PHT Morning Skate: Time for Rangers fire sale; Top 20 lines

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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.

Zach Sanford wrote a letter about his father who passed away in September. “My dad never saw me play an NHL regular-season game in person. He couldn’t make it for my first games with the Washington Capitals, and then I got traded to the Blues and played a handful of games at the end of the year in St. Louis. He was so proud of me, though, and to hear him talk about me, you’d think he was playing in the NHL, too. From what my family tells me, he told everyone who would listen that his son had made it to the NHL.” (NHL.com/Blues)

• It’s time for the New York Rangers to start their fire sale. For starters, they should trade Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes. (New York Post)

• NBC Sports Philly believes we should have seen the Flyers’ slow start coming. (NBC Sports Philly)

• The Vancouver Canucks have had some great Swedish players come through their organization. Markus Naslund and the Sedin twins have led the charge in years past, and it looks like Elias Pettersson is the next one. (Sports Illustrated)

Samuel Girard has been standing out for all the right reasons in Colorado. (Mile High Hockey)

Phillip Danault has done a terrific job down the middle for the Habs this season. (Sportsnet)

Alex Ovechkin skated with roughly 80 people from the American Special Hockey Association. (NHL.com)

• The Chicago Blackhawks signed prospect Brandon Hagel to an entry-level contract. (NHL.com/Blackhawks)

• ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski ranked the top 20 lines in the NHL. Where do Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak rank? Hint: They’re not first. (ESPN)

• Travis Yost breaks down how Jack Eichel is helping his teammates get better looks at their opponents’ net. (Buffalo News)

Derek Stepan is interviewing some of his Coyotes teammates to discuss Halloween-related topics like favorite candies:

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.

The Buzzer: Fischer’s hat trick lifts Coyotes, Price ties Roy, Saad arrives

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Three Stars

1. Christian Fischer, Arizona Coyotes. After a miserable start to the season where they could not find the back of the net no matter what they did, the Arizona Coyotes are starting to put it together a little. Their 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night was their second in the past three games. While the return of Alex Galchenyuk should help, it was Christian Fischer playing the role of star in this one as he recorded the hat trick in the win to give him four goals on the season. Derek Stepan recorded the lone assist on all three goals. Dylan Strome scored the other goal on the night for Arizona as the Coyotes scored four consecutive goals to take the win and end their current road trip. They still have a ways to go, but it took them more than 20 games a season ago to win their third game of the season. Progress. There is talent here. Some patience is required.

2. Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers. Entering play on Tuesday night there were only two teams in the NHL that had yet to win a game in regulation this season. They just so happened to be playing in New York when the Rangers hosted the Florida Panthers. It was the Rangers that ended up getting the win thanks in large part to Mika Zibanejad. He finished the game with three points, including two goals (one of two Rangers players — Mats Zuccarello being the other — to score two goals on the night) to help lift the Rangers to the win.

3. Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks. Saad has been under the microscope in Chicago for two reasons: First, he simply has not played well since returning to the Blackhawks at the start of the 2017-18 season. Second, the guy that was traded for him — Artemi Panarin — has continued to be a star in Columbus and has been one of the best players in the league. The Blackhawks have said they need, and want, more from Saad and on Tuesday night they finally got it. He scored a pair of goals, including one on the power play, an area where he struggled mightily a year ago, to help lead the Blackhawks to a 3-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks.

Southern California’s hockey teams are not having fun

The Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings are not off to good starts. At all. The Kings have been a mess all season and dropped yet another game on Tuesday, losing in Dallas by a 4-2 margin. They are now the worst team in the Western Conference through nine games and just keep looking like a team that needs a fresh start and a new direction. This group is just not working anymore.

Meanwhile, the Ducks’ record looks better but the actual play on the ice doesn’t. Starting goalie John Gibson was great once again on Tuesday night, turning aside 36 out of 38 shots. It is the fifth time this season he has made at least 36 saves in a game. He has allowed more than two goals in just one of those five games. His team has only managed to win one of those five games. He has been amazing, and perhaps the most impressive player in the league so far. The team in front of him, not so much.

