Matt Martin

PHT Morning Skate: Biggest surprises of 2019-20; Who are the luckiest teams?

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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.

• K’Andre Miller’s journey has been unique, but he’s now a top prospect for the Rangers. (ESPN)

• Islanders forwards Tom Kuhnhackl and Matt Martin will both miss 4-6 weeks of action. (NHL.com)

• It’s Monday, but it’s never too late to check out Frank Seravalli’s “Friday Five”. (TSN)

• Who has been the most surprising player for each team? (The Hockey News)

• Who have been the luckiest and unluckiest teams in the NHL this season? (Sportsnet)

• How should the media cover feuds in the NHL? (The Hockey Writers)

• Habs Eyes on the Prize debates whether or not Joel Armia can continue scoring at this incredible pace. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• Do the Leafs have a hard time “starting on time”? (Pension Plan Puppets)

• What does the Penguins salary cap situation look like now that Erik Gudbranson has been traded away? (Pensburgh)

• The Wild have a few players that have some different habits and preparation rituals. (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

• Hawks defenseman Olli Maatta looks back at his battle with cancer five years ago. (Chicago Sun Times)

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: Kuznetsov, Kempny lead improbable comeback for Capitals

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Three Stars

1. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Michal Kempny, Washington Capitals. With 10 seconds to play in the second period on Friday night the Washington Capitals trailed the Vancouver Canucks 5-1. They did not get a single point all night from Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, or John Carlson. And they still won, 6-5. They won thanks to a pair of two-goal efforts from forward Evgeny Kuznetsov and defender Michal Kempny to erase that four-goal deficit and send the game to overtime. Kuznetsov’s second goal came just before the buzzer in the second period to bring the Capitals to within three, setting the stage for their huge third period comeback that featured both goals from Kempny. Because of that they get to share first star honors for the night.

2. Linus Ullmark, Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres have only lost two games all season and they followed up both of them with a shutout win. On Friday it was Ullmark stealing the show as he stopped all 41 shots he faced in a 2-0 win over the Detroit Red Wings, handing them their seventh consecutive defeat. It is Ullmark’s first shutout of the season and already the third for the Sabres as a team (Carter Hutton already has two shutouts). You can read more about the Sabres’ win here.

3. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes continued their strong start with an impressive come-from-behind win on the road in New Jersey, erasing an early 2-0 deficit. There were a lot of stars for the Coyotes in this one, but their best player was probably star defender Oliver Ekman-Larsson with his second goal of the season, an assist, and some spectacular defensive plays to help secure the win. The Coyotes are now 6-3-1 through their first 10 games.

Other notable performances from Friday

  • Nick Leddy had a huge night for the Islanders, scoring two goals — including one on a penalty shot — to lead the Islanders to their sixth win in a row, so far the longest winning streak in the NHL this season. He thought he had a hat trick for a while until his third goal was taken away on a scoring chances and awarded to forward Matt Martin. Read all about the game here.
  • The Devils wasted a great performance from No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes. Hughes had three points (one goal, two assists) in what would become yet another blown multi-goal lead for a team that has already had entirely too many of them this season.
  • Nathan MacKinnon extended his points streak to 10 games as the Colorado Avalanche crushed the Vegas Golden Knights. Read more about the game here.
  • Patrick Marleau received a nice welcome back in Toronto on Friday night, but once the game began it was all Maple Leafs as they picked up a 4-1 win over the San Jose Sharks.

Highlights of the Night

Coyotes forward Michael Grabner is FAST and it helps him create a ton of chances on the penalty kill. Here he is scoring yet another shorthanded goal.

The first of what will probably be many goals for Avalanche defender Cale Makar.

They may have let a four-goal lead slip away, but the Canucks made a lot of highlights on Friday night. This is one of the better ones as Tim Schaller scores by batting the puck out of mid-air.

Blooper of the Night

Do not anger New York Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss!

 

Factoids

  • The Capitals’ win on Friday was the fifth time in franchise history they have won a game after trailing by four goals. It is the first time they have done it since the 2008 season. [NHL PR]
  • Nick Leddy’s penalty shot goal on Friday was the first time an Islanders defender has ever scored on a penalty shot in franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • Grabner’s shorthanded goal for the Coyotes was the 22nd of his career, the second-most among active players. He trails only Brad Marchand (26 goals) of the Boston Bruins. [NHL PR]

Scores

Colorado Avalanche 6, Vegas Golden Knights 1
Toronto Maple Leafs 4, San Jose Sharks 1
Arizona Coyotes 5, New Jersey Devils 3
New York Islanders 4, Ottawa Senators 2
Buffalo Sabres 2, Detroit Red Wings 0
Washington Capitals 6, Vancouver Canucks 5 (SO)

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.

