Marc-Andre Fleury

Elvis Ovechkin three stars pht buzzer
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The Buzzer: Elvis, Ovechkin, and others who rocked

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Three Stars beyond Elvis and Ovechkin

1. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago blowing out Toronto will lead to some hand-wringing, no doubt. Yet, as much as that was on a tough night for Frederik Andersen, give the Blackhawks some credit. Toews topped all in that game with an outstanding four-point performance (two goals and two assists).

Saturday continued what’s been one heck of a month for Toews. The Blackhawks captained pushed his January total to 15 points (5G, 10A). Toews reached that total in just eight games, scoring at least one point in seven contests.

Scratch that. Toews has been on fire for a while now. He started off ice-cold with only two points in 11 October games. Toews took off after that, and has generated an impressive 41 points in his past 28 contests.

Underrated rookie Dominik Kubalik contributed to Chicago’s win, too, with three points (2G, 1A).

2. Riley Sheahan, Edmonton Oilers

Sheahan scoffs at Toews’ slow start. The journeyman forward failed to score a point in 12 October games, and managed one in 11 November contests. Sheahan went and matched his December points total (four in 14 GP) in one contest on Saturday.

That’s right, he generated four points, scoring an empty-netter plus three assists. Connor McDavid dominated in his own right with two goals, but Sheahan helped the Oilers rout the Coyotes. Josh Archibald generated three points (1G, 2A) as well.

This just in: the Oilers have a lot of “that guy’s still around?” forwards. It’s honestly cool to see some of them have such a strong day, and maybe take a bit of the pressure off McDavid here and there.

3. Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets

It’s as though Atkinson never missed any time. After scoring a goal and an assist in his first game in almost one month on Thursday, Atkinson generated three points (2G, 1A) on Saturday. This gives Atkinson seven points (4G, 3A) in his past four contests.

Others give Atkinson a run for his money, even beyond the next section. Jason Zucker (1G, 2A) and James van Riemsdyk (1G, 2A) both contributed to their respective teams’ blowouts. Atkinson’s extra goal gives him the edge.

OK, now let’s consider Elvis and Ovechkin

Saturday featured enough strong performances that it feels better to give these two a mention. After all, they already received their own posts. Yes, these two probably rank as the “real” third and fourth stars of Saturday, or higher, depending upon your personal taste.

Highlight of the Night

Marc-Andre Fleury is suffering through a tough season, big-picture wise. “The Flower” keeps adding to his resume of breathtaking saves, though:

Comic relief

Jamie Benn provides us with a reason to laugh. At least those of us who aren’t immediately transported to our own memories of hilarious blunders.

That video summarizes the Stars’ night succinctly, as the Wild beat them 7-0.

Factoids

  • Ovechkin nabbed consecutive hat tricks to push his career goals total to 692. He passed Mario Lemieux (11th all-time, 690) and tied Steve Yzerman for ninth all-time (692). Mark Messier sits just two goals away at eighth with 694. Ovechkin also generated consecutive hat tricks for the third time in his career. In doing so, Ovechkin joined Joe Malone (four times) and Wayne Gretzky (three) as the only players to generate consecutive hat tricks three or more times, according to NHL PR. Again, this post delves deeper into Ovechkin’s latest accomplishments.
  • Ovechkin’s teammate John Carlson reached 60 points. Carlson managed the feat in just 49 games, getting to 60 faster than any Capitals defenseman; Mike Green held the previous mark with 60 by game 57. Opinion: Green deserved better treatment from hockey folks during his peak years.
  • Merzlikins authored the 18th instance of a rookie goalie getting a shutout of at least 41 saves, via NHL PR.
  • Cale Makar scored his 11th goal, setting a new record for goals by a rookie Avalanche defenseman.
  • Dominik Kubalik reached 20 goals in his 47th game. NHL PR points out that Kubalik ranks among sixth Blackhawks to reach 20 goals in 50 games or less.

