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The Buzzer: Kucherov’s five point night; Bergeron, Kovalchuk with big returns

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Three Stars

1. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. The Tampa Bay Lightning look unstoppable right now. After their 6-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night they are still averaging more than four goals per game on the season and are 11-0-1 in their past 12 games (and also 16-2-1 in their past 19 games). Leading the way on Saturday night was Nikita Kucherov with a five-point night to give him 57 points in 37 games this season. That is a 126-point pace over 82 games. The five points is a new season-high for him and already the eighth time this season he has recorded at least three points in a game. He is now just two points back of Colorado Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen (59 points) for the league lead in the scoring race.

2. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins. What a difference he makes when he is on the ice. Patrice Bergeron returned to the Boston Bruins’ lineup on Saturday afternoon for the first time since November 14 and it was like he never left. He finished with a four-point performance (two goals, two assists) in a 5-2 win over the Nashville Predators and was his usual dominant self in all phases of the game. He is now up to 31 points in 20 games this season for a Bruins team that has been trying to stay afloat despite some brutal injury luck this season. Getting a healthy Bergeron back will obviously be a huge boost to that lineup.

3. Phillip Danault, Montreal Canadiens. Entering play on Saturday Montreal Canadiens forward Phillip Danault had not scored a goal in 11 consecutive games, had just one in his past 30, and just two for the entire season. He topped that season total with three goals in a 4-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights. Given that he had scored just 10 goals since the start of the 2017-18 season, and only 27 in 223 career games, he is probably one of the most unlikely players to net a hat trick this season.

More big performances from Saturday

Jeff Skinner scored his 26th goal of the season for the Buffalo Sabres. That total is good enough for second place in the NHL behind only Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin. He continues to play his way toward a huge contract in the coming months.

Roberto Luongo turned aside 33 shots for the Florida Panthers in a 2-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings.

Cam Atkinson scored two more goals for the Columbus Blue Jackets to help lift his team to a 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, handing rookie goalie Carter Hart his first NHL defeat.

Pheonix Copley, Laurent Brossoit, Matt Murray, and Linus Ullmark all recorded shutouts on Saturday.

David Perron had two points for the St. Louis Blues in a 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames.

Alexander Radulov had two points, including the game-winning goal with just 10 seconds to play in overtime, to help lift the Dallas Stars to a 2-1 win over the Minnesota Wild.

Mark Scheifele‘s 22nd goal of the season, which came with just under 1:30 to play in regulation, helped lift the Winnipeg Jets to a 1-0 win in Vancouver. It is his fifth game-winning goal of the season.

— Mitch Marner thought he had a hat trick for the Toronto Maple Leafs until one of the goals was awarded to Andreas Johnsson. He instead had to settle for two goals and an assist in a 5-3 win over the New York Rangers. Johnsson also had three points in the win.

— The Arizona Coyotes allowed a three-goal third period lead to slip away against the Colorado Avalanche but were able to rebound for a 6-4 win thanks to a pair of late goals from Brad Richardson — the game-winner with less than four minutes to play, and then an empty net goal to secure the win.

Steven Stamkos scored two goals for the Tampa Lightning and hit the 20 goal mark for the 10th time in his career. He is one of the best players in the league and is only the third leading scorer on the Lightning, a testament to how good and deep the Lightning roster currently is.

Highlights of the Night

This is what the Los Angeles Kings had in mind when they signed Ilya Kovalchuk over the summer. It has not worked out as planned so far, but he had his bet game of the season on Saturday afternoon in a 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks by scoring two goals, including the game-winning goal in overtime.

The Sidney Crosby to Jake Guentzel connection is rolling in Pittsburgh. Guentzel scored two more goals on Saturday night in a 3-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, while Crosby picked up an assist on all three Penguins goals. The passing on Guentzel’s second goal was crisp.

Speaking of crisp passing, this John Tavares to Mitch Marner play is pretty great, too.

Factoids

Rasmus Dahlin scored a goal in the Buffalo Sabres’ 3-0 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night and is off to an incredible start to his career.

More on Ilya Kovalchuk’s big game for the Los Angeles Kings.

A perfect time for Pheonix Copley to record his first NHL shutout.

