Nick Suzuki

PHT Morning Skate: Not time to fire Babcock; Who are elite goalies?

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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.
• It’s not time for the Leafs to fire Mike Babcock, but they should look at moving William Nylander. (Toronto Star)

• Who are the elite, good and replaceable goalies in the NHL? (Pension Plan Puppets)

• Teammates and rivals share their stories about Hall-of-Famer Hayley Wickenheiser. (Sportsnet)

• Canadiens rookies Nick Suzuki and Cale Fleury have improved every game. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• Find out how the Washington Capitals have looked through 20 games. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

• What’s wrong with Sergei Bobrovsky? (The Rat Trick)

• Jim Rutherford put the final touches on his Hall-of-Fame career by fixing the Penguins. (Pensburgh)

Robby Fabbri has given the Red Wings’ second line a spark. (MLive.com)

• The Golden Knights have had a different start to the season than they did one year ago. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• How much has Patrik Laine really improved this season? (Arctic Ice Hockey)

Martin Jones has been key during San Jose’s six-game winning streak. (NBC Sports Bay Area)

• Stars head coach Jim Montgomery was once traded for Guy Carbonneau. (Dallas Morning News)

Jason Zucker is struggling to find the back of the net. (Hockey Wilderness)

• Here are five players that are providing the least amount of value right now. (The Hockey News)

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 on NBCSN: Bruins a big test for Canadiens team trying to make its mark

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

For the past four years the Montreal Canadiens have been stuck in hockey purgatory.

They haven’t made the playoffs since the 2016-17 season, they haven’t won a playoff round since 2014-15, and they haven’t really taken a step in any real direction as an organization. They are not really a rebuilding team, but they have clearly not been a Stanley Cup contender, either. They just kind of exist in the middle of the league trying to find their way and make their mark in a top-heavy division that has been dominated by three of the league’s best teams the past three years.

On Tuesday night they get a major test against one of those teams — the Boston Bruins — in the latest chapter of one of the league’s fiercest rivalries. It will be a pretty good measuring stick game for a team that has showed flashes of potential this season.

One of the biggest positives in Montreal has been an offense that has been one of the league’s best through the first 14 games.

They enter Tuesday’s game fifth in the league in goals per game, sixth in shots on goal per game, and already have six players with at least four goals scored on the season, including three players with at least five goals. And that is with two of their best young players for the future — Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki — not yet having a breakout offensively.

Jonathan Drouin has started to play like the impact player the Canadiens hoped he would be when they traded Mikhail Sergachev for him, Brendan Gallagher is still one of the league’s most underrated players as a possession-driving, 30-goal forward, and veterans like Tomas Tatar and Max Domi are still solid top-six wingers that can contribute to a contender.

[COVERAGE OF HABS-BRUINS BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

When you look at how the Canadiens have played there’s a lot to like in their game. They are tilting the ice in their favor (as the shot attempt and scoring chance numbers illustrate) and they can obviously score a little bit. But results have not always been there yet as they have played at a 93-point pace entering Tuesday’s game.

That would almost certainly just barely leave them on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture yet again (they missed with 96 points a year ago). It would be an almost identical repeat of the 2018-19 season, and it just reinforces the single biggest problem with the current Canadiens’ organization — they are good, but not quite good enough and missing that one significant piece to help them break through the glass ceiling they have seemingly constructed over their heads.

The encouraging thing about this season is their territorial advantage is starting to produce more goals (something that was a problem last year) and should give them a chance to pick up the few extra wins they need, especially if Carey Price can be Carey Price when he plays (a capable backup to give him a break on occasion would also help).

Getting two points on Tuesday would be a nice step toward building something positive this season, especially as the schedule starts to lighten over the next couple of weeks. Their next 11 games after Boston include matchups against: Philadelphia (twice), Los Angeles, Columbus (twice), Ottawa, New York Rangers, and New Jersey (twice). There is a chance to stack some wins and get some points.