Islanders’ winning streak reaches 6 with game that had everything

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Thanks to their 4-2 win over the Ottawa Senators on Friday night the New York Islanders are now the owners of the NHL’s longest winning streak this season, extending their current streak to six games.

That winning streak matches their longest winning streak from the 2018-19 season. They will try to make it seven consecutive games on Sunday at home against the Philadelphia Flyers. Six of their next seven games take place on home ice.

But back to Friday’s game for a second because this one had a little bit of everything, including…

Nick Leddy had a hat trick — until he didn’t

For about 20 minutes it appeared as if Leddy had recorded a natural hat trick by scoring three consecutive goals, which would have made him the first Islanders defender to record a hat trick since Denis Potvin. That moment in history would be short-lived, however, as a scoring change later took away his third goal and awarded it to forward Matt Martin. Tough break, but still a big night for one of the Islanders’ top defenders. Especially since…

Leddy still made Islanders history

And he did so thanks to his second goal which he scored on a penalty shot.

That is a big moment for the Islanders because it marked the first time in Islanders’ franchise history that a defender scored on a penalty shot. Here is a look at the play.

Entering play on Friday Leddy had scored just five goals in his past 98 games dating back to the start of the 2018-19 season (including playoffs). He scored two in five minutes of game-time on Friday, then nearly added a third.

One of the Tkachuk brothers was making people mad again

Usually it is Matthew causing trouble out in Calgary, but on this night it was Brady getting into it with Islanders forward Casey Cizikas.

Do not mess with Thomas Greiss

He was excellent in the Islanders’ net by stopping 30 of 32 shots he faced. The only Senator that seemed to give him an issue was forward Tyler Ennis, who not only scored both of the Senators’ goals, but also started a little bit of a melee late in the game when he poked his stick into Greiss’ glove, infuriating the Islanders goalie.

After starting the season 1-3 the Islanders have been on a roll to climb back toward the top of the Metropolitan Division to not only keep pace with the Washington Capitals, but also try to show their success a year ago was not a fluke.

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.

Lehner, Mrazek put on Game 1 show as single bounce is the difference

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BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Game 1 between the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders quickly developed into a night where a single shot was going to make all the difference. Fortunately for the Hurricanes, their goaltender kept all the shots he faced from going into his net.

Robin Lehner and Petr Mrazek put on a show Friday night at Barclays Center during the Hurricanes’ 1-0 overtime victory. Each goaltender finished with 31 saves and showed early on it was going to be a very tight, low-scoring affair.

Mrzaek got everything started off when Josh Bailey broke in on a breakaway. Bailey, the overtime hero in Game 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 1, couldn’t beat Mrazek with a backhand attempt:

“[Mrazek’] been great,” said Hurricanes defenseman Calvin de Haan. “The grade A’s that we are giving up, he’s usually making the first stop and that’s all you can ask of your goalie, and we’ve just got to try to clear rebounds.”

Lehner put himself on the highlight-reel with a big pad stop to deny Gregg McKegg a golden opportunity:

Much like their teams, no one expected Lehner and Mrazek to do what they did during the regular season and be the focal points of why they’re still playing into Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Lehner and Mrazek both entered the 2018-19 NHL season at important points in their careers and separately grabbed control the No. 1 jobs on their respective teams. Mrazek finished top 10 in even strength save percentage (.931), three spots below Lehner (.935), who’s season was impressive enough to make him a Vezina Trophy finalist. 

They will be richly rewarded for their play this summer as both are eligible for unrestricted free agency.

“Robin’s consistently our best player,” said Islanders forward Matt Martin. “He’s solid in there, he’s composed, he makes big saves when we need them. … Robin’s the backbone of our team, there’s no question about that. He’s outstanding every time he’s in there.”

“He’s been great all year and now in the playoffs he’s coming up huge,” said Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour of his goaltender.

Lehner and Mrazek entered Friday’s Game 1 coming off quite different amounts of rest. Lehner had just experienced 10 days of rest after sweeping the Penguins in Round 1. Mrazek had to quickly shift from an emotional seven-game series that ended in double overtime Wednesday night to the opening game of Round 2, which was Carolina’s third game of the postseason requiring more than 60 minutes to determine a winner.

