Patrice Bergeron

The great line nobody is talking about

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When we think about the best lines in hockey, our mind immediately goes to the Bruins’ perfection line of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron. Or we think of the trio in Colorado made up of Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon. Those are the two best lines in hockey right now, but there’s three players in Montreal that are being overlooked.

Phillip Danault, Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher aren’t superstars in the same way that Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak, Rantanen, MacKinnon and Landeskog are, but they’ve made up an important line since the start of last season. Not only does that line match up against the opposition’s best forwards, they usually tend to dictate the terms of the game night in and night out.

General manager Marc Bergevin deserves a lot of credit for helping create this line. Yes, Claude Julien put them together, but Bergevin went out and acquired two of the three players when they weren’t exactly in high demand. Gallagher was drafted before Bergevin arrived, but Danault was acquired, as a prospect, from Bergevin’s former team, the Chicago Blackhawks. And Tatar was thrown into the trade involving Max Pacioretty by the Vegas Golden Knights.

Individually, their offensive numbers don’t pop. Danault has nine points in 15 games, while Tatar and Gallagher both have 13 points in 15 games. But take these three players, put them together and watch them dominate.

Danault has played over 156 minutes with Tatar and almost 170 minutes with Gallagher this season, according to Natural Stat Trick. When the trio is on the ice together, they control nearly 60 percent of the shot attempts. Again, keep in mind that they nearly always draw the most difficult assignment of the night.

Last night, at even strength, the trio matched up against the vaunted Perfection Line for most of the night. Keep in mind, the Bruins were playing their second game in two nights, but that still doesn’t take away from the job the Danault line did against them.

Pastrnak managed to score a power-play goal in the first period, which Bergeron helped set up by winning the offensive-zone faceoff. But Marchand saw his 13-game point streak come to an end.

Check out this go-ahead goal by Tatar. Before the puck goes into the net, it was Gallagher that forced the puck away from Pastrnak in the neutral zone. The Canadiens went the other way in transition and they end up scoring. That came just moments after the Bruins’ winger tied the game.

31 seconds later, Paul Byron made it 3-1.

That’s what this three-man unit does for the Canadiens. When Claude Julien starts a period, he usually turns to them. When he needs an energetic shift to spark his team, he turns to them. More often than not, they deliver.

“They’re pretty easy players to play with,” Gallagher said of Danault and Tatar last month, per the Montreal Gazette. “For me, they seem to find me quite a bit and that’s probably why I end up with more shots. They’re very good playmakers and for me to kind of stick to my game is kind of what I try to do.

“I think the three of us enjoy playing together, we enjoy the challenges that the coaching staff gives us every game. That’s something that we’ve had to embrace and I think it’s been good for all three of us.”

The Habs have players with more individual talent. Max Domi, for example, led the team is scoring with 72 points last year and Jonathan Drouin can do things with the puck than most players can only dream of. But these three, when together, are the team’s engine.

Without their chemistry, there’s no way the Canadiens are as good as they are right now. Montreal will have to continue scratching and clawing for every point in the standings, but they can do so knowing they have this group of three leading them into battle every night.

So yeah, they probably won’t get the recognition they deserve nationally because they aren’t the biggest names in the game (they don’t even have a nickname yet), but they have to be considered one of the five best lines in hockey right now.

MORE: Habs’ Domi using special sticks to further diabetes awareness

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.

The Buzzer: Penguins have no answer for Bruins’ Marchand

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Three Stars

1. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins

Almost every night, there can be fierce debate about who deserves the first star, and all the great players who couldn’t quite make it in the top three.

A lot of times, when Marchand is involved, it’s difficult to tell if there’s a single member of his line that deserves top billing, as David Pastrnak is off to a blistering start, and Patrice Bergeron is … well, Patrice Bergeron.

This was not one of those times. Pastrnak and Bergeron certainly contributed to the Bruins’ hard-fought, hard-skated win against the Penguins on Monday, but Marchand stood high above everyone on that ice surface — and on the night overall. He scored a ridiculous five points (two goals, three assists), giving him 28 points in 14 games this season. Pastrnak is one step ahead of Marchand overall in 2019-20 with 29 points, but Pastrnak “only” scored a goal and an assist on Monday (the slacker).

David Krejci is worth mentioning, as well, with two assists.

2. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa Senators

There will probably be instances of “Well, someone has to score” with the Senators top line, including when the constellation involves Pageau, Brady Tkachuk, and Anthony Duclair.

That trio didn’t really need such caveats on Monday against the up-and-down Rangers. Tkachuk had a two-point night of his own (1G, 1A), but the pesty Pageau scored both of his points on goals, and had a nice spread of stats overall: +3 rating, three shots on goal, 8-8 on faceoffs, two hits, three blocks, and, of course, a penalty.

Rangers fans can take solace, at least, in Kaapo Kakko being involved in both of their goals (1G, 1A).

