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PHT Face-Off: Frk’s heavy shot; Rough year for Johansen

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At the start of each week, the PHT Face-Off breaks down some of the topics and trends around the NHL. This week’s topics include: A crazy slapshot, four forwards on the power play, and much more.

Here it is:

• What a Frkn shot

Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber won the Hardest Shot Event at the NHL Skills Competition on Friday night. Weber actually fired the two hardest shots of the night, with the fastest one coming in at 106.5 mph. That’s impressive. But we can’t ignore what Martin Frk did at the AHL All-Star Skills Competition over the weekend, either.

Frk set a new record by blasting a puck into a net at 109.2 mph. The 26-year-old forward has played four games with the Los Angeles Kings this year and he’s found the back of the net three times. Maybe it’s time for the Kings to give him another look? He’s also put up 20 goals and 30 points in 33 games with AHL Ontario this year.

The record previously belonged to Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara, who registered a 108.8 mph shot on the radar gun in 2012. Hockey players seem to be getting bigger, faster and stronger every year, so we’ll see how long Frk’s record holds up. Are we really going to see a human being shoot at over 110 mph in the near future?

• Four forwards on the power play becoming a trend

Over the last few seasons, we’ve seen the number of four-forward power plays increase significantly. Obviously, teams that have more high-end skill up front will use four forwards more frequently. As you can tell from the tweet below, the Capitals and Avalanche use four forwards on the man-advantage 95 percent of the time.

For what it’s worth, the Caps have the 14th ranked power play in the NHL at 20.3 percent. The Avs have the 21st ranked power play in the league at 18.6 percent. Those are two really talented teams, so how much of their power play “struggles” are based on personnel and how much is on the scheme? It’s hard to say.

But it’s interesting to see just how much of a copy-cat league the NHL is today:

Alex Killorn‘s killer season

When the Tampa Bay Lightning were looking to off-load some salary during the summer, it was reported that general manager Julien BriseBois was unwilling to part ways with Killorn. That was interesting news considering the fact that he’s not really part of the core. He’s an important part of the team, but he’s not Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman or Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Killorn is making $4.45 million per season through 2022-23. It would’ve been easy to ship the veteran forward elsewhere. Instead, they decided to hold on to him. How has it worked out?

Pretty well, so far.

The 30-year-old hit the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career right before the All-Star break. He’s now on pace to find the back of the net 35 times and he’s flirting with a 70-point season right now. Whether they want to continue holding on to him or not, there’s no doubt that his trade value has increased.

Interestingly enough, Killorn’s advanced numbers are down from previous seasons, but he’s been more productive than ever. His CF%, his XGF% and his FF% are all down from the last few seasons.

• Tough year for Ryan Johansen

Johansen is the Nashville Predators’ highest paid forward at $8 million per year (tied with Matt Duchene), but he’s certainly not producing up to expectations.

Over his last 12 games, the 27-year-old has just two points in his last 12 outings. That’s nowhere close to being good enough. Prior to the start of this season, Johansen 60-plus points in two of his last three campaigns. This year, he has just 10 goals and 27 points in 47 games.

“When Ryan’s playing his best, he’s moving his feet and playing with speed,” Predators coach John Hynes said, per The Athletic. “I’ve seen pockets of it here, where he’s had the puck coming up the middle of the ice and through the neutral zone with speed and then making good decisions. He should be a very competitive player on the puck with his size and his skill to be able to be a hard player to play against offensively.”

Hynes mentions that he’s seen his centerman play well in spurts, but the Predators need him to be way more consistent. If the playoffs started today, they’d be on the outside looking in. That’s a problem. They’re currently six points behind Vegas for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. They’re seven points back of Dallas in the chase for the third seed in the Central Division.

They need him to step up.

What’s coming up this week?
Matt Tkachuk vs. Zack Kassian, Wed. Jan. 29, 10 p.m. ET and Sat. Feb. 1, 8 p.m. ET.
• Battle of Pennsylvania resumes as Penguins host Flyers, Fri. Jan. 31, 7 p.m. ET.

NHL on NBC
Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby for the 50th time, Sun. Feb. 2, 12:30 p.m.

