Kasperi Kapanen

NHL Playoff Race
Getty

Push for the Playoffs: Pressure is on Maple Leafs

3 Comments

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2019-20 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

There is a potential Round 1 playoff preview in Toronto on Tuesday night when the Maple Leafs play host to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It is still only a potential Round 1 matchup at this point because the Maple Leafs are suddenly feeling quite a bit of pressure from a Florida Panthers team that is not quite ready to go away just yet.

Toronto enters Tuesday’s action riding a three-game losing streak (all on a Western Conference road trip that saw them lose to three of the league’s bottom teams) while having lost 10 of their past 17 games overall. It has been a maddening run of inconsistency where they have struggled to solidify their standing as a playoff team. Their recent slump, combined with the Panthers stacking a couple wins together (including Monday’s impressive 2-1 win against the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues) has closed the gap between the two teams to just a single point. They now face a very real risk of not only dropping into a Wild Card spot, but perhaps even out of the playoff picture entirely. It is something that seemed almost unimaginable at the start of the season.

Given the expectations this team had at the start, as well as their struggles at times this season, their precarious spot in the playoff race would create enough pressure on its own. Now they have an absolutely brutal three-game stretch ahead of them this week that will see them play Tampa Bay, Nashville, and Boston. If they are going to solidify their standing in the playoff race, they are going to have to earn it.

While much of the criticism for this year’s Maple Leafs team falls on their defense and goaltending, the big culprit on their recent losing streak has been an offense that has gone cold, scoring just three goals in the three games (including only one over the past two games).

On Monday, coach Sheldon Keefe put his lines into a blender in an effort to help jumpstart the offense. He split up the Auston MatthewsMitch Marner duo, putting Matthews with Zach Hyman and William Nylander, while Marner skated alongside John Tavares and Kasperi Kapanen.

The Maple Leafs are also getting top defenseman Morgan Rielly back on Tuesday night after he missed the past two months due to a broken foot.

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Boston Bruins vs. Carolina Hurricanes
Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

WESTERN CONFERENCE

St. Louis Blues vs. Minnesota Wild
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Winnipeg Jets
Colorado Avalanche vs. Dallas Stars
Edmonton Oilers vs. Calgary Flames

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Toronto Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. ET
Nashville Predators vs. Montreal Canadiens, 7 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New Jersey Devils, 7 p.m. ET
Boston Bruins vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 7 p.m. ET
Carolina Hurricanes vs. Detroit Red Wings, 7:30 p.m. ET
New York Rangers vs. Dallas Stars, 8:30 p.m. ET
New York Islanders vs. Vancouver Canucks, 10 p.m. ET

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)

Boston Bruins — 100 percent
Tampa Bay Lightning — 100 percent
Washington Capitals — 100 percent
Philadelphia Flyers — 99.9 percent
Pittsburgh Penguins — 94.2 percent
Carolina Hurricanes — 76.2 percent
Toronto Maple Leafs — 67.1 percent
New York Islanders — 63.9 percent
Florida Panthers — 44.5 percent
Columbus Blue Jackets — 35.3 percent
New York Rangers — 18.5 percent
Montreal Canadiens — 0.4 percent
Buffalo Sabres — Out
Ottawa Senators — Out
New Jersey Devils — Out
Detroit Red Wings — Out

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES 

St. Louis Blues — 100 percent
Colorado Avalanche — 100 percent
Vegas Golden Knights — 98.9 percent
Edmonton Oilers — 98.3 percent
Dallas Stars — 97. 9 percent
Calgary Flames — 66.5 percent
Vancouver Canucks — 64.1 percent
Minnesota Wild — 56.2 percent
Winnipeg Jets — 49.9 percent
Nashville Predators — 47.1 percent
Arizona Coyotes — 19.2 percent
Chicago Blackhawks — 2 percent
Anaheim Ducks — Out
San Jose Sharks — Out
Los Angeles Kings — Out

THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE

Detroit Red Wings — 18.5 percent
Ottawa Senators — 13.5 percent
Los Angeles Kings — 11.5 percent
Ottawa Senators* — 9.5 percent
Anaheim Ducks — 8.5 percent
Buffalo Sabres — 7.5 percent
New Jersey Devils — 6.5 percent
Chicago Blackhawks — 6 percent
Montreal Canadiens — 5 percent
New Jersey Devils** — 3.5 percent
Nashville Predators — 3 percent
Vancouver Canucks — 2.5 percent
New York Rangers — 2 percent
Florida Panthers 1.5 percent
New York Islanders — 1 percent

(* SJ’s 2020 first-round pick owned by OTT)
(** ARZ’s lottery-protected 2020 first-round pick owned by NJ. If top three, moves to 2021)

ART ROSS TROPHY RACE

Leon Draisaitl, Oilers — 110 points
Connor McDavid, Oilers — 96 points
David Pastrnak, Bruins — 94 points
Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche — 93 points
Artemi Panarin, Rangers — 93 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE

Alex Ovechkin, Capitals — 48 goals
David Pastrnak, Bruins — 48 goals
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs — 46 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers — 43 goals
Mika Zibanejad, Rangers — 39 goals

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.