The Tampa Bay Lightning head to the holiday break as the best team in the NHL at the moment.

His team did not get the win, but Connor McDavid is still having yet another incredible season.

Scores

Boston Bruins 5, Nashville Predators 2

Columbus Blue Jackets 4, Philadelphia 3

Florida Panthers 2, Detroit Red Wings 1

Montreal Canadiens 4, Vegas Golden Knights 3

Los Angeles Kings 3, San Jose Sharks 2 (OT)

St. Louis Blues 3, Calgary Flames 1

Arizona Coyotes 6, Colorado Avalanche 4

Buffalo Sabres 3, Anaheim Ducks 0

Toronto Maple Leafs 5, New York Rangers 3

Washington Capitals 4, Ottawa Senators 0

Pittsburgh Penguins 3, Carolina Hurricanes 0

Dallas Stars 2, Minnesota Wild 1 (OT)

Winnipeg Jets 1, Vancouver Canucks 0

Tampa Bay Lightning 6, Edmonton Oilers 3

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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: Brossoit leads Jets; Palmieri’s historic double

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Three Stars

1. Laurent Brossoit, Winnipeg Jets. While earning his first win as a Jet, Brossoit stopped 42 shots during a 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. For the fifth time in seven games, the Hurricanes fired at least 40 shots on net, but the 25-year-old netminder stood tall to help Winnipeg to their second win in three games.

2. Kyle Palmieri, New Jersey Devils. Continuing his hot start to the season, Palmieri netted two goals during the Devils’ 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks. His second period power-play goal was followed up by another tally early in the third period even the score at two. Palmieri now has six goals on the season, scoring twice in each of New Jersey’s three games this season. And per the NHL, Palmieri is the fourth NHL player to score multiple goals in three straight games to begin a season, joining Patrick Marleau (2012-13), Cy Denneny (1917-18) and Peter Stastny (1982-83).

3. Ryan Miller, Anaheim Ducks. Miller made 29 saves, including 10 in the final period to help the Ducks to a 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues. Dating back to the end of last season, Anaheim has won its last four games Miller has started.

Highlights of the Night

Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine on a 2-on-0 would result in a goal probably 99.9 percent of the time. Not this time, thanks to Petr Mrazek:

• Patrik Laine. From the circle. One-timer.

Bryan Little‘s first of the season broke a 2-2 tie with 2:09 to go to help the Jets to a victory. What a pass by Josh Morrissey:

Andrew Cogliano also picked the right time to score, breaking a 2-2 deadlock on the power play with 5:16 left in the third period:

Factoid of the Night

Scores
Devils 3, Sharks 2
Ducks 3, Blues 2
Jets 3, Hurricanes 1

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV 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.

It’s Winnipeg Jets 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 Winnipeg Jets. 

2017-18
52-20-10, 114 pts. (2nd in the Central Division, 2nd in the Western Conference)
Playoffs: Lost in five games to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final

IN
Laurent Brossoit

OUT
Shawn Matthias
Paul Stastny
Joel Armia
Matt Hendricks
Toby Enstrom
Steve Mason
Michael Hutchinson

RE-SIGNED
Adam Lowry
Marko Dano
Brandon Tanev
Jacob Trouba
Connor Hellebuyck
Nic Petan
Joe Morrow
Tucker Poolman

– – –

If there’s a better model for drafting and developing, we’d like to see it.

The Winnipeg Jets have endured some painful years since relocating from Atlanta in 2011. Their only foray into the playoffs came via a backdoor entrance in 2014-15. only to be quickly escorted out after four games by the Anaheim Ducks.

Since then, the Jets have chosen to stay patient with youth, get lucky in the draft lottery with Patrik Laine, and build a team that now owns contender status for years to come.

Last season was a culmination of sorts for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s oft-criticized philosophy. When the Jets were losing, the plan wasn’t working in the eyes of many.

The contract extensions of both Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice prior to last season were questioned and rightfully so, given their records up until that point. Maurice led the Jets to playoffs in his first year as bench boss but had failed to do so in the two years following. Cheveldayoff had drafted well, with the likes of Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, Nikolaj Ehlers and Josh Morrissey as mantle pieces, but the on-ice product hadn’t produced the desired results.