NHL on NBCSN
• Lightning vs. Stars, Mon. Jan. 27, 8 p.m. ET
• Lightning vs. Kings, Wed. Jan. 29, 10 p.m. ET
• John Hynes returns to New Jersey as Predators visit Devils, Thu. Jan. 30, 7:30 p.m. ET

Wednesday Night Hockey
• Predators vs. Capitals, Wed. Jan. 29, 7:30 p.m. ET

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.

Stunning numbers at the NHL All-Star break

NHL Numbers
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During the 2019-20 NHL season we will take an occasional look at some stunning numbers from around the league. Here is what has stood out to us as we enter the All-Star break.

No goals for Charlie McAvoy. In each of his first two years of his career McAvoy scored seven goals and averaged a 10-goal pace per 82 games. Pretty good numbers for a defenseman, and especially one that was only 20 and 21 years old and limited by injuries in both seasons. So far this year? He has zero goals in his first 48 games and recently faced some harsh criticism from his coach. He enters the All-Star break as the only player in the NHL to have at least 70 shots on goal without scoring. There are only three other players with at least 50 shots on goal and zero goals (Brett Kulak, David Savard, and Jordie Benn). Based on his career shooting percentage he would have already scored six goals on the same number of shots had he maintained that same level. Say what you want about his overall performance, but there is a ton of bad puck luck going on here.

Columbus’ goaltending goes from question mark to strength. The most stunning development of the season, perhaps. After losing Sergei Bobrovsky in free agency the Columbus Blue Jackets rolled the dice on the unproven duo of Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins. Their performance was always going to help make-or-break their season. They are making the season right now. They enter the All-Star break with the NHL’s second-best 5-on-5 save percentage (.932) and the NHL’s third-best all situations save percentage (.917). That performance is the biggest reason the Blue Jackets are actually ahead of their points pace from a year ago despite losing Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel in free agency, and then being crushed by injuries once the season began.

Red Wings’ historically bad season continues. They enter the All-Star break with a minus-90 goal differential in their first 51 games. Only 16 teams in the history of the league have had a worse mark through 51 games. It is the NHL’s worst mark since the 1993-94 Ottawa Senators (a second-year expansion team that only won 14 out of 84 games) had a minus-103 mark at the 51-game mark.

Alex Ovechkin marches on. He continues his pursuit of the NHL’s all-time goal mark with 34 goals in the Capitals’ first 49 games for the Capitals. Given his age (34), it is an almost unprecedented performance. The only players over the age of 30 in league history to score more goals through 49 games are:

  • Mario Lemiuex (45 goals at age 30 during the 1995-96 season)
  • Dave Andreychuck (38 goals age 30 during the 1993-94 season)
  • Ovechkin (36 goals at age 33 during the 2018-19 season)
  • Peter Stastny (35 goals at age 31 during the 1987-88 season)

At his current pace he would score 55 goals in 81 games this season and would be the third-best goal-scoring season of his career. At age 34. Only 13 different players (including Ovechkin) in league history have ever scored more than 50 goals in a season after turning 30 years old. John Buyck (51 goals at age 35) is so far the only one to do it after turning 34 years old. Ovechkin is on track to do it this season.

Panarin’s pace. The Rangers’ big free agent acquisition is currently on pace for 45 goals and 117 points in 81 games this season. In the entire history of the Rangers’ franchise here is the list of player that have scored at least 45 goals and 110 points in the same season: Jaromir Jagr (2005-06). That is it. That is the list.

Jean Ratelle hit 46/109 during the 1971-72 season, while Vic Hadfield had 50/106 during the the same season.

When you add in how large of a role he has played in the Rangers’ offense (scored or assisted on 45 percent of their goals; on the ice for 56 percent of them) it is one of the best offensive seasons in the history of the franchise.

Connor and Leon. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl enter the All-Star break as the top two point producers in the NHL. The two of them have been on the ice for literally half (50.3 percent) of the Oilers’ 155 goals so far this season. The Oilers score 6.02 goals per 60 minutes with them on the ice in all situations, and 3.67 during 5-on-5 play. Without the two of them on the ice together those numbers drop to 1.67 and 1.66 respectively. It is still a two-man team.

