Robin Lehner

Connor McDavid of Edmonton Oilers
Getty Images

The Buzzer: McDavid’s hat trick; Scheifele continues clutch play

Leave a comment

Three Stars

1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers captain recorded his fifth career hat trick on a night he registered his 400th career point. The speed is tantalizing but we have seen quick players before. McDavid however, is equipped with all the attributes needed to become the generational player he was destined to be. Leon Draisaitl is not only riding shotgun with McDavid, but also co-driving the bus as he chipped in with four assists as this dynamic tandem continues to be impossible to slow down.

2. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets

Often overlooked when discussing the best players of the game, Scheifele scored the game-deciding goal for the second straight game as the Winnipeg Jets defeated the Dallas Stars in overtime. The alternate captain took the puck from Tyler Seguin in his own zone, then darted toward the other end of the ice before firing a wrist shot between the legs of the Stars goaltender to help Winnipeg extend its point streak to five games (4-0-1).

3. Robin Lehner, Chicago Blackhawks

When a goalie allows four goals, they typically are not praised for their performance, but Robin Lehner proved to be an exception. His 53 saves were a career high, and just enough to help Chicago defeat Boston, 5-4. Toronto made a strong push in the final period, tossing 26 shots on net and beating Lehner three times, but the Blackhawks produced enough offensively to walk away with two points. Without No. 40 between the pipes, the Leafs could have blown out the Hawks.

Highlights of the Night

After his original shot was blocked, Patrick Kane collected a rebound in the high slot and fired a long-range backhand past Michael Hutchinson. The goal itself is a special highlight, but the fact it came 10 seconds after Kirby Dach’s strike is equally impressive.

In the end, it doesn’t mean much but Kaapo Kakko converted a nifty to deke to keep the Rangers alive in a shootout they would eventually lose. The Finnish rookie also scored a power-play goal earlier in the game, but the shootout maneuver was a small glimpse at how much skill this talented forward will bring to the NHL.

Ever since coming into the league, Patrik Laine was compared to Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals, largely because they had booming right-handed shots. On Sunday, Laine did his best impersonation when he launched a one-timer from Ovechkin’s power-play office. The accuracy of the shot was highlighted when it bounced out of the net as quick as it went in.

Factoids

  • Connor McDavid became the eighth player in NHL history to have reached the 400-point mark before their 23rd birthday [NHL PR].
  • Robin Lehner became the fourth different Chicago Blackhawks goalie to record at least 53 saves in a game since 1955-56 (when saves began officially being tracked [NHL PR].
  • Kirby Dach and Patrick Kane scored 10 seconds apart which marked the fifth time since 1989-90 the Blackhawks scored twice in a span of 10 seconds or less. [NHL PR].
  • The Devils extended their win streak against the Canucks to 11 games, the second longest run against one opponent in franchise history [NHL PR].
  • Phillippe Myers became the seventh different Flyers defenseman to record a three-game goal streak, and first since 1986-87 [NHL PR].

Notable injury update

  • The event happened Saturday night, but the Toronto Maple Leafs announced Sunday that forward Mitch Marner will miss at least the next four weeks, and then will be reassessed by the team’s medical staff. Read more

Scores

Panthers 2, Rangers 1 (SO)

Jets 3, Stars 2 (OT)

Devils 2, Canucks 1

Red Wings 3, Golden Knights 2

Blackhawks 5, Maplea Leafs 4

Flyers 3, Bruins 2 (SO)

Oilers 6, Canucks 2

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.

Blackhawks rally falls short in otherwise ugly loss to Sharks

1 Comment

There is not much to like about about the play of the Chicago Blackhawks right now.

For 56 minutes on Tuesday night they looked completely incapable of generating any sort of a push against the San Jose Sharks, only managing to score a couple of garbage time goals late in the third period to make the final score of their 4-2 loss look a little more respectable than it otherwise should have been.

Make no mistake, this was a brutal performance by everyone not named Robin Lehner.

After two periods the Blackhawks found themselves facing a 2-0 deficit and were being outshot by an embarrassing 26-8 margin, getting completely dominated by a Sharks team that entered the game with the worst record in the Western Conference. It was not even close. The Blackhawks looked two steps slow to every loose puck, couldn’t retrieve dump-ins to the offensive zone, couldn’t get out of the defensive zone where they looked like they were on a penalty kill the entire time, and just looked bad.

