P.K. Subban

Roundtable: Hot starts, biggest disappointments

Choosing from the teams off to strong starts in October, which one won’t last?

SEAN: The Canucks may very well wind up in the playoffs come April, but it feels like a matter or time before they slowly slide back into the wild card race and out of contention for the Pacific Division crown. The Lotto Line of Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller has been unstoppable; Quinn Hughes is playing himself into the Calder Trophy conversation after one month; and the goaltending duo of Thatcher Demko and Jacob Markstrom has been solid with a combined .932 even strength save percentage. They’re banking important points this early in the season, but their 103 PDO will certainly slide back a touch.

Vancouver’s November schedule could pose some difficulty in keeping up this pace with games against the Avalanche (2), Penguins, Oilers, Blues, Predators (2), and Capitals. If they can reach December and find themselves still in one of the top three spots in the Pacific then that could go a long way toward proving doubters they’re for real.

JAMES: The Sabres [1.036] and Canucks [1.031] are marinating in that glorious, glorious PDO right now, and chances are, both will see their hot shooting and goaltending cool down. The question is: how much?

Considering the Canucks’ weak division, and quite a few promising underlying numbers for Vancouver, I think they might be able to squeak into a playoff spot. The Sabres, however, must run through what still figures to be a buzzsaw in the Atlantic — at least if the Lightning and Maple Leafs get their acts together.

So, Buffalo, in particular, falls under “Fool me once …” That said, I can’t totally blame someone who’s being lured in by the gravitational pull of that strong start.

ADAM: The skepticism around Buffalo is legitimate because of the way last year unfolded, but I still think they have a better shot to stick around this year because they are a little deeper and do not seem to be doing it with as much smoke and mirrors as they did early last season. What that means, I don’t know. That is still a brutally tough division and you have to imagine Tampa Bay and Toronto get their acts together. They may not finish high in the standings, but I don’t see a collapse here. The team that I think is still likely to fall off has to be the Oilers, and I hate saying that because Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are so amazing. I want to see them on a big stage. But they are literally carrying the offense again, and we have seen this movie before. They are great enough to do it in short bursts to help the team go on some hot streaks, but no two players are great enough to carry a team through an 82-game season unless one of those players is a goalie. There are still just too many flaws on this roster.

JOEY: I’m still skeptical about the Oilers. Yes, they have the high-end talent that most teams can only dream of, but I’m just not sold on the supporting cast. Is James Neal going to keep rolling? Are the other forwards going to do enough scoring to sustain Edmonton’s place in the standings? Can a duo of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen keep Edmonton in games? I have so many questions for this team it’s not even funny. Look, the Oilers probably won’t finish first in the division, but if they sneak into the playoffs that fan base should be happy with that. I just have a hard time seeing it right now.

SCOTT: The Ducks are 8-6-0 and I am not sure if that qualifies as a ‘hot start’, but I expect them to drop quite a bit the standings. The Flames and Sharks are too talented to remain near the bottom of the division and if they move up, someone has to slide down. Another team to keep an eye on is the Blues. With Vladimir Tarasenko sidelined for an extended period of time, will they be able to generate enough offense to remain competitive in a ferocious Central Division.

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Who is your biggest disappointment — player or team — so far?

SEAN: This could have been noted goon Aleksander Barkov, who has four penalty minutes already after not picking up his second minor last season until March 7… but my choice is the Lightning. Tampa is facing the adversity they noted after-the-fact last season hurt them in Round 1 against the Blue Jackets. A sluggish October that saw them win consecutive games only once, allow two or fewer goals only three times, and allow 3.5 goals (2.7 GPG last season) and three more shots on average per night has led them to a 6-4-2 start.

The challenge is clear for the Lightning: It’s Stanley Cup or bust. We’re going to see who the real Lightning are this season. They cruised for 82 games in 2018-19, and now the teams around them have improved. There wasn’t a lot to remember in October and how they respond will be an indicator of what to expect later in the season.

JAMES: The Sharks are a disaster by just about every measure to begin 2019-20. They’re sinking when it comes to most, if not all, possession stats. About the only thing that’s encouraging is that, unlike the bumbling Bolts, San Jose’s been mostly unlucky. While I fear that their goaltending will only rebound in marginal ways, I don’t expect their offense to remain so toothless.