Pacific Division mayhem:  There are five teams at the top of Pacific Division (Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Arizona, and Vegas that are separated by, literally, one point.

None of these teams enter the All-Star break higher than 13th in the NHL in points percentage, and not one of them would be higher than third place in any other division in hockey.

Another Vezina caliber year for Ben Bishop. He has been a finalist three different times, and is once again putting together an argument to be at the top of the list this season. His .927 save percentage for the season is fifth best in the NHL, while his .925 mark in two-and-a-half seasons since joining the Stars in free agency is the best in the NHL among the 31 goalies that have appeared in at least 100 games during that stretch. The Stars can’t score and rely on their goalies — Bishop and Anton Khudobin — to help carry them. They are. Right to a playoff spot.

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.

Roundtable: Biggest surprises, disappointments at NHL All-Star break

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What player has been your biggest surprise of the first half of the 2019-20 season?

SEAN: Tristan Jarry, Penguins. A season ago the Penguins netminder played only two games in the NHL having lost the backup job to Casey DeSmith. This season he’s usurped Matt Murray for the No. 1 job and helped backstop the team into contender status as the roster has dealt with numerous injuries.  He’s top five in even strength save percentage, goals saved above average, and has helped Pittsburgh to 16 wins in 22 starts.

JAMES: John Carlson, Capitals. Look, we all knew Carlson could score. He’s been rising up the defensive scoring ranks for a while now (interestingly, increasing even after he got paid). Still, 60 points in just 49 games, placing him comfortably in front of Auston Matthews for 10th overall in the NHL right now? Yeah, can’t say I saw that coming.

ADAM: Bryan Rust, Penguins. He has always been a pretty good complementary player, but this year his play has just reached an entirely unexpected level. He is on a near 50-goal, 100-point pace over 82 games! No one ever expected that from him. Even if he cools off in the second half he is still going to have career year.

JOEY: David Perron, Blues. He’s currently on a point-per-game pace and he’s also top 20 in league scoring. We knew he was a good hockey player, but he’s playing at a totally different level right now.

SCOTT: Artemi Panarin, Rangers. High-priced free agents have a long history of failing at Madison Square Garden but Panarin has been everything the Blueshirts could have hoped. The Russian winger is on his way to his first All-Star game and could be the star player that helps the Rangers right the ship.

What team has been your biggest surprise so far?

SEAN: Blue Jackets. They lose their two biggest stars and their trade deadline pick ups walk in free agency. The enter 2019-20 with one goaltender who posted back-to-back seasons with a sub-.900 save percentage and another who had spent his entire pro career in Switzerland. So of course they’d be sitting in a wild card spot on the heels of third place in the Metropolitan Division at the All-Star Break. Just as we all expected.

JAMES: Blue Jackets. Honestly, I’d expected the Blue Jackets to be scrappy, but without that extra oomph to avoid being (word that rhymes with scrappy). Instead, they’re in the thick of the East wild-card races, not that differently from last season, when they still had Sergei Bobrovsky and especially Artemi Panarin. Managing to hang in there with a legitimately crushing run of injuries makes them even more surprising.

ADAM: Canucks. The easy answer here is probably Columbus or Arizona, but I had fairly high hopes for both at the start of the season. So I am going to say the Canucks get the call for biggest surprise. I liked Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, and figured Quinn Hughes would make a big impact, but the rest of the team just seemed like it was years away from contention. 

JOEY: Blue Jackets. Somehow, they’ve found a way to be in a Wild Card spot at this point. John Tortorella is doing the coaching job of his life and he’s been able to get some reliable goaltending from unlikely candidates. It would be awesome to see them make it back to the postseason after losing Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel.

SCOTT: Blues. I felt there was potential for a huge letdown after a surprising championship run last season and the Vladimir Tarasenko injury only strengthened those beliefs. However, they have been dominant at home and are sitting on top of the most competitive division in the NHL.

[MORE: PHT’S MIDSEASON NHL AWARDS]

What player has been your biggest disappointment?

