Matt Martin

Early returns: NHL players on getting back in small groups during Phase 2

As of Tuesday, we’re two days into Phase 2 of the NHL’s return-to-play plan. To put things mildly, not every NHL team has approached Phase 2 in the same way. Considering the protocols for opening things up, plenty haven’t gotten the puck rolling just yet.

This post aims to round up some of the perspectives from players who have gotten the chance to get back a bit, though. Please note that this isn’t a comprehensive list of every team back in action for Phase 2 of the NHL’s return-to-play plan.

Matt Benning on the Oilers skating

One curious question is: how long does it take to shake off the rust. Considering that the NHL is still trying to hash out details for training camps (aka Phase 3), the answer appears subjective.

“If I’m off the ice for two days, it feels like I’ve never skated in my life before, so three months was a little bit nerve-wracking …” Oilers defenseman Matt Benning said.

Benning noted that it takes different players different amounts of time to get used to edgework and other skating factors. But it sounds like Benning specifically sits in the “more the merrier” camp. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

If you need a moment of zen, enjoy this footage of the Oilers beginning Phase 2:

*refreshed Ahhhhh*

Tavares doing Tavares things early in NHL Phase 2

Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares is known for being something of a thinking man’s hockey star. Sometimes that drive can manifest itself in ways that are … honestly, kind of nerdy.

Tavares told reporters including TSN’s Karen Shilton that he quickly decided to start taping his sticks at home to get the most out of his time.

“There’s a pretty big-time crunch on being in the arena; you only have about 45 minutes to an hour to complete your workout and you’ve got about 40 minutes on the ice,” Tavares said. “The windows are fairly small, but the actual work we’re able to get in is going to go a long way in helping us prepare and get ready. The intensity is there.”

Shilton notes that Tavares is skating in a group with Jack Campbell, Cody Ceci, Mitch Marner, Ilya Mikheyev, and Jake Muzzin.

Josh Bailey among Islanders getting back to skating at facility

Bailey joined Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin, and Thomas Greiss for small-group workouts. Bailey admitted feeling some rust, and that there’s no substitute for skating.

There’s also no substitute for family. Bailey acknowledged that the “hub city” system will take some getting used to. At least he’d have his Islanders teammates, though.

“It’ll definitely be different,” Bailey said, via Cory Wright of the Islanders’ website. “No matter how it all comes together, when, how, if, whatever the case may be. It won’t be what we are accustomed to. But when you’re with the team it kind of gives you that feeling of normalcy.”

Plenty still needs to be settled before NHL goes from Phase 2 to Phase 3

Overall, the Phase 2 return to ice seems more like a trickle than a stampede.

For every instance such as Marc-Andre Fleury getting geared up with the Golden Knights, there are players who want to avoid taking risks, or teams facing restrictions.

In some cases, players are able to skate on their own. During an appearance on “Lunch Talk Live,” Blake Wheeler explained that he’s been able to get some reps in with Adam Oates in the Boca Raton area in Florida.

MORE NHL RETURN TO PLAY:

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.

What is the Islanders’ long-term outlook?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the New York Islanders.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The Islanders will need to lock up a couple of critical restricted free agents this upcoming offseason but have a lot of components signed to long-term extensions.

The acquisition of Jean-Gabriel Pageau at the NHL Trade Deadline solidified their depth down the middle for years to come. Mathew Barzal has the potential to blossom into an elite centerman while Brock Nelson and Pageau can flip flop between the second and third line. Heart and soul player Casey Cizikas will continue to anchor the fourth line.

New York also has several of its top-nine wingers in place, including Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier, Jordan Eberle and captain Anders Lee.

The newest addition to the core will be goaltender Ilya Sorokin, who is expected to come to the NHL at the start of next season. The Islanders drafted Sorokin in the third round of the 2014 draft and the Russian netminder has spent the past six seasons in the KHL. He has long been considered one of the best goalies not playing in the NHL. Throughout his career with CSKA, he never finished with a save percentage below .929 and is expected to produce at a similar level in North America.

Islanders goalie coach Mitch Korn has helped develop some of the League’s best goaltenders and Sorokin could be next in line.

Long-Term Needs

While the Islanders have a lot of their core signed to long-term contracts, the organization still needs a high-scoring winger to manufacture offense.

The Carolina Hurricanes swept the Islanders in a second-round series during last year’s postseason as they won four straight and advanced to the Eastern Conference Final. New York only managed to score five goals in those four games and were unable to solve its offensive deficiencies.

The Islanders play a fundamentally sound defensive system but need someone who can create offense on their own to change the momentum within a game. Barzal has a chance to be that type of game-breaker in today’s NHL but you need more than one player with that skillset.

In addition to their lack of offensive punch, the Islanders lost their defensive structure when Adam Pelech was lost for the season in early January. General manager Lou Lamoriello thought he solved the problem with the addition of Andy Greene from the New Jersey Devils but the Islanders went 2-5-4 in the 11 games he played and finished in a seven-game skid.

Coach Barry Trotz and his staff need to examine why the absence of one player impacted their system as much as it did.

