Pavel Francouz

Dylan Larkin #71 of the Detroit Red Wings celebrates
Getty Images

The Buzzer: Larkin goes coast to coast; Hurricanes shut out Coyotes

Leave a comment

Three Stars

1) Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings

Larkin took matters into his own hands midway through the second period when he skated from his own zone and completed a breakaway in the Red Wings’ 3-2 win against the Ottawa Senators. He would later add a shootout tally that proved to be the game-deciding goal in Detroit’s second straight win.

2) Petr Mrazek, Carolina Hurricanes

The Czech goaltender made 32 saves and picked up his third shutout of the season in the Hurricanes’ 3-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes Friday. Several lucrative contracts were given out to goaltenders this past offseason but Mrazek has proven to be the best value. Semyon Varlamov has been solid for the Islanders and Sergei Bobrovsky has been inconsistent for the Florida Panthers but both received long-term deals. Mrazek has provided a strong return on the two-year deal he signed in the summer of 2019.

3) Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Malkin tied Jaromir Jagr for 3rd on the Penguins’ all-time assist list when he helped set up a third-period game-tying goal. He later added a goal of his own when he fired a wrister past Pavel Francouz at 15:43 of the third period. Cale Makar helped the Avalanche force OT with a goal in the final seconds, but the Penguins would leave the Pepsi Center with two points thanks to Jared McCann’s game-winner.

Highlight of the Night

If Larkin prefers to not attend All-Star Weekend, he should stop completing these types of plays.

I’ll just leave this here.

The tweet below says all that is needed.

Blooper of the night

Tyler Ennis’ unusual shootout attempt was not successful.

Injury

In his first game back since leaving a game against the Philadelphia Flyers on January 4th, Antti Raanta exited the Coyotes game Friday with a lower-body injury.

Stat of the night

NHL Scores

Carolina Hurricanes 3, Arizona Coyotes 0

Detroit Red Wings 3, Ottawa Senators 2 (SO)

Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Colorado Avalanche 3 (OT)

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.

NHL on NBCSN: Can Grubauer, Avalanche get on track vs. Blues?

Blues Avalanche preview Grubauer
Getty Images

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

About a month ago, a Blues – Avalanche game would present a battle for Central Division supremacy. As we’ve learned all too often in the turbulent NHL, a lot can change — fast.

The Blues took care of their end — and then some. While their eight-game winning streak ended on New Year’s Eve, they’re running away with the top spot in the Central and West. Their most relevant battles might instead be for the Presidents’ Trophy, and they’re rightfully perched among the league’s best during their impressive defense of that first-ever Stanley Cup championship.

Meanwhile, cracks are forming for the Avalanche.

Colorado on the edge of a crisis?

Despite injuries to Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar, and Gabriel Landeskog, the Avalanche found ways to keep winning.

Lately, that train came to a screeching halt, even with such key players returning to action. The Avs ended 2019 with a thud, falling 7-4 to the Jets to slip to 1-4-1 over their last six games.

You can almost feel the Avs’ confidence fading.

“It feels like it’s hard to win right now,” Rantanen said following that loss to the Jets, via the Denver Post’s Mike Chambers. “We play good periods at times, but then we shoot ourselves in the leg. I think it’s in our minds. When it’s a tie game, or we’re up one or down one, we get scared that (a collapse) is going to happen again.”

That doesn’t sound like a resilient team. Really, a team that was snatching victory from defeat is now experiencing the opposite.

“We’re finding different ways to lose every night lately, and it’s frustrating,” Erik Johnson said, also via Chambers.

Goalie battle brewing?

Looking at win-loss records alone, you’d assume Philipp Grubauer has mainly been struggling recently. After all, he’s only managed a single victory since Dec. 4.

The larger truth might just be that the Avs aren’t propping Grubauer up the same way.

The deeper you drill into Grubauer’s stats, the clearer it is that he’s been just OK all season. Grubauer actually managed a better save percentage during his one-win December (.910) as he did in a 3-4-0 November (.903).

