Michael Hutchinson

Connor McDavid of Edmonton Oilers
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The Buzzer: McDavid’s hat trick; Scheifele continues clutch play

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Three Stars

1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers captain recorded his fifth career hat trick on a night he registered his 400th career point. The speed is tantalizing but we have seen quick players before. McDavid however, is equipped with all the attributes needed to become the generational player he was destined to be. Leon Draisaitl is not only riding shotgun with McDavid, but also co-driving the bus as he chipped in with four assists as this dynamic tandem continues to be impossible to slow down.

2. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets

Often overlooked when discussing the best players of the game, Scheifele scored the game-deciding goal for the second straight game as the Winnipeg Jets defeated the Dallas Stars in overtime. The alternate captain took the puck from Tyler Seguin in his own zone, then darted toward the other end of the ice before firing a wrist shot between the legs of the Stars goaltender to help Winnipeg extend its point streak to five games (4-0-1).

3. Robin Lehner, Chicago Blackhawks

When a goalie allows four goals, they typically are not praised for their performance, but Robin Lehner proved to be an exception. His 53 saves were a career high, and just enough to help Chicago defeat Boston, 5-4. Toronto made a strong push in the final period, tossing 26 shots on net and beating Lehner three times, but the Blackhawks produced enough offensively to walk away with two points. Without No. 40 between the pipes, the Leafs could have blown out the Hawks.

Highlights of the Night

After his original shot was blocked, Patrick Kane collected a rebound in the high slot and fired a long-range backhand past Michael Hutchinson. The goal itself is a special highlight, but the fact it came 10 seconds after Kirby Dach’s strike is equally impressive.

In the end, it doesn’t mean much but Kaapo Kakko converted a nifty to deke to keep the Rangers alive in a shootout they would eventually lose. The Finnish rookie also scored a power-play goal earlier in the game, but the shootout maneuver was a small glimpse at how much skill this talented forward will bring to the NHL.

Ever since coming into the league, Patrik Laine was compared to Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals, largely because they had booming right-handed shots. On Sunday, Laine did his best impersonation when he launched a one-timer from Ovechkin’s power-play office. The accuracy of the shot was highlighted when it bounced out of the net as quick as it went in.

Factoids

  • Connor McDavid became the eighth player in NHL history to have reached the 400-point mark before their 23rd birthday [NHL PR].
  • Robin Lehner became the fourth different Chicago Blackhawks goalie to record at least 53 saves in a game since 1955-56 (when saves began officially being tracked [NHL PR].
  • Kirby Dach and Patrick Kane scored 10 seconds apart which marked the fifth time since 1989-90 the Blackhawks scored twice in a span of 10 seconds or less. [NHL PR].
  • The Devils extended their win streak against the Canucks to 11 games, the second longest run against one opponent in franchise history [NHL PR].
  • Phillippe Myers became the seventh different Flyers defenseman to record a three-game goal streak, and first since 1986-87 [NHL PR].

Notable injury update

  • The event happened Saturday night, but the Toronto Maple Leafs announced Sunday that forward Mitch Marner will miss at least the next four weeks, and then will be reassessed by the team’s medical staff. Read more

Scores

Panthers 2, Rangers 1 (SO)

Jets 3, Stars 2 (OT)

Devils 2, Canucks 1

Red Wings 3, Golden Knights 2

Blackhawks 5, Maplea Leafs 4

Flyers 3, Bruins 2 (SO)

Oilers 6, Canucks 2

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Which slow-starting Stanley Cup contender can turn it around?

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One month into the NHL season and there are a lot of things in the standings that are upside down.

Teams like Buffalo, Edmonton, and Vancouver that were expected to be in the basement are all near the top, while Stanley Cup contenders like Tampa Bay, Toronto, and San Jose have stumbled.

