Michael Hutchinson

Associated Press

The Buzzer: Pettersson notches five points; Luongo wins in return

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Three Stars

1. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks

You get the sense that this kid is going to be written in this top spot many times over the next 15 years. He’s just bloody special. Pettersson had two goals and five points in a 7-6 win against the Colorado Avalanche. His second goal of the game came with the score 6-5 Avalanche and 35 seconds left on the clock in the third period. Clutch. Also clutch? An assist on the game-winner in overtime. Pettersson has nine goals and 15 points now in nine games and is starting to run away in the rookie of the year race in early November.

2. Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers 

Luongo wasn’t supposed to feature in Finland at first. Then he was brought on the trip, taken off injured reserve and placed into the net for the first time since around the 32-minute mark of Florida’s season opener. And Luongo picked up right where he left off, saving a lot of pucks. ‘Lou’ shut the door 32 times against the Winnipeg Jets as the Panthers earned a split in Finland. The win was Florida’s third of the season. James Reimer and Michael Hutchinson have been south of brutal thus far so Luongo can stay healthy, it’s likely Florida can start clawing its way back.

3. Antti Raanta, Arizona Coyotes

You have to hand it to a goalie who stopped 48 of 51 shots against a high-power Carolina Hurricanes team. Raanta was the savior on special teams as well, turning aside nine power-play shots on six Carolina power plays. Carolina was 0-for-6 on their opportunities. Raanta and the Coyotes survived a flurry in the third period after getting outshot 23-5 in the final frame. Raanta then had to make a clutch save in overtime to boot to help ‘Yotes to their fifth straight win.

A couple other notables:

  • Brock Boeser snapped an eight-game goalless streak with two goals against Colorado
  • Nathan MacKinnon had a three-point night, including two goals and is up to 11 markers on the season.

Highlights of the Night

Holy moly:

That footwork:

Goalie hat trick:

Factoids

Scores

Panthers 4, Jets 2

Coyotes 4, Hurricanes 3 (OT)

Canucks 7, Avalanche 6 (OT)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule


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

Roberto Luongo’s looming return is big for Panthers

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An in-season journey overseas can be disruptive for even the most well-acquainted teams, yet this Finnish trip isn’t the only curveball the Florida Panthers have been dealing with.

Years of wear and tear (sometimes absorbing a hail of shots, often with Florida) seem to be catching up to Roberto Luongo, and it didn’t take long for them to catch up with the veteran goalie again. Just one game into 2018-19, Luongo suffered an injury that landed him on IR. Thursday brings a positive sign, then: he’s been taken off IR.

The less-good news is that Luongo’s not expected to play in Thursday or Friday’s Global Series games against the Winnipeg Jets, yet coach Bob Boughner believes he is close, as NHL.com’s Brian Compton reports.

“Officially, if [Luongo] is ready, he could play, but we’re going to make that decision tomorrow,” Boughner said. “I could see him more playing when we get back home, [but] he’s close. He’s real close.”

Considering what the 39-year-old goalie has been through, it’s not that surprising that Florida’s being conservative regarding Luongo’s return. Bougher wants him to be at “110 percent,” which is something we should all strive for, really.

(You had me at 85 percent.)

When Luongo went down with his latest injury, the thought was that Florida was at least reasonably prepared to roll without their No. 1 goalie.

After all, James Reimer‘s been either a starting goalie (in Toronto) or a prominent “platoon” option for some time, and the Panthers scooped up a reasonably inexperienced netminder in Michael Hutchinson as added goalie insurance. If nothing else, the Panthers are allocating serious resources beyond Luongo; Reimer’s $3.4 million cap hit runs for three more seasons.

Well, they haven’t really been getting their money’s worth so far. The Panthers head into this game against the Jets with a frustrating 2-4-3 record, and poor goaltending ranks as one of their biggest issues. Reimer’s been disappointing (.878 save percentage in seven games) and Hutchinson’s been lousy (.839 in four games), so it’s not shocking that Florida ranks among the dregs as far as team save percentage goes.

The Panthers can’t expect their battered puckstopper to heal all wounds, but you can forgive them for crossing their fingers that Luongo might at least stop the bleeding.

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.

NHL on NBCSN: Laine, Barkov set for spotlight in Finland

NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Thursday afternoon’s matchup between the Winnipeg Jets and the Florida Panthers at 2 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

For the NHL, the next two days is a chance to showcase their product to a country that sports one of the league’s best talent streams.

For Finland, it’s a rare chance to bask in their homegrown talent. Two teams, each possessing two of the top exports ever produced on the east side of the Gulf of Bothnia, which spills into the Baltic Sea.

Patrik Laine — Suomi’s great sniper.

Aleksander Barkov  — Suomi’s great all-rounder

The Battle of Tampere in the Land of a Thousand Lakes, the home of Darude and Sandstorm.

Both Laine and the Winnipeg Jets and Bakov and the Florida Panthers enter this rendition of the NHL’s Global Series in considerably different places.