But when it came together this year, a lot of minds were changed.

The Jets rattled off 52 wins, a franchise record, to finish second in the Western Conference with 114 points, three shy of the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Nashville Predators.

[Jets Day: Under PressureBreakthrough | Three Questions]

The biggest proponent of this was the play of Connor Hellebuyck, who produced a 44-win season to break a franchise record and also a record for wins in an NHL season by an American-born goalie.

A year ago, the Jets made the decision to go out an sign Steve Mason on July 1, handing the former Calder Trophy winner a two-year, $8.2 million contract. The money made him the de facto No. 1, as did Hellebuyck’s not-so-strong showing in 2016-17.

The Jets needed a starting goalie and Mason was their guy — for two games.

The 30-year-old struggled out of the gate, and by the third game of the season, Hellebuyck had taken back his starting spot, grabbing it with an iron grip.

While Mason struggled with injuries — many of them — Hellebuyck thrived, finishing the season with a .924 save percentage and a second-place showing in Vezina Trophy voting.

Mason, the crown jewel of Winnipeg’s 2017 offseason, was rendered expendable by the team a year later after he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens for cap relief purposes and then bought out one day before free agency opened on July 1 by the Habs.

Hellebuyck’s offseason turnaround a year ago simultaneously crowned the Jets Stanley Cup contenders while forcing the team to find a way to get rid of the guy they brought in to take his job.

And the man got paid. 

Of course, it wasn’t all Hellebuyck last season.

Blake Wheeler had a phenomenal year — a career year — with 91 points. Wheeler’s biggest contribution may not have come on the scoresheet either, but at center, where he played for 16 games when Mark Scheifele went down injured. His play during that time helped the Jets to an 11-2-3 record with Scheifele out of the lineup. What was supposed to be a potentially season-threatening blow was nothing more than a blip on the radar, and showed how deep this Jets team was.

The Jets became buyers at the trade deadline, acquiring Paul Stastny in a deal that flew under the radar until it was announced.

Stastny formed an instant chemistry with Laine and Ehlers and was the hero in Game 7 against the Nashville Predators in the second round, producing a three-point game to live up to his nickname of Mr. Game 7.

The Jets dominated the Minnesota Wild in the first round, and grew as a team in the second against the Predators — a team many expected to achieve Stanley Cup glory — winning a seven-game thriller.

Then they hit a wall — specifically Marc-Andre Fleury — in the Western Conference Final, losing in five games as the well of offense that had benefitted them all season ran dry.

Disappointment, certainly, but the Jets showed they’re now a team to be reckoned with.

The Jets lost Stastny in free agency, despite their best efforts to re-sign him. It’s a blow, surely, but the reality is the Jets were a very good team before signing him. It hurts, but it doesn’t break the Jets.

And the simple truth is the Jets are now a legitimate Cup contender going forward. They learned a lot in the playoffs as a young group and now need to apply that to the coming season.

Prospect Pool

Sami Niku, D, 21, Manitoba (AHL) – 2015 seventh-round pick

Niku led all American Hockey League defenseman in points with 54 in 76 games. He was named the best defenseman in the whole of the AHL, a first-team all-star and named to the all-rookie team. That’s right. Niku was a rookie last season, making his numbers all the more impressive to look at. Couple that with the fact that he was a seventh-round draft pick, and the Jets may own another steal from the 2015 draft.

Niku has a very good chance of taking a roster spot next season on Winnipeg’s backend. He could be the new partner of Dustin Byfuglien, depending on how things shake down in training camp.

“Antifreeze in the veins, that’s the way he looked,” Jets head coach Paul Maurice said after Niku scored his first NHL goal on his first NHL shot in March.

Kristian Vesalainen, LW/RW, 19, Karpat (Liiga) – 2017 first-round pick

Scored 43 points in 49 games split between HPK and Karpat, who Vesalainen was traded to near the end of the season in the Finnish Elite League. In the playoffs, he helped Karpat to a league title with eight points in 18 games and showed his prowess on the power play during the regular season as he paced Liiga with 14 markers.

