Marcus Johansson

The St. Louis Blues celebrate their 5-4 shootout win over the Calgary Flames
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The Buzzer: Blues edge Flames in shootout; Eichel sets new career high

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Three Stars

1) David Perron, St. Louis Blues

After making the All-Star Game for the first time in his NHL career, Perron started the second half of the season with a two-game point streak. He added a goal, an assist and a shootout tally as the Blues defeated the Flames 5-4 in a back-and-forth battle that ended in the skills competition. The 31-year-old forward notched his 22nd of the season when he hammered home a loose puck in front to knot the game at 2-2 late in the first period. Perron also made a nifty pass to help St. Louis exit the zone before Zach Sanford tied the game early in the final frame. Additionally, the Blues snapped a three-game losing streak.

2) Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames

The Flames alternate captain is still a bit behind his 82-point total pace from last year after surpassing his previous career-high by 18 points set the season before. Monahan remains a critical piece in the Flames’ lineup as they prepare for a playoff push in the tightly contested Pacific Division. The 25-year-old recorded his 400th career point when he snapped off a wrist shot from the slot at 15:43 of the first period to give Calgary a 2-1 lead at the time. He would go on to record his second of the game, another wrister from the slot, early in the middle frame to even the score at 3-3.

3) Mark Borowiecki, Ottawa Senators

It’s not often an empty-net goal helps an NHL player land on this list, but Borowiecki’s game-sealing tally late in the third period was quite the play in the Senators’ 5-2 win against the Sabres. Ottawa’s alternate captain willingly went down on one knee in order to block a one-timer from Marcus Johansson to help preserve a one-goal lead at the time. After the block, Borowiecki quickly gathered himself, collected a loose puck and fired it off the boards into the empty cage. The Senators lead the NHL with 11 shorthanded goals.

Highlights of the Night

Blues forward Robert Thomas feathered a beautiful cross-ice pass between a couple of Calgary Flames to set up Alexander Steen to open the scoring.

In his 500th NHL game, Jaden Schwartz recorded his 17th of the season when he redirected a pretty pass from Brayden Schenn.

[RELATED: Predators facing difficult road in playoff push | How the Canucks climbed to top of Pacific Division]

Blooper of the Night

Who should get credit for this empty-net goal?

Stat of the Night

Scores

Ottawa Senators 5, Buffalo Sabres 2

St. Louis Blues 5, Calgary Flames 4 (SO)

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

Where it all went wrong for Ray Shero and the Devils

Shero Devils
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The New Jersey Devils fired general manager Ray Shero over the weekend, ending his four-and-a-half year run with the team.

On the surface, it’s not hard to see why the decision was made. Given the circumstances, it was inevitable.

The Devils have been a massive disappointment this season after a huge offseason, and were on track to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years under Shero’s watch. Not many general managers are going to make it through that sort of run unscathed. Especially when you consider how high expectations were in the preseason after the additions of top pick Jack Hughes and the acquisitions of Nikita Gusev, P.K. Subban, and Wayne Simmonds.

So where did it all go wrong for Shero and the Devils?

We should start with the very beginning.

1. Shero inherited a mess

While the lack of progress is the thing that will stand out in the wake of the change, it can not be understated how bad of a situation Shero walked into when he was hired by the Devils in May of 2015.

The Devils were coming off of a 2014-15 season where they had one of the worst records in the league, had missed the playoffs three years in a row, had a barren farm system, and had what was by far the oldest roster in the league.

Things were bleak. Very bleak.

Consider…

  • Seven of the top-12 scorers on the 2014-15 season were age 32 or older. Five of them were out of the NHL completely within two years.
  • Of the 35 players that appeared in a game that season, 18 of them were out of the NHL within the next two years.
  • Only two players on the team recorded more than 40 points, and nobody scored more than 43.

It was a team of fringe NHL players that were not only not very good, but were on their way out of the league.

Combine that with a mostly empty farm system and there wasn’t a lot to build on.

He had to start from the ground level and try to build a contender out of nothing. That was always going to take time.

2. The trades always seemed to look good on paper…

… But the timing and the luck was never on the Devils’ side.

Given the lack of quality talent on the NHL roster, Shero had to work quick to bring in talent from outside the organization. And when you break down his individual trades, he almost always seemed to come out on the winning side of them.

Getting Kyle Palmieri for a couple of draft picks was a steal.

He pounced on the Capitals’ salary cap crunch and picked up Marcus Johansson for two draft picks.

Adam Larsson for Taylor Hall was one of the biggest one-for-one steals in recent league memory.

The same thing happened this summer when he managed to get Subban and Gusev for next to nothing. Combined with a pair of No. 1 overall draft picks (Nico Hischier and Hughes) and there was a huge influx of talent on paper over the past couple of years.

But for one reason or another, the results never followed.

For as promising of an addition as Johansson was, his time with the Devils was ruined by injuries that prevented him from ever making an extended impact.

Subban and Simmonds were big-name pickups this summer, but it has become increasingly clear as the season has gone on that he got them at the end of their careers.

There was even some bad luck with Hall when he lost almost the entire 2018-19 season to injury.

3. Cory Schneider rapidly declined, and the Devils never adjusted in goal

This might be the single biggest factor in the Devils’ lack of progress under Shero.

When he joined the Devils he had one franchise cornerstone that he could build around, and that was starting goalie Cory Schneider. And he was a legit building block.

Coming off the 2014-15 season Schneider was one of the best goalies in the league. Between the 2010-11 and 2014-15 seasons he owned the best save percentage in the NHL (minimum 100 games played) and was just beginning a long-term contract that was going to keep him in New Jersey for the next seven seasons.