The Burns-Karlsson connection clicks for San Jose

San Jose’s two Norris Trophy winning defensemen teamed up for the game-winning goal in Nashville on Tuesday night as the Sharks erased two-goal third period deficit to storm back for a 5-4 win.

Read all about it and see all of the highlights here.

Highlights of the Night

The Boston Bruins’ top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak is arguably the best line in the NHL. They dominated again on Tuesday night in Ottawa and this play by Marchand to set up Pastrnak for his second goal of the game was a thing of beauty.

Sidney Crosby did this thing in overtime, making an emphatic statement in the best player debate that has been taking place so far this season.

Factoids

The Montreal Canadiens continue to be a surprise team and Carey Price continues to play well. These two things are related. Speaking of Carey Price, Tuesday’s win was a big one for him as it continues to move him up the Canadiens’ all-time wins list, tying him with a very important player.

Scores

Arizona Coyotes 4, Columbus Blue Jackets 1

New York Rangers 5, Florida Panthers 2

Montreal Canadiens 3, Calgary Flames 2

Boston Bruins 4, Ottawa Senators 1

San Jose Sharks 5, Nashville Predators 4

Chicago Blackhawks 3, Anaheim Ducks 1

Dallas Stars 4, Los Angeles Kings 2

Pittsburgh Penguins 6, Edmonton Oilers 5 (OT)

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.

WATCH LIVE: Rangers visit Capitals on NBCSN

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

After a hot start to the 2018-19 season that saw them score 18 goals in their first three games, the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals have dropped back-to-back games and been outscored by a 10-2 margin during that stretch. They look to end that brief two-game slide on Wednesday night when they host their divisional rivals, the New York Rangers, at the Capital One Arena in the nation’s capital.

The Rangers, meanwhile, come into the game having won two of their past three games after dropping three in a row to open the season but are still searching for their first regulation win of the season. It will be the first meeting of the season between the two teams after the Capitals took three out of four from the Rangers a year ago.

The Capitals boast one of the league’s deepest lineups and are led by Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov has been one of the hottest players in the league to start the year with five goals and four assists in his first five games.

Trying to slow them down will be Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist who has been off to an outstanding start as he enters the game with a .939 save percentage in his first five appearances.

What: New York Rangers at Washington Capitals
Where: Capital One Arena
When: Wednesday, October 17th, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Rangers-Capitals stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

Projected Lineups

New York Rangers

Forwards

Chris KreiderMika ZibanejadJesper Fast
Filip ChytilKevin HayesMats Zuccarello
Jimmy Vesey – Brett Howden – Vladislav Namestnikov
Cody McLeodRyan SpoonerVinni Lettieri

Defense

Brady SkjeiNeal Pionk
Marc StaalBrendan Smith
Fredrik ClaessonKevin Shattenkirk

Goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

[WATCH LIVE – 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Washington Capitals

Forwards

Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Chandler Stephenson
Jakub VranaNicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie
Andre BurakovskyLars EllerBrett Connolly
Nathan WalkerNic DowdDevante Smith-Pelly

Defense

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Brooks OrpikChristian Djoos

Starting Goalie: Braden Holtby

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.

WATCH LIVE: Rangers, Predators open season at MSG

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with a doubleheader on Thursday. First up, the New York Rangers host the Nashville Predators at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch that game online by clicking here

The season opens on Thursday night for both the Rangers and Predators — two teams in two entirely different situations.

The Predators are aiming for the Stanley Cup after having reached the Final in 2017 and falling short last spring with a second-round exit, thanks to the Winnipeg Jets. They have pretty much the same roster as last season and remain one of the NHL’s staunchest defenses, led by reigning Vezina Trophy winner Pekka Rinne.

New York is in a transitional phase where they’re kind of sort of rebuilding, but still have Henrik Lundqvist in goal. There are still plenty of veterans around like Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes and Kevin Shattenkirk, but new head coach David Quinn will gives some kids a chance like Filip Chytil to allow them to solidify a spot in the lineup.