It is a long season and the early surprises still have to prove they have staying power, while the the disappointments have time to turn things around. We have seen the latter happen over the past few years with the 2019 St. Louis Blues and 2016 Pittsburgh Penguins overcoming brutal starts to win the Stanley Cup. Not every team is that lucky, and both of those examples needed to go undergo significant in-season changes to their roster and coaching staff to reach the top.

Is there a preseason contender off to a slow start this year capable of such a turnaround?

Let’s look at three of the big ones.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Confidence in a turnaround: Fairly high

The pressure is on for this team to do something significant this season and so far they are not really doing much to inspire confidence that this team will turn out any different than the past three. They can score a lot of goals, they give up a lot of goals, and as of Thursday have won just six of their first 14 games of the season. It is one of the worst 14-game stretches they have had over the past three years, being topped only by their 14-game stretch to end the 2018-19 season (when they won only four games down the stretch).

If you’re looking for a positive in Toronto it’s that for all of the struggles they have had so far there are signs that they can easily get this turned around.

For one, they are going to be getting John Tavares back soon. That’s a big add to the lineup.

And for as much as they have struggled to keep the puck out of their own net, a lot of that is related to the play of their goalies. They still have their share of flaws defensively, but they are the second-best shot attempt differential team in the league and while they still give up a lot of shot attempts, they have  cut that number down from where it was a year ago. The biggest issue is in goal where Frederik Andersen has not yet played up to his expected level and backup Michael Hutchinson has given them literally zero chance in the four games he has started.

There is reason to believe Andersen will be better based on his track record, and a backup goalie can be fixed with a trade. Better goaltending can fix a lot of these early problems.

Whether that is enough to get by the Boston Bruins or to actually do something in the playoffs remains to be seen. But they will be there and have the chance.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Confidence in a turnaround: High, but with some caution

Always bet on talent, and the Lightning are still the most talented team in the league on paper. That is the good news.

Here is my concern: Do you remember about a decade ago when the Washington Capitals were the best regular season team in the league every year, won the Presidents’ Trophy with 54 wins, and then got bounced in Round 1 by a No. 8 seed Montreal team that would have had no chance in beating them if not for a super-human goaltending performance from Jaroslav Halak? And then the Capitals responded by trying to fix themselves by changing what they did and the way they played only to self-sabotage themselves and take about two steps backwards?

I fear the Lightning have hit that phase.

It is not just the fact that they are not winning as regularly as they have that is concerning. It is the way they are playing. They are getting out-shot, out-attempted, out-chanced, and out-everything during 5-on-5 play. They have one of the worst shot attempt differentials in the league through 12 games and are simply not generating as much as they did a year ago. They are still scoring goals, but they are relying heavily on the power play to do it and not carrying play at even-strength. No one seems to be afraid of the team that put the fear of god into every opponent for 82 games just one year ago.

Is it a matter of simply working through some new ideas? A slow start with some needed adversity? Or a concerning trend that is maybe an overreaction to (an admittedly horrible) postseason defeat?

[Related: Lightning fighting through some early season adversity]

San Jose Sharks

Confidence in a turnaround: Not without a major change or two. 

The goaltending is still a major issue, but we already knew that. They also do not seem to have any interest in trying to fix it, something else that should have been obvious after the way last year unfolded.

But that is not the only thing broken here. The whole system seems broken. This has been, quite simply, the worst 5-on-5 team in the league this season by pretty much any objective measure you want to look at it. You want to look at underlying numbers like shot attempts, scoring chances, high-danger chances, or expected goals? All among the worst in the league and down near the potential lottery teams.

You want to look at something more basic like simply goals for and against? Worst in the NHL at 5-on-5, getting outscored by a 37-19 margin. That is goals-for percentage of just 33 percent. The next worst team in the league in that category is Detroit at 40 percent (20 for, 29 against). There is no way to sugarcoat that, it is just bad with a capital B-A-D.