ADAM: It has to be San Jose. Their commitment to the goalie situation just totally stuns me, but what is even more shocking is the fact the rest of the team seems to have forgotten how to play hockey this season. They are getting completely dominated at even-strength and this team is just far too talented to play like this. No team with Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns on the blue line, and with the talent they still have at forward (even after losing Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi over the summer) should be playing this poorly. It is stunning.

JOEY: I realized that the Sharks were getting old in a hurry, but I didn’t expect them to have four wins in their first 13 games. The loss of Joe Pavelski has hit both sides pretty hard. Do you think the player and team would like a do-over there? Logan Couture is a fine captain, but he’s already had to call his teammates out a couple of times. Adding Patrick Marleau is a nice touch, but it just isn’t adding up to victories right now. The Sharks should be worried because it looks like their championship window has been slammed shut.

SCOTT: In Taylor Hall’s final season before reaching unrestricted free agency, GM Ray Shero made a couple of maneuvers this summer to help bolster his roster. With the additions of P.K. Subban, Nikita Gusev, Wayne Simmonds and Jack Hughes, the Devils hoped to take advantage of a wide-open Metropolitan Division. However, the Devils have failed to protect leads, especially at home and find themselves competing for the top draft pick once again. Coach John Hynes could be the first coach to join the unemployment line if the Devils can’t figure it out on the ice.

QUICK AWARD PICKS AFTER ONE MONTH

HART
SEAN: David Pastrnak
JAMES: David Pastrnak
ADAM: Leon Draisaitl
JOEY: Sidney Crosby
SCOTT: Leon Draisaitl

VEZINA
SEAN: Tuukka Rask
JAMES: Tuukka Rask
ADAM: Tuukka Rask
JOEY: Tuukka Rask
SCOTT: Tuukka Rask

CALDER
SEAN: Quinn Hughes
JAMES: Quinn Hughes
ADAM: Quinn Hughes
JOEY: Cale Makar
SCOTT: Quinn Hughes

NORRIS
SEAN: Roman Josi
JAMES: John Carlson
ADAM: John Carlson
JOEY: John Carlson
SCOTT: John Carlson

————

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.

PHT Face-Off: Pastrnak feeling dangerous; Will Fleury ever get a break?

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Every Monday during the regular season, the PHT Face-Off breaks down five of the top trends/storylines in the NHL. Last week, we looked at John Carlson’s incredible offensive start and the number of tight games across the league to start the year. This week, we’ll break down David Pastrnak‘s incredible run, Marc-Andre Fleury‘s workload, and much, much more.

• David Pastrnak is en fuego:

The Dallas Stars and Arizona Coyotes managed to keep Pastrnak off the scoresheet in the first two games of the 2019-20 regular season. What has the Bruins forward done since then? Well, let’s a look.

He’s picked up at least one point in nine consecutive games and he’s had a multi-point effort in seven of those outings. After posting five assists against the Rangers on Sunday, Pastrnak now leads the NHL in scoring, with 23 points. Oh by the way, he’s also first in goals scored, with 11.

In fact, the Bruins’ top line, which is made up of Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, has picked up 23 goals and 54 points combined in 11 games.

“He does it all right now, and he’s so confident,” Marchand said of Pastrnak, per the Boston Globe. “You never know what he’s going to do with the puck. Even we don’t know.

“He feels like he can do anything. When he feels like that, he’s dangerous. He’s fun to watch . . . He has so many different ways he can beat you.”

• Devils need goals:

Speaking of Pastrnak, he’s scored half as many goals as the entire New Jersey Devils roster this season. Fine, he’s played two more games than the Devils, but that’s still pretty impressive if you’re a Bruins fan and not so much if you’re cheering for the Devils.

New Jersey has had 13 different goal scorers this year, but here’s the issue: If you combine the goals by Taylor Hall (one), Kyle Palmieri (three), Jack Hughes (two), Nico Hischier (zero), P.K. Subban (one), and Nikita Gusev (three) you still only get to 10 (one less than Pastrnak).

The Devils were supposed to be one of the bounce-back teams in the NHL this year and that simply hasn’t been the case. It’s no coincidence that they’ve picked up just six points in nine games. They’re currently in the basement of the NHL standings.