SEAN: Andreas Athanasiou, Red Wings. There’s a lot of work to be done in Hockeytown to make the Red Wings a playoff team again, but there is a small core of players for GM Steve Yzerman to build around. Athanasiou is supposed to be one of those players but has struggled mightily after posting 30 goals last season. Through 36 games he only has five goals and 19 points. You’d expect his 5.7 shooting percentage to jump in the second half, which he needs since he’ll be an RFA this summer and can earn himself a nice raise.

JAMES: P.K. Subban, Devils. The hope was that Subban would bounce back from a troubling 2018-19. After all, it seemed like Subban was injured. Instead, things have gone worse, as his offense dried up while he continues to struggle defensively. I’m not totally giving up on P.K. — he might still be less than 100 percent — but I’m not exactly betting on him being a $9M defender again, either.

ADAM: Sergei Bobrovsky, PanthersI thought Bobrovsky’s contract was going to be a problem in three or four years, but I figured the Panthers would at least get a couple of quality seasons out of him before that happened. They have not even been able to get that yet. I figured he would be the missing piece to get them back in the playoffs in the short-term, and while they might make the playoffs it is currently in spite of Bobrovsky’s and not because of it. 

JOEY: Alex Galchenyuk, Penguins. The Penguins gave up Phil Kessel in a trade for Galchenyuk, but things just haven’t worked out the way they had hoped with him. Despite all the injuries in Pittsburgh this year, Galchenyuk hasn’t been able to make an impact with his new team. He’s now played for three teams in three seasons and it doesn’t look like his stop in Pittsburgh will be very long. Who knows what’s next for him.

SCOTT: P.K. Subban, Devils. The hope was Subban’s career would be rejuvenated by a trade to the New Jersey Devils. However, not much has gone right in Newark and Subban’s disappointing play has been a factor in John Hynes and Ray Shero losing their jobs.

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What team has been your biggest disappointment?

SEAN: Predators. Teams you expected to be better but aren’t so far can pinpoint poor goaltending as a main factor. You wouldn’t expect that from Nashville but Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros — with a combined .918 even strength save percentage — helped sink Peter Laviolette and have kept the Predators outside of the Western Conference playoff picture.

JAMES: Sharks. How can it not be the Sharks? Looking at the age of that roster, many of us expected a stark reality … just not so soon. The parallels between the 2018-19 version of their hated rivals, the Kings, are honestly getting a little scary. Maybe the Sharks can be respectable again soon … kind of like the Kings, whose underlying numbers indicate they’re actually better than their place in the standings indicates.

ADAM: Sharks. Couple of options here but I think the Sharks take this title pretty easily. You had to know the goaltending was going to be a problem again, but it is far from their only problem. Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns have both had terrible seasons (by their standards), while several forwards have regressed or underperformed. This should still be a Stanley Cup contender and they are not only a disappointment, they are downright bad. 

JOEY: Predators. The Predators made a splash when they signed Duchene in free agency and another one when they dumped P.K. Subban on New Jersey. Unfortunately for them, those moves haven’t made them any better this year. They’ve already fired head coach Peter Laviollette and things haven’t looked much better since then.

SCOTT: Predators. A coaching change could help turn things around, but the Predators expected to compete for the Stanley Cup this season and are currently on the outside looking in.

What current team in a playoff spot will fall out by the end of the regular season?

SEAN: Oilers. Their team even strength save percentage is .909 and Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl make up 35% of their goals scored. Winnipeg and Chicago are right behind them and Nashville is lurking.

JAMES: Blue Jackets. A competitive team is going to finish ninth in the East. To me, the Blue Jackets just don’t give themselves good enough margins for error. Sometimes it’s as simple as looking at goal differential, and when you see that, it seems clear that the Blue Jackets are only slightly outscoring their problems.

ADAM: PanthersI want to buy into the Panthers because I love the way Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau play, but the goaltending question still concerns me and if they fall out of the top-three in the Atlantic Division I question if they can finish ahead of one of those Metropolitan teams in a Wild Card spot. 

JOEY: Blue Jackets. As impressed as I’ve been with the Blue Jackets, it’s hard to envision them making the postseason ahead of teams like Toronto, Philadelphia and Florida. They deserve credit for the job they’ve done, but they still have a long way to go before they clinch a playoff spot.