Long-Term Strengths

The impact a coach has on any given team has long been disputed, but the effect Trotz has had on the Islanders is undeniable.

Ever since Trotz inked a five-year contract with the orange and blue, he brought a credibility to the team on the ice. The Islanders became one of the most defensively sound teams in the league and instantly became a playoff contender. With Trotz behind the bench, the Islanders will reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs on a consistent basis.

Besides strong leadership behind the bench, the Islanders have developed a strong culture inside the locker room. Players play for one another and there is a system of accountability that was lacking before Trotz arrived.

Overall, the Islanders should be in the playoff discussion for years to come with a disciplined structure, strong goaltending and a true difference-maker behind the bench. However, in order to become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender and not just a team that qualifies for the postseason consistently, they need to add a dynamic forward.

MORE ON THE ISLANDERS:


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.

Islanders win wild game over Flyers thanks to Pulock’s late goal

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It probably was not the way the New York Islanders drew it up, but they were able to get a massive 5-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night thanks to Ryan Pulock‘s game-winning goal with just 41 seconds to play in regulation.

Pulock’s goal came less than a minute after Philadelphia’s Sean Couturier tied the game for the Flyers, erasing what had been a three-goal deficit.

Getting the win in regulation is huge for the Islanders when it comes to potential playoff positioning — it is a four-point swing in the standings — and keeps them in the third spot in the Metropolitan Division with still two games in hand over the Flyers.

The Islanders stormed out of the gates in this one, scoring three goals in the first 15 minutes thanks to goals from Josh Bailey, Matt Martin, and Jordan Eberle.

Eberle’s goal came when he pounced on a rebound following a ridiculous, highlight reel sequence by linemate Mathew Barzal where he flipped the puck in the air to himself, skated through the middle of the Flyers’ defense, and managed to get a shot on goal.

At that point it looked as if the rout was going to be on.

The Flyers, however, managed to push the pace of the game in their favor and gradually chip away at the Islanders’ lead. When Couturier tied it with less than 90 seconds to play it looked like they had every bit of momentum rolling in their favor. But momentum is only as good as the next play, and the next play ended up going the Islanders’ way when Pulock absolutely blasted a slap shot by Brian Elliott for the game-winner.

Barzal set him up with his third assist of the game.

Leo Komarov added an empty-net goal with four seconds to play.

Along with the offensive stars of the night — Barzal, Eberle, Pulock — starting goalie Semyon Varlamov also played a strong game, stopping 35 out of 38 shots, including a handful of highlight reel saves. Don’t let the three goals against on the stat sheet fool you — the Islanders leaned on him heavily in the second and third periods and left him with little margin for error.

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: Flyers visit Islanders on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

With their win last night, the Flyers moved into the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. They are just one point behind the Islanders, who sit third in the Metro. The Islanders moved into third place in the Metro with their win over the division-leading Capitals last night. They are looking to make the playoffs for the second straight season under Barry Trotz after reaching the Second Round last year.

The Flyers have alternated missing and making the playoffs in each of the past seven seasons. Last season, Philadelphia finished 16 points outside the playoffs but have turned things around under new head coach Alain Vigneault, who led each of his previous two teams (Vancouver and New York Rangers) to the Stanley Cup Final.

After going 13 games without a goal, Flyers captain Claude Giroux has now scored in two straight games. With three points (1G-2A) in Saturday’s win against Washington, Giroux reached 800 points for his NHL career (now 801 points in 876 games). He is the 4th player in Flyers history to reach 800 points.

This is the first of a three-game road trip for the Flyers, facing the Islanders tonight before heading down to Florida to take on the Panthers and Lightning. The Flyers have recently improved their play on the road, winning two straight road games and taking points in each of their last five on the road (3-0-2).

This game will be played at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn as the Islanders continue to split their home games with Nassau Coliseum. Despite the complaints from both fans and players, the Islanders have been excellent at the Barclays Center recently. They’ve not lost in regulation in Brooklyn this season (6-0-3).

The Islanders have continued to rotate Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov in net. With Greiss earning the win last night against Washington, it looks to be Varlamov’s turn tonight. While the two have had almost identical numbers this season, Varlamov has struggled as of late, losing seven of his last nine starts (2-6-1).

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Philadelphia Flyers at New York Islanders
WHERE: Barclays Center
WHEN: Tuesday, Feb. 11, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Islanders-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

FLYERS
Claude Giroux – Sean CouturierJakub Voracek
Joel FarabeeKevin HayesTravis Konecny
James van RiemsdykScott LaughtonTyler Pitlick
Michael RafflConnor BunnamanNicolas Aube-Kubel

Ivan ProvorovMatt Niskanen
Travis SanheimPhilippe Myers
Robert HaggJustin Braun

Starting goalie: Brian Elliott

ISLANDERS
Anders LeeMathew BarzalJordan Eberle
Anthony BeauvillierBrock NelsonJosh Bailey
Kiefer Bellows – Derick BrassardMichael Dal Colle
Matt MartinCasey CizikasLeo Komarov

Devon ToewsRyan Pulock
Nick LeddyJohnny Boychuk
Noah DobsonScott Mayfield

Starting goalie: Semyon Varlamov

Brendan Burke and Brian Boucher will call the action at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Kathryn Tappen will anchor studio coverage alongside analysts Patrick Sharp and Ben Lovejoy.

