Scott Harrington

PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites through Round 2

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With the Conference Finals underway it is time to take another look at the Conn Smythe race for the MVP of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The San Jose Sharks have probably been the team still standing that has had the most dominant individual performances, but the front-runner after the first two rounds just might be one of the NHL’s most hated players … unless he happens to play for your team.

Let’s take a look at the rankings.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. This postseason has given us the complete Brad Marchand experience. We have had the troll and pest antics (stepping on a stick blade and trying to break it; the interviews after Game 6 against Columbus) and the occasional dirty play (punching Scott Harrington in the back of the head then not regretting it). We have also had him show he is one of the best players in the NHL as demonstrated by the fact he enters the weekend leading the postseason in scoring 15 points in 14 games. His nine primary assists (all situations) are the most in the NHL, he has a game-winning goal, and is playing 20 minutes per night as a forward and one of Boston’s go-to players in every situation. You may not like the way he plays, but you can’t deny the fact he is one of best in the league and right now is very much in the running for the Conn Smythe.

2. Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks. A breakout regular season followed by what has been, to this point, a dominant postseason. Hertl enters the Western Conference Final tied for the league lead with nine goals this postseason, including four on the power play, two game-winners, and a shorthanded goal (which was also a game-winner to keep their season alive in Round 1).

3. Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks. It is a neck-and-neck race for the Sharks with Hertl and Couture carrying the load offensively. Couture has been as consistent a playoff performer as there is in the league over the past four years and has had a couple of massive games for the Sharks this postseason, including his Game 3 hat trick against the Colorado Avalanche in Round 2.

4. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes. Slavin is getting dangerously close to being that player that gets called underrated so many times that he can no longer be considered underrated. So let’s just stop calling him that and start calling him what he is: A legit top-pairing defender and a Conn Smythe candidate for the Hurricanes. He may not score a ton of goals, but the way he controls the game and shuts opposing forwards down puts him on a top level among the league’s defenders. He has always done that, and these playoffs are finally giving him a spotlight to shine in.

5. Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks. A finalist for the Norris Trophy and a contender for the Conn Smythe all in the same season. The only thing that might hurt his chances is that he has the two forwards listed ahead of him here on his team.

6. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues. After scoring just 11 goals during the regular season Schwartz has gone on a tear in the playoffs with eight goals in the Blues’ first 13 games. Nobody else on the team has more than five. Even more impressive is that seven of his goals have come at even-strength (most in the playoffs) and he also has two-game winners.

7. Jordan Staal, Carolina Hurricanes. I think if you asked for a Conn Smythe forward from the Hurricanes the first instinct from most people would be to say Sebastian Aho, and he has certainly been outstanding. But Jordan Staal deserves some recognition for the job he has done this postseason not only scoring some absolutely massive goals for the Hurricanes, but also for his defensive play and ability to help them dominate the possession game. His contract and lack of gaudy offensive numbers for a No. 2 overall pick probably knocks him down a few pegs in the eyes of fans, but he is one heck of a two-way player.

8. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues. The wild thing about the Blues is they are an outstanding team. They have been playing like a Stanley Cup team for months now and have more than earned their spot in the Western Conference Final. But there isn’t really a truly dominant individual performance on this team right now. It’s just a solid, top-to-bottom team that is getting contributions from everyone. One performance that has stood out has been Pietrangelo’s on the blue line. He is providing offense, playing big minutes, and leading what has been a great defensive team all season.

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.

No punishment for Bruins’ Marchand, who doesn’t ‘regret’ cheap shot

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Boston Bruins star-miscreant Brad Marchand isn’t expected to face supplemental discipline for his very Brad Marchand sucker-punch of Blue Jackets defenseman Scott Harrington, according to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline.

If you’re hoping that Marchand might have “learned” something from this experience, well, you haven’t been paying much attention, have you?

Marchand admitted to The Boston Globe’s Matt Porter that his punch to the back of Harrington’s head (while Harrington’s back was turned, and he was off his feet), was “unnecessary,” … but Marchand also said that he doesn’t regret doing it, explaining it away as “playoff hockey.” Then cue some whataboutism, in regard to Columbus apparently roughing up Jake DeBrusk.

To Harrington’s credit, he’s not throwing gas on the fire. Instead, he called it a “hockey play” and emphasized that the Blue Jackets are moving on, as NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty reports. (This article has even more on Harrington brushing it off.)

Allowing Marchand to be his own worst enemy?

You may chalk this up as “living well is the best revenge.”

The Blue Jackets have won two consecutive games to snare a 2-1 series lead against the Bruins in Round 2, including Tuesday’s strong Game 2 effort.

Bottling up Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak has been a big part of Columbus’ success. Marchand specifically is on a four-game pointless streak, stretching back to Game 7 of Round 1 against the Maple Leafs, and he must be getting frustrated being that he’s failed to score a goal despite generating nine shots on goal against Sergei Bobrovsky over three games.

While going without a point, Marchand’s taken two penalties, and both resulted in power-play goals for the Blue Jackets. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that the Bruins are planning on having a talk with Marchand about discipline.

