Paul Maurice not impressed with Jets’ effort in Montreal

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The Winnipeg Jets have been one of the best teams in the NHL for the better part of the last two seasons. This year, many expected them to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, and they have been, but Thursday’s performance in Montreal left a lot to be desired.

“We don’t have it happen very often,” said head coach Paul Maurice said after the 5-2 loss. “It’s almost in some ways easier to process this and to get ready for Ottawa, because it’s not like a guy let you down or you played your a– off and the goalie let you down. When I said we were no good, the coach is in on that too. We were all horse—t tonight. Big time.

“The coach was no good, the players were no good, the food was no good. We just hope that the plane works.”

That last line is especially terrific.

Maurice’s assessment of the game is very accurate. If netminder Connor Hellebuyck didn’t make five or six outstanding saves, the final score would have been way uglier than what it was. The Jets were simply the second best team on the ice all night.

The Jets bench boss didn’t single anyone out, but there’s two things that jump off the page if you’re a Winnipeg fan.

The top line of Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler was severely outplayed by the Canadiens’ first line, which consists of Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher and Jonathan Drouin. The Jets clearly have the more talented line, but they were outworked and hemmed into their own end from the start of the game until the very end.

Each member of the Scheifele line finished with a CF% between 39 percent and 42 percent. They were on the ice for one high-danger scoring chance for and seven against. Like we said, they were totally dominated from top to bottom. Connor managed to score the game’s first goal, but that was partly because of a terrible line changes from Montreal.

They should be able to bounce back in Ottawa on Saturday.

Anyway, moving on.

The other thing that is far too noticeable regarding the Jets, is how invisible Patrik Laine has been.

Here’s how Canadiens play-by-play voice Dan Robertson described Laine’s game last night:

Robertson’s points are all accurate. Nothing Laine did worked and it appears as though this has been the case for a while now. Let’s be clear, nobody should be worried about the way he’s playing, but the Jets have to find a way to get his season back on the rails.

He’s on pace to score 38 goals, which is still awesome. They just need him to step up his production, especially when the first line has an off night.

Sure, the Jets can wait it out with Laine. That will probably work. But they might just have to go out and get him a new linemate via trade. Can they squeeze Matt Duchene or Mark Stone out of Ottawa? Would they be willing to land Artemi Panarin as a pure rental? We’ll find out before the end of the month.

Even though they’re 3-3-1 dating back to Jan. 19, no one in Winnipeg should be panicking about this team. They’re still in top spot in the Central Division and they have the assets to make a significant deal before Feb. 25. They’ll be fine, but they have to move passed Thursday night’s ugly performance as soon as possible.

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.

Claude Julien has Canadiens playing fast, aggressive

Raise your hand if you expected the Montreal Canadiens to be sitting in third place in the Atlantic Division after 51 games this season. Anybody? I didn’t think so.

After finishing 28th in 2017-18, expectations for the Habs this year were fairly low. They traded away their two best scorers in Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk, and they were without Shea Weber for the first two months of the season. So you can understand why no one thought they’d be in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

The acquisitions of Max Domi and Tomas Tatar have really helped. Carey Price‘s performances in December and January have also propelled the Habs up the standings and career year’s from Jeff Petry, Phillip Danault and a few others haven’t hurt, either.

But one of the biggest reasons the Canadiens have had so much success, is because head coach Claude Julien has them playing faster than ever. They’re at their best when they’re aggressive on the puck and on the forecheck. Julien has admitted that this edition of the Canadiens isn’t the most talented or skilled, but when they work hard, they know they can go head-to-head against anybody.

“We’re a team that came into this season with the intention of changing the perception of our hockey club and what’s expected of us,” Julien told the Montreal Gazette after his team dropped an ugly home decision to the Boston Bruins in December. “And the only way we could do that was to go out and compete hard and that was the No. 1 thing we wanted to do and that’s the No. 1 thing I think people appreciated from our team. We’re a fun team to watch, we competed hard, and lately it’s just been on and off. We can’t think that all of a sudden we’re a skilled team and we can get away with just half efforts because this is too good of a league. With the parity, you’re not going to survive that way.”

And that consistently aggressive forecheck might not be easy to maintain, but they know that when they’re able to execute on that part of their game, they can force their opponents into making mistakes.

“We put a lot of pressure on teams and when you can close on a player, you force him to make decisions quickly,” Paul Byron said back in October, per the Gazette. “When you have the forwards we have — Max (Domi), myself, Artturi (Lehkonen) — pressuring the other teams it forces them to make mistakes and cough up pucks. We want to get on them fast. The more we can take time and space away from the them the more advantageous it is for us.”

Adding Luke Richardson to the coaching staff has also helped change the identity of the Canadiens. Richardson has found a way to get his group of defensemen into the rush to help create offense.

Here’s an example of Petry not being shy about handling the puck deep in the offensive zone:

The defense has also just played faster in the way they skate with the puck and move the puck, which has led to an increase in puck possession and quality scoring chances.

