Philip Danault

Canadiens vs. Penguins: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview

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The NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers kick off the Return to Play plan on August 1. This week, PHT will be previewing each series with a look at storylines and end with our predictions for the eight matchups.

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens — TV schedule, start times, channels

Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
Monday, Aug. 3: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens*
Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins*
*if necessary

Canadiens – Penguins preview: Top storylines for Stanley Cup Qualifiers series

Fearing Price?

When the NHL was finalizing the Return to Play plans and we knew this would likely be a Qualifying Round matchup, the notion of the Penguins being scared of Carey Price in a short series bubbled up. Of course, any goaltender can get hot and steal a series, especially one that is best-of-five. But the Canadiens netminder hasn’t been his old self for a few seasons now. Price’s even strength save percentage has dipped from the .930s he posted between 2013-14 and 2016-17 to .911, .920, and .916 in each of the last three seasons, per Evolving Hockey.

The Penguins aren’t slacking in terms of experience or offensive skill, so the idea that a goaltender would inspire fear? Seems silly. But every game means something now, so maybe someone threw this out there thinking a little gamesmanship wouldn’t hurt? Either way, how Price plays will be the biggest factor in determining whether the Canadiens pull off the upset or cross their fingers and hope they land Alexis Lafreniere in Phase 2 of the draft lottery.

Danault’s big task

Philip Danault is a player who should get more Selke Trophy love, and his two-way game has prepared him for shutting down Pittsburgh’s weapons. One shift he might be faced with keeping Sidney Crosby in check; the next his job will be to slow Evgeni Malkin. He’ll have his hands full, and with the Penguins being the “home” team for Games 1 and 2 and getting last change, Claude Julien won’t be able to get his preferred matchup right away.

Pittsburgh’s goalie decision

How coy is Mike Sullivan being about who will be the Penguins’ Game 1 starter? He wouldn’t even divulge if both Tristan Jarry and Matt Murray would play in their lone exhibition game against the Flyers. Who would start has long been a question since the Return to Play plan was announced. Sullivan has been using camp to influence his decision, but it’s unknown if he’ll announce his No. 1 before the series begins.

Murray’s ESSV% dropped from .930 in 50 appearances last season to .901 this season. In his first full NHL season, Jarry posted a .929 at 5-on-5 and grabbed the starter’s role from Murray. There’s a slight edge to Murray (.905 vs. .901) over Jarry in that stat after January 1 when each played 15 times. But the pause has evened the playing field for many goalie battles across the NHL. A short series leaves for little room for error, and Sullivan is hoping the 1a and 1b options at his disposal will turn out to be an edge.

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Who’s out? Who might return?

Canadiens: After taking a few days to speak with medical officials, Max Domi, a Type 1 diabetic, has decided to play. He’s since been centering a line with Dale Weise and Jordan Weal. Jesper Kotkaniemi is fully healed after suffering a spleen injury in March. Russian defenseman Alexander Romanov will be able to practice with the Habs during Phase 4, but will be unable to play after signing a three-year contract earlier this month.

Penguins: Sidney Crosby missed practice time in the last week but was on the ice with teammates Monday. One of the biggest beneficiaries of the pause has been Jake Guentzel, who used the time heal up from a shoulder injury suffered in December. The Penguins will be without Nick Bjugstad (spine), Domink Simon (labrum), and Zach Trotman (undisclosed) for the entire Return to Play.

Canadiens’ PK vs. Penguins’ PP

The Penguins power play does a good job of getting to the net to create scoring opportunities. That’s shown in their 136 high-danger scoring chances, per Natural Stat Trick. The Habs’ penalty kill? They were among the leaders in high-danger scoring chances allowed and had a 78.7% success rate through 71 games. Special teams are always so important in the postseason, this unique situation will only enhance that.

Pittsburgh’s power play finished middle of the road (19.9%). They had the Grade A chances, as evidenced by their number of high-danger chances, they just couldn’t capitalize. That was a focus during training camp and betting against that extra man unit — one that has finished above 23% in each of the last three seasons — would probably not end well. Montreal was good at keeping many extra man shots to the outside in the offensive zone, but there were enough holes to allow a good amount from down low. Price will be tested and Julien will need to be ready to make adjustments to what Mark Recchi, who handles the Penguins’ power play, throws at them.

