Big changes have led to big results for Flames

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After they made the playoffs in 2016-17, the Calgary Flames were expected to take a step forward last season. Their failure do so led them to a coaching change and a blockbuster trade with Carolina. So far, those two things have worked out in a big way.

As of right now, the Flames find themselves in second over in the NHL standings, with 60 points. Only the Tampa Bay Lightning (70 points) are ahead of them. New head coach Bill Peters has found a way to get all of his team’s parts firing at the same time.

Although Calgary finds themselves in the middle of the pack when it comes to goals against, they’ve found a way to put the puck in the back of the net with regularity through 45 games. Their 162 goals for are third in the league behind Tampa and San Jose.

When we think of the best lines in hockey, we often think of the top lines in Colorado, Tampa or even Washington, but it’s time to start showing some love to Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm. Gaudreau (66 points in 45 games) is third in league scoring, Monahan (54 points in 45 games) is 11th, and Lindholm (51 points in 45 games) is 16th. Lindholm, who was one of the two players acquired from the ‘Canes over the summer, has already surpassed his career high in points. He’s been an excellent fit with those two players. Oh, and by the way, Matthew Tkachuk is 17th in league scoring with 51 points in 45 games.

As PostMedia’s Wes Gilberston pointed out earlier this week, the Flames are the first team since the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins to have four players hit the 50-point mark at this stage of the season. Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis and Tomas Sandstrom accomplished that for the Pens.

Another reason the Flames have been so hard to stop this year, is because of their depth on defense. First, 35-year-old Mark Giordano is having the best year of his career. He’s put himself in the Norris Trophy conversation by picking up 43 points in 43 games. T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic and the other piece of the trade with Carolina, Noah Hanifin, round out the top four. That’s an impressive group of defenders for one team to possess.

So, adding Peters behind the bench and acquiring Lindholm and Hanifin from Carolina have been excellent moves. Johnny Gaudreau taking his game to another level is also a huge reason why the Flames are where they are today. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t vulnerable.

The biggest question mark they have can be found between the pipes. Mike Smith, who comes with a cap hit of $4.25M, hasn’t been the answer. The 36-year-old has a 12-9-1 record with a 3.09 goals-against-average and a .886 save percentage this season. He just hasn’t been good enough.

So the team decided to turn to David Rittich, who’s been a significant upgrade on Smith. The 26-year-old hasn’t lost a game in regulation since mid-December. He owns a 16-4-3 record with a 2.42 goals-against-average and a .921 save percentage. The numbers look good, but how will he respond when the real pressure begins? We simply don’t know. Can he take his game to another level in the postseason when goals typically tend to drop a little bit? We don’t know.

If he can keep playing this way, the Flames will have a legitimate shot of winning it all. If he doesn’t, they could find themselves bowing out of the playoffs fairly early.

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.

NHL reveals 2019 All-Star Game rosters

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The NHL has revealed the rosters for the 2019 All-Star Game, which will take place at SAP Center in San Jose on Jan. 25-26.

Last week it was announced that Alex Ovechkin (Metropolitan), Auston Matthews (Atlantic), Nathan MacKinnon (Central), and Connor McDavid (Pacific) were voted in as division captains. Ovechkin has since pulled out of the event, so the Metropolitan Division will need a new captain.

Given the format of the event where every team is represented and only 11 players per division get to go, it’s tough to use the “snub” word when talking about someone who’s having an All-Star worthy season but isn’t listed below. But there will likely be a few swaps over the next three weeks as injuries pop up.

[Backstrom, Kopitar, Laine, Skinner highlight NHL All-Star Last Men In vote]

On to the rosters!