There was a point last year where the Blues were playing the right way, doing everything well defensively, and still losing because they couldn’t get a goalie to make a save. All they needed was somebody to solidify that position to turn things around. The Sharks still need that, too. But what’s even worse is that they also need the rest of the team to get its act straightened out as well.

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.

NHL Power Rankings: Pastrnak, Marchand carry Bruins to top spot

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The Boston Bruins may have their share of question marks, but if you are going to be a top-heavy team you better have one hell of a top line and a darn good goalie to help mask whatever flaws your roster may have. Fortunately for the Bruins, they have both of those things.

Their top line of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron has been the ultimate game-changer in the NHL this season, and when you sprinkle in some great goaltending from the duo of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak it has helped power them to an 8-1-2 start and the top spot in this week’s PHT Power Rankings.

The Pastrnak-Marchand duo is the one grabbing headlines here. Entering play on Monday both players are among the top-five point producers in the league, while they rank first and second in points-per-game. They each have eight points apiece (in only three games) over the past week alone. When they are on the ice at 5-on-5 for the season the Bruins are controlling 60 percent of the shot attempts and outscored teams by a 14-4 margin. When neither player is on the ice those numbers drop to 49 percent (shot attempts) and a minus-2 goal differential (8-10). They are as dominant as a line can get.

Is it a sustainable way to win? Probably not, and eventually they will need some help. But the Bruins have time to address the depth issues again, and there is certainly room for improvement from within. For now, though, they get the top spot.

Where does everyone else fit this week? To the rankings!

1. Boston Bruins. The forward depth after the top line is a concern, but we have said this for about two years now and it never seems to slow them down.

2. Colorado Avalanche. Mikko Rantanen‘s injury is a big loss but they should have enough to overcome it for as long as he is sidelined, especially after their big offseason to improve their depth.

3. Washington Capitals. They keep scoring goals and piling up wins and it still feels like they have another level they can still get to.

4. Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres can not collapse again. They can not do that again to a loyal fan base that has waited so long for something to get excited about. Do not do this to them again, Buffalo.

5. New York Islanders. This season was going to be a big test to see how much of last year’s turnaround was Barry Trotz and how much of it was the two goalies. Even with a different goalie in place they just keep right on winning. Seven in a row entering Monday.

6. Arizona Coyotes. After losing their first two games (and only scoring one goal) the Coyotes are 6-1-1 in their last eight and are averaging more than four goals per game.

7. Nashville Predators. Not very often you see two defenders leading a team in scoring, but that is the situation the Predators are in right now with Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis pacing their team.

8. Carolina Hurricanes. They cooled off a bit after their fast start, but they are still waiting for their top players to start filling the back of the net. Still a dangerous team in the Eastern Conference.

9. Florida Panthers. There is probably no team in the NHL that wants to ban the shootout more than the Panthers, consistently one of the league’s worst teams in the tiebreaker.

10. Edmonton Oilers. There is still a glaring lack of talent around the top four forwards, and that will eventually do them in.

11. Vancouver Canucks. Who knows how many games the Canucks are capable of winning this season, but this much is certain: With Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Quinn Hughes they will be worth watching every night.

12. Tampa Bay Lightning. What is mildly concerning about this team after 10 games is that they are one of the league’s worst teams in shot-attempt differential, a strong indicator they are spending way too much time defending and not enough time dictating the pace of the game. Something to watch.

13. Vegas Golden Knights. The results have been inconsistent but the process is there and the roster is still full of talent. They will put it together.

14. Pittsburgh Penguins. They are starting to get healthy and for the first time this season we might get to actually see what their roster was intended to look like. Evgeni Malkin said on Monday he’s targeting a Saturday return to the lineup.

15. St. Louis Blues. The Vladimir Tarasenko injury is a huge blow to the defending champs. He is this team’s game-breaker offensively and that is nearly impossible to replace.

16. Philadelphia Flyers. It is actually surprising they have collected as many points as they have given how poorly Carter Hart‘s season has started.