3. Matt Duchene, Nashville Predators

Like Pageau, Duchene scored two goals on Monday. I’m giving JGP the slight edge because, well, one of Duchene’s goals probably shouldn’t have counted. Consider this error the blooper of the night:

Considering that Duchene was far offside on a controversial goal against the Predators that helped inspire a greater push for video reviews, it seems like the speedy center just seems to get these occasional breaks. Luckily, he’s good even when the goals and assists are beyond debate; despite a four-game pointless streak heading into Monday, Duchene has 13 points over his first 14 games as a member of the Predators.

Highlight of the Night

Since we already covered Connor McDavid‘s coast-to-coast goal in a post that didn’t feature Space Ghost, let’s enjoy that impressive game-winner by Marchand:

Marchand’s other goal against Pittsburgh might have been even more impressive, but the above one was the more momentous since it won the game.

Factoids

  • The Marchand/Pastrnak stats are … pretty out of control. NHL.com’s Matt Kalman collected some of them. Marchand is the first Bruins player to collect two different five-point games through his first 14 games, and NHL PR notes that Marchand recorded just the 10th instance of doing so since 1986-87. Mario Lemieux had three five-point outings through such a span twice, Wayne Gretzky collected three five-point outings once, and everyone else did it twice. Marchand’s 13-game point streak is also rare for the Bruins.
  • NHL PR also notes that Pastrnak is the second Bruins player in history to post multiple 12+ game point streaks before their 24th birthday, joining Bobby Orr, who did it three times. Pastrnak’s done it twice, and his 24th birthday isn’t until May 25, so he at least has a chance to tie Number Four’s … three.
  • Fun #specificstat from NHL PR: John Marino of the Penguins is the second player in three seasons to score their first NHL goal in their home state. Ryan Donato, also of Massachusetts, was the most recent to do it.
  • Darcy Kuemper‘s more reliable than (insert the car you find most durable).

Scores

BOS 6 – PIT 4
OTT 6 – NYR 2
NSH 6 – DET 1
ARI 3 – EDM 2 (OT)

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.

Bruins beat Penguins, may have dodged bullet with McAvoy

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As thrilling as it must have been for the Boston Bruins to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in an often-thrilling 6-4 game, the victory might have felt hollow if they received bad news about star defenseman Charlie McAvoy.

When the game was still 4-4 in the third period, McAvoy slid into his own net, and hit his head against the post. He was clearly in pain from the hit, and left the contest. Considering McAvoy’s recent history with concussion issues, it was a scary sight for the Bruins.

It’s early, but the Bruins might be able to let out a sigh of relief, as head coach Bruce Cassidy believes that McAvoy is only dealing with a cut, according to 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Ty Anderson.

With plenty of injuries, things can seem worse than they first appear. That’s especially true with concussions or concussion-like injuries, but here’s hoping that it really is just a cut, or some other smaller issue.

One thing we don’t need to wait on is how great a game this was for the Bruins, particularly their top guys.

This was a seesaw matchup. The Bruins finished the first period up 2-0, and added to that lead with an early 3-0 tally in the second. The Penguins then fired off four consecutive goals to end that middle frame. Brad Marchand found Torey Krug for an odd-angle goal to tie things up 4-4 in the third period, and then Marchand found enough space to beat Tristan Jarry for an exhilarating game-winner, with an empty-netter eventually inflating the difference.

The Penguins must feel frustrated to put forth such an effort and leave Boston without even a pity point beyond regulation, but that top line of Marchand, David Pastrnak, and Patrice Bergeron simply won’t be denied.

Pastrnak’s point streak is now at 12 games, while Marchand’s on a career-best 13-game run. It’s bewildering to imagine Bergeron as maybe the least dangerous player on any trio, yet that’s arguably the case for Boston. We saw another example of the Bruins’ embarrassment of riches on Monday:

At this point, it feels like injuries have as strong of a chance of slowing this team down right now as even a spry opponent like Pittsburgh. With that in mind, the Bruins have to hope that McAvoy’s early positive news is not just optimistic, but also accurate.

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 Face-Off: Sharks bleeding goals; Panthers heating up

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Another Monday morning, another PHT Face-Off setting up the week to come in the NHL. Now that we’re officially in the month of November, we have to start taking some of these on-ice trends a little more seriously. Let’s take a look at what stand outs and what may continue to stand out over the next seven days.

• Two points per game for Pastrnak:

Many players in the NHL are off to incredible starts, but Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak is the only player in the league that’s averaging more than two points per game this season. Pastrnak has 13 goals and 27 points in 13 games (2.08 PPG). As you’d imagine, he’s been out of this world this year. When he’s on the ice, the Bruins control more than 58 percent of the shot attempts, 68 percent of the goals scored, almost 59 percent of the scoring changes and 58.49 percent of the high-danger chances. (all stats via Natural Stat Trick)

Through 13 games, the Bruins’ top line of Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand have combined to score 58.7 percent of Boston’s goals (27 of 46). Sure, they’re top heavy, but who cares? That’s flat-out dominance. No matter the match up, the Bruins have have been the better side. They’ve dropped just three games all season (one in regulation) and although they’ll have a busy week, they should continue to find success.