Vesalainen signed an entry-level contract this past week. He’s headed to Jets training camp and will compete for a spot, although it’s likely the team will want him to play in the American Hockey League.

For the first year of Vesalainen’s contract, he has a clause where if he fails to make the Jets, he can return to Europe to play. He wouldn’t burn a year of his entry-level deal, so there’s no risk there for the Jets, but having him playing in North America will be the goal this season.

Mason Appleton, C/RW, 22, Manitoba (AHL) – 2015 sixth-round pick

Like Niku, Appleton was a late-round pick who has found a different gear in the AHL. After completing two years at Michigan State University, Appleton came into the professional ranks and put up a dazzling year with 22 goals and 66 points in 76 games as a rookie.

Appleton’s play garnered him AHL All-Rookie Team, AHL First All-Star Team and AHL Rookie of the Year Honors. He also paced all rookies with assists (44) and points. A second year in the AHL is likely for Appleton, but he will get a look in training camp. Vesalainen is the better player, but Appleton could see time this year if injuries occur.


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 Edmonton Oilers 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 Edmonton Oilers.

2017-18

36-40-6, 78 pts. (6th in Pacific Division, 12th in Western Conference)
Missed playoffs.

IN:

Tobias Rieder
Kyle Brodziak
Mikko Koskinen
Kevin Gravel

OUT:

Anton Slepyshev
Iiro Pakarinen
Eric Gryba
Yohann Auvitu
Laurent Brossoit

RE-SIGNED:

Ty Rattie
Ryan Strome
Drake Caggiula
Matt Benning

[Under Pressure | Building off a breakthrough: Darnell Nurse | Three questions]

No team had quite the optimistic forecast for this past season quite like the Edmonton Oilers did.

And no team failed quite as hard as the Oilers did as they shouldered those lofty expectations.

Coming off a season where they took the Anaheim Ducks to seven games in the second round on the back of stellar playing from Connor McDavid and Cam Talbot, nearly everyone figured the Oilers had finally rid themselves of the disappointment that had plagued them for years.

McJesus had led the Edmontonians out of the darkness and into the promised land.

By Christmas this past year, however, things got turned around. The question went from how far they would go in the playoffs to if they’d make the playoffs at all. Much sooner than anyone predicted, the answer came as an emphatic ‘no.’

The team with arguably the best player on earth watched their miserable season come to a merciful end long before the final date on the regular-season calendar.

The Oilers came into the season perhaps the league’s most promising hockey club and left it as its most disappointing.

And it was all made worse for fans in the upper half of Alberta as they watched Taylor Hall guide his New Jersey Devils to said promise land while picking up the Hart Trophy along the way.

One slap in the face after another.

A new year means a new beginning for the Oilers, although the additions of Tobias Rieder and Kyle Brodziak probably aren’t going to inspire notions of the team improving over the offseason.

Darnell Nurse still remains and a restricted free agent, with reports suggesting he isn’t looking to sign long-term right now given how tight the Oilers are to the salary cap. Nurse took a nice step in the right direction this year on the backend, setting new career highs in goals, assists and, of course, points, as he bounced back from an injury-plagued 2016-17 season.

Statistically speaking, McDavid had a wonderful year, posting his best season as a pro after eclipsing the 40-goal mark for the first time and putting up a league-leading 108 points despite the team around him.

What McDavid needs most are consistent linemates.

Postmedia’s Michael Traikos summed it up well last week:

McDavid’s linemates last year ranged from rookies learning the ropes (Kailer Yamamoto and Ty Rattie) to centremen-turned-wingers (Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) to whatever warm bodies Edmonton had lying around. No combination seemed to last more than a month. Nothing clicked.

Find McDavid some solid linemates, and you’ll likely have three players who become the league’s most potent trio on the scoresheet.

The Oilers will usher in the new season with a lineup that won’t look much different, so that won’t be an easy fix.

They will still have an underperforming Milan Lucic (despite general manager Peter Chiarelli’s attempts to trade the overpaid power forward). They still have the same defense that contributed to allowing the fifth most goals against last year. And they still have the same offense, that without McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, would have a missing ad on the side of a milk carton.