It was a continuation of a recent trend where they have spent entire games defending in their own zone, bleeding shots against and being unable to mount any sort of sustained attack in the offensive zone.

It happened against Nashville (outshot 51-20) in a 3-0 loss, it happened against Los Angeles (outshot 49-27) in an overtime loss, and it happened again on Tuesday.

Even with their attempts to fix the defense over the summer all of the same problems still exist and there does not seem to be any kind of a solution in the immediate future.

As for the Sharks, this was a desperately needed win.

They came into the night at the bottom of the Western Conference standings and had lost five in a row and seven of their past eight. It’s not too early to start hitting the panic button when you’re already that far out of a playoff spot, and the time has come for them to start collecting points.

Patrick Marleau, Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl, and Timo Meier all scored goals in the win.

They may not have closed out the game the way they wanted to in the closing minutes, but this was the type of performance the Sharks were expecting from this group. They were in complete control of the game and for the first time started to look like the Stanley Cup contender they are supposed to be.

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.

Islanders’ winning streak reaches 10 games

8 Comments

The New York Islanders are doing their part to silence the critics and doubters that were waiting for them to regress this season.

And they are silencing them emphatically.

With their 4-1 win over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night they extended their winning streak to 10 consecutive games, improved their record to 11-3-0 and pulled to within three points of the first place Washington Capitals while still having played in two fewer games.

After falling behind early, the Islanders scored four consecutive goals from four different players. Among the goal scorers were veterans Josh Bailey, Cal Clutterbuck, and Casey Cizikas, and rookie Cole Bardreau who scored his first career goal — also the game-winner — on a penalty shot.

So, about the Islanders.

I admit I was one of the people that was, let’s say skeptical, of their chances to repeat last year’s success and wasn’t sure how they would do without Robin Lehner. It was going to be a big test to see how much of the success was goaltending and how much of it was a real change to the defensive structure to a roster that, quite honestly, isn’t exactly loaded with All-Star talent, especially up front. But the results are the results, and they keep winning. A lot. The Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference as a whole is going to be extremely competitive this season and the Islanders have certainly given themselves an outstanding cushion.

They have a chance to extend their winning streak to 11 games on Thursday night when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team they swept in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs a year ago.

Their next three games are all at home.

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.

Lightning can’t stop Islanders, the NHL’s hottest team

Getty Images
1 Comment

The New York Islanders are just about undeniably the hottest team in the NHL right now, so it’s fitting that they took care of business against the team that rampaged through the 2018-19 regular season.

The Islanders beat the Tampa Bay Lightning by a score of 5-2 on Friday night, extending the Isles’ 2019-20 season-best winning streak to a remarkable eight games. The Isles are already in spitting distance of last season’s best run, when the St. Louis Blues rattled off 11 consecutive wins.

If you look at certain raw stats, you might believe that the Islanders simply got lucky.

The Lightning managed a significant 35-26 shots on goal advantage, and also carried things from a Corsi/Fenwick/etc. perspective.

Yet, as you might deduce from this in-depth look at the Islanders’ streak when it was seven-games long last weekend, things seem to be going by Barry Trotz’s design. Consider that, while the Islanders didn’t own all of the possession metrics against the Lightning, the Isles did manage a substantial 9-5 edge in high-danger chances at five-on-five, according to Natural Stat Trick.

The Islanders also employ Mathew Barzal, who can do things like this on his way to scoring a goal and an assist against the Bolts:

This Islanders team isn’t just relying on Barzal, mind you, as lead-by-example captain Anders Lee led the team in scoring with three points on a goal and two assists.

While Trotz’s system will earn deserved plaudits, Thomas Greiss‘ continued brilliance shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle. He’s now on a personal four-game winning streak after stopping 33 out of 35 Lightning shots, and the 33-year-old has allowed only eight goals total during that span. Greiss was almost as fantastic as Robin Lehner last season, sporting a .927 save percentage over 43 games. So far, he’s off to an even better start.

There’s a broken record aspect to this, but you have to think that, at some point, the Islanders won’t continue to enjoy this borderline interstellar goaltending on such a regular basis, even behind Trotz’s comfy-blanket system. Then again, the longer this goes on, the harder it gets to make that argument.

If nothing else, the Islanders are providing themselves some room to slip ever so slightly. Yes, we saw the Buffalo Sabres squander a big winning streak last season by missing the playoffs – badly – so it’s important to remember that this is a marathon, rather than a sprint. That said, many other NHL teams are eating the Islanders’ dust, and with a four-game homestand looming after the Islanders visit the Sabres in Buffalo on Saturday, the Isles might get off to an even bigger head start through the middle of the month.