WATCH LIVE: Penguins host Maple Leafs on NBCSN

Getty Images
1 Comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins 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.

The Penguins come into this game having won five of their last seven games (5-1-1) and have closed in on the division leading Capitals. Pittsburgh trailed Washington by 13 points entering play on Dec. 12, 2019, but have gone 19-5-2 (40 points) in 26 games since then to close the gap to just one point.

The Penguins have earned at least one point in each of their last six games at PPG Paints Arena (5-0-1) and recorded their 21st home win of the season overall – matching the Bruins for the most home wins in the NHL.

Jason Zucker, who was acquired on Feb. 10 from the Wild for Alex Galchenyuk, prospect Calen Addison and a conditional first-round pick, has three points in three games for the Penguins and has been skating on the top line with Sidney Crosby. He tallied his first multi-goal game of the season in Friday’s 4-1 win over the Canadiens, and then added an assist in Sunday’s 5-1 win over the Red Wings.

The Leafs enter this game having lost five of their last eight games (3-4-1). Toronto is coming off a 5-2 loss at Buffalo on Sunday night where they gave up three goals in the span of 91 seconds in the third period after the score was even at 2-2. Toronto sits in third place in the Atlantic, but the fourth place Panthers are just two points back with one game in hand.

Leafs star forward Auston Matthews is currently tied with Boston’s David Pastrnak for the league lead with 42 goals this season, and his 42 tallies have already set a career high. The Leafs star has done the majority of his damage on
home ice with 30 goals in 30 games any Scotiabank Arena.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Toronto Maple Leafs at Pittsburgh Penguins
WHERE: PPG Paints Arena
WHEN: Tuesday, Feb. 18, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Maple Leafs-Penguins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

MAPLE LEAFS
Zach Hyman – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner
William NylanderJohn TavaresAlexander Kerfoot
Pierre EngvallFrederik GauthierKasperi Kapanen
Kyle CliffordJason SpezzaDmytro Timashov

Jake MuzzinJustin Holl
Rasmus SandinTyson Barrie
Travis DermottMartin Marincin

Starting goalie: Frederik Andersen

PENGUINS
Jason Zucker – Sidney Crosby – Dominik Simon
Jared McCannEvgeni MalkinBryan Rust
Brandon TanevTeddy BluegerPatric Hornqvist
Dominik KahunAndrew AgozzinoSam Lafferty

Jack JohnsonKris Letang
Marcus PetterssonJustin Schultz
Juuso RiikolaChad Ruhwedel

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

Kenny Albert and Pierre McGuire will call the action at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa.

An hour-long special on Connor McDavid, titled Connor McDavid: Whatever It Takes will premiere following the game at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. The feature provides an inside look at McDavid’s comeback from a knee injury in last season’s final game. Click here for a trailer.

The Miracle on Ice – 40th Anniversary, featuring Al Michaels, who called the momentous matchup in 1980, and Mike Tirico, will premiere on Wednesday night at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. 40 years to the month, this 30-minute special will feature Tirico’s wide-ranging conversation with Michaels about the buildup to the game, his iconic call, as well as the legacy of the moment that became bigger than sports and still resonates today.

The Buzzer: Benn’s hat trick; Draisaitl keeps rolling for Oilers

NHL Scores
Getty

Three Stars

1. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars. It hasn’t been the best season for Benn but he is refusing to go down quietly and now finds himself as the Stars’ leading goal scorer (18) this season thanks to his hat trick on Tuesday night in a 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. He has scored nine of those goals in the 15 games since January 1, and is just one goal away from the 300-mark for his career. He is now on pace for 26 goals this season.

2. Mike Matheson and Mark Pysyk, Florida Panthers. It might be cheating to include two players as one entry in the three stars section, but look, these two guys deserve some recognition here. The Panthers dressed eight defensemen on Tuesday night against the New Jersey Devils and played two of them — Matheson and Pysyk — at forward on a line with Noel Acciari. All that line did was score three goals (one for each player) in a 5-3 win, while Matheson and Pysyk each had a goal, two assists, and finished as a plus-three. Pysyk has previously played forward for the Panthers this season and had a hat trick a couple of weeks ago.

3. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. No Connor McDavid, no problem for Draisaitl and the Oilers on Tuesday. The Oilers were 5-3 winners over the Chicago Blackhawks and it was Draisaitl leading the way with a four-point night (one goal, three assists) as he extended his current lead in the NHL scoring race to eight points over McDavid. He is now at 89 points on the season and on pace for 129 points this season. He had 105 points a year ago. If he continues that level of play during McDavid’s absence and helps get the Oilers back in the playoffs it might be enough to take the MVP award away from his teammate.

Along with Draisaitl, 2017 first-round pick Kailer Yamamoto also had another big game for the Oilers, scoring two goals in the win. He is now up to seven goals and 14 points in his first 15 games this season after joining the team in late December.

Other Notable Performances From Tuesday

  • Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 37 shots for the Tampa Bay Lightning as they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime to extend their winning streak despite a growing injury list. Read all about it here.
  • Alex Stalock stopped all 26 shots he faced for the Minnesota Wild as they shut out the Vegas Golden Knights. Kevin Fiala also had a big game for the Wild to extend his point streak to five games.
  • Another strong game for rookie New York Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin as he stopped turned aside 42 shots in a 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets. Chris Kreider also scored two goals in the win.
  • Mathew Barzal had three assists for the New York Islanders as they won a wild game over the Philadelphia Flyers. Read all about it here.
  • Philipp Grubauer stopped 36 shots for the Colorado Avalanche in a 3-0 win over the Ottawa Senators.

Highlights of the Night

Mikko Rantanen scored an absolutely beautiful goal late in the first period against the Ottawa Senators, starting it off with a spin move at the blue line.

Here is one of Mathew Barzal’s three assists on Tuesday night, setting up Jordan Eberle for a first period goal to give the Islanders a 3-0 lead. He just flipped it to himself and created a shot like it was nothing.

Not long after a potential Arizona Coyotes game winner was overturned for goaltender interference, Kasperi Kapanen scored the winner for the Toronto Maple Leafs by batting a puck out of mid-air, sending himself on a breakaway, and scoring the goal.

Moment of the Night

Jacob Trouba returned to Winnipeg for the first time as a visiting player on Tuesday night. He did this before the game.

 

Factoids

  • Kucherov extended his point streak to 12 games before leaving with an injury. It is the longest current point streak in the NHL and the fifth-longest in Tampa Bay Lightning franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • Rasmus Dahlin is now tied for the most assists (76) by a teenage defenseman in NHL history. [NHL PR]
  • Jack Hughes became just the third 18-year-old to record at least 20 points in a season for the New Jersey Devils. [NHL PR]

Scores

Buffalo Sabres 3, Detroit Red Wings 2
Toronto Maple Leafs 3, Arizona Coyote 2 (OT)
Florida Panthers 5, New Jersey Devils 3
New York Islanders 5, Philadelphia Flyers 3
Tampa Bay Lightning 2, Pittsburgh Penguins 1 (OT)
Minnesota Wild 4, Vegas Golden Knights 0
New York Rangers 4, Winnipeg Jets 1
Dallas Stars 4, Carolina Hurricanes 1
Colorado Avalanche 3, Ottawa Senators 0
Edmonton Oilers 5, Chicago Blackhawks 3
St. Louis Blues-Anaheim Ducks (Postponed)

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 Morning Skate: McCrimmon dispels theories on Gallant firing

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.

• Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon dispels two theories on Gerard Gallant firing. (Sin Bin Vegas)

• Members of the NHL’s 700-goal club expect Alex Ovechkin to get to 800 goals. (NHL.com)

Taylor Hall has been a bright spot during the Arizona Coyotes’ recent dry spell. (The Hockey News)

• Playoff vibes are real for the Chicago Blackhawks. (NBC Chicago)

Kasperi Kapanen was scratched by the Toronto Maple Leafs this weekend because he was late for a team meeting. (TSN)

• How to watch Games 3-5 of the USA-Canada rivalry series (The Ice Garden)

• How Tomas Hertl‘s season-ending injury has changed the San Jose Sharks’ mindset and approach. (NBC Bay Area)

• Canadiens’ need for size boosts case to keep Ilya Kovalchuk at trade deadline. (Sportsnet)

• The New York Islanders start the second half of the season know it is crunch time. (Islanders Insight)

• The Calgary Flames are worse than they were a year ago, but have been better under Geoff Ward. (Flames Nation)

• Blues hoping home ice cures what ails them. (St. Louis Post Dispatch)

Brian Dumoulin can not get back soon enough for the Pittsburgh Penguins (Pensburgh)

Kailer Yamamoto looks right at home on the Edmonton Oilers’ second line. (Copper and Blue)

Joel Farabee is growing up for the Philadelphia Flyers. (NBC Philadelphia)

• The Los Angeles Kings need to find out who is in and who is out. (Los Angeles Times)

Nathan Gerbe signed a new two-year, two-way contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets (1st Ohio Battery)

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.

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.