Honestly, it’s hard not to chuckle at the thought of the Bruins having what must be the billionth “talk” with Marchand about his antics.

Years ago, even stretching back to the later days of the Peter Chiarelli era in 2014, there were rumblings about Marchand being traded, in large part because of his sometimes self-destructive tendencies. Marchand’s ascent from a very good player to a full-fledged superstar has been aided by a better balance of scoring versus shenanigans, yet it sure seems like it’s too much to argue that he’s fully reformed.

(Granted, his playoff lick count appears to be at zero, unless we’ve missed some sneaky snacking.)

All things considered, the Blue Jackets are being pretty smart here. Sure, some of John Tortorella’s no-comment approach is to avoid fines for officiating, but if this side stuff gets Marchand off of his game and into the penalty box, that could be the sort of factor that helps Columbus win a Round 2 series that’s been very extremely close so far.

In other words, the Blue Jackets may profit off of a “don’t feed the troll” approach.

Teaching moment

Onlookers have been quick to voice their disapproval, however.

USA Today’s Kevin Allen believes that a suspension is warranted, considering Marchand’s history. Even those who argue that it wasn’t suspension-worthy also called it “greasy” or even “a greasy rat play.”

The “it is what it is” feeling spreads when you realize that sneaky punches do happen quite often during these scuffles. The Blue Jackets experienced this before when Steven Stamkos snuck a shot in on Nick Foligno (note Foligno’s death stare), and plenty was made of Zdeno Chara landing a punch on John Tavares.

“These things happen” makes it tough to suspend Marchand, yet maybe this moment could inspire some broader change? What if the NHL decides during the off-season to ramp up punishments for these types of moments, particularly involving punches to the head, especially as we gain more awareness of the dangers of head injuries? Would other players – not just recidivists like Marchand – really take the chance to throw unnecessary punches like those if there was a more credible threat of a suspension?

***

Whether he’s getting under the Blue Jackets’ skin, scoring goals, or having a meltdown while failing to accomplish either task, it should be fascinating to watch Marchand in Game 4 and as this series goes along. Just don’t expect some big change of heart from one of the most prolific pests of the playoffs.

Game 4 goes at 7:30 p.m. ET on Thursday on NBCSN (Stream live).

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’ Marchand punches Blue Jackets’ Harrington in back of head

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Think Brad Marchand has changed his ways?

Think again.

Marchand once again let the pest inside him get the better of his better judgment late in the third period of Boston’s 2-1 Game 3 loss against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday.

The Bruins forward, who seemed to have an epiphany of sorts this year as he worked his way to his first 100-point season (and steered clear of the penalty box for the most part) went back to old faithful with 1:01 remaining.

Blue Jackets defenseman Scott Harrington was sitting up on his knees after a stoppage in play in the Columbus zone. Marchand positioned himself behind the unsuspecting Harrington and landed a jab flush to the back of his head, out of the sight of the officials who were dealing with a couple of scrums that had erupted following the whistle.

There was no call on the play.

“I am not giving you my thoughts. I don’t need to give any thoughts on that,” Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said afterward. “You guys can come up with something there.”

Marchand has been suspended six times in his NHL career, with his latest coming last season when he elbowed now-teammate Marcus Johannson in the head. That one garnered him five games.

It remains to be seen what, if any, action the NHL’s Department of Player Safety takes in this case.

It meets quite a bit of criterion, however. Defenseless player and avoidable head contact come to mind.

UPDATE:


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

Push for the Playoffs: Blue Jackets’ need to take advantage of favorable schedule

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Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

The Carolina Hurricanes are beginning to strengthen their hold on an Eastern Conference playoff spot. That pretty much heats things up for both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens. Montreal’s only salvation is a wild card place, while the Blue Jackets (and Hurricanes) still have a shot at grabbing one of the Metropolitan Division’s three seeds.

The Blue Jackets started off their four-game road trip with losses to the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames. They head to Edmonton tonight and Vancouver on Sunday in two games where heading home with four points in the bag could go a long way. Of their final nine games, only three come against teams currently in a playoff position. Then there’s March 28 when they host the Canadiens, which could be big boost for either team’s postseason dreams.

“We’ve had a tough schedule, but if you want to make the playoffs and you want to do damage in the playoffs, those are the teams you have to beat,” said defenseman Scott Harrington. “It’s great to prepare us for what’s potentially upcoming and where we want to be.”

Columbus’ biggest issue of late has been their inability to score. They’ve averaged only 2.2 goals per game in their last 12 games. Their big trade deadline acquisitions are still warming up. Matt Duchene has two goals in this last four games after going goalless in this first eight games with the Blue Jackets. Meanwhile, Ryan Dzingel has just one since being dealt from Ottawa.

Given GM Jarmo Kekalainen’s moves at the deadline, there’s pressure on the entire organization to make the playoffs. Columbus is 5-6-1 since the deadline, and while they may have the NHL’s eighth-easiest schedule remaining, those opponents cannot be overlooked.

“We’re not getting the results, which is frustrating, but the process is there,” said Duchene. “The second you deviate from the process is when you start to fail and deserve to fail. We’ll keep going and we’ll stay with it and take it one day at a time.”