What: New York Rangers vs. Nashville Predators
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, N.Y.
When: Thursday, October 4th, 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch Rangers-Predators on NBC Sports’ live stream page.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

Rangers
Chris KreiderMika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich
Jimmy Vesey – Kevin Hayes – Mats Zuccarello
Vladislav Namestnikov – Brett Howden – Vinni Lettieri
Ryan Spooner – Filip Chytil – Jesper Fast

Brady SkjeiAdam McQuaid
Brendan Smith – Kevin Shattenkirk
Marc StaalNeal Pionk

Starting goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

Predators
Filip ForsbergRyan JohansenViktor Arvidsson
Kevin FialaKyle TurrisCraig Smith
Calle JarnkrokNick BoninoColton Sissons
Miikka Salomaki – Frederick Gaudreau – Ryan Hartman

Roman JosiRyan Ellis
Mattias EkholmP.K. Subban
Dan HamhuisYannick Weber

Starting goalie: Pekka Rinne

More NHL teams than ever are entering season without captain

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Over the past 24 hours Jack Eichel (Buffalo) and Anders Lee (New York Islanders) have been announced as captains of their respective teams. For the Sabres, Eichel will be their first captain since Brian Gionta wore the “C” during the 2016-17 season, while Lee will be filling the role that was left vacated when John Tavares signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in free agency.

Even after those announcements there are still six teams in the NHL (approximately 20 percent of the league) that will be entering the 2018-19 season without anyone being designated as the “captain” of their team.

Those teams include…

  • The Vegas Golden Knights, who are going forward with the same leadership by committee approach they took during their expansion year (a “23 captains mentality as coach Gerrard Gallant likes to put it).
  • The Toronto Maple Leafs have not named a captain since Dion Phaneuf was traded during the 2015-16 season and will go forward with Tavares, Patrick Marleau, and Morgan Reilly as alternate captains.
  • After having just three captains (Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Steve Yzerman) over the past 32 years the Detroit Red Wings will not name a replacement for Zetterberg following the end of his playing career, instead going with four alternate captains in Dylan Larkin, Frans Nielsen, Niklas Kronwall, and Justin Abdelkader.
  • The New York Rangers are going with five alternate captains following the mid-season trade of Ryan McDonagh a year ago, naming Chris Kreider, Jesper Fast, Mike Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello, and Marc Staal to the role.
  • The Ottawa Senators are not naming a captain following the trade of defenseman Erik Karlsson just before the start of training camp.
  • In Vancouver, the Canucks are filling the leadership void left by Henrik Sedin’s retirement with a quartet of alternates that includes Brandon Sutter, Bo Horvat, Alex Edler, and Chris Tanev.

In almost all of these situations the teams have opted to phrase it as a “leadership by committee” approach. While the majority of these teams are just starting massive rebuilding projects and just lost their long-time captain (either by trade, free agency, or retirement) within the past few months, Toronto and Vegas are playoff teams a year ago and both expect to be contenders for the Stanley Cup. Vegas was actually playing in the Stanley Cup Final just a few months ago without an official captain.

Regardless of the circumstances, it’s a unique situation because the NHL has never had a season where this many teams are entering the season without a captain. Just look at the past 25 years as the most recent example, where only once did the league have more than three teams without a captain … and that season was this past season when there were four such teams.

It is probably not yet time to say the role of the captain as we know it (a player having the letter “C” stitched on their jersey) is going away (how often do four teams lose captains in one four-month stretch), but it certainly seems teams aren’t as concerned about that letter being stitched on a player’s jersey as they used to be.

Just consider that since the start of the 2014-15 season (a stretch of only five years) there have been 16 teams to enter a season without an officially designated captain on their roster, including the six teams this season. In the 20 years prior to that there were only 19 such teams, or less than one per season on average.

At the end of the day everyone in a locker room knows who the leaders of the team are, whether they have a letter on their jersey or not. Everyone knows who is going to be the player to speak up, who is going to be the player to “lead by example,” and who is going to be the player to “hold everything together.” You should not need a letter to recognize that.

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.