Laine has flat out struggled out of the gate. Aside from his three power-play goals and one power-play assist, the ‘Finnisher’ has but one point in five-on-five situations in 12 games this season.

It’s been a tough go for the 20-year-old in his third NHL season. Jets coach Paul Maurice has had to bring out the industrial blender more than once over the past few games. Each press of that blend button has produced a different result. Stints on first, second, third and fourth line have all been tried.

So far, nothing has worked.

Despite this, the Jets have cobbled together a 7-4-1 record with Laine running on less-than-optimal fuel.

[WATCH LIVE – 2 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Conversely, Barkov has eight points in nine games, picking up right where he left off after last season’s career year. But one wonders if he’d trade in some of those for a couple more wins.

Barkov’s problem isn’t himself, but rather his team. Florida has just two wins to show for in their first nine tries.

Another season has meant another injury for starter Roberto Luongo. His rotten luck has forced Florida into relying on James Reimer and Michael Hutchinson, an endeavor that hasn’t exactly panned out. Both of Luongo’s understudies sport save percentages well below .900 and have mostly failed to perform at even the minimum level required to win.

Florida sits in the middle of the pack in terms of goals-per-game but hovers near the bottom in goals-against. The math isn’t that complicated: score fewer + give up more = lose many. That math has checked out.

Both teams have had several days now to ponder their respective lots in life.

Laine should be salivating at the thought of seeing Reimer and Hutchinson over the next 48 hours. On the golden hockey scale, the guy who can’t seem to score five-on-five should outweigh the goalie who can’t stop pucks.

The pressure on Laine is growing, and he knows the kind of stakes he’s walking into.

“This might be the only time in my life that I’m able to play an NHL game back home,” Laine told the Winnipeg Sun.

Barkov, too.

“We’re just going to play as hard as we can and try to adjust to the atmosphere,” he told NHL.com. “I know it’s going to be really nice to play here and good fans and everything will be different than America, but it’s still really big points for us.”

Both teams are trying to achieve similar outcomes at the end of the day.

In 48 hours, we may be talking about Laine getting his season back on the rails or Florida right back in the thick of things in the Atlantic Division.

Neither is also a possibility, but with two Finns getting a chance to grab bragging rights, it’s likely at least one is in the cards.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule


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

Panthers turn to James Reimer again following Luongo injury

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This is why the Florida Panthers signed James Reimer to the deal that they did in 2016. The five-year, $17M contract handed to the goaltender meant that the team had adequate coverage should an aging Roberto Luongo go down with injury.

And here we are. Again.

Panthers head coach Bob Boughner announced on Monday that the 39-year-old Luongo will miss the next 2-4 weeks with a Grade 1 MCL sprain in his knee suffered during Saturday night’s loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning when teammate Frank Vatrano fell on his leg.

The team has prepared for situations like this by signing Reimer two years ago and adding Michael Hutchinson, who made 87 starts for the Winnipeg Jets from 2014-2018 before signing a one-year deal with the Panthers over the summer. Injuries have hit Luongo in each of the past two seasons, causing him to making only 72 starts between 2016-17 and 2017-18.

“In his absence, it’s just win some hockey games. That’s what we train for all summer to do,” Riemer said on Monday.

Reimer has made 88 appearances since joining the Panthers, posting a .922 even strength save percentage and helping them to 40 wins. Luongo has the exact ESSV% over the same span in 76 appearances.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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.

It’s Winnipeg Jets Day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Winnipeg Jets. 

2017-18
52-20-10, 114 pts. (2nd in the Central Division, 2nd in the Western Conference)
Playoffs: Lost in five games to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final

IN
Laurent Brossoit

OUT
Shawn Matthias
Paul Stastny
Joel Armia
Matt Hendricks
Toby Enstrom
Steve Mason
Michael Hutchinson

RE-SIGNED
Adam Lowry
Marko Dano
Brandon Tanev
Jacob Trouba
Connor Hellebuyck
Nic Petan
Joe Morrow
Tucker Poolman

– – –

If there’s a better model for drafting and developing, we’d like to see it.

The Winnipeg Jets have endured some painful years since relocating from Atlanta in 2011. Their only foray into the playoffs came via a backdoor entrance in 2014-15. only to be quickly escorted out after four games by the Anaheim Ducks.

Since then, the Jets have chosen to stay patient with youth, get lucky in the draft lottery with Patrik Laine, and build a team that now owns contender status for years to come.

Last season was a culmination of sorts for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s oft-criticized philosophy. When the Jets were losing, the plan wasn’t working in the eyes of many.

The contract extensions of both Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice prior to last season were questioned and rightfully so, given their records up until that point. Maurice led the Jets to playoffs in his first year as bench boss but had failed to do so in the two years following. Cheveldayoff had drafted well, with the likes of Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, Nikolaj Ehlers and Josh Morrissey as mantle pieces, but the on-ice product hadn’t produced the desired results.

But when it came together this year, a lot of minds were changed.