Atlantic Division
F Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
F Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
F Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Captain)
F David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins
F Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
F John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs
D Thomas Chabot, Ottawa Senators
D Keith Yandle, Florida Panthers
G Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings
G Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

Potential injury replacements: Mitch Marner, Brayden Point, Jonathan Huberdeau, Mark Stone, Jeff Skinner, Morgan Rielly, Frederik Andersen, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Jaroslav Halak

Metropolitan Division
F Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes
F Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets
F Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
F Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
F Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
F Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils
D John Carlson, Washington Capitals
D Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
G Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
G Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

Potential injury replacements: Phil Kessel, Nicklas Backstrom, Artemi Panarin, Evgeni Malkin, Kyle Palmieri, Chris Kreider, Kris Letang, Zach Werenski, Robin Lehner

Central Division
F Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
F Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche (Captain)
F Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues
F Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche
F Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets
F Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets
D Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars
D Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
G Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild
G Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

Potential injury replacements: Gabriel Landeskog, Alex DeBrincat, Patrik Laine, Ryan Suter, Ben Bishop

Pacific Division
F Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
F Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes
F Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (Captain)
F Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks
F Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks
D Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
D Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
D Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks
G Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights
G John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

Potential injury replacements: Leon Draisaitl, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, Timo Meier, Mark Giordano, Jacob Markstrom, David Rittich

The 2019 NHL All-Star Skills Competition will take place on Friday, Jan. 25 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2019 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 26 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

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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.

Bad news for Wild as Dumba set to miss ‘significant time’

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After dropping a 2-1 decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night the Minnesota Wild find themselves stuck in a three-game losing streak and have now lost 10 of their past 15 games, keeping them on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture.

Things are not looking much better on the injury front.

The Wild announced on Friday that defender Mathew Dumba will undergo surgery next week for an “upper-body injury” and is set to miss a significant amount of time.

“We won’t know [an exact timetable] until they get in there,” said general manager Paul Fenton, via the Wild’s website. “They’re giving me a general timeline, but I don’t want to say anything that just comes back and haunts us. Let’s just make sure first how the surgery goes, and then we’ll make a statement from there.

“Certainly, we were hoping that it was going to be a quick thing to go through things but from talking to doctors, he does need surgery. But for those that have had surgery and they say it’s gonna be six months and you’re walking three months later, that’s what we’re kind of hoping for is that he gets something taken care and maybe it’s quicker.”

Dumba last appeared in a game for the Wild a week ago when he played just five minutes in a loss to the Calgary Flames. He exited that game after the first period and did not return. It is worth noting that he was involved in a fight early in that game with Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk as a carryover from a previous meeting when Dumba injured Mikael Backlund with an open ice hit. Dumba and the Wild have refused to say that fight is where the injury happened, while  Dumba insists he is not sure when it happened.

No matter when or why it happened, this is a huge loss for the Wild in the short-term.

The 24-year-old Dumba is not only one of the team’s most important players, he is having one of the best seasons of his career and was on track to set new career highs across the board while playing close to 24 minutes of ice-time per night. His 12 goals are not only tied for the second most on the team, they lead all NHL defenders while he is one of just three (Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs with 11, and Thomas Chabot of the Ottawa Senators with 10) to have scored more than eight goals so far this season. Chicago Blackhawks defender Erik Gustafsson is the only other one with more than seven.

The Wild are currently eight points out of the third playoff spot in the Central Division and three points back of a Wild Card spot with the Vancouver Canucks and Dallas Stars sitting in front of them. The Wild do, however, have games in hand on every team they are chasing. They finished the 2017-18 season with 101 points, good enough for the eighth best mark in the league, but have struggled for a number of reasons this season, including most recently the extended slump by starting goaltender Devan Dubnyk. He has started to get back on track lately and play at his expected level, but now they are without one of their top defenders.

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.

The Buzzer: Bruins can’t handle Eichel; Jets beat Bolts

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Three Stars

1. Jack Eichel

Remember when people were really worried about Jack Eichel receiving $10 million per season? (Cups ears.) Hmm, not hearing much of that these days.

Eichel gave the Bruins more than they can handle on Sunday, collecting two primary assists (including a beauty on Jeff Skinner‘s game-winner) and two goals to help Buffalo beat Boston. He was really all over the place in this one, firing six shots on goal, enjoying a +3 rating in what was mostly a tight contest.

Buffalo’s captain now has 14 goals and 45 points in 34 games in 2018-19. A healthy portion of that total came during this current six-game point streak, as Eichel has nine goals and four assists for 13 points during that span.

