Josh Jooris

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It’s Toronto Maple Leafs day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Toronto Maple Leafs.

2017-18
49-26-7, 105 pts. (3rd in the Atlantic Division, 4th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Lost in seven games to the Boston Bruins, first round

IN
John Tavares
Tyler Ennis
Par Lindholm
Josh Jooris
Adam Cracknell

OUT
Dominic Moore
James van Riemsdyk
Tyler Bozak
Tomas Plekanec
Leo Komarov
Matt Martin
Roman Polak

RE-SIGNED
Andreas Johnsson
Connor Carrick
Frederik Gauthier
Justin Holl

– – –

Let’s start this off by quickly recounting last season’s Toronto Maple Leafs.

– Won some games
– Made the playoffs
– Got ousted from the playoffs in the first round
– Wallowed in offseason mode for a while
Signed John Tavares
– Won the offseason

Do Toronto fans really care about last season at this point?

Call it a B.C. vs. A.D. sort of thing, only its B.J.T. and A.J.T. in this case (Before John Tavares and After John Tavares, for those not following the dating system bit).

He may not be the Messiah, nor the second coming, but signing John Tavares after a drawn out courting period instantly turned the Maple Leafs into a contender, and proved new general manager Kyle Dubas certainly has the chops for the gig he’s earned.

[Maple Leafs Day: Under Pressure | Breakthrough | Three Questions]

The Leafs were already a damn good hockey team beforehand, filled with young talent with the likes of Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner. Adding a veteran superstar in John Tavares only sped up Toronto’s velocity as they make their ascent to the top of the league.

In terms of the season, Toronto’s Game 7 loss to the Boston Bruins in the first round was disappointing after allowing four goals in the third period to lose 7-4. A bitter pill to swallow, surely, but also a valuable lesson for a young team on how difficult it is to close out a playoff series.

Toronto shut down in that third period, and they’ll need to learn to handle the ebbs and flows of playoff hockey, and not let the lows get as low as they did in that final frame.

Of course, last season was a giant leap forward for the Maple Leafs, at least in the regular season, where Toronto set a new franchise record with 49 wins and 105 points.

The playoffs were essentially the same story as the year before, losing in the first round, only that time to the Washington Capitals. Matthews lost his way in the series, getting just a single goal and a single assist in the series against the Bruins. And that Game  7 performance by Jake Gardiner was, well, horrible.

But it wasn’t all on Gardiner. Their defense in the series was poor all around, and depth at that position is an over-arching concern as the Leafs roll into the new season. Improving on the back end would certainly help their goaltending out, too. Frederik Anderson saw enough shots all season for two starting goaltenders, and his .896 save percentage in the first round wasn’t good enough.

The Maple Leafs have already ripped off the rear-view mirror though. They went big with Tavares and now have some of the loftiest expectations in the NHL. It should be an exciting season in The Six. Perhaps that 51-season Stanley Cup drought could be nearing an end.

Now, how are they going to fit Nylander under the cap?

Prospect Pool

Travis Dermott, D, 21, Toronto Marlies (AHL) – 2015 second-round pick

An improvement on defense is what the Maple Leafs need, and they might have it in Dermott. Smart, two-way, puck-moving defenseman that plays well at both ends of the ice. He played 37 games with the Leafs last season and also helped the Marlies win the Calder Cup, along with being named an AHL All-Star. There’s a lot of hope being placed in Dermott, who could be in line for a top-four spot this season with the Maple Leafs.

Timothy Liljegren, D, 19, Toronto Marlies (AHL) – 2017 first-round pick

Another defenseman that the Leafs are putting a lot of stock into. Liljegren decided to make the jump from Sweden to North America last year, suiting up with the Marlies. It took him some time to adjust to the professional game in the American Hockey League, but now seems he’s ready to take another step in his progression.

“If you play over here, you have to make fast plays and move the puck quick,” Liljegren told The Canadian Press. “That’s something I developed over the year. I feel comfortable now.”

Andreas Johnsson, LW/RW, 23, Toronto Marlies (AHL) – 2013 seventh-round pick

Alright, how many seventh-round draft picks have gone on to become Calder Cup MVPs? The answer is out there somewhere (by this I mean I have no idea), but Johnsson is now on that list. Taken 202nd overall in 2013, Johnsson paced the Calder Cup playoffs with 14 assists and 24 points to help the Marlies to the title.

“He’s a special, special kid,” Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe said after the team won the Calder Cup.“He’s taken the long road to road to get here. He’s another example that it doesn’t matter when you’re drafted or even if you’re drafted, you just keep working and the cream rises to the top eventually.”