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

A look at the Western Conference matchups
Previewing the Eastern Conference

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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 Morning Skate: NHL team face coverings; Hlinka Gretzky Cup canceled

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 league is still determining if it will wait until it’s safe and permissible for all 31 teams to start holding small-group workouts before triggering the next phase of its return-to-play protocol, or if it will allow clubs to reopen practice facilities in waves, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Monday.” [Sportsnet]

Philip Danault on the return to play idea involving centralized locations: “Some players could be away from their families for three to four months and I think that’s way too much. I’m not the only one thinking like that, I’m sure.  “I can’t make sense of it in my mind.” [TSN]

• The NHL is now selling licensed team logo face coverings to benefit Feeding America and the Food Banks Canada COVID-19 Response Fund. [NHL.com]

• The 2020 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, a big tournament for scouts, has been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. [Hockey Canada]

• What’s next for the Blackhawks following the dismissal of team president John McDonough? [NBC Chicago]

• Will Alex Pietrangelo be back with the Blues next season? [Post-Dispatch]

• How college hockey helped prepare Cale Makar, Adam Fox and Quinn Hughes for the NHL. [Sporting News]

• Like teammate Zdeno Chara, David Krejci is not thinking retirement once his contract ends after next season. [NBC Sports Boston]

• How a potential flat salary cap could affect the Capitals next season. [Japers’ Rink]

• Good read on Fabian Brunnstrom’s life after the NHL. [Dallas Morning News]

• One NHL agent has an idea on altering the salary cap going forward. Learn about The Exception Player. [KO Sports]

• Finally, NHLers dish on which teammates have the smelliest equipment:

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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.

NHL Power Rankings: Where every team stands right now

NHL Power Rankings
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Even though there is no hockey at the moment but we will keep the NHL Power Rankings rolling along every Monday.

In future weeks during the NHL’s hiatus this will take a more off-beat approach, but for now, we are going to take another look at where every team in the NHL stood before the season was put on hold.

Here is where we are for right now.

1. Boston Bruins. The Bruins were well on their way to winning the Presidents’ Trophy and potentially finishing with one of the best records in franchise history. They have it all this season.

2. St. Louis Blues. The defending Stanley Cup champions were looking even better than a year ago and starting to hit their stride in the stretch run. There is also that possibility of a Vladimir Tarasenko return lurking in the background.

3. Colorado Avalanche. Even as the injuries mounted they kept winning. A lot. A truly scary team in both the short-and long-term.

4. Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers finally find a franchise goalie and then a global pandemic brings everything to a stop.

5. Vegas Golden Knights. They were starting to go on a roll at just the right time, have two great goalies, and were still going to get Mark Stone back.

6. Tampa Bay Lightning. They won just three out of 10 after their 11-game winning streak came to an end. Losing Steven Stamkos, and more recently, Victor Hedman, were two big injuries to deal with.

7. Washington Capitals. John Carlson was on pace for a 90-point season, which is still pretty absurd to think about it in today’s NHL for a defenseman.

8. Edmonton Oilers. If nothing else, Leon Draisaitl has shown this season he can not only carry his own line, he can dominate while doing so.

9. Pittsburgh Penguins. Their big question going into the playoffs would be whether or not one of Tristan Jarry or Matt Murray could step up and run with the goaltending job. Lately, neither one had done that.

10. Minnesota Wild. Truly one of the strangest teams in the league this season. At so many different points they seemed finished, only to keep coming back and staying in the race. They are 15-7-1 in their past 23 games and looking like a playoff team.

11. Carolina Hurricanes. The injuries on defense were going to be a lot to overcome, but getting Petr Mrazek back (and hopefully James Reimer) would have been a huge lift.

12. Nashville Predators. Once one of their goalies (in this case Juuse Saros) started making some saves they magically started winning again.

13. Toronto Maple Leafs. There is no team in the NHL that has a wider range of possible outcomes than this one. They could win it all. They could lose in Round 1 in five games. They could keep everyone together. They could trade a core piece this summer. Who knows?

14. Winnipeg Jets. Not only should Connor Hellebuyck get serious Vezina Trophy consideration, he should get a few top-five MVP votes for what he has done for this team.

15. Calgary Flames. I feel like this team should be better than it has been, and at the same time, isn’t as bad as I thought it has been.

16. Dallas Stars. The offense would hold them back and be a concern. The goaltending would give them a chance.

17. New York Rangers. There is a foundation in place for this team to be very good, very fast, and for a very long time,.

18. Vancouver Canucks. They were set to get Brock Boeser back, which would have been huge, but the Jacob Markstrom injury was going to be a problem.

19. Florida Panthers. Back-to-back wins against Montreal and St. Louis (an extremely impressive win) helped them stay in it, but this season has mostly been a disappointment.

20. New York Islanders. Speaking of disappointments, after last year’s surprising performance and that 15-game point streak earlier this season the bottom completely fell out on this team. It was not getting any better down the stretch.

21. Chicago Blackhawks. The story of the 2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks was going to be “too little, too late.”