If you look at the way their scoring is distributed, you may be a little surprised. The Devils scored four goals in a shootout loss to Winnipeg, three goals in a shootout loss to Edmonton, four goals in a loss to Florida, five goals in a win over the Rangers, and three goals in a loss to Arizona. Those are pretty good offensive outputs. So what’s the issue? You can only imagine what the rest of their games look like.

Heading into this week’s action, they had already been shut out twice in nine games and they won a 1-0 decision over the Vancouver Canucks last weekend.

Offense seems to be up across the board except in New Jersey.

As you’d imagine, the Devils fell into the “dull/bad” parts of Sean Tierney’s latest charts:

Tyson Barrie struggling with Maple Leafs:

The Toronto Maple Leafs sacrificed Nazem Kadri to get themselves some added depth on defense. At the start of the season, it looked like Tyson Barrie would be a terrific fit with his new team. He picked up two assists in his first game and two more helpers in his third game. Good, right? Well, since then he hasn’t picked up a single point.

Barrie’s possession numbers are actually pretty good, as he has a CF% 54.26 percent and a FF% of 51.39 percent, but when he’s on the ice, the Leafs are giving up 60 percent of the high-danger chances. That’s less than ideal (all stats via Natural Stat Trick)

This is a big year for the 28-year-old defender. Not only is it the first time he plays for a team other than the one that drafted him, the Colorado Avalanche, he’s also in the middle of a contract season. Quality right-handed defensemen don’t usually hit the open market, so Barrie will get paid either way, but having a big statistical year under his belt could bump his salary up by a few more million.

• Is there blood in the water in San Jose?

If it had to be done all over again, do you think Joe Pavelski and the San Jose Sharks would work harder to get a deal done before free agency on July 1st? Well, Pavelski is in Dallas and he has three points in 12 games and the Sharks look like a hot mess.

They’ve accumulated just nine points in 12 games and this East-Coast road trip hasn’t been kind to them, as they’re 1-2-1 in four games. They still have to face the Bruins in Boston before they return home for a six-game home stand. Are the Sharks done? No way. It’s still too early to say that, but are they in trouble? Oh, yeah. If this home stand doesn’t go much better than the road trip, they’ll be in a lot of trouble.

“We’re 12 games in and there’s a handful of key guys for us that haven’t played well yet,” San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said after last night’s loss to Ottawa, per NHL.com. “So that’s on me to get them back to the level they need to be at.

“We’re playing from behind in a lot of these games, and instead of sticking with it and trusting the group and the system, everyone wants to step out and fix it themselves, but it doesn’t work that way. So eventually you have to learn that lesson.”

Learning the lesson and being good enough to apply it on the ice are two different things.

Is the Sharks’ championship window officially closed?

• Will Marc-Andre Fleury ever get another break?

Marc-Andre Fleury can’t start every game for the Vegas Golden Knights, but they might need him to do so given their clear lack of trust in their backup goalies. Last Monday, Fleury was given his first night off of the season when the Golden Knights took on the Philadelphia Flyers. Oscar Dansk ended up allowing six goals on 37 shots in the loss.

Since then, Dansk has been sent to the minors and Fleury has had to suit up in every game. A good chunk of Fleury’s breaks may come in games where he struggles. For example, he was pulled midway through Friday’s game against Colorado after he allowed four goals on 26 shots. After getting half that game off, he was right back between the pipes on Sunday night against the Anaheim Ducks. The good news, is that he really wasn’t busy on Sunday, as he only faced 15 shots from the Ducks. Those are the type of nights he’ll need every once in a while if he’s going to play at a high level all season.

As of right now, no goalie has more wins that Fleury this season and there’s a chance that no one will because he’s likely going to play a lot of games.

What’s coming up this week?
• The Battle of Pennsylvania goes on Tuesday when the Flyers visit the Penguins, Tue. Oct. 29, 7 p.m. ET.

• The best in the Atlantic (Buffalo Sabres) take on the best in the Metro (Washington Capitals), Fri. Nov. 1, 7 p.m. ET.