Time for a shot in the Show.

Related: Maple Leafs should be NHL’s best offensive team


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

It’s Pittsburgh Penguins day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Pittsburgh Penguins.

2017-18
47-29-6, 100 pts. (2nd in the Metropolitan Division, 5th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Lost in six games to the Washington Capitals, second round

IN
Matt Cullen
Jack Johnson
Derek Grant

OUT
Connor Sheary
Matt Hunwick
Tom Kuhnhackl
Carter Rowney
Josh Jooris

RE-SIGNED
Daniel Sprong
Bryan Rust
Riley Sheahan
Jamie Oleksiak
Tristan Jarry
Dominik Simon

The bid for a third straight Stanley Cup title fell short as the Penguins were knocked out by the Washington Capitals, who slayed a demon en route to the franchise’s first championship. 

It was the culmination of an up-and-down season, one that began with a 10-1 thrashing by the Chicago Blackhawks in their second game and saw the Penguins hold a 19-18-3 record as the calendar turned to 2018. Matt Murray, in his first season as the full-fledged No. 1 in net, again battled through injury, giving the team a chance to see Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith in extended action.

Meanwhile, the Penguins’ big weapons did as they normally do and dominated in the scoring department. Evgeni Malkin (98 points), Phil Kessel (92) and Sidney Crosby (89) all finished top 10 in scoring in the NHL, with Malkin hitting 40 goals for the first time since 2011-12 and Kessel recording a career high in points.

General manager Jim Rutherford continued his trading ways and added Riley Sheahan and Jamie Oleksiak in separate deals, which turned out to be shrewd moves in helping both the team’s bottom six and blue line. A three-way deal at the NHL’s trade deadline brought Derick Brassard to Pittsburgh, but everyone is still waiting for that move to work within the team’s current setup.

[Under Pressure: Johnson | Breakthrough: Oleksiak | 3 Questions]

As a team that spends to the cap annually, there wasn’t a lot of action in free agency, despite thoughts that Rutherford might swing another trade. Matt Cullen was brought back and Jack Johnson was handed a curious five-year, $16.25 million contract. The Penguins have their core pieces locked up, outside of Jake Guentzel, who’s scheduled to become an RFA next summer. They’re ready for another run and with a GM who’s not afraid to make a bold move to improve his team’s championship chances, it’s easy to see why they’ll once again be in the mix of teams hoping to represent the Eastern Conference in the Cup Final.

Prospect Pool

• Filip Hallander, 18, RW, Timra (SHL) — 2018 second-round pick

If he can come close to the comparisons to fellow Swede Patric Hornqvist, that will bode well for the Penguins in the future, especially since they traded up to draft him. Despite a knee injury that slowed him a bit, Hallander impressed the Penguins with his two-way game. He chipped in nine goals and 20 points in 40 games last season with Timra.

• Calen Addison, 18, D, Lethbridge (WHL) — 2018 second-round pick

An offensive defenseman, Addison scored 11 goals and recorded 65 points for the Hurricanes last season. A puck-mover, he still has a ways to go in improving his defensive game, but with Sergei Gonchar having already worked his magic on a number of the Penguins defenseman, there’s a confidence that Addison’s all-around game can develop.

• Daniel Sprong, 21, RW, Wilkes-Barre (AHL) — 2015 second-round pick

With an eight-game taste last season, Sprong should have a full opportunity to stick with the NHL club this season. Rutherford said in May the 21-year-old winger is expected to be a regular in the lineup in 2018-19. He’s a proven scorer, having netted 32 goals in both his final year in junior and last season in the AHL. The Penguins are more than fine down the middle, so if Sprong can become a reliable producer on the wing.

MORE: Will Sidney Crosby win another scoring title in his career?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Crunching the numbers for the Stanley Cup playoffs

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DENVER (AP) — Pittsburgh Penguins right winger Josh Jooris wears No. 16. That happens to be the total wins necessary for the team to retain the Stanley Cup for a third straight season.

There are lots of relevant numbers to be crunched heading into the playoffs, which begin Wednesday night. For instance, zero comes to mind, which is the number of expansion teams that have hoisted the Cup after starting from scratch. That’s a figure the upstart Vegas Golden Knights are aiming to update.

Or Sweet 16 – the amount of teams that still have a shot at that coveted trophy. Here is a by-the-numbers glance at a postseason that will last two action-packed months. Welcome to beard-growing season:

16 – Game-winning playoff goals for Toronto forward Patrick Marleau .

15 – Times Claude Giroux of Philadelphia had at least two assists in a game this season. He and Blake Wheeler of Winnipeg tied for the league lead with 68.