Their hot start is even more impressive when you consider that they went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final last season. The teams around them in division (Toronto, Tampa Bay) have struggled out of the gate. The Bruins have been all business and they owe a lot of that to their top forward, Pastrnak.

• Ryan Poehling gets his shot: 

On Sunday, the Montreal Canadiens recalled Ryan Poehling from the AHL’s Laval Rocket. Poehling was Montreal’s first-round pick, 25th overall, in the 2017 NHL Draft. He had three strong years at St. Cloud State, he was also named the M.V.P. at the World Junior Hockey Championship for Team USA last year and he made quite an impression in his NHL debut at the end of the 2018-19 campaign.

After signing his entry-level contract late in the season, the 20-year-old got to play in his first NHL game on the last day of the regular season. Not only did Poehling suit up against the Toronto Maple Leafs last April, he scored a hat trick in his debut and he added the game-winner in the shootout.

Well, now that Jesperi Kotkaniemi is on injured reserve, Poehling will get a chance to take on another big rival, as the Bruins will pull up to the Bell Center on Tuesday night (you can watch that game on NBCSN, by the way).

We’ll find out if he’s here to stay or if he still needs time to marinate in the minors.

• Panthers coming on strong: 

Panthers center Aleksander Barkov picked up three assists in his first five games of the season. What has he done since then? It took him some time to score his first goal of the season (he did that on Oct. 30), but he’s now scored in back-to-back games and he’s picked up an incredible 14 points in his last nine games.

Teammate Jonathan Huberdeau, who might be the most underrated star in the NHL (he had the quietest 92-point season ever in 2018-19), is also off to a blazing start. He’s scored an impressive nine goals and nine assists in 14 games already this year. Understandably, everyone is talking about the duos of Marchand and Pastrnak in Boston and Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton, but the Panthers’ top duo is currently 10th and 11th in NHL scoring right now.

The Panthers have suffered just one regulation loss in their last 11 games and they’re not occupying one of the top three spots in the Atlantic Division. Impressive.

• How about those Vancouver Canucks:

Raise your hand if you thought the Canucks were going to be one of the best teams in the NHL through the first month of the season. What? Nobody?

Well, the Canucks have been getting the job done. They were consistent in October and they’re off to a 1-0-1 start in November. Elias Pettersson is definitely leading the charge for the Canucks, as he’s accumulated 20 points in 14 games in his second season, but his supporting cast has been strong too.

Brock Boeser (16 points in 14 games) and J.T. Miller (15 points in 14 games) have also carried their weight. Bo Horvat is right below that point-per-game clip, while Alex Edler has managed to stay healthy so far (he’s averaging over 25 minutes of ice time per game). And rookie Quinn Hughes is sidelined with an injury now, but he’s also up to 10 points in just 13 games. Even goaltender Jacob Markstrom has done a nice job between the pipes.

Let’s see if they can keep this going.

• Sharks can’t keep puck out of net: 

The San Jose Sharks probably aren’t happy with the amount of goals they’ve scored this season, but keeping the puck out of the net is a major issue for them, too.

The Sharks, who are 4-10-1, have surrendered 56 goals in 15 games. The only teams that have given up more goals than them are Los Angeles and Detroit, who have both given up 57. Yeah, that’s bad. Everyone expected the Kings and Wings to be bad, but no one thought the Sharks would be this brutal.

As you’d imagine, they’re bleeding high-danger chances so far. According to Natural Stat Trick, their 138 high-danger chances against is tied for second with Washington. Only the Winnipeg Jets have surrendered more of those. Also, no team has given up more goals from high-danger chances than San Jose (25).

Erik Karlsson doesn’t look right, Marc-Edouard Vlasic hasn’t been very good and a lot of the older players look, well, old.

There’s still time for them to get this turned around, but at a certain point you are what your record says you are.

What’s coming up this week

• Islanders look to push their winning streak to 10 games vs. Ottawa, Tue. Nov. 5, 7 p.m. ET.

• The defending Stanley Cup champion champion St. Louis Blues go head-to-head against Connor McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl, Wed. Nov. 6, 8:30 p.m. ET.

• NHL Global Series continues with Tampa Bay and Buffalo on Friday (2 p.m. ET) and Saturday (1 p.m. ET) in Stockholm, Sweden.

• 2018 Stanley Cup Final rematch: Golden Knights at Capitals, Sat. Nov. 9, 7 p.m. ET.

NHL on NBCSN
• Bruins vs. Canadiens, Tue. Nov. 5, 7:30 p.m. ET
• Blackhawks vs. Sharks, Tue. Nov. 5, 10 p.m. ET
• Lightning vs. Sabres from Stockholm, Sweden, Fri. Nov. 8, 2 p.m. ET

Wednesday Night Hockey
• Red Wings vs. Rangers, Wed. Nov. 6, 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.