• McDavid vs. Crosby, Sat. Nov. 2, 1 p.m. ET

NHL on NBCSN
• Lightning vs. Rangers, Tue. Oct. 29, 7:30 p.m. ET

Wednesday Night Hockey on NBCSN
• Wild vs. Blues, Wed. Oct. 30, 8 p.m. ET

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.

Our Line Starts podcast: Sabres scorching start; turmoil in Toronto

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Kathryn Tappen, Mike Milbury, and Keith Jones analyze the Sabres’ hot start, discuss whether this is finally the year John Carlson wins a Norris Trophy, and break down why the Maple Leafs have been slow out of the gate. Plus, Kathryn remembers when Mike walked off the set during a show and asks for his side of the story. Pierre McGuire sits down with Devils GM Ray Shero, who talks about how a vending machine played a key role in the P.K. Subban trade this summer. Mike and Keith also tell their best stories about morning skates gone wrong.

0:00-1:15 Intros
1:15-3:00 Mike walks off the set during a show
3:30-7:20 Buffalo’s hot start
12:35-15:50 John Carlson leading the way for Washington
15:50-22:30 Are the Maple Leafs in trouble?
22:30-46:15 Pierre McGuire interviews Devils GM Ray Shero
46:20-49:30 Is New Jersey a playoff team?
49:30-End Mike and Keith tell their best morning skate stories

Our Line Starts is part of NBC Sports’ growing roster of podcasts spanning the NFL, Premier League, NASCAR, and much more. The new weekly podcast, which will publish Wednesdays, will highlight the top stories of the league, including behind-the-scenes content and interviews conducted by NBC Sports’ NHL commentators.

Where you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

Rangers point to power play struggles after loss to Devils

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The Rangers were ecstatic to get back on the ice after a four-day hiatus from game action, but the result was not what they had in mind.

Jack Hughes recorded his first point, P.K. Subban netted his first goal for the Devils and New Jersey snapped several droughts in its 5-2 victory over the Rangers on Thursday.

Tony DeAngelo and Jesper Fast both scored while Alexandar Georgiev made 33 saves in the Rangers’ second consecutive loss.

Rangers power play woes

The Rangers will need their power play to fire on all cylinders if they expect to contend for a playoff spot this season.

Over the past two games, the Rangers have failed on 10 consecutive man-advantage opportunities, including six missed chances against the Devils.

“That’s probably as sluggish as we looked on the power play all year,” Rangers coach David Quinn said. “You can’t alter your approach when you don’t score a goal. You can build momentum off a good power play if you don’t score. I just thought we started getting away from the things we have been doing during the exhibition season and the three games we played.”

Seemingly, the momentum can swing the other way, too. The Rangers’ power play failures began to pile up through the course of 60 minutes.

“As the game goes on, the more chances there are, the more the opponent knows what you are trying to do,” defenseman Jacob Trouba said after playing over seven minutes on the PP. It almost gets a little tougher as the game goes on and you have that many power plays.”

Four games and a handful of opportunities provide a small sample size in terms of power play production. But, without consistent offensive production on special teams, the Rangers are going to struggle to win games.

DeAngelo aims to carve out role

DeAngelo notched his first goal of the season to open the scoring at 6:02 of the first period. The offensive-minded defenseman sensed a scoring opportunity and cashed in on the rebound.

This past summer, DeAngelo was forced to sign a one-year contract due to lack of leverage during negotiations. The 23-year-old began the season knowing he would have to prove himself on a daily basis.

A right-handed defenseman with the ability to move the puck and potential to run a power play is a sought-after commodity in the NHL. Teams are often scrambling to fill that need or rearranging other pieces throughout their lineup to cover up an obvious hole.

However, DeAngelo is on a team that has multiple options at the position due to a busy summer. The Rangers acquired Jacob Trouba and added another offensive-minded defenseman in Adam Fox, essentially filling the role DeAngelo was supposed to play.

But the Rangers are doing their part to give DeAngelo an opportunity to dress consistently. In order to make it work, Brendan Smith has been playing as a fourth line forward to give the backend an extra penalty killer.

For DeAngelo, a goal is a step in the right direction, but he will need to continue to demonstrate to David Quinn and the coaching staff that he is worthy of a spot in the Rangers everyday lineup.

Strange schedule

In a game built off rhythm and tendencies, the Rangers have had to overcome a few strange schedule quirks to open up the 2019-20 NHL season.