McDavid is going to have to work with what he has. The Oilers don’t have the cap room to change that, it appears. Talbot is going to need a better showing than his .908 last season, his worst on record in terms of save percentage, and a season that saw his goals saved above average (GSAA) go from 23.59 to -1.37.

The good news is that a swath of Edmonton’s youngsters took a step forward last season. Jesse Puljujarvi (Edmonton’s third overall pick in 2016), Ty Rattie and Jujhar Khaira all progressed, as did the aforementioned Nurse, and Andrej Sekera will be fully healthy to start the season on the blue line.

The hope is that the kids will play bigger roles this year, and they just might.

Prospect Pool

Kailer Yamamoto, RW, 19, Spokane Chiefs (WHL) – 2017 first-round pick

Yamamoto could get a full-time gig with the Oilers this season and maybe he’s the guy that can gel with McDavid. Yamamoto put up another solid year in the Western Hockey League with 64 points in 40 games, a year shortened after playing nine games with the Oilers to start the season and his time with Team USA at the World Junior Hockey Championships, where he earned a bronze medal. Yamamoto is quick, likes to dish the puck and can also find the back of the net. One of McDavid or Draisaitl is going to inherit him.

Evan Bouchard, D, 18, London Knights (OHL) – 2018 first-round pick 

A smooth-skating defenseman that can play all three phases of the game, rush the puck and score? This sounds exactly like what the Oilers blue line could use, and that’s what they got when they drafted Bouchard out of the Ontario Hockey League this past June. Bouchard had 25 goals and 87 points in 67 games with the Knights last season and had five more points in four playoff games. There are rumblings that he might not be automatic to return to junior, but there’s also an argument to be made not to rush the kid to the Show.

Ethan Bear, D, 21, Bakersfield Condors (AHL) – 2015 fifth-round pick

Bear played in 37 games in his first pro season in the American Hockey League. One part of that was due to injury, a concussion that hampered him and the Condors, who missed him in his absence. Bear put up six goals and 18 points last season as the Condor’s top defenseman and saw a lot of time on the blue line on the power play. The second part is that he got an 18-game stint with the Oilers at the end of the season and showed his worth with one goal and four points during that span. His prowess on the power play was also tapped into by the Oilers, who had him playing 1:50 per game with the man-advantage.


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

Oilers need healthy Talbot to give them a spark during upcoming crucial stretch

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At the start of the season, the Edmonton Oilers were one of the favorites to win or at least make it to the Stanley Cup Final. But through 32 games, their season has looked more like a train-wreck than a victory parade in-waiting.

Only the Arizona Coyotes are below the Oilers in the Western Conference standings right now, which is still kind of surprising.

One of the biggest reasons they’ve struggled in the first third of the season is because of goalie Cam Talbot. First, he wasn’t very good at the start of the season. Talbot wasn’t providing his team with the solid goaltending he had given them last year.

Second, just as he was rounding into form, he suffered a upper-body injury that’s kept him out of the lineup since the end of November.

Prior to getting hurt, the 30-year-old had won three games in a row while allowing two goals in each of those outings. During his absence, Laurent Brossoit went 3-4-0. The Oilers backup netminder gave up three goals or more in four of those seven games.

On Friday, the Oilers (finally) got some positive news, as they activated their starting netminder from the injured list. According to head coach Todd McLellan, he’ll be between the pipes for Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Wild. Now, they just have to hope that he can pick up where he left off before landing on IR.

Earlier this season, Canadiens goaltender Carey Price was in a similar situation to Talbot’s. Price was awful out of the gate and the Canadiens were struggling. Nothing was going right for them. But after missing roughly three weeks with an injury, Price returned in tip-top shape. Even though Montreal is still outside of a playoff spot right now, they play of their goaltender has allowed them to get back into the race.

McLellan has to hope that Talbot’s “break” allowed him to get better and re-focus on the task at hand. Connor McDavid is still the face of the franchise, but he clearly can’t get the job done by himself.

Edmonton is about to jump into a crucial stretch of their season. After tomorrow’s game in Minnesota, they’ll play seven of their next eight games on home ice, where they have an ugly 5-10-0 record. If they want to get back in the playoff hunt, they’ll need to start racking up the wins at Rogers Place.

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.