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.

Rask, Rinne, Fleury are NHL’s hottest goalies so far

Getty Images
3 Comments

With every team except the New Jersey Devils at 10 games played or more – New Jersey’s played nine – this seems like a good time to check in on the most important (yet also most unpredictable) position in hockey: goalies.

These netminders are off to the hottest starts so far in the young 2019-20 season.

Tuukka Rask

If forced to name a top goalie so far, I’d lean toward the Boston Bruins veteran.

Rask is 6-0-1 so far, with a league-leading .951 save percentage.

The 32-year-old sparkles in deeper categories, too. Rask ranks third in even-strength save percentage at .961. According to Hockey Reference’s Goals Saved Against Average (GSAA) – a metric that attempts to account for the difficulty of shots a goalie faces – Rask leads all goaltenders by a healthy margin with 8.69 GSAA.

Every single one of his starts has been considered a “quality start.”

Pekka Rinne

Big-time Finns are off to great starts.

Rinne is tied with Penguins backup Tristan Jarry for the league’s best even-strength save percentage at .964, and Rinne’s off to a great start in the standings, going 7-0-1. Rask and Rinne are in a four-way tie for first place in shutouts with two alongside Carter Hutton and Petr Mrazek.

Rinne’s 6.53 GSAA ranks third. There was a time when people chalked up some of Rinne’s success to the team in front of him, and a brief period (especially 2015-16) when Rinne struggled by any measure. That’s looking more like a blip in an increasingly brilliant career.

Darcy Kuemper

I must admit, I wondered if the Coyotes were being hasty in extending Kuemper, as great as he was basically since the calendar hit 2019. Instead, GM John Chayka’s proactiveness might pay off big time, as Kuemper’s carried over that great finish from 2018-19 to 2019-20 so far.

If Arizona can give Kuemper more consistent goal support (5-3-0), he might get the sort of wins that Vezina-voting GMs gravitate to. Otherwise, he checks out with a .933 save percentage and 5.62 GSAA.

Marc-Andre Fleury

At some point, it feels like the Golden Knights are going to overwork their workhorse. The 34-year-old remains sturdy and often spectacular right now, though.

His eight wins (8-3-0) lead the NHL at the moment, and his 334 saves top all as well (though John Gibson‘s generally being asked to do even more in Anaheim, which is sadly not much of a surprise). Fleury’s .928 save percentage might not be outright spectacular compared to the best on this list, but his second-ranked 7.14 GSAA helps illustrate just how much Vegas depends upon “The Flower.”

Lightning round

  • Robin Lehner: The Blackhawks have fond memories of Corey Crawford (.888 save percentage), but might want to ride the hot hand in Lehner, who has a .936 save percentage through six games. There are signs that Lehner might be able to bail out a shaky Blackhawks defense, considering a high GSAA.
  • When you consider how well Pittsburgh’s played despite injuries that are finally healing up, give Sidney Crosby a lot of credit. Don’t sleep on Jarry and Matt Murray, though, as they have put together great stats early on.
  • The Canucks renaissance is based on a hot top line, but also Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko, with Demko maybe arguing for a bigger slice of the starts with a .941 save percentage. Both have been lights out, though.
  • Connor Hellebuyck: For all the doom and gloom for Winnipeg, the Jets would be in bigger trouble without a so-far redemptive season for Hellebuyck, who has a .924 save percentage and has generally saved their bacon.
  • Linus Ullmark and Carter Hutton have both been fantastic for the Sabres, ranking alongside each other at seventh and eighth in GSAA, and each have the requisite strong vanilla save percentages.
  • By John Gibson standards, a .920 save percentage is pedestrian, but again, the Ducks are asking him to work miracles. He’s pulling off magic, at minimum.
  • Last season, Thomas Greiss was almost as great as Lehner. So far in 2019-20, Greiss is … almost as great as Lehner (.931 save percentage, 4.02 GSAA).
  • To round out this post, Philipp Grubauer and Mikko Koskinen have had the occasional off start, but have mostly been strong for the Avs and Oilers respectively.

When you consider how many of these goalies are on teams that are mysteriously red-hot, maybe those torrid runs aren’t such a mystery. The bigger mystery is: how many of them can keep at least most of this up?

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.