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The Buzzer: Couturier nets hatty; Duchene sticks it to Avalanche

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Three stars

1. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers

Couts, as some call him, notched his first career regular-season hat trick in a 4-3 win against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday Night Hockey. Obviously, that’s a great feat for him, but he also helped the Flyers win consecutive games for the first time since Dec. 20, so it was also good for the team that has been mostly in nose-dive mode this year.

Couturier has 19 goals now on the season. A special mention here goes to Carter Hart, the Flyers netminder, who stood tall, stopping 39-of-42 sent his way in a game where the Flyers were outshot 42-19.

Priority No. 1 in Philly is making sure Hart gets some help going forward.

2. Matt Duchene, Ottawa Senators

Duchene stuck it to his old team in a 5-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche.

The 28-year-old, who the Senators badly need to re-sign, scored twice in the game put it out of reach and added an assist on the game-winner.

Duchene has 20 goals on the year now, the seventh time he’s done that in his 10-year NHL career.

3. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres needed this one.

Stuck in a three-game slide, the Sabres were quickly falling down the Eastern Conference standings. And having to play the Calgary Flames, with five straight victories heading into Wednesday — and on the road to boot — wasn’t an easy task.

But Eichel scored with 1:10 into overtime to give the Sabres a much-needed win. The Sabres captain has 16 goals on the year now and 51 points after adding a third-period assist on rookie Rasmus Dahlin‘s fifth.

Highlights of the night

Couturier made the hats fly in Philly:

No panic in Panik:

Get over here!

Ullmark’d:

Chabot threads that needle:

Factoids

Scores

Senators 5, Avalanche 2
Flyers 4, Bruins 3
Sabres 4, Flames 3 (OT)
Oilers 3, Canucks 2 (SO)
Coyotes 6, Sharks 3


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

PHT Morning Skate: Top NHL-affiliated prospects; rookie dinner stories

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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.

• TSN hockey analyst Craig Button released his list of top 50 NHL-affiliated prospects. A couple of Russians are at the top of this list. (TSN.ca)

• Find out how Devils defenseman Damon Serverson became a fan of rodeo and bull-riding. (NJ.com)

• The Islanders have received some solid contributions from their fourth line, which is made up of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin, and Cal Clutterbuck. (Newsday)

• Sports Illustrated’s Alex Prewitt did a little digging to find out what some players’ rookie dinner looked like. (Sports Illustrated)

• Coming into this season, Rasmus Dahlin was expected to be the top rookie defenseman in the NHL. Let’s just say that Miro Heiskanen is giving him a run for his money. (The Score)

• Where do the Minnesota Wild go from here? (The Hockey News)

• NHL.com had a sit down with Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois. (NHL.com)

• The Nashville Predators should look into trading for Panthers forward Mike Hoffman. (Predlines)

Patrick Maroon going home to St. Louis was a nice story, but it hasn’t worked out for either side. (St. Louis Game-Time)

• Over the course of the 1,000 games Brooks Orpik has played in his career, he’s had to adjust his game. (NBC Washington)

Jake Gardiner and Larry Murphy have a few things in common. First of all, they’ve both been booed by their home crowd in Toronto. (Canadian Press)

Matt Duchene plays “What’s in the Box” with Paul Bissonnette:

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.

MacKinnon, Avs are frustrated; should they be worried?

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In the late stages of the Avs’ 5-3 loss to the Flames on Wednesday, Nathan MacKinnon lost his cool in a way that felt strangely “on-brand” for one of the NHL’s goofiest superstars.

The elite forward who tends to be the comic foil for Sidney Crosby in Tim Hortons commercials was fuming at Avalanche coach Jared Bednar, with cameras seemingly catching him saying “do your job.” Captain Gabriel Landeskog felt the need to restrain MacKinnon, which provided a moment of comic relief, as MacKinnon briefly fell off the bench.

(I giggle every time I see it.)

Top line remains top-shelf

But that comical moment shouldn’t totally steal the show, as MacKinnon has every right to be frustrated.

Much is made of Connor McDavid seemingly being on an island on an often-incompetently run Oilers team (does his current look lean “disgruntled” or merely “hockey player disheveled?”), but don’t sleep on the situation brewing in Colorado.

When you realize that the Avalanche have only won one of their last nine games (1-6-2), you might assume that there’s not much jelly left in the “asking MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Landeskog to do everything, maybe hope for great goaltending” donut. That was my assumption.

That doesn’t really hold much water, though.

MacKinnon has seven points in four January games. He extended his point streak to eight games with a goal against the Flames, giving him 66 points in 44 games, tying him with Johnny Gaudreau for third in the NHL. Rantanen has even more, as his 68 points trails only Nikita Kucherov‘s ludcrious 71.