14 – Career playoff goals in 55 games for Winnipeg forward Paul Stastny , who was acquired from St. Louis in February.

13 – Age of New Jersey forward Nico Hischier the last time the Devils made the postseason in 2011-12.

12 – Spot where Anaheim defenseman Cam Fowler was picked in the 2010 entry draft . He’s played the third-most NHL regular season games of anyone in that draft class.

11 – :45 p.m. The time Game 2 of the 1951 semifinal series between Boston and Toronto – who meet in the first round this season – was halted at 1-1. Maple Leaf Gardens needed to clear patrons by midnight because of a Toronto ordinance in effect, according to the Bruins website .

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

10 – Postseason shutouts by Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in his career.

9 – Uniform number of Artemi Panarin , who led Columbus with 82 points. No. 9 Filip Forsberg also led his Nashville team in scoring with 64, and No. 9 Taylor Hall led New Jersey with 93. Cloud Nine for sure.

8 – Overtime playoff goals scored by Avalanche Hall of Famer-turned-executive Joe Sakic , the most for a career. Maurice ”Rocket” Richard is next with six.

7 – New teams that weren’t in the playoffs a season ago, matching the biggest year-to-year change. It includes Colorado, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Vegas and Winnipeg.

6 – Approximate length, in inches – or maybe in feet – of the impressive beard grown by Brent Burns of San Jose. The gold standard of whiskers.

5.9 – Goals averaged per game this season, an increase of 7 percent from a year ago. There were 7,552 regular-season goals.

5 – Combined playoff hat tricks for Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby (2) and Evgeni Malkin (2), along with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin (1). Wayne Gretzky had 10.

4a – Number of times a team has rallied from a 0-3 playoff deficit to win a series. The last occurrence was the Kings over the Sharks during the first round in 2014.

4b – Times since the conference format was introduced in ’74-75 the last-place team from each side earned a playoff spot the next season. New Jersey and Colorado had the distinction in 2017-18, joining the Red Wings/Rockies (finished last in ’76-77), Bruins/Sharks (last in ’96-97) and Maple Leafs/Oilers (last in ’15-16).

3 – Draft picks Vegas surrendered to Detroit at the trade deadline to acquire forward Tomas Tatar , who has three goals and four assists in 17 playoff games.

2 – Number of Canadian teams in the postseason, which is less than California (three).

1.95 – Career goals-against average for Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray in the playoffs.

1a – Number of players born in France in these playoffs (Pierre-Edouard Bellemare of Vegas).

1b – Number of players born in Nebraska in these playoffs (Jake Guentzel of Pittsburgh).

0 – Times Minnesota and Winnipeg have faced each other in the playoffs. The two first-round foes never met in the NHL playoffs when Minnesota had the North Stars (now in Dallas) or Winnipeg had the original Jets (now in Arizona).

More NHL hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

WATCH LIVE: Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues on Sunday as the Washington Capitals visit the Pittsburgh Penguins at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here. 

CAPITALS
Alex OvechkinEvgeny KuznetsovTom Wilson
Andre BurakovskyNicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie
Jakub VranaLars EllerDevante Smith-Pelly
Chandler StephensonJay Beagle – Brett Conolly

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Brooks OrpikJakub Jerabek

Starting goalie: Philip Grubauer

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

[Ovechkin, a durable ‘Russian machine,’ reaches 1,000 games]

WATCH LIVE – 7:30 p.m. ET

PENGUINS
Jake GuentzelSidney CrosbyBryan Rust
Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPhil Kessel (game time decision)
Conor ShearyRiley SheahanPatric Hornqvist
Zach Aston-ReeseJosh JoorisTom Kuhnhackl

Brian DumoulinKris Letang
Olli MaattaJustin Schultz
Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

Starting goalie: Matt Murray

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Sean Leahy is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Dallas Stars at Pittsburgh Penguins

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues on Sunday, as the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Dallas stars at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

Stars

Mattias JanmarkTyler SeguinAlexander Radulov

Jamie BennRadek FaksaTyler Pitlick

Antoine RousselJason SpezzaBrett Ritchie

Remie Ellie — Jason DickinsonDevin Shore

Esa LindellJohn Klingberg

Dan HamhuisGreg Pateryn

Marc MethotStephen Johns

Starting goalie: Kari Lehtonen

Penguins

Jake GuentzelSidney CrosbyConor Sheary

Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Riley SheahanDerick BrassardPhil Kessel

Tom KuhnhacklJosh JoorisCarter Rowney

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Jamie OleksiakJustin Schultz

Olli Maatta — Chad Rudwedel

Starting goalie: Casey DeSmith