And for as good as Boston has been this season, and as dominant as the top line of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron has been, the Canadiens are catching a little bit of a break here with the schedule. While Montreal was sitting at home on Monday, the Bruins were playing a grueling back-and-forth game with the Pittsburgh Penguins, which was followed by an overnight trip to Montreal. There is an opportunity there for the Canadiens to pounce on a tired opponent, win a measuring stick game, and maybe start building something for this season.

Kathryn Tappen will anchor tonight’s studio coverage with Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter. John Forslund and Mike Milbury will have the call from Bell Centre in Montreal, Que.

NBC Sports will premiere “The Russian Five” documentary, a feature on the first five Russians to play hockey together in the NHL, Wednesday, November 6, following Wednesday Night Hockey between the Red Wings and Rangers. The documentary tells the story of how Sergei Fedorov, Slava Fetisov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Slava Kozlov, and Igor Larionov were able to defect from their homeland and transform the Detroit Red Wings into perennial contenders and back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions in 1996-97 and 1997-98.

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.

Max Domi continues to excel in year two with Habs

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When the Montreal Canadiens acquired Max Domi from the Arizona Coyotes in the summer of 2018, they were landing a player that had nine goals and 38 and 45 points in his two previous seasons. But in his first year as a Hab, he took his game to another level. He finished the season with a career-high 28 goals and 72 points in 82 games while playing down the middle. What does he do for an encore in year two?

Usually, the leading scorer on a team will get to play with some of the better players on the roster, but Domi’s in a bit of a unique spot. Montreal’s “first” line is made up of Phillip Danault, Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher, who have played together since last season. They’re a very effective line and head coach Claude Julien likes having them together.

The “third” line is made up of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Joel Armia (when healthy) and Jonathan Drouin, who spent a considerable amount of time playing with Domi last year (they weren’t overly effective together). So that doesn’t leave many options for the 24-year-old, who opened the season with offensively-challenged winger Artturi Lehkonen and rookie Nick Suzuki.

Lehkonen is a responsible winger while Suzuki struggled to get his footing early on. Paul Byron, Drouin and Jordan Weal have all spent time on that “second” line at five-on-five. Now that Suzuki has started producing on a different line, Julien is promoting him back to Domi’s line ahead of Thursday’s game against the San Jose Sharks. How have the rotating players affected Domi’s on-ice performance in 2019-20? It hasn’t affected him negatively at all.

As of right now, he’s picked up three goals and nine points in nine games. He has a CF% of 56.36, a SCF% of 57.14, a HDCF% of 63.41 and a very reasonable PDO of .994.

The Habs forward has also contributed to an improving Montreal power play that ranked 30th last season. He’s currently tied for the team lead in power-play points, with four. This is a Canadiens team that missed the playoffs by three points last year. If they can continue to get solid production from their special teams unit, that could be the difference between staying home in April and making it to the postseason.

[MORE: Q&A: Max Domi on the pressure in Montreal, getting Canadiens back to playoffs]

The once controversial trade of Domi for Alex Galchenyuk is no longer being questioned in Montreal. Domi has been so much better and healthier than Galchenyuk that this has become one of the biggest steals of general manager Marc Bergevin’s tenure with the Canadiens.

What makes his time in Montreal even more impressive is that he’s putting up these numbers while transitioning from wing to center. Yes, he struggled with defensive-zone coverage at times last year and he won just 44.9 percent of his face-offs, but those are two things that should improve as he gains experience. We’ll see if he can keep it up, but he’s already winning 50 percent of his draws through nine games.

If he had 72 points last year and he continues to improve, it’s fair to wonder just how high his ceiling is. Can he become a point-per-game player on a yearly basis? That’s entirely possible. Another interesting storyline to follow will be his next contract (he’s going to be a restricted free agent at the end of the year). When he was acquired by Montreal, he signed a two-year bridge deal worth $3.150 million per year. If he builds on last season’s numbers and stays healthy, it’s entirely possible that he could fetch upwards of $7 million or $8 million annually on a long-term deal.

Whatever the price ends up being, Bergevin will probably be happy to pay it given how well this trade has turned out for an organization that has been dying for a talented center like Domi for more than decade.

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.