The Jets rattled off 52 wins, a franchise record, to finish second in the Western Conference with 114 points, three shy of the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Nashville Predators.

[Jets Day: Under PressureBreakthrough | Three Questions]

The biggest proponent of this was the play of Connor Hellebuyck, who produced a 44-win season to break a franchise record and also a record for wins in an NHL season by an American-born goalie.

A year ago, the Jets made the decision to go out an sign Steve Mason on July 1, handing the former Calder Trophy winner a two-year, $8.2 million contract. The money made him the de facto No. 1, as did Hellebuyck’s not-so-strong showing in 2016-17.

The Jets needed a starting goalie and Mason was their guy — for two games.

The 30-year-old struggled out of the gate, and by the third game of the season, Hellebuyck had taken back his starting spot, grabbing it with an iron grip.

While Mason struggled with injuries — many of them — Hellebuyck thrived, finishing the season with a .924 save percentage and a second-place showing in Vezina Trophy voting.

Mason, the crown jewel of Winnipeg’s 2017 offseason, was rendered expendable by the team a year later after he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens for cap relief purposes and then bought out one day before free agency opened on July 1 by the Habs.

Hellebuyck’s offseason turnaround a year ago simultaneously crowned the Jets Stanley Cup contenders while forcing the team to find a way to get rid of the guy they brought in to take his job.

And the man got paid. 

Of course, it wasn’t all Hellebuyck last season.

Blake Wheeler had a phenomenal year — a career year — with 91 points. Wheeler’s biggest contribution may not have come on the scoresheet either, but at center, where he played for 16 games when Mark Scheifele went down injured. His play during that time helped the Jets to an 11-2-3 record with Scheifele out of the lineup. What was supposed to be a potentially season-threatening blow was nothing more than a blip on the radar, and showed how deep this Jets team was.

The Jets became buyers at the trade deadline, acquiring Paul Stastny in a deal that flew under the radar until it was announced.

Stastny formed an instant chemistry with Laine and Ehlers and was the hero in Game 7 against the Nashville Predators in the second round, producing a three-point game to live up to his nickname of Mr. Game 7.

The Jets dominated the Minnesota Wild in the first round, and grew as a team in the second against the Predators — a team many expected to achieve Stanley Cup glory — winning a seven-game thriller.

Then they hit a wall — specifically Marc-Andre Fleury — in the Western Conference Final, losing in five games as the well of offense that had benefitted them all season ran dry.

Disappointment, certainly, but the Jets showed they’re now a team to be reckoned with.

The Jets lost Stastny in free agency, despite their best efforts to re-sign him. It’s a blow, surely, but the reality is the Jets were a very good team before signing him. It hurts, but it doesn’t break the Jets.

And the simple truth is the Jets are now a legitimate Cup contender going forward. They learned a lot in the playoffs as a young group and now need to apply that to the coming season.

Prospect Pool

Sami Niku, D, 21, Manitoba (AHL) – 2015 seventh-round pick

Niku led all American Hockey League defenseman in points with 54 in 76 games. He was named the best defenseman in the whole of the AHL, a first-team all-star and named to the all-rookie team. That’s right. Niku was a rookie last season, making his numbers all the more impressive to look at. Couple that with the fact that he was a seventh-round draft pick, and the Jets may own another steal from the 2015 draft.

Niku has a very good chance of taking a roster spot next season on Winnipeg’s backend. He could be the new partner of Dustin Byfuglien, depending on how things shake down in training camp.

“Antifreeze in the veins, that’s the way he looked,” Jets head coach Paul Maurice said after Niku scored his first NHL goal on his first NHL shot in March.

Kristian Vesalainen, LW/RW, 19, Karpat (Liiga) – 2017 first-round pick

Scored 43 points in 49 games split between HPK and Karpat, who Vesalainen was traded to near the end of the season in the Finnish Elite League. In the playoffs, he helped Karpat to a league title with eight points in 18 games and showed his prowess on the power play during the regular season as he paced Liiga with 14 markers.

Vesalainen signed an entry-level contract this past week. He’s headed to Jets training camp and will compete for a spot, although it’s likely the team will want him to play in the American Hockey League.

For the first year of Vesalainen’s contract, he has a clause where if he fails to make the Jets, he can return to Europe to play. He wouldn’t burn a year of his entry-level deal, so there’s no risk there for the Jets, but having him playing in North America will be the goal this season.

Mason Appleton, C/RW, 22, Manitoba (AHL) – 2015 sixth-round pick

Like Niku, Appleton was a late-round pick who has found a different gear in the AHL. After completing two years at Michigan State University, Appleton came into the professional ranks and put up a dazzling year with 22 goals and 66 points in 76 games as a rookie.

Appleton’s play garnered him AHL All-Rookie Team, AHL First All-Star Team and AHL Rookie of the Year Honors. He also paced all rookies with assists (44) and points. A second year in the AHL is likely for Appleton, but he will get a look in training camp. Vesalainen is the better player, but Appleton could see time this year if injuries occur.


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