According to Natural Stat Trick, the Canadiens are the fourth best possession team in the league behind San Jose, Carolina and Vegas. They’re also fifth in FF%, sixth in SF%, sixth in GF%, and sixth in SCF%. Those are impressive numbers considering they don’t have a superstar forward like a lot of the other teams around them in the standings. Julien has put his team in a position to succeed and he’s done it by using all five skaters on the ice.

Even though there isn’t one specific way to measure this, it’s become increasingly clear that they’ve found a way to shoot from more dangerous areas on the ice. Last season, the Canadiens outshot their opponents fairly regularly, but a lot of those pucks came from the perimeter, where you just won’t score often enough. Now, they aren’t shy about getting to the dirty areas to make life more difficult for the opposing goaltender.

If Julien’s team can continue to hold on to the puck as much as they do, while getting incredible goaltending from Price, the Habs will continue to have success.

Are they legitimate Stanley Cup contenders? No. But they’re way ahead of where many expected them to be at this point in their re-tool project.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Fixing Oilers most difficult NHL task; Datsyuk return?

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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.

• Fixing the Edmonton Oilers is the most difficult task in the NHL. (TSN.ca)

• Player and puck tracking and today’s NHL. (The Canadian Press)

• He’s 40 and hasn’t played in the NHL for the past three seasons, but Pavel Datsyuk is open to a return to the NHL. (TSN.ca)

• Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice never content to rest as a head coach. (NHL.com)

• A quick look at every general manager in the NHL. (The Hockey News)

Phillip Danault, Montreal Canadiens MVP? The case is there to be made. (Montreal Gazette)

P.K. Subban — veteran NHLer, rookie television producer. (Forbes)

• Where do the Penguins currently sit among the NHL’s Stanley Cup contenders and pretenders? (Pensburgh)

Ondrej Kase to have season-ending surgery, out five-to-six months. (OC Register)

• When Mario Lemieux had his best-ever NHL season. (CBC)

• Go big or go home: Islanders should be aggressive through the trade deadline. (Lighthouse Hockey)

Brayden Point is going to get paid. (Tampa Bay Times)

• Will anyone hire Peter Chiarelli now? (Edmonton Sun)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Unlikely Selke candidate emerges in Montreal

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When the Montreal Canadiens traded Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2016, no one believed that they had acquired a potential Selke Trophy candidate. But through 48 games this season, Phillip Danault has shown that he has what it takes to be in the conversation for the NHL’s top two-way forward.

Over the last few years, the Canadiens have been thin down the middle. Danault has had to play on the team’s top line for a while, but no one ever expected him to be a go-to center. Most people still see him as a quality third-liner.

The 25-year-old has spent most of the season on a line with Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher. Those three have consistently gone up against every opponent’s best line. The minutes have been difficult, but those three have done a tremendous job of locking things down.

Danault opened the season with just two goals in his first 35 games, but he’s taken off since December. In his last 17 contests, the Habs forward has picked up 17 points. He’s now up to eight goals and 32 points in 48 games, which puts him on pace 55 points this season.

But let’s take a look at some of the advanced numbers that show us just how good he’s been in 2018-19.

He and his linemates are all in the top 50 when it comes to Corsi For Percentage. His 57.24 percent ranks 43rd in the NHL. The fact that the Canadiens control nearly 60 percent of the shot attempts when he’s on the ice is impressive. Keep in mind, he’s on the ice going up against Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Auston Matthews, Nikita Kucherov and so many other top players. That’s remarkable.

Also, when he’s on the ice, the Habs score nearly 60 percent of the goals that occur. Again, impressive. How about high-danger CF%? With Danault on, his team controls 57 percent of the high-danger chances that occur on the ice. He’s also the top faceoff guy on the team, at 53 percent.

“Phillip is playing some very good hockey. We rely on him a lot and we give him a lot of responsibility,” said head coach Claude Julien, per the Canadiens’ website. “He’s headed in the right direction. He’s often taking important faceoffs late in the game. He’s an extremely useful player.”

Over the last seven seasons, only three different players have won the Selke Trophy. Patrice Bergeron has won four times, Anze Kopitar has won it twice, and Jonathan Toews did it once. Bergeron is having a better offensive season than Danault, but he’s also missed 16 games so far. Kopitar and the Kings are totally off the grid this year and Toews is in a similar spot.

If Danault can continue to chip in offensively, while taking care of business defensively, he could find himself in the conversation for a nomination. Of course, he’s no slam dunk, but he’s been good enough to get himself on the radar, which is tough to do for this award, because voters usually hand it out on a reputation basis.

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.