Time and time again Mrazek, who can now boast that five of his career playoff wins have come via shutout, was there to make a big stop as the Islanders kept managing to get to the dangerous areas in front of his net for opportunities. The one goal the Hurricanes did allow was quickly waved off for goaltender interference. By traditional scoring methods, the 27-year-old Czech native answered the call every time when needed, frustrating the Islanders and showing that this could be a very long, very tight series.

“That’s what your goaltender is for,” said Hurricanes forward Jordan Staal, who netted the overtime winner. “[Mrazek’s] a gamer. He can find ways to make those big saves at the right time and that’s what you want in your goaltender.”

Game 2 of Hurricanes-Islanders is Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on NBC (Live stream).

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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.

Islanders vs. Hurricanes: PHT 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff preview

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The Carolina Hurricanes ended a marathon of a series to upend the Washington Capitals, the defending champions. Meanwhile, the New York Islanders have been chilling after sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins, aka the team that won the two Stanley Cups before Washington grabbed theirs.

So, yes, you can call this a war of the underdogs, although in the upset-happy 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Islanders – Hurricanes has plenty of competition. (And some would argue the Hurricanes weren’t underdogs, but that’s a whole other thing.)

There are some other fun storylines, too. This could be the quintessential rest vs. rust test case, as the Hurricanes were pushed to the limit on Wednesday, while the Islanders haven’t played since April 16.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

In true Carolina fashion, there’s another analytics experiment going on. The Islanders have defied the odds and possession metrics to keep winning games, while the Hurricanes finally seem to be benefiting from hogging the puck for years now. Winning this series won’t end the (often obnoxious) debates one way or another, yet you can bet that someone will claim as much on Twitter once the dust settles.

And, if you were tired of the same old teams in Round 2, you won’t get a much fresher matchup than Hurricanes vs. Islanders.

Schedule

Surging players

Islanders: With goalies getting their own section, there’s no reason to hesitate to mention Jordan Eberle first. He scored four goals in as many games against the Penguins, finishing that sweep with six points and a +6 rating, riding a red-hot 26.7 shooting percentage. Mathew Barzal was right there with him, generating five assists.

Brock Nelson scored three goals with a 25 shooting percentage, with two of his tallies being game-winners. Josh Bailey‘s three goals and one assist impress, and his luck was strong too (33.3 shooting percentage). Valtteri Filppula carried over his surprising work from the regular season, generating four assists. Anders Lee weighed in, too, with three points.

Hurricanes: Jaccob Slavin‘s gaining much-deserved mainstream attention, tying Erik Karlsson for the playoff lead in points for defensemen with nine (both with nine assists). Overtime work inflates things, but Slavin’s 26:59 TOI average remains robust.

Jordan Staal finished the series on a roll, scoring the goal that sent Game 7 to OT, while nabbing the game-winner in Game 6. Warren Foegele‘s four goals (along with two assists) came on just 12 SOG (33.3 shooting percentage), while Dougie Hamilton‘s six points flew under the radar because of that overblown talk about allegedly wincing at contact with Alex Ovechkin on a memorable goal. Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen don’t tower over others production-wise, but they really took over during key parts of the series, and remain the Hurricanes’ two aces.

Oh yeah, and Justin Williams continues to be Mr. Game 7, whether he likes it or not.

Struggling players

Islanders: Not many, what with this team riding a hot streak and managing a sweep.

After scoring easily a career-high with 20 goals (on an 18 shooting percentage) during the regular season, Casey Cizikas didn’t generate a point during that sweep. Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin didn’t score any, either, and Martin only averaged 12:42 TOI. Nothing too troubling, as the Isles generally count on those guys as physical presences, with any goals being a bonus. You can apply similar logic to modest-scoring defensemen, as they were pretty happy to limit the Penguins’ big guns in Round 1.

Hurricanes: Nino Niederreiter only managed an assist during that seven-game series against the Capitals, and it’s possible he might be banged-up (although that assist was gorgeous). Trevor van Riemsdyk didn’t generate a point during that series, and found himself planted on the bench a bit in key moments … which isn’t as big of an insult as it might seem, since Carolina has such outstanding defensemen to lean on when they want to shorten their bench. It’s tough to tell how much injuries factor into struggles of players like Micheal Ferland, who failed to score while being limited to three games.