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Capitals vs. Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Penguins
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

Flames vs. Coyotes
Jets vs. Stars
Sharks vs. Golden Knights
Predators vs. Blues

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Coyotes at Panthers, 7 p.m. ET
Bruins at Devils, 7 p.m. ET
Lightning at Hurricanes, 7 p.m. ET
Islanders at Canadiens, 7:30 p.m. ET
Red Wings at Blues, 8 p.m. ET
Penguins at Predators, 8 p.m. ET
Flyers at Blackhawks, 8:30 p.m. ET
Avalanche at Stars, 8:30 p.m. ET
Senators at Flames, 9 p.m. ET
Blue Jackets at Oilers, 9 p.m. ET
Jets at Golden Knights, 10 p.m. ET
Sharks at Kings, 10:30 p.m. ET

TODAY’S CLINCHING SCENARIO
Winnipeg will clinch a playoff berth…

If they defeat Vegas in any fashion

OR

If they get one point against Vegas AND either of the following occurs:

• Arizona loses in regulation
• Both Chicago and Colorado lose in any fashion

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)
Lightning — Clinched
Bruins — 100 percent
Maple Leafs — 100 percent
Capitals — 100 percent
Islanders — 99.2 percent
Penguins — 97.0 percent
Hurricanes — 95.8 percent
Blue Jackets — 72.7 percent
Canadiens — 33.6 percent
Flyers — 1.3 percent
Panthers — 0.4 percent
Sabres — Out
Rangers — Out
Devils — Eliminated
Red Wings — Eliminated
Senators — Eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)
Flames — Clinched
Sharks — Clinched
Jets — 100 percent
Predators — 100 percent
Golden Knights — 100 percent
Blues — 99.7 percent
Stars — 95.5 percent
Coyotes — 54.2 percent
Avalanche — 23.6 percent
Wild — 15 percent
Blackhawks — 10.4 percent
Canucks — 1.3 percent
Oilers — 0.3 percent
Ducks — Out
Kings — Eliminated

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Senators — 18.5 percent*
Kings — 13.5 percent
Red Wings — 11.5 percent
Devils — 9.5 percent
Ducks — 8.5 percent
Rangers — 7.5 percent
Sabres — 6.5 percent
Oilers — 6 percent
Canucks — 5 percent
Blackhawks — 3.5 percent
Wild — 3 percent
Panthers — 2.5 percent
Avalanche — 2 percent
Flyers — 1.5 percent
Canadiens — 1 percent
(*COL owns OTT’s 2019 first-round pick)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning — 119 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 105 points
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 101 points
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins — 93 points
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames — 92 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — 48 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 43 goals
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 41 goals
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — 41 goals
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning — 38 goals
Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks — 38 goals
Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets — 38 goals

————

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.

WATCH LIVE: Blue Jackets visit Penguins on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Thursday night’s matchup between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

This game is the start of a home-and-home that will wrap up the season series between Columbus and Pittsburgh. The Penguins have won both meetings so far, including their game last week in Columbus. Overall, the Pens have won seven in a row in the regular season vs. the Blue Jackets.

This home-and-home series figures to have massive implications on the playoff race. Entering this game, just two points separate third in the Metro from being outside of the playoffs entirely.

Columbus picked up a much-needed two points on Tuesday with their 2-1 shootout win over New Jersey. The Jackets had been 1-3-0 since the trade deadline, so the win was a tangible measure of progress to keep them right in the playoff mix. However, the reaction in the locker room afterwards was hardly celebratory. The Jackets played very poorly, mustering only 18 shots on goal (a season-low) against a Devils team that had nearly half of its regular lineup out due to injury.

Pittsburgh also went past regulation on Tuesday, defeating Florida 3-2 in OT, thanks to Jake Guentzel’s second goal of the game. He now has 33 goals this season. Sidney Crosby had three points to surpass the 1,200-point threshold.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins
Where: PPG Paints Arena
When: Thursday, March 7, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blue Jackets-Penguins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLUE JACKETS
Artemi PanarinPierre-Luc DuboisJosh Anderson
Nick FolignoMatt DucheneCam Atkinson
Ryan DzingelAlex WennbergOliver Bjorkstrand
Brandon DubinskyBoone JennerRiley Nash

Zach WerenskiSeth Jones
Markus NutivaaraDavid Savard
Scott HarringtonAdam McQuaid

Starting goalie: Joonas Korpisalo

PENGUINS
Jared McCann – Sidney Crosby – Jake Guentzel
Zach Aston-ReeseEvgeni MalkinPhil Kessel
Dominik SimonNick BjugstadPatric Hornqvist
Teddy BluegerMatt CullenGarrett Wilson

Brian Dumoulin – Zach Trotman
Jack JohnsonJustin Schultz
Marcus PetterssonErik Gudbranson

Starting goalie: Matt Murray

John Forslund (play-by-play) and AJ Mleczko (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Pittsburgh. Pre-game coverage starts at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Paul Burmeister alongside Jeremy Roenick and Mike Johnson.