Scores

WSH 6 – NYI 4
COL 5 – STL 3
EDM 7 – ARI 3
OTT 5 – CGY 2
CHI 6 – TOR 2
MTL 5 – VGK 4 (SO)
FLA 4 – DET 1
PHI 4 – LAK 1
CBJ 5 – NJD 0
NSH 2 – BUF 1
MIN 7 – DAL 0
VAN 4 – 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.

Golden Knights’ firing of Gallant short-sighted, knee-jerk reaction

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The Vegas Golden Knights sent shockwaves through the NHL on Wednesday when they announced the firing of head coach Gerard Gallant, replacing him with Peter DeBoer.

It is a stunning move not only because it came completely out of nowhere, but because there does not appear to be any rational thought or logical explanation behind the decision. Not when you try to analyze it objectively from the outside. And certainly not when you hear general manager Kelly McCrimmon try to justify it.

Yes, it is true that the Golden Knights are stuck in the middle of a four-game losing streak and coming off a bad loss to a bad and banged up Buffalo Sabres team on Tuesday night. It is also true that at the time of the coaching change the Golden Knights are on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture. But they are also just three points out of first place in the Pacific Division. They are a team that over the past two years — the first two years of the franchise’s existence! — played in the Stanley Cup Final and was a historically bad penalty call in a Game 7 away from potentially making another deep postseason run.

To fire the coach behind that because the team is maybe a few points worse than you hoped for at the mid-way point seems to be a dramatically short-sighted, knee-jerk reaction. The NHL coaching carousel is an unforgiving place and job security is always low for the people riding on it, but this seems drastic even by NHL coaching standards. Especially when you dig into the team’s actual performance and McCrimmon’s lack of an explanation.

The Golden Knights seem to be betting on McCrimmon’s instinct

In talking about the decision, McCrimmon was unable — or unwilling — to go into any details or provide any specifics as to why a coaching change was necessary. More than once he referred to a “feel.”

“As a manager sometimes you have a feeling that something isn’t the way you need it to be or want it to be,” McCrimmon said. “We feel we have underperformed a little bit, and certainly that’s not to pile that at the feet of Mike and Gerard. But sometimes you feel a change is needed.”

When asked how long he had contemplated a change. His response, again, went back to his “feel,” while admitting it was hard for him to get into specifics.

“It wasn’t a specific block of games, or a specific game,” he said. “It’s hard to put into words I guess unless you’ve done these jobs, it’s more just the feeling that you have that a change might be needed. I wish I could be more specific than that, but that’s really how we felt. We thought about this a lot. It certainly wasn’t something that we did in haste, or something that we did based on the recent four games. It was a decision that was arrived at over time.”

No specifics. Nothing more than a “feel.” Repeatedly saying it doesn’t all fall at the feet of the two coaches that were fired. It’s hard to listen to all of that, then look at the success Gallant had, and not come to the conclusion that was just an immediate reaction to a small sampling of results.

Especially when the team itself has probably played better than its record.

Strong process … mediocre results

When it comes to their 5-on-5 play the Golden Knights are controlling the pace of play in a lot of key areas.

  • Their 53.9 percent shot attempt share is fourth best in the NHL.
  • They have expected goals share of 54.8 percent that is second best in the NHL.
  • Their scoring chance shares (both all scoring chances and high-danger chances) are both in the top-five.

They are controlling the pace of games at a level that is usually reserved for Stanley Cup contenders.

So why haven’t the results followed in the standings?

You can probably start with the fact their team save percentage at 5-on-5 is 25th in the league. Not only has Marc-Andre Fleury not had a great season, but they still haven’t found a capable backup behind him to give him a break. No position impacts a team — or a coach — more than goaltending.

Look at the Jack Adams Award winner in a given season, and you will find a great goalie. Look at the coaches get fired in-season, and you will no doubt find a poor goaltending performance.