The Buzzer: Kucherov’s five point night; Bergeron, Kovalchuk with big returns

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Three Stars

1. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. The Tampa Bay Lightning look unstoppable right now. After their 6-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night they are still averaging more than four goals per game on the season and are 11-0-1 in their past 12 games (and also 16-2-1 in their past 19 games). Leading the way on Saturday night was Nikita Kucherov with a five-point night to give him 57 points in 37 games this season. That is a 126-point pace over 82 games. The five points is a new season-high for him and already the eighth time this season he has recorded at least three points in a game. He is now just two points back of Colorado Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen (59 points) for the league lead in the scoring race.

2. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins. What a difference he makes when he is on the ice. Patrice Bergeron returned to the Boston Bruins’ lineup on Saturday afternoon for the first time since November 14 and it was like he never left. He finished with a four-point performance (two goals, two assists) in a 5-2 win over the Nashville Predators and was his usual dominant self in all phases of the game. He is now up to 31 points in 20 games this season for a Bruins team that has been trying to stay afloat despite some brutal injury luck this season. Getting a healthy Bergeron back will obviously be a huge boost to that lineup.

3. Phillip Danault, Montreal Canadiens. Entering play on Saturday Montreal Canadiens forward Phillip Danault had not scored a goal in 11 consecutive games, had just one in his past 30, and just two for the entire season. He topped that season total with three goals in a 4-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights. Given that he had scored just 10 goals since the start of the 2017-18 season, and only 27 in 223 career games, he is probably one of the most unlikely players to net a hat trick this season.

More big performances from Saturday

Jeff Skinner scored his 26th goal of the season for the Buffalo Sabres. That total is good enough for second place in the NHL behind only Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin. He continues to play his way toward a huge contract in the coming months.

Roberto Luongo turned aside 33 shots for the Florida Panthers in a 2-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings.

Cam Atkinson scored two more goals for the Columbus Blue Jackets to help lift his team to a 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, handing rookie goalie Carter Hart his first NHL defeat.

Pheonix Copley, Laurent Brossoit, Matt Murray, and Linus Ullmark all recorded shutouts on Saturday.

David Perron had two points for the St. Louis Blues in a 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames.

Alexander Radulov had two points, including the game-winning goal with just 10 seconds to play in overtime, to help lift the Dallas Stars to a 2-1 win over the Minnesota Wild.

Mark Scheifele‘s 22nd goal of the season, which came with just under 1:30 to play in regulation, helped lift the Winnipeg Jets to a 1-0 win in Vancouver. It is his fifth game-winning goal of the season.

— Mitch Marner thought he had a hat trick for the Toronto Maple Leafs until one of the goals was awarded to Andreas Johnsson. He instead had to settle for two goals and an assist in a 5-3 win over the New York Rangers. Johnsson also had three points in the win.

— The Arizona Coyotes allowed a three-goal third period lead to slip away against the Colorado Avalanche but were able to rebound for a 6-4 win thanks to a pair of late goals from Brad Richardson — the game-winner with less than four minutes to play, and then an empty net goal to secure the win.

Steven Stamkos scored two goals for the Tampa Lightning and hit the 20 goal mark for the 10th time in his career. He is one of the best players in the league and is only the third leading scorer on the Lightning, a testament to how good and deep the Lightning roster currently is.

Highlights of the Night

This is what the Los Angeles Kings had in mind when they signed Ilya Kovalchuk over the summer. It has not worked out as planned so far, but he had his bet game of the season on Saturday afternoon in a 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks by scoring two goals, including the game-winning goal in overtime.

The Sidney Crosby to Jake Guentzel connection is rolling in Pittsburgh. Guentzel scored two more goals on Saturday night in a 3-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, while Crosby picked up an assist on all three Penguins goals. The passing on Guentzel’s second goal was crisp.

Speaking of crisp passing, this John Tavares to Mitch Marner play is pretty great, too.

Factoids

Rasmus Dahlin scored a goal in the Buffalo Sabres’ 3-0 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night and is off to an incredible start to his career.

More on Ilya Kovalchuk’s big game for the Los Angeles Kings.

A perfect time for Pheonix Copley to record his first NHL shutout.

The Tampa Bay Lightning head to the holiday break as the best team in the NHL at the moment.

His team did not get the win, but Connor McDavid is still having yet another incredible season.

Scores

Boston Bruins 5, Nashville Predators 2

Columbus Blue Jackets 4, Philadelphia 3

Florida Panthers 2, Detroit Red Wings 1

Montreal Canadiens 4, Vegas Golden Knights 3

Los Angeles Kings 3, San Jose Sharks 2 (OT)

St. Louis Blues 3, Calgary Flames 1

Arizona Coyotes 6, Colorado Avalanche 4

Buffalo Sabres 3, Anaheim Ducks 0

Toronto Maple Leafs 5, New York Rangers 3

Washington Capitals 4, Ottawa Senators 0

Pittsburgh Penguins 3, Carolina Hurricanes 0

Dallas Stars 2, Minnesota Wild 1 (OT)

Winnipeg Jets 1, Vancouver Canucks 0

Tampa Bay Lightning 6, Edmonton Oilers 3

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.