Goaltending

Islanders: After a tremendous, redemptive regular season where he generated a fantastic .930 save percentage, Robin Lehner … somehow played even better? For all the hand-wringing about the Penguins, a near-impenetrable brick wall in net can really magnify your warts, and Lehner did that, producing an even-better .956 save percentage during that sweep. There’s a chicken-and-the-egg argument regarding how much Lehner’s numbers boil down to his own great play versus Barry Trotz’s defensive structure, but the results are so great, the debate feels moot (at least until it comes time for Lehner to get paid, as he’s in a contract year). Thomas Greiss‘ regular season numbers were nearly identical to Lehner’s, so few teams have a better option in case something happens with their starter.

(Unless Greiss reverted back to his 2017-18 form, in which case it would be a double-whammy.)

Hurricanes: Petr Mrazek‘s full season stats were just solid (.914 save percentage), but he really went on a tear down the stretch, generating a .938 save percentage in 17 games following the All-Star break. Mrazek’s .899 save percentage against the Capitals wasn’t so great, but Alex Ovechkin & Co. tend to generate high-danger chances, so he graded out reasonably well overall — just not dominant, like Lehner. Mrazek got bumped a bit late in that series, including a hard collision with teammate Justin Williams. He seems OK, yet it could be something to monitor. Like with Lehner and Greiss, Mrazek has a backup who produced similar results in the regular season in veteran Curtis McElhinney.

On paper, judging by this season alone, the advantage is the Islanders’, but we’ll see how it actually plays out.

Special teams

Islanders: The Islanders scored two power-play goals on 13 opportunities (15.4 percent), with both goals scored at home. Such a small sample size only tells you so much, so consider that, during the regular season, the Isles only converted on 14.5 percent of their chances, the third-worst total in the NHL. They were middle-of-the-pack on the PK in the regular season (79.9 percent), but only allowed the powerful Penguins’ power play a single PPG during that sweep. On paper, special teams is either neutral or a weakness for this team.

Hurricanes: The Hurricanes only killed 75 percent of their penalties against the Capitals, but is that really so bad against a singular man advantage menace like Alex Ovechkin, who scored three power-play goals during that series? Carolina ranked eighth in PK efficiency during the regular season, which isn’t shocking considering their strong defensive personnel. Carolina’s power play has been middling at best, and they will forever befuddle me by not putting Dougie Hamilton on their top unit. Hamilton scored two PPG against the Capitals despite that questionable deployment, so maybe the Hurricanes will finally change that up and reap some rewards?

As it stands, these two teams generally grade out as pretty strong on the PK, and mediocre on the PP. This seems to be a push overall, although maybe strong coaching/video work might swing this area during the actual series?

X-Factor for Islanders

Normally, in hockey, home-ice advantage is overblown.

The Islanders are an especially interesting case study, though. This is anecdotal, of course, but it’s really hard to believe that the Isles didn’t at least get a slight boost from an absolutely raucous crowd at Nassau Coliseum for Round 1. Now, with the scene changing to the less-fan-and-hockey-friendly Barclays for Round 2, will things be more tepid? A more muted crowd may only play into the “rust” factor, as maybe Nassau’s sheer volume might have been like a bucket of ice water to the head.

X-Factor for Hurricanes

Are the Hurricanes anywhere near 100 percent?

As much as rest is a worry (they just finished a double-OT game and multiple series/in-game comebacks that finished on Wednesday), my biggest concern is injuries. Andrei Svechnikov is still feeling the effects of losing that fight to Alex Ovechkin. Ferland’s hurt, and Jordan Martinook‘s injuries seem to be piling up. And that says nothing about players who are fighting through unreported ailments, stuff that piles up when you play three more games than your opponents, and get basically the bare minimum of rest.

(Again, I wonder at least a bit about Mrazek.)

I’m sure the Islanders have their own bumps and bruises, but they likely pale in comparison to the Hurricanes, who probably lived in ice baths for the last week.

Prediction

Islanders in 6. If everything was equal – rest, injuries, etc. – I’d probably go with the Hurricanes. Even if players like Svechnikov suit up in Round 2, I’m not so sure they’ll be full effective. It wouldn’t be surprising if Trotz gets at least a minor edge on Rod Brind’Amour, what with Trotz being one of the most experienced defensive-minded coaches in the game, and Brind’Amour being in his rookie coaching season. It’s a tough call, and I’d wager that the Islanders will start to see their luck cool off, but here’s saying the Isles’ unlikely run extends to at least Round 3.

(But, yeah, the Hurricanes have a lot going for them.)

PHT’s Round 2 previews
Round 2 schedule, TV info
Questions for the final eight teams
PHT Roundtable
Conn Smythe favorites after Round 1
Blues – Stars
Bruins – Blue Jackets
Sharks – Avalanche

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.