The Blueshirts have only played in four games over the past 16 days and have had trouble fine-tuning the specific nuances of the sport.

“We have to understand situational hockey. The good news is we get to play more hockey and understand it better, Quinn said. “It’s tough to emulate it in practice. We are going to be able to draw from what happened today and be better for it tomorrow.”

It is not often a team looks forward to a back-to-back, but the Rangers are eager to play with more regularity. On Friday, they play against the Washington Capitals before beginning a five-game homestand.

“We want to play hockey games, it’s the only way you can really get better in this league,” Quinn said.

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.

A night of ‘finally’ for Devils in win vs. Rangers

It wasn’t always pretty for the New Jersey Devils against the New York Rangers on Thursday night.

The Devils’ first win of 2019-20 wasn’t a work of art. Jack Hughes‘ first NHL point wasn’t all that aesthetically pleasing, either. But the Devils will take it. And being that this came against the Rangers, the sweet will outweigh the bitter even more.

After falling behind 1-0 early, New Jersey fired off three consecutive goals to eventually secure a 5-2 win in front of a mixture of Rangers and Devils fans in Newark. The “workmanlike” nature of the victory really could be summarized by Hughes’ first point not exactly coming as you’d draw it up: an assist that deflected off of Miles Wood‘s backside, essentially.

Let’s work through some of the storylines in this one.

Breaking some droughts, but still some work to do.

Again, the Devils really needed this win, as they came into Thursday at 0-4-2 (now 1-4-2). The Rangers likely felt a little rusty, as they last played on Saturday, and have only appeared in four games, slipping to 2-2-0.

Along with finally getting that first win, and Hughes getting his first point, the Devils finally scored on the power play. New Jersey went 0-for-18 through their first six games, so Kyle Palmieri‘s power-play marker is another source of relief.

Heck, with a long-distance empty-net goal, P.K. Subban also scored his first goal with the Devils.

A pessimist would argue that an empty-net goal only counts for so much, and that Hughes’ assist wasn’t impressive, but those also mean fewer annoying questions during interviews. Like Victor Mete after scoring his first NHL goal, the Devils can just play.

But, yeah, they need to be better. Sure, they finally scored on the power play, but they only went 1-for-7 on Thursday, so they still need to find some answers.

(I hate to say it, but they really need to explore the question of whether Wayne Simmonds is still a top power-play unit guy. He’s struggled in recent years, and while the effort still seems to be there, the “finish” might not be. He has zero goals and one assist through seven games. Maybe it would be better to replace him with Nikita Gusev, who didn’t need much space to score after Artemi Panarin broke a stick on Thursday? A group including Gusev, Hughes, Subban, Palmieri, and Taylor Hall could be lethal.)

An answer in net?

It’s nice to see Cory Schneider possibly being healthy, or healthier, as his free-fall from elite to poor goalie is likely due in part to injuries. The bottom line is that Schneider might just be a backup (or worse) at this point in his career, though. Schneider’s 0-3-0 record and putrid .876 save percentage provide little hope that he’s just going to turn back the clock.

So the Devils really don’t have much of a choice: they need to see how far Mackenzie Blackwood can bring them.

The 22-year-old was off to a rocky start of his own this season, but was sharp on Thursday, stopping 29 out of 31 shots, including six SOG from a Rangers PP that went 0-for-6. After one great stop via the scary one-timer combination of Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, Subban gave Blackwood a tap on the head in appreciation. Rightfully so, I’d say.

Last season, Blackwood generated a .918 save percentage over 23 games (21 of which were starts). That’s not a huge sample size, but being that he was a second-rounder (42nd overall in 2015) and Schneider looks shaky-at-best, the Devils have every incentive to send him out there and see if he can give them at least league-average goaltending.

No.1 vs. No. 2 isn’t there yet

There are moments where it’s already captivating to watch Hughes, right down to nerding out when he does some simple-but-impressive skating, such as using his edges or accelerating with impressive speed.

But if we want Hughes vs. Kaapo Kakko to become a rivalry worth watching, we will have to lean on stronger sequels.

Both the Rangers and Devils seem like works in progress, yet with all of the talent they’ve added, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more fireworks in future meetings.

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.