Vegas is the fifth different team to make a coaching change this season for performance based reasons, and here is where each team currently ranks in 5-on-5 save percentage: 16th (Nashville), 23rd (Toronto), 25th (Vegas), 27th (New Jersey), and 31st (San Jose).

Notice a trend?

Vegas’ defense may not be made up of superstars, and it may not be a great defensive team overall. But it’s certainly not a bad one, either. And it’s definitely a team that has played well enough overall to be in a dramatically different spot with just a few more saves from its goalies.

Maybe it all works for Vegas. DeBoer is a good coach with a strong track record, and also a coach that was done in by terrible goaltending the past two years. It is entirely possible that Fleury rebounds with a strong second half, at which point Vegas will probably take off again if it keeps playing the way it has and DeBoer will get the reward and praise.

But this all points to a flawed decision-making process and perhaps a misunderstanding of why teams succeed or fail. That might be the most concerning thing for the long-term outlook of the Golden Knights.

Related: Golden Knights fire Gerard Gallant, hire Peter DeBoer

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.

Golden Knights fire Gallant, hire Peter DeBoer as head coach

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In a stunning news drop Wednesday morning the Vegas Golden Knights announced they’ve fired Gerard Gallant and assistant Mike Kelly and hired Peter DeBoer as their new head coach.

“In order for our team to reach its full potential, we determined a coaching change was necessary. Our team is capable of more than we have demonstrated this season,” said Golden Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon in a statement. “We would like to thank Gerard and Mike for their service to the Vegas Golden Knights. They were both instrumental to the success we have enjoyed in our first two-plus seasons and we wish them all the best moving forward. In Peter DeBoer, we have a proven, experienced head coach who we believe can help us achieve our ultimate goal. We are excited to welcome Peter and his family to the Vegas Golden Knights organization. We look forward to a strong finish to the 2019-20 season with Peter at the helm and a successful tenure in the seasons to come.”

(Remember when Gallant called DeBoer a “clown” during the Golden Knights-Sharks series last season?)

Gallant, who was supposed to be in St. Louis next week to coach the Pacific Division All-Star team, was the franchise’s first head coach and helped lead them to the playoffs in each of their first two seasons, which included a trip to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. He compiled a 118-75-20 record in parts of three seasons and is now the seventh coaching casualty in 2019-20.

The Golden Knights are currently on 54 points and tied for one of the final wild card spots in the Western Conference. They’ve dropped four straight, but they’re also three points behind the Coyotes for the division lead. Will this turn out to be a short-sighted decision by McCrimmon, who is in his first season as the team’s GM?

Given the number of coaching changes in the NHL this season DeBoer likely wasn’t going to be out of work very long. Like John Hynes in Nashville, he’s walking into a situation that could really be great if their goaltending turns around. Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcom Subban have handled majority of the load and have produced a combined .911 even strength save percentage this season, fifth-worst in the NHL per Natural Stat Trick. They’re top-five in possession, expected goals, scoring chance percentage, and high-danger scoring change percentage. The talent is there, they just need someone to make a save.

DeBoer’s resume shows that he’s able to get immediate improvement in his teams. The Panthers, Devils, and Sharks all got the DeBoer Bump early on. That’ll likely continue in Vegas.

As for Gallant, the 2018 Jack Adams Award winner, there’s one obvious destination that should have already reached out to him and that’s Detroit. Jeff Blashill is not long for the Red Wings’ job and Gallant has ties to the organization having played his first nine NHL seasons there.

There’s a lot of work ahead for Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman and with Gallant’s track record as a coach he could be big part of a solution in Hockeytown.

————

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.

Red Wings’ Larkin apologizes for All-Star Game comments

Larkin All-Star Game
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Detroit Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin got his wish. Larkin wasn’t named as one of the “Last Men In” for the 2020 NHL All-Star Game after imploring fans not to vote for him so he could instead get a break. Even so, Larkin apologized to the Red Wings and NHL for somewhat glib comments.