22. Los Angeles Kings. Say this for the Kings: The players still there never quit on this season. One of the hottest teams in the league going into the hiatus and beating playoff teams regularly.

23. Columbus Blue Jackets. It would have been interesting to see what this team was capable of with better injury luck.

24. Montreal Canadiens. He probably will not get many votes because he is very overlooked, but Philip Danault would be a good Selke Trophy sleeper.

25. Arizona Coyotes. They made a lot of the right moves, things just did not work out. Losing their two goalies definitely hurt. While Adin Hill did find in place of them, a healthy Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta were difference makers.

26. New Jersey Devils. One of the bright spots here was the late season resurgence of Cory Schneider. He has had such a great career it would have been a shame to see him just suddenly lose it all.

27. Anaheim Ducks. They desperately need an influx of offensive talent for next season and beyond.

28. San Jose Sharks. Get them healthy and give them better goaltending and let’s see what this core can do next season.

29. Buffalo Sabres. In a different year on a better team we would be talking about Jack Eichel as an MVP contender.

30. Ottawa Senators. With a little draft lottery luck they could have two top-five picks this year (their pick and San Jose’s pick). That could be franchise changing.

31. Detroit Red Wings. But no team needs the No. 1 overall pick more than the Red Wings.

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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: The Philadelphia Flyers’ wild ride

NHL Power Rankings
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If you are a Philadelphia Flyers fan, how do you do it?

How do you deal with the dramatic swings and the complete unpredictability that your favorite sports franchise throws in your direction every season without being driven completely mad? At any given time you could see a 10-game winning streak, or a 10-game losing streak, and neither one would ever shock you because you just have to think, “yeah, that streak makes sense.”

Take this season for example. The Flyers have already lost four games in a row on three different occasions. The only other teams in the league that have done that are Anaheim, Columbus, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montreal, Ottawa, and San Jose. That is a collection of the league’s worst teams and one bubble playoff team (Columbus). That many extended losing streaks should completely bury a team.

But not the Flyers. Not this team. They enter this week with one of the league’s best records (sixth-best points percentage), are currently on a six-game winning streak, and are just three points out of first place in the Metropolitan Division. It all just kind of happened out of nowhere.

That run puts them back in the top-five of this week’s NHL Power Rankings. Where do the rest of the teams sit this week?

To the rankings!

1. Boston Bruins. The Bruins may not have the NHL’s longest current winning streak, but they have the league’s best record (by far) and are 17-5-2 in their most recent 25 games.

2. St. Louis Blues. Since snapping a five-game losing streak that slowed them down in mid-February, the defending champions have ripped off seven wins in a row. The only reason it has not created more space at the top of the Central Division is because of the next team.

3. Colorado Avalanche. Even with all of their injuries (Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Philipp Grubauer, Andre Burakovsky, Matt Calvert) they are still rolling. They have won five in a row, have points in six straight, and are 13-4-3 in the past 20 games.

4. Philadelphia Flyers. A healthy Carter Hart could be a game-changer here.

5. Vegas Golden Knights. This team has been a sleeping giant all season. They were never as bad as their early season record indicated and they are now starting to distance themselves in the Pacific Division race.

6. Tampa Bay Lightning. Hopefully for their sake the Steven Stamkos injury does not linger too far into the playoffs.

7. Dallas Stars. I don’t know how good the Stars are overall as a team, but I do know their goaltending should put the fear of god into any potential playoff opponent.

8. Toronto Maple Leafs. You know, for all of the “sky is falling” mayhem that oozes out of Toronto every time this team loses a game they are 26-13-4 under Sheldon Keefe. That is a 107-point pace over 82 games. Calm down.

9. Washington Capitals. They still have the inside track on another Metropolitan Division crown but they have two absolutely massive upcoming games with the Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.

10. Pittsburgh Penguins. This is their first six-game losing streak since the 2011-12 season. They followed that streak by immediately winning seven games in a row. Let’s see what they do this time.

11. Edmonton Oilers. Leon Draisaitl has a real shot at back-to-back 50-goal, 100-point seasons. The most recent players to accomplish such a feat are Alex Ovechkin, Dany Heatley, and Mario Lemieux.

12. Nashville Predators. They are in a three-way tie for the second wild card spot, but have three more games to play than the two teams they are tied with. They would really have to screw this up to miss the playoffs.

13. New York Rangers. It may not result in a playoff appearance this season (losing Chris Kreider is a big loss), but they have definitely made it interesting and the future looks to be in good hands with this core.

14. New York Islanders. They should make the playoffs, but this has been a very ordinary team since the end of November. They are just 19-18-6 in the 43 games since November 24.