NHL Power Rankings: Teams that need to be most active at trade deadline

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we take another look ahead to the trade deadline (Feb. 24, 3 p.m. ET) and the teams that are in most need of a move.

Some teams need some help just to get in the playoffs.

Others need the missing piece to take them from a playoff team to a Stanley Cup contender.

We are trying to focus on teams that have a chance to make the playoffs and be potential buyers.

Important to note, just to avoid any confusion: This is NOT a ranking of team quality or which team is playing best. It is strictly a ranking of which team is need of making a trade to add to its roster over the next few weeks. We take an occasional break from simply ranking team performance. This is one of those times. 

To the rankings!

Bubble teams with most pressing needs

• New York Islanders. Their overall record looks great, but the Islanders have been an average (at best) team for two months now and are still in desperate need of offense. Lou Lamoriello has made just one trade in his year-and-a-half with the team (he acquired Matt Martin not long after he was hired) and it’s time for him to add to his roster.

• Edmonton Oilers. With the Pacific Division being as weak as it is with no clear-cut favorite at the moment there is actually manageable path here for the Oilers to make a deep run in the playoffs. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl can take over any game and win it by themselves, but they can’t do it by themselves every single night. Get them some forward help and finally make something out of the best scoring duo in the league.

• Florida Panthers. Sergei Bobrovsky is taking all of the blame for their goal prevention issues, but the defense bleeds shots and chances against. If they shore that up a little Panthers fans would have reason to be excited.

• Toronto Maple Leafs. They could use a backup goalie upgrade to take some of the workload off of Frederik Andersen. They could also use a defensive upgrade.

• Columbus Blue Jackets. They do not have the trade assets to go all in like they did a year ago, but a little extra offense would go a long way.

• Vegas Golden Knights. Like Toronto, some goaltending depth would be significant for the stretch run of the regular season. They could also use an upgrade to their blue line.

• Carolina Hurricanes. The Dougie Hamilton injury creates a pretty big hole on their blue line. Maybe a spot for Sami Vatanen here?

Contenders that could use some extra help

• St. Louis Blues. They’ve found more offense than I expected them to without Vladimir Tarasenko, but they are in the market for a top-six winger. That could put them over the top for a repeat run in the West.

• Pittsburgh Penguins. You know Jim Rutherford is going to make a trade. He just is. It is what he does. He always does. The only question is whether he adds a top-line winger to replace Jake Guentzel, or if he adds some depth to his fourth line, or makes a tweak to his defense. He might even do all three.

• Colorado Avalanche. The X-factor in the West because they could do pretty much anything they want with their trade assets and salary cap space. When you have a window to win the Stanley Cup you owe it to yourself, your players, and your fans to go for it. That window is there for the Avalanche, and they have the long-term salary flexibility to add someone that is not just a rental.

• Dallas Stars. As long as their goaltending holds up they will be a tough out, but they need more offense.

• Boston Bruins. A depth move or two along the same lines as the Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson additions last year would seem to be in order here.

Teams that need to figure out what they are

• Chicago Blackhawks. Stan Bowman needs to decide if his bubble team is good enough to add to right now and if he wants to risk losing Robin Lehner and/or Erik Gustafsson for nothing this offseason. They are in the playoff race, but not enough of a lock to be a true buyer.

• Calgary Flames. They weren’t as good as their record looked a year ago, but they are probably not as bad as their current record. The lack of a true contender in their division might push them to make a move.

• Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers’ trade deadline plans might depend on which version of the team shows up over the next two weeks.

• Nashville Predators. If they figure out the special teams and get in the playoffs this could be a team that goes on a run. But they put themselves in quite a hole that getting there is going to be a struggle and have some pending free agents. They are in that middle ground between buyer and seller. The next few games will dictate where this goes.

Is there room for another move?

• Arizona Coyotes. They already made their big move — Taylor Hall — and a lot of people that aren’t paying attention to their situation may not realize just how close they are to the salary cap. Do they have the flexibility — and the resources after adding Hall — to make another move? Seems like this is the roster they will sink or swim with this season.

• Vancouver Canucks. They do not have a lot of salary cap space, their first-round pick (assuming they make the playoffs) is going to Tampa Bay as a result of the J.T. Miller trade, and for as good as they have been they still need to keep their eyes on the bigger, long-term picture. Their options are very limited.

Really now, what do these teams actually need?

• Tampa Bay Lightning. On paper this is still one of the most complete rosters in the league. They could always tweak something at the bottom of the lineup, but there is nothing here that is a major need.

• Washington Capitals. The biggest (and maybe only) question with the Capitals right now is the fact Braden Holtby may not be very good anymore and is a question mark going into the playoffs. The good news is his replacement (Ilya Samsonov) is already on the roster and looks to be outstanding.

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.