Overall, Grubauer sports a mediocre 10-9-3 record, and a middling-but-not-catastrophic .911 save percentage.

In a more anxious hockey market, you’d probably hear all about how a goalie battle should be brewing. Maybe that hypothetical nervous group of fans would have a point, too.

Pavel Francouz stepped in when Grubauer was hurt, and now it’s fair to wonder who will start each night.

Even after a tough loss to the Wild on Dec. 27, Francouz’s numbers sparkle. The 29-year-old is 11-3-1 with a splendid .927 save percentage. That tough night against Minnesota ended a four-game winning streak, and Francouz also saw the end of an impressive eight-game point streak (7-0-1).

Avalanche count on history repeating with Grubauer?

Looking at Francouz’s numbers, it’s fair to wonder why he received such scant opportunities during his career. The undrafted goalie managed strong (if not brilliant) numbers basically everywhere he went. One could validly argue that the Avs should let him run with these chances.

On the other hand, what if Grubauer repeats the narrative from last season.

Consider that Grubauer was putrid before the All-Star break last season (.891 save percentage over 21 games), only to catch on fire afterward (.948 in 16 games), closing it off with a strong playoff run.

It’s easy to see why the Avalanche weigh that experience — and, frankly, their larger financial commitment to Grubauer — more than Francouz’s superior recent play.

That said, it’s absolutely a situation to watch, and one the Avs can’t afford to ignore. The Blues won’t be shy about testing Colorado’s goalies, either.

John Forslund and Brian Boucher will call the action from Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Avalanche host Wild on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Friday’s matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The League returns from the Christmas break with 11 games on the schedule, including this Central Division matchup – the third of five regular-season meetings between the Wild and Avalanche. Each team has won at home against the other with the Avs winning, 4-2, on Oct. 5 (second game of the season for both clubs) and the Wild pulling out a 3-2 victory on Nov. 21.

Colorado, looking to return to the postseason for the third straight year, sit second in the Central, while Minnesota is in the thick of the Wild Card hunt – two points back of Calgary for the second position – and certainly not out of the race for a division spot, just three points behind Winnipeg. The Wild missed the playoffs a season ago after making six consecutive appearances from 2012-13 to 2017-18.

Nathan MacKinnon was voted an All-Star captain for the second straight season. Having another MVP caliber season (was the Hart Trophy runner-up two seasons ago), the No. 1 pick in 2013 has played in all 37 games this season and leads the Avs in most major statistical categories – goals (21), assists (34), points (55), shots (168), power-play goals (7), power-play points (20).

Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk missed over a month with a family issue, playing on Nov. 16 and then coming back on Dec. 19. He’s played in three games since his return (two starts). He allowed five goals at Arizona in a win in his first game back and then had the shutout against Calgary on Monday.

The consistent line of Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen is now fully healthy and the second line of Andre BurakovskyNazem KadriJoonas Donskoi, which is entirely new this season, has been just as productive a trio. After MacKinnon (21), it’s Burakovsky and Donskoi (13 each) and Kadri (12), who are tops on the team in goals this season.

[COVERAGE OF BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Minnesota Wild at Colorado Avalanche
WHERE: Pepsi Center
WHEN: Friday, Dec. 27, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Wild-Avs stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

WILD
Zach PariseEric StaalMats Zuccarello
Ryan DonatoJoel Eriksson EkKevin Fiala
Jordan GreenwayNico SturmLuke Kunin
Marcus FolignoVictor RaskRyan Hartman

Ryan SuterJared Spurgeon
Jonas BrodinCarson Soucy
Brad HuntMathew Dumba

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk

AVALANCHE
Gabriel Landeskog – Nathan MacKinnon – Mikko Rantanen
Andre Burakovsky – Nazem Kadri – Joonas Donskoi
Matt NietoPierre-Edouard BellemareMatt Calvert
Tyson JostJ.T. CompherValeri Nichushkin

Cale MakarSam Girard
Nikita ZadorovRyan Graves
Ian ColeErik Johnson

Starting goalie: Pavel Francouz

Kathryn Tappen will host Friday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones. Chris Cuthbert will handle play-by-play duties alongside Pierre McGuire at Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.