17. Columbus Blue Jackets. They may take a step backwards but they are not going to go away quietly.

18. Montreal Canadiens. Jonathan Drouin becoming the impact player Montreal hoped he would be when he was acquired a couple of years ago would be a big development.

19. Toronto Maple Leafs. They still have their share of questions on defense, but the biggest thing sinking them right now is goaltending. Frederik Andersen has not played up to his standard and Michael Hutchinson has been a mess in the backup role.

20. Minnesota Wild. They are starting to show some signs of life after a horrendous start. The recent schedule has helped, but beating the teams you are supposed to beat is a good start.

21. Calgary Flames. In the three years before joining Calgary Elias Lindholm scored 38 goals in 235 games. He already has 34 goals in 94 games with the Flames.

22. Anaheim Ducks. This team is going to need goaltending to carry it, and fortunately for them they might have the best duo in the league.

23. Winnipeg Jets. Given the way their entire defense disappeared on them in the span of six months they have probably overachieved a bit. They still only have two regulation wins all year and none since Oct. 10. Not a great sign.

24. Dallas Stars. They won a few games this week to maybe start getting back on track, but they did not look particularly good in doing so. Still a team with a lot of flaws.

25. San Jose Sharks. The goaltending still stinks and the rest of the team is not playing well enough to cover it up as it did a year ago. Bad combination.

26. Chicago Blackhawks. Playing one of the few teams that has been worse than them so far (Los Angeles) was just what they needed on Sunday. There are still a lot of problems with this team.

27. Los Angeles Kings. This is a bad team, but Jonathan Quick is giving up four-and-a-half goals every time he starts. How much longer can they continue running him out there even semi-regularly?

28. New York Rangers. If Mika Zibanejad has to miss any time that would make an already sluggish offensive team even worse.

29. New Jersey Devils. This team has already blown a season’s worth of multiple-goal leads. On the plus side, Jack Hughes has points in three consecutive games (five points total in those games).

30. Ottawa Senators. Do you know what the best news for Ottawa is right now? A lot of players that could be used as trade chips (Conor Brown, Anthony Duclair, Vladislav Namestnikov) are having decent starts.

31. Detroit Red Wings. If Steve Yzerman wasn’t already aware of how big of a job he had to do when he took over, he certainly does now.

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.

Maple Leafs enter Marleau reunion in a tense state

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“Sometimes you gotta yell at your family,” is something you’d expect from Archie Bunker or some other disheveled sitcom dad, not Auston Matthews when he’s talking about the Toronto Maple Leafs. Yet that’s how Matthews explains his approach as the Maple Leafs have been soul-searching (and maybe screaming) amidst a troubling 5-4-2 start.

It feels a bit like the sort of mess that would get a teenager in trouble, so maybe it’s only fitting that Friday represents the return of “dad,” as Patrick Marleau and the San Jose Sharks will face the Maple Leafs in Toronto.

Marleau’s first game against the Maple Leafs since taking a circuitous route back to San Jose seems like as good a time as ever to dig deeper on Toronto’s troubles, and ponder Marleau’s hot start.

How dysfunctional is this Leafs family?

If the playoffs began before Friday’s games, the Maple Leafs would be on the outside looking in. It’s almost as troubling that other teams in the bubble could pass Toronto thanks to games in hand:

The Maple Leafs’ goals for (40) vs. against (39) categories segue smoothly into an explanation of how Toronto’s played so far in 2019-20: they’s scored a lot of goals, yet unfortunately have allowed almost as many.

Indeed, you can trot out a positive sign, and then quickly “Yeah, but …” away most points of optimism.

They’ve controlled the higher number of events by Corsi, Fenwick, and scoring chance measures at even-strength, but Natural Stat Trick’s measures indicate that they’ve allowed more high-danger scoring chances at 5-on-5 (80) than they’ve generated (72).