Nate is asserting himself in various ways, including firing an Alex Ovechkin-like 4.64 shots on goal per game. He leads all NHL players with a blistering 204 SOG, with Patrick Kane ranking a distant second at 177.

When you remember that MacKinnon’s contract is downright theft ($6.3 million cap hit through 2022-23, amazingly), can you really fault him for being frustrated?

Really, maybe Bednar could be “doing his job” by finding more support behind that top line and sneakily-deadly offensive defenseman Tyson Barrie.

As PHT discussed recently, it may not be the worst idea to experiment with ways to spread the wealth. Perhaps such mad science would be deemed “messing with a good thing,” yet while Bednar’s tried Landeskog on a lower line, MacKinnon and Rantanen remain attached at the hip.

There’s a lot to like about the speedy way the Avs play, but maybe some stones remain unturned?

Beyond that, the bigger question might be: is GM Joe Sakic the one who needs to start “doing his job” to get MacKinnon and Rantanen more help?

Some perspective on their struggles

You can essentially break down this season so far into four quadrants. They started off hot at 6-1-2, only to sink to 7-6-3. After that, there was another surge, pushing them to 17-7-5, and inspiring optimism about possibly even pushing for a division title. Now they’re merely hoping to hold onto a playoff spot at 20-16-8 (48 points in 44 games). They definitely have a shot at catching the Stars (50 points in 44 games, 23 regulation/overtime wins) for the third spot in the Central, yet they must at least eye upstarts for their current spot:

Taking a look at Puck on Net’s handy stats, the Avalanche have actually been a bit better possession-wise (middle of the pack, if not top third in the league) during their recent slump than they had been before (roughly bottom third).

The difference is that their goaltending has really plummeted. During the last month, Philipp Grubauer is 2-4-1 with a lousy .876 save percentage, and Semyon Varlamov has struggled even more (1-2-2, .867). On the bright side, it’s unlikely for Colorado’s goaltending to be that bad going forward, yet let’s be honest: the Avs’ defense isn’t threatening the likes of the Predators’ and Lightning’s corps for the title of deepest and best.

Do your job

So, should Sakic consider making investments around trade deadline time?

Via Cap Friendly, you can see that the Avalanche have all of their 2019 NHL Draft picks except their fourth-rounder. The Matt Duchene trade netted them what could be a luxurious first-rounder from Ottawa, and they also have the Senators’ third-rounder.

There’s a lucid argument that maybe Sakic simply views the Avalanche as what they likely are: a work in progress. Why give up futures if you don’t think you really have a chance?

That’s fine, but who knows how often you’ll get truly world-beating work from MacKinnon and Rantanen. Yes, they’re frighteningly young for opponents (MacKinnon’s still just 23, while Rantanen is somehow only 22), but they’re setting a high bar that any duo would struggle to clear.

There’s also some Marner/Matthews logic at play for the Avalanche. Rantanen’s in the last year of his rookie deal, so he won’t be cheap for much longer. Wouldn’t it make sense, then, to take advantage of this final bargain year by rolling the dice a bit?

Imagine how scary an Avalanche team could be if they didn’t just have MacKinnon-Rantanen-Landeskog, but also some scoring balance? That’s the sort of thing that could make their opponents’ jobs quite miserable.

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.

Free vodka for life billboard gets Panarin’s attention

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Time will tell if the Columbus Blue Jackets will be able to convince pending free agent Artemi Panarin to stick with the team, but if nothing else, locals are getting creative to entice him.

High Bank Distillery caused a stir with a billboard offering free vodka for life if Panarin re-signed with the Blue Jackets, even getting agent Dan Millstein to offer a winking response on Tuesday.

The viral marketing campaign made such an impression that Panarin acknowledged it himself on Wednesday, including taking a photo with the billboard, which the Blue Jackets tweeted out:

Wonderful.

Panarin expressed his gratitude for the sentiments on his Instagram page with this message:

Columbus, you keep amazing me. Thank you for your brilliance. Now I have a new spot to dine at. @highbankdistillery 💪💪💪💪💪

Amusingly, High Bank Distillery is a partner with the Blue Jackets, so they’d really be backing things up if they claim to be the team’s official vodka. You have to wonder if the hashtag #StayThirstyPanarin might draw a grumble from Dos Equis and The Most Interesting Man in the World, though.

This isn’t the first time that a) Columbus sports fans did something creative to try to avoid a devastating exit or b) a local company used a free agent situation for some brilliant, mostly-free publicity.

As this SBNation deep dive recounts, a #SavetheCrew campaign helped keep MLS team the Columbus Crew from relocating.

A starchier, more hockey-related connection happened when “The Bagel Boss” offered John Tavares bagels for life (every morning, apparently) to stick with the New York Islanders, then brilliantly offered bagels for Tavares jerseys once he passed. There were even T-shirts.