He was also still at an age where his career shouldn’t have been in danger of falling off. But after one more elite season in 2015-16, Schneider’s career did exactly that. It fell apart.  After his 30th birthday Schneider went into a sudden and rapid decline that sunk him to the bottom tier of NHL starting goalies.

This is where Shero’s biggest failing in New Jersey came into play. He never found a goalie to replace Schneider. That was the biggest question mark heading into this season, and the play of their goalies this season has been one of the biggest factors in their disappointing performance.

Shero’s tenure with the Devils is a fascinating one to look at from a distance. He inherited a team that had absolutely nothing to build around and tried to swing for the fences with some big additions over the years. He made a lot of the right moves and brought in legitimate top-line talent. But some bad injury luck (Johansson; Hall a year ago), a couple of star players declining (Schneider, Subban), and his inability to make the one big move that he needed (a goalie) helped hold back what started as a promising season. The 2019-20 season ended up being one losing season too many for the Devils.

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.

Matthews’ incredible goal highlights Maple Leafs win: 3 takeaways

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The Toronto Maple Leafs held off a late rally from the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night to pick up a 5-3 win to continue their recent surge.

Toronto has now won four out of five and is 8-4-0 under new coach Sheldon Keefe. The win also moved the Maple Leafs into a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division as they jump ahead of the Florida Panthers.

Let’s take a look at three quick takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ win.

1. It was the Auston Matthews show

Matthews scored a pair of goals for the Maple Leafs to help them jump out to a 4-1 lead. His second goal is the one that stole the show as he dangled through the Buffalo defense to score this beauty.

With his two goals on Tuesday he now has 21 through the first 35 games of the season. That is a 49-goal pace over 82 games, and the best goal-per-game average his career. He has scored at a 40-goal pace in each of his first three seasons but outside of his rookie year has never been able to play enough games to hit the mark.

Now he has a real shot at 50 goals if he stays healthy.

2. Jack Eichel kept his point streak going

The bright spot for the Sabres is the fact that Eichel continued his point streak with a goal and an assist.

He has now recorded at least one point in 17 consecutive games. He also has multiple points in seven out of the past 10 games. Eichel has been the Sabres’ best player from the moment he arrived and has seen his game reach an entirely new level this season. He is playing at an MVP level and is doing everything he can to drag this team to a playoff spot.

Actually getting this team to the playoffs is going to be a real challenge, however, especially as Toronto and Tampa Bay keep gaining ground. After Tuesday’s games the Lightning now have a better points percentage than the Sabres, while Toronto is just one point back with the same number of games played.

3. Toronto’s depth players also came through

It wasn’t just the superstars making an impact for the Maple Leafs.

The fourth line started the night with an early goal when Frederik Gauthier scored his fourth goal of the season just a few minutes into the game. That line would add a second goal later in the game when Gauthier set up Dmytro Timashov‘s third goal of the season.

The Sabres had an opportunity to tie the game in the closing minutes with a late power play, but a Marcus Johansson turnover at the blue line — with a tired power play unit on the ice — resulted in a Ilya Mikheyev empty-net goal to secure the win for Toronto.

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: Devils should clean house; Could Hall go back to Oilers?

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.

• The Bruins are the best team in the NHL right now, but their fortunes may change soon enough. (Sportsnet)

• The NHLPA is covering up a theft of over $100,000 union funds. (TSN)

• The Devils should clean house after this season. (All About the Jersey)

Marcus Johansson is frustrated by the struggles he’s been having this season. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• Snoop Dogg is making an appearance in the NHL 20 video game. (Operation Sports)

• How has Sheldon Keefe changed the Maple Leafs? (The Score)

• There’s a few reasons why the Flyers had so much success in November. (Yahoo)

• The Edmonton Oilers are interested in Taylor Hall, but they will probably be outbid. (Edmonton Journal)

• The St. Louis Blues are gaining strength through injury adversity. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

• The Habs have lost nine of their last 10 games. Is it time for them to rebuild? (Spector’s Hockey)

• What is the true value of a fifth-round draft pick? (Japers Rink)

• Gus Katsaros explains how defensemen are evolving with the times. (Rotoworld)

• The Red Wings are looking to have fun during this tough stretch. (MLive)

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.

Sabres’ Dahlin out indefinitely with a concussion

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One day after the NHL Department of Player Safety suspended Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak two games for elbowing Rasmus Dahlin, the Sabres announced the sophomore defenseman will be out indefinitely with a concussion.

During Monday’s 5-2 Lightning win, Cernak, who is first-time offender, caught Dahlin with an elbow to the head that went unpenalized. In their suspension video, the DoPS said that Tampa argued that it was the Sabres defenseman’s glove that drove Cernak’s elbow into his face. That did not change any minds about what happened.

This is the second injury sustained by a Sabres player due to the actions of a member of the Lightning. Earlier this month Vladimir Sobotka suffered a lower-body injury after a hit by Nikita Kucherov during one of their Global Series games in Sweden. Sobotka is out 4-6 weeks after knee surgery. Kucherov was not penalized or suspended for the hit.

Losing Dahlin is not what the Sabres need at the moment. Currently 2-8-2 in their last 12 games, they face the Flames Wednesday night and then have a weekend home-and-home with the Maple Leafs. Another strong early season start has once again developed into a free fall. It wasn’t long ago that they began the season with a 9-2-1 record. Injuries have hit the lineup hard with Kyle Okposo and Marcus Johansson among the names currently sidelined.

MORE: Cernak suspended two games

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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.