The win was notable for the Sabres, as they at least briefly passed Toronto for second in the Atlantic.

Skinner’s two goals give him 24 for this season, matching last year’s total in just his 34th game of 2018-19.

2. Mark Scheifele

Once you go beyond Eichel, you really start splitting hairs, as there were a lot of three-point games on Sunday.

One tough call is Scheifele vs. his Jets linemate Nikolaj Ehlers. After all, while Scheifele’s three points came from one goal and two assists, Ehlers grabbed two goals and one assist. Under certain circumstances, you’d go Ehlers.

Scheifele assisted on Ehlers’ second goal, which sent the game into overtime. Scheifele then cleaned up a loose puck created by a nice drive to the net by Patrik Laine, ending the game with an overtime game-winner. It’s his second consecutive game with an OT-clincher, apparently.

It sounds like Scheifele has a knack for these situations.

3. Brent Burns

When in doubt, make a significant milestone a tiebreaker. Burns is a rare breed even when you ignore the notion that he could nest baby birds in his beard:

Brent Burns generated three assists as the Sharks took down the Blackhawks on Sunday. With that, he now has 600 points in his career. One can only imagine how many points Burns would have if he had blossomed earlier/a coach as smart as Peter DeBoer came along sooner and optimized his unique set of skills earlier. (His stats with Minnesota vs. San Jose are resoundingly stark, and he really started to get monster minutes around the time DeBoer took over, though Todd McLellan did get that started.)

Other highlights

Maybe a 48-save game wasn’t enough for Andrei Vasilevskiy? The Lightning’s ultra-talented goalie earned a second assist on Sunday, and it’s one of the primary reasons this is such a fun highlight. Just a fantastic goalie-pass:

If Linus Ullmark pans out like Buffalo hopes, opponents better watch out for the Sabres.

More Factoids

Marc-Andre Fleury continues to climb the list of all-time wins for goalies.

In case you’re wondering, Jacques Plante ranks eighth all-time with 437 wins.

Few teams can match the Flames’ top-end talent, and this Johnny Gaudreau/Matthew Tkachuk stat really drives that point home. Gaudreau’s one of those players who had three points on Sunday, by the way.

Scores

VGK 4 – NYR 3 (OT)
CAR 3 – ARI 0
CGY 7 – STL 2
BUF 4 – BOS 2
SJS 7 – CHI 3
WPG 5 – TBL 4 (OT)
VAN 4 – EDM 2

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.

Flames, Wild continue bad blood with three early fights

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When the Minnesota Wild and Calgary Flames met this past week all hell broke loose, resulting in a pair of suspensions to Flames teammates Mark Giordano and Ryan Lomberg.

Giordano was hit with a two-game suspension for kneeing Mikko Koivu, while Lomberg was suspended two games of his own for leaving the bench during a line change to start a fight with Wild defenseman Mathew Dumba. That fight was in response to a big hit by Dumba that injured Mikael Backlund.

A lot of that bad blood spilled over into Saturday’s 2-1 Flames win that featured three fights early in the first period.

Those fights started just 40 seconds into the game when Dumba found himself in a fight with Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk.

Dumba ended up exiting the game after the first period and did not return. Wild coach Bruce Boudreau had no update on his status after the game except to say they would know more on Monday.

The fisticuffs did not stop there. Later in the period Giordano fought Minnesota’s Matt Hendricks.

But there was more! The most unexpected fight of the three featured Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter, who has not been involved in a fight since the 2009 season, dropping the gloves with Sam Bennett

All of that happened in the first 18 minutes of the game.

But Giordano and Tkachuk did not just impact the game with their fists — they also scored goals.

Giordano continued what has been a  career year (and maybe even a Norris Trophy worthy season) by scoring a shorthanded goal mid-way through the first period to give the Flames an early 1-0 lead, while Tkachuk scored his 14th goal of the season in the third period to help give the Flames the win.

David Rittich also continued his surprising play in the Flames’ net by stopping 34 of the 35 shots he faced.

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.