To Columbus’ credit, the campaign to keep Panarin around hasn’t been bread-related, nor has Panera Bread been involved. Although there’s time.

This could end up merely being a cute memory before Panarin leaves, yet either way, it’s a boon for High Bank, and they’re reveling in the attention.

That got us to thinking, actually: what are some other silly genius marketing strategies for some of the biggest could-be unrestricted free agents? Let’s dish out some free advice, then. Absolutely share your ideas in the comments, too.

(No RFAs, which is why you won’t see #MargarineforMarner.)

Mark Stone, Ottawa Senators: Let’s begin with a bummer. Marble Slab seems to dominate the elaborate ice cream preparation genre in Ottawa, so we can’t go with “Cold Stone for Mark Stone.” This brings me great sadness.

Maybe macarons for Stone? That will have to do, because I’m still sad about the Cold Stone thing.

Matt Duchene, also Ottawa Senators: With that loss accounted for, how about free Beavertails, the increasingly popular pastry? You could probably incorporate “Don’t leave” plus “Beave(r),” but be careful with that.

Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks: Back in 2015, Puck Daddy (including PHT’s own Sean Leahy!) covered favorite junk foods, with Karlsson mentioning pizza as a favorite in a nondescript way.

A different Shark’s name works better for that foodstuff, however, so why not celebrate Karlsson’s incredible 14-game assist/point streak by going with free apple fritters or apple pie for life? Maybe anything apple-related on a business’s menu, including hard cider?

Joe Pavelski, also San Jose Sharks: Going to venture a guess that Sharks fans no longer call the American forward “Joe Pa,” for obvious, uncomfortable reasons. But what about “Unlimited Za for Pa?”

Honestly, considering how long he’s been in San Jose, Pavelski likely has better ideas than we do.

Sergei Bobrovsky, also Columbus Blue Jackets: Things could really start to get out of control here, gang, as shishkabob is just sitting there on a plank, waiting for us to snare that low-hanging fruit.

Apparently Dublin, Ohio is only about 30 minutes from Columbus, and that’s where Wendy’s was founded. Perhaps the Blue Jackets should find out if Bob really loves their iconic spicy chicken sandwich?

Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres: Now here is where the cheese flies wonderfully.

Dinner for Skinner? Wings for a winger? Some take on “winner, chicken dinner?” OK, some of these ideas are so bad that they might actually scare Jeff Skinner off, but Buffalo really has little choice but to play into its history of chicken wing innovation.

Granted, there are other options. Via Paste, non-wing-options include sponge candy and maybe even Cheerios?

Nah, let’s go with wings.

Jake Gardiner, Toronto Maple Leafs: Apologies for leaning on rhyming, but “Let Jake Eat Cake” is as irresistible as, well, cake. Bobbette & Belle seems too fancy for a hockey player, but the name is pretty amusing, so let’s get them on the case.

The Maple Leafs face a tight squeeze in trying to fit their bounty of young talent under the salary cap in 2019-20 and beyond, so free cake for Jake might be their greatest hope.

It’s unclear if any of these ideas beat free booze, but admit it: you want some wings and/or pizza now, don’t you?

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Penguins lock up Jake Guentzel with five-year, $30M extension

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Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford scratched off one more thing from his to-do list on Thursday as the team announced they’ve signed Jake Guentzel to a five-year, $30M extension.

“Jake established himself as an impact player for our team from the beginning, especially during 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs,” Rutherford said in a press release. “He has become a core player on the team and we are thrilled to get Jake signed long-term with the Penguins.”

Guenztel, who was selected No. 77 overall in the 2013 draft, made an immediate impact after joining the Penguins during the 2016-17 NHL season. After scoring 16 goals and recording 33 points during the regular season, he led all players in goals scored during that postseason with 13 and helped them to the first of two straight championships. He followed that up with a 22-goal season in 2017-18 and 10 goals and 21 points in 12 playoff games last spring. This season he has 15 goals and 33 points in 36 games.

The 24-year-old Nebraska-Omaha product has found a consistent home on Sidney Crosby‘s wing and proven he has staying power there by his finishing and playmaking abilities. SInce entering the league he’s averaged 0.72 points per game, which puts him in company with the likes of Ryan Johansen, Matt Duchene, William Nylander, David Perron, and Jeff Carter. He’s also tied for sixth in playoff points per game (1.12) among players with at least 10 games played since the 2017 postseason.

This is a fantastic deal for the Penguins considering Guentzel’s production so far and the fact that he doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon. He would have been a restricted free agent on July 1 and held arbitration rights and this deal buys two of what would been his unrestricted free agent years. He’s also now one of only 13 NHL players 25 or younger who have a cap hit of at least $6M.

When you look at how much salaries are increasing as the cap ceiling rises, we might look back on this extension as a huge steal for the Penguins in a few years’ time.

————

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.