it is during the regular season. You still obviously have to have some grit and some hard-nosed guys that are willing to do that.”

Players talk about feeling like there’s less room to maneuver in the playoffs, like the surface shrinks and each decision must be made a half-second quicker. That does put a premium on turning up the toughness level.

”Even if the game is going skill and finesse, generally speaking, speed, skill, if you ask anyone around the league, going into a rink where you know it’s going to be a heavy style, there’s an intimidation factor there,” said Tom Wilson, who recorded 15 points, blocked 12 shots and dished out 100 hits during the Capitals’ Cup run. ”That’s why hockey’s great. That’s why it’s a physical sport. When you’re playing a team and you know they’re going to finish their checks, you know they’re going to be heavy on the puck, you know they’re going to battle, that’s important.”

Battling isn’t just about the Kings, Capitals or Blues finishing thundering checks and separating opposing players from the puck. It’s about gutting through injuries, winning races to the puck and dictating the tempo of the game to suit a certain style.

”You always have to stick to what gives you success throughout a regular season,” Krug said. ”We play a certain way where we can match up against any style. If you want to play fast, we’ll do it. You want to play heavy and in your face, we have the players that can do that as well, and we won’t shy away from it.”

The Blues’ blueprint could help a team like Winnipeg lift the Cup. Maybe the Tampa Bay Lightning can take a page from the Penguins’ playbook. Or perhaps the San Jose Sharks win with the depth on defense that earned the Blackhawks three championships in six years.

Based on the variety of champions and the parity of the NHL , which will be the last team standing and how they do it is anyone’s guess.

”The fun part about the year we won and this year is that anyone can win,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. ”Everyone can win, which is great.”