Episode 2 of the three-part docuseries “Road To The NHL Winter Classic” will air on Friday, Dec. 27, at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. The season finale will be presented on Monday, Jan. 6, at 10:30 p.m. ET immediately following Oilers-Maple Leafs on NBCSN. 

The series will chronicle the Stars and Predators as they prepare to meet outdoors in the 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on January 1 at Cotton Bowl Stadium at 1 p.m. ET on NBC.

The Buzzer: Blues, Avalanche continue to be class of West

Jake Allen of St. Louis Blues
Getty Images

Three Stars

1) Jake Allen, St. Louis Blues

Allen lost his starting job to Jordan Binnington last season, but the backup goaltender has become a critical position as load management continues to be a hot topic. Binnington took over the starting role in January and has never gone through the rigors of a full NHL season. Allen made 35 saves Wednesday as the Blues defeated the Oilers 2-1 and picked up their fourth straight victory.

2) Pavel Francouz, Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche are the hottest team in the NHL and might have a goalie controversy on their hands. Francouz has been stellar between the pipes while Grubauer missed a few games with a lower-body injury. The Czech netminder made 31 saves as the Avalanche rebounded from their first regulation loss in 10 games earlier this week. With a 9-1-1 record in the past 11 games, the Avalanche appear to be ready to fight the Blues for the Central Division title.

3) Kyle Palmieri, New Jersey Devils

With Taylor Hall gone, Palmieri has risen to the top of the Devils depth chart as their go-to scoring forward. He might be a prime chip at this year’s trade deadline with another year remaining at a manageable $4.65 million AAV. Cam Fowler refused to challenge Palmieri before the alternate captain wired a wrist shot to give the Devils a one-goal lead in their 3-1 victory over the Ducks.

Highlights of the Night

MacKinnon had two must-see moments on one goal in the second period against the Blackhawks. The way he collected the puck just outside the blueline, and then the wicked wrister that bounced off the cross-bar and in.

Brayden Schenn didn’t waste much time on this breakaway

Stat of the Night

Scores

New Jersey Devils 3, Anaheim Ducks 1
Colorado Avalanche 3, Chicago Blackhawks 1
St. Louis Blues 2, Edmonton Oilers 1

Francouz continues to impress in win over Blackhawks

goalie Pavel Francouz #39 of the Colorado Avalanche in the third period
Getty Images

Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen each scored in the Colorado Avalanche 4-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks.

Pavel Francouz made 31 saves in his 10th victory and continued his impressive rookie campaign.

MacKinnon extended his point streak to six games with a pretty bar-down goal which went on to be the eventual game-winning goal.

Corey Crawford made 32 saves, but Chicago fell for the third time in four games.

Francouz continuing to push for more playing time

The Czech goalie returned to the net and the Avalanche returned to their winning ways. Francouz has made a strong push to be considered the starting goaltender with a 5-0-1 record in his past six games and a stellar 10-2-1 overall mark this season.

His calm demeanor in the crease has inspired confidence in the Avalanche skaters and allows them to play with a natural freedom on the ice. Philipp Grubauer returned from a lower-body injury and started the only regulation loss during the 9-1-1 stretch for Colorado.

Francouz has only played 15 games this season but could find himself in between the pipes when the puck drops in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Burakovsky producing

Colorado general manager Joe Sakic paid a hefty price this summer to bring in Andre Burakovsky but the talented Russian winger has fit in nicely with the Avalanche. The 24-year-old notched his 13th goal of the season with a nifty wrist shot from the top of the left circle that caught Corey Crawford off guard to give Colorado a 3-1 lead in the second period.

The Avs’ biggest roster challenge was lengthening the lineup and getting the necessary secondary scoring needed to advance in the postseason. Burakovsky has helped fill the need and is on track to surpass his career high in points and set himself up for a nice payday this summer.

Note:

Duncan Keith returned for Chicago after missing the previous nine games with a groin injury. The alternate captain recorded six shots on goal in 23:16 of ice time.