15. Carolina Hurricanes. I like all of their trade deadline moves, but let’s face it: Not having Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce is a problem. They also need one of their regular goalies back.

16. Minnesota Wild. They traded one of their best players in-season (Jason Zucker), they fired a really good coach when the team was starting to turn things around, and they still might end up making the playoffs.

17. Calgary Flames. They could end up with home-ice in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs or they could end up sitting on their couches in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

18. Vancouver Canucks. They can find ways to overcome the injury to Brock Boeser. The injury to Jacob Markstrom is the one that is going to hurt in the short-term.

19. Arizona Coyotes. Their 7-11-4 run over their past 22 games has not completely eliminated them from playoff contention, but given how many games in hand everyone around them has this is not going to be easy.

20. Columbus Blue Jackets. Even after losing 10 out of 11 games they are still in it. That win against Vancouver on Sunday night might be a season saver.

21. Winnipeg Jets. Connor Hellebuyck has helped them hang around this season but overall it’s just not a very good team.

22. Florida Panthers. This season started with so much hope and so much promise and it looks like it is just going to end up being more of the same. Very disappointing.

23. Buffalo Sabres. At the trade deadline they were talking about playing meaningful games down the stretch and then they followed it up by losing three games in a row to pretty much make every game the rest of the way completely meaningless.

24. Los Angeles Kings. Give them credit, with absolutely nothing to play for they are 6-2-1 in their past nine games and beaten a bunch of teams in playoff spots or fighting for a playoff spot.

25. Chicago Blackhawks. He still probably will not do enough to move ahead of top two defensemen, but Dominik Kubalik is playing his way into the top-three of the Calder Trophy discussion.

26. New Jersey Devils. It has been a rough couple of years for Cory Schneider but he has played three outstanding games since returning to the lineup.

27. Montreal Canadiens. Philip Danault has had a sneaky good season here. So they have that going for them.

28. San Jose Sharks. For as bad as this season has been I could still see this team being a contender again next season. I’m not crazy. Get healthy, fix the goaltending.

29. Anaheim Ducks. The last time the Ducks had a season this bad they were still branded as The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

30. Ottawa Senators. Bobby Ryan‘s return and hat trick was a pretty great moment.

31. Detroit Red Wings. There are loyal Detroit Red Wings fans that have watched every game of this season. I salute them. They should get an award.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Ovechkin continues chase for 700 vs. Canadiens on NBCSN

Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrates
Getty Images

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Washington Capitals and Montreal Canadiens. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Washington hosts Montreal in D.C. tonight in what will be the third and final meeting between the two clubs this season. All eyes will be on Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin as he continues his quest for 700 career goals.

Ovechkin is now goalless in five straight games after registering a hat trick against the Kings on Feb. 4. Of the seven members in the 700-goal club, five players took five games or longer to go from 698 to 700 career goals – Jaromir Jagr (5 games), Marcel Dionne, Wayne Gretzky, Mike Gartner (6 games), and Brett Hull (12 games).

The Capitals have struggled in the midst of Ovechkin’s trek towards 700 goals. For the first time since mid-October, Washington no longer owns at least a share of the Metro Division lead as Pittsburgh now occupies the top spot.

Tuesday afternoon, the Capitals acquired defenseman Brenden Dillon from the San Jose Sharks for a 2020 second round pick (originally acquired from Colorado) and a conditional 2021 third round pick.

Montreal lost 4-3 at Detroit on Tuesday night after blowing a two-goal third period lead. The Habs led 3-1 entering the third and gave up three unanswered goals to pick up their fifth straight loss. To make matters worse, the Red Wings swept the Habs in the regular season (four games) for the first time in franchise history. Four of Detroit’s league-worst 15 wins this season have come against Montreal.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Montreal Canadiens at Washington Capitals
WHERE: Capital One Arena
WHEN: Thursday, Feb. 20, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Capitals-Canadiens stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

CANADIENS
Tomas TatarPhilip DanaultBrendan Gallagher
Jonathan DrouinNick SuzukiJoel Armia
Artturi LehkonenMax DomiIlya Kovalchuk
Paul ByronNate ThompsonNick Cousins

Ben ChiarotShea Weber
Brett KulakJeff Petry
Xavier OuelletChristian Folin

Starting goalie: Carey Price

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas BackstromTom Wilson
Jakub VranaEvgeny KuznetsovT.J. Oshie
Carl HagelinLars EllerRichard Panik
Travis BoydNic DowdGarnet Hathaway

Brenden Dillon – John Carlson
Dmitry OrlovNick Jensen
Michal KempnyRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

Joe Beninati and analysts Craig Laughlin and Alan May will have the call from Capital One Arena.