SCOTT: Blue Jackets. They have overcome great odds to remain competitive but eventually they will feel the loss of three star players. John Tortorella should be in the Jack Adams conversation with a strong first half, but a second-half slump could be looming.

What team currently out of the playoffs make it in?

SEAN: Predators. They’ve underachieved all season and the hole to dig out of isn’t too deep. If Saros and Rinne can start making saves again and Nashville’s special teams can wake up, they can find a way back in the postseason.

JAMES: Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs aren’t perfect. They are brilliantly talented, however, and have been able to unleash the fury since Sheldon Keefe took over. I think that talent will help them push across the finish line.

ADAM: Maple Leafs. Toronto is too talented to not make it. I know they have their flaws defensively, but you have to think they are going to do something to address that and I just can’t imagine this roster missing. Do they have enough to get through Boston or Tampa Bay? Maybe not. But they will be in. 

JOEY: Maple Leafs. Yes, the Leafs are without Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin right now, but you have to imagine that they’ll figure things out before it’s too late. Toronto has too much firepower with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares.

SCOTT: Flyers. It has previously taken teams quite a while to adjust to Alain Vigneault’s system. If the Flyers can figure out their struggles on the road and survive Carter Hart’s injury, they have the talent to find their way into the tournament.

What team needs to make a big splash at the February trade deadline?

SEAN: Maple Leafs. Their star core players are off their rookie contracts and three straight Round 1 exits means the pressure is on in Toronto. The blue line is the biggest area of need, especially with Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin out injured. GM Kyle Dubas will need to shore up the back end in order to put them in a better position entering the playoffs — if they get there, of course.

JAMES: Oilers. Look, there are teams like the Bruins, whose windows could close in a hurry. But, frankly, we as hockey fans should be more outraged that Connor McDavid, hockey superhuman, is so rarely in the playoffs. It’s a travesty, and the Oilers need to give him some help. Not just for McDavid, but frankly, for all of us.

ADAM: Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs need to do something on defense. Morgan Rielly’s injury is huge and Tyson Barrie has not quite worked out as hoped. Add to that the fact that Barrie and Jake Muzzin are unrestricted free agents after this season and they need to do something to strengthen the blue line for now and in the future. 

JOEY: Bruins. The Bruins could add a defenseman and/or some secondary scoring before Feb. 24. Boston is good enough to go on a postseason run, but they could definitely use some reinforcements.

SCOTT: Islanders. They have won with excellent coaching and strong defensive play, but they desperately need a big-time scorer up front. They missed out on Panarin this summer and didn’t pull the trigger on Mark Stone last season. Is Lou Lamoriello ready to bring in the proper support to help the Islanders advance through the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

The Buzzer: Blue Jackets hold on for six wins in a row

Blue Jackets six wins in a row the buzzer
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Three Stars

1. Pierre-Luc Dubois, Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets continue their run of resiliency by fighting back from three deficits (1-0, 2-1, and 3-2) to win in regulation. Their narrow victory against the Jets pushes the Blue Jackets to six wins in a row. With that, they tie the Panthers for the hottest streak entering the All-Star break.

Dubois ended up as Wednesday’s only three-point player, collecting them all on assists. That outburst leaves Dubois with 38 points in 51 games this season.

While those aren’t astronomical numbers, his strong all-around play confirms to me that PLD isn’t just a product of Artemi Panarin.

Now, does Panarin boost the numbers of about everyone he plays with, though? Sure, but Dubois is proving that he can stand on his own.

2. Oliver Bjorkstrand, Columbus Blue Jackets

Bjorkstrand merits an argument as the top star of the day. If nothing else, the winger is hotter than PLD — and plenty of others — if you zoom out.

Bjorkstrand scored two goals for Columbus for the third game in a row. In all three cases, Bjorkstrand collected the game-winning goal. Hmm … maybe Bjorkstrand really deserves that top star nod?

Watch out for a possible strong finish to 2019-20. Last season, Bjorkstrand scored more goals (16) and points (22) in 34 games after the 2019 All-Star break than he did in 43 games before it (seven goals, 14 points). While I’d chalk quite a bit of that up to linemates — wait for it, Bjorkstrand enjoyed some nice Panarin reps, and some Matt Duchene ones too — Bjorkstrand is also one of those snipers who can get on a hot streak. If he repeats history, it could be a big difference-maker for a Blue Jackets team forced to scratch and claw.

3. Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild

Flip Zadina might deserve the nod more than Staal. Zadina, like Bjorkstrand, generated his two points by way of goals. The rookie also affected the game in other ways, firing seven shots on goal and drawing a late penalty that gave Detroit a slight chance for a comeback.

The Wild won, however, and that strikes me as a tiebreaker. That said, even choosing the best Wild skater is tough. I’m giving Staal the edge because both of his points (1G, 1A) were of the primary variety. (Mats Zuccarello‘s 1G, 1A includes a secondary helper). Mathew Dumba makes a strong argument with his two assists and +3 rating, so really, it’s a matter of taste.

Either way, it’s surreal that Staal recently reached 1,000 points. It might even make some of us feel old.

/makes old man noise just from shifting in seat

Highlights

Wednesday provided us with a scant two games, so why not just enjoy clips from both? If you want a standout moment, I’d argue Seth Jones‘ goal was the pick:

Here are the highlights for Minnesota dominating the second period to beat Detroit:

Factoids

  • Again, the Blue Jackets extended their winning streak to six by coming back. It’s apparently their 15th comeback win of 2019-20, second only to the Capitals’ 16 for the most in the league, according to NHL PR.
  • Bjorkstrand became the first Blue Jackets player to score multiple goals in three games or more, via NHL PR. I’m a little surprised Rick Nash never managed that when he was their go-to guy and a premiere power forward.
  • Wednesday marked the first multi-goal game of Zadina’s career. The 20-year-old joins select Red Wings company.
  • Kyle Connor collected his 15th goal since Dec. 1. Auston Matthews is the only player with more (18) during that span, according to NHL PR. Connor has 25 goals overall in 2019-20.
  • Sportsnet stats notes the Jets are 1-6-0 in their last seven, and other numbers are disturbing.

Scores

CBJ 4 – WIN 3
MIN 4 – DET 2

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.

Hurricanes’ Hamilton suffers nasty looking leg injury in loss to Blue Jackets

(UPDATE: The Hurricanes announced on Friday that Hamilton suffered a broken leg.)

The Carolina Hurricanes dropped a tough 3-2 decision to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night. That result was not their biggest concern from the game.

The concern is the status of defenseman Dougie Hamilton after he exited the game late in the second with what appears to be a nasty leg injury following a collision along the boards.

You can see the play in the video above.

He was unable to put any weight on his leg as he was helped off the ice.

Coach Rod Brind’Amour didn’t have much of an update after the game, simply saying that it “doesn’t look good.”

If Hamilton is seriously injured and has to miss any significant time that would be a massive hole for the Hurricanes to have to try to fill. He has been arguably the best defenseman in the NHL this season and is one of the Hurricanes’ top players in every aspect of the game. He helps drive the offense, he runs the power play, he helps shut down teams defensively, he drives possession, and he is their leader in ice-time. That is not a player you just replace, whether it be internally or from outside the organization.

Huge win for Blue Jackets

As for the game itself, this was a huge game in the Eastern Conference Wild Card race as the two teams entered the game separated by just two points. Columbus’ win, combined with Philadelphia’s loss to Montreal, means that that the Blue Jackets, Hurricanes, and Flyers are in a three-way tie for the two Wild Card spots with 56 points each.

The Florida Panthers, just one point back following their 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings, are just one point back of that group with games in hand on all three teams.

The Blue Jackets were able to get the win thanks to a late third period goal from captain Nick Foligno.

Columbus’ recent success is one of the most surprising stories of the 2019-20 season. After losing four key players –including their two best players over the summer in free agency (Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel) they have been one of the most injured teams in the league this season. Even with all of that they are still on a 13-2-4 run over their past 19 games.

Cam Atkinson, their leading goal-scorer from a year ago, had been one of the key players sidelined in recent weeks. He returned to the lineup on Tuesday and recorded two points (one goal, one assist) in the win.

Elvis Merzlikins continued his great play in place of the injured Joonas Korpisalo by stopping 32 out of 34 shots for the Blue Jackets.

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.