The Maple Leafs have, essentially, been what many people thought they were: a team trying to outscore its problems.

Where things can change

To some extent, the Maple Leafs might just need to live by the sword, and die by the sword. The key, then, is to stay sharp in areas where they can.

Most obviously, the Maple Leafs need to avoid the penalty box. While their power play hums along (25-percent success rate, eight PPG), they’ve allowed just as many power-play goals (eight), thanks to going on the PK 38 times versus only getting 32 power-play chances. Such discipline troubles are especially confounding being that the Maple Leafs have only played four of their first 11 games on the road (it’s human nature for home teams to get at least moderately favorable officiating, after all).

While every season is different, there’s justification to believe that the Maple Leafs can be smarter with their sticks. They were only shorthanded 204 times in 2018-19, the second-lowest total in the NHL.

Being on the PK less often should help their goalies to a degree, but either way, the Maple Leafs need more out of the likes of Frederik Andersen, Michael Hutchinson, and possibly others.

Honestly, the Leafs might not have a ton of hope getting more out of Hutchinson, yet Andersen’s capable of much better. To remind you of the warping effects of small sample sizes, consider the strange quirk that, so far this season, Andersen’s PK save percentage (.881) is slightly higher than his even-strength mark (.879). Considering that Andersen’s career even-strength save percentage is .923, you can expect improvement, even if this ends up being an off year.

Ultimately, the Maple Leafs need to optimize, even if they might see flaws. While Hockey Viz’s heat maps show promise on offense:

It’s clear that the defense needs tidying up:

Marleau riding high

The hacky instinct would be to look at Marleau’s hot scoring start (two goals, four assists for six points in six games), plus Toronto’s bumpy beginning, and argue that Toronto made a big mistake … or they miss his leadership, and so on.

It’s great to see Marleau back in teal, but the numbers are less flattering when you dig deeper. His possession stats are troubling, despite playing almost all of his even-strength shifts with strong linemates in Timo Meier and Logan Couture. You’d like not be that surprised that his shooting percentage (20, vs. 9.9 last season) and on-ice shooting percentage (17.9, vs. 8.5 for his career) both rank as unsustainable.

That’s not meant to degrade Marleau’s inspiring start, because it’s extremely cool. Frankly, the Sharks are weak enough on the wings that it makes perfect sense to bring back their old chum.

Just don’t buy in to potential narratives about the Maple Leafs being lost without Marleau.

Now, arguments about Toronto needing to find answers from a bigger picture sense? That’s a more compelling conversation, although I’d argue that it’s more about how deep the Maple Leafs can go in the playoffs, rather than whether or not they can make it at all.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 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.

PHT Morning Skate: Provorov bouncing back; Toews is struggling

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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.

• The Blue Jackets’ power play has struggled this season and it’s time for someone to come up with some answers. (The Cannon)

• A contract extension between the Bruins and Torey Krug is still a work in progress. (WEEI)

• Former Bruin Dennis Seidenberg is retiring. (NBC Sports Boston)

Ivan Provorov has been solid for the Flyers so far this season. (Broad Street Hockey)

• Is it time for the Hurricanes to add Cam Ward to their coaching staff? (Cardiac Cane)

• The Lightning added some pieces over the summer, but how have they fit in so far? (Raw Charge)

Michael Hutchinson hasn’t performed well in his role as backup goalie for the Leafs, so here are some other options for them. (Leafs Nation)

• Expect the Colorado Avalanche to win the Central Division by a big margin. (Mile High Hockey)

Jonathan Toews is struggling offensively right now. (Chicago Tribune)

Vladimir Tarasenko has the potential to score 100 points this season. (Bleedin’ Blue)

• Which players are scoring goals for the Arizona Coyotes in 2019-20? (Five for Howling)

• The stats crew at T-Mobile Arena seem to padding the Golden Knights’ stats when it comes to takeaways. (Sinbin.Vegas)

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.