“In the moment, I said what I said but I really do regret that,” Larkin said, according to Helene St. James of the Detroit Free-Press. “I didn’t mean to disrespect the league. I feel I did that, and disrespected the Red Wings. My main goal as a hockey player in the state of Michigan is to represent myself and the Red Wings and be a good example for kids growing up playing the game. I felt I wasn’t that, so I’m sorry about that.”

Hmm, you almost wonder if Steve Yzerman or someone else gave Larkin a “talking to.”

Larkin made his initial comments late in 2019, providing what was honestly some pretty amusing honesty.

This is hockey, though, so you can bet the grumbling rolled in. Sportsnet’s Brian Burke and others criticized Larkin, something the forward acknowledged in his apology.

The NHL’s Bill Daly complained about players skipping All-Star game appearances, including Alex Ovechkin. Marc-Andre Fleury and other veterans have opted for rest, too.

Larkin earned bonus points because, unlike grizzled veterans, the speedster is only 23.

As much as the league frowns about Larkin and others giving the All-Star experience a “no thanks,” maybe it’s another nudge toward additional tweaks? Personally, I wonder if the league should consider moving the All-Star Game. If it took place at a fun venue before the season, maybe you’d capitalize on fans missing hockey, and players wanting to get back into the groove in a fun way?

Or … maybe the league should just relax? The events are still fun enough, and maybe the NHL should focus on those who want to be there, rather than trying to brute force those who do not?

It’s a shame that Larkin had to walk back comments so benign, but that’s just how this sport is at times.

The 2020 NHL All-Star Weekend takes place on Jan. 24-25 (coverage on NBCSN), and it should be a lot of fun — especially a Skills Competition where Larkin could have been competitive in the speed portion.

(H/T to The Score.)

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.

Max Pacioretty, Tomas Hertl added to 2020 NHL All-Star Game

NHL All-Star Game
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The NHL announced a couple of changes for the Pacific Division roster for the 2020 All-Star Game on Friday afternoon.

San Jose Sharks forward Tomas Hertl and Vegas Golden Knights forward Max Pacioretty have both been added to the game as replacements.

Hertl is replacing San Jose teammate Logan Couture, who will be sidelined several weeks due to an ankle injury.

Pacioretty is going in place of Anahein Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg.

The league announced on Monday that Silfverberg has been excused from the game due to the imminent birth of his child. This leaves the Ducks with no current representative in the game. Silfverberg will also not have to miss any regular season games because his absence from the All-Star weekend is excused.

Pacioretty was Vegas’ representative in the Last Men In vote, and will now be their only representative in the game. Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was named to the initial roster, but has since withdrawn from the game. He was replaced by Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom.

Pacioretty’s bounce back year

This will be Pacioretty’s first ever appearance in an All-Star game, which is kind of surprising given how productive he has been throughout his career. During his peak he was one of the league’s best goal-scorers before going through a bit of a decline the previous two seasons.

This year, though, all of that production is back.

He is in the middle of one of the best offensive seasons of his career and has been one of the best forwards in the NHL. As of Friday he already has 20 goals and 45 total points in the Golden Knights’ first 47 games, while also posting dominant possession numbers. Those numbers have him on a 35-goal, 78-point pace for the season.

Hertl one of Sharks’ few bright spots this season

Hertl will also be appearing in his first ever All-Star Game.

After a slow start that saw him go pointless in his first five games, Hertl has since bounced back and produced at the level the Sharks expected. As of Friday he has 15 goals and 34 total points in 42 games and is one of the few players on the Sharks’ roster that has not been a disappointment this season.

Hertl was also a candidate for the Last Men In vote before being added to the roster.

The NHL All-Star weekend will take place on January 24-25 in St. Louis.

More All-Star Roster Changes

Alex Ovechkin will not play in All-Star Game 
Kris Letang, Tristan Jarry added to All-Star Rosters
Fleury withdraws, Markstrom added

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.