Sean Couturier

Flyers keep rolling, will play for No. 1 seed in East on Saturday

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The Philadelphia Flyers were the hottest team in the NHL when the 2019-20 season was paused, and they are not slowing down during the league’s restart.

They kept rolling on Thursday afternoon with a thoroughly convincing 3-1 win over the Washington Capitals in Round-Robin play to take another big step toward the No. 1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference.

After beating Boston on Sunday, the Flyers are now 2-0-0 in the Round-Robin phase and will have a massive game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.

The winner of that game will be the No. 1 seed in the East while the loser will be second.

The Capitals and Bruins will play for the No. 3 seed on Sunday.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

A few takeaways from the Flyers’ latest win…

1. The story for Philadelphia on Thursday was their depth, as it wasn’t their top stars driving the win.

Backup goalie Brian Elliott got the start in goal and stopped 16 out of 17 shots in the win, while Scott Laughton scored two more goals to give him three already in the return to play. That does not include the overtime winner he scored in the exhibition game against Pittsburgh. He also added an assist on Travis Sanheim‘s second period goal to give the Flyers a 2-0 lead.

Both goals were scored because of slick passing plays.

The first one was off a ridiculous no-look feed from Travis Konecny.

2. The Flyers raised quite a few eyebrows over the summer when they acquired the RFA rights to Kevin Hayes and then gave him a massive seven-year contract. Hayes is a good player, but it just seemed like a huge commitment for a player that probably wasn’t considered a core forward. Just one year into his contract and he is looking like a huge pickup in the short-term. After a strong regular season performance that saw him score 23 goals in 69 games, he already has four assists in the return to play and factored into all three goals on Thursday. It is still fair to wonder how that contract will look toward the end of it, but if he helps the Flyers bring a championship back to Philadelphia nobody is really going to be concerned about that.

3. And let’s be very clear about something: the Flyers bringing a championship to Philadelphia this season is not an outrageous thought. It could happen. This team looks like a legit contender right now and is still clicking on all cylinders. Before the NHL pause they had won 19 out of 26 games, and since returning to play have completely dominated the Boston Bruins and Capitals, outscoring them by a 7-2 margin in the two games.

There is little to suggest it is a fluke, either. During the regular season they had very strong underlying numbers at 5-on-5 (on the positive side when it came to shot attempts, scoring chances, expected goals), they finally have a solution in goal (Carter Hart), and they have very quietly assembled a strong group of depth players to complement the core of Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier. They were so dominant on Thursday that they limited the Capitals to just 17 shots on goals, including only two from Alex Ovechkin.

4. As for the Capitals, the absolute best they can hope for in seeding is the No. 3 seed in the East if they can beat the Bruins in regulation on Sunday. They had a little bit of a scare on Thursday when center Evgeny Kuznetsov took an awkward fall late in the first period. He was able to return to the game eventually. The Capitals are also still playing without top defenseman John Carlson who has yet to play in Round-Robin play.

MORE:
• 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers 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.

NHL 2019-20 Final standings, playoff schedule, draft lottery results

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The NHL seeks to hand out the 2020 Stanley Cup despite the COVID-19 pandemic, so with that, Tuesday ranks as a big day as we spotlight the NHL 2019-20 Final standings, among other topics.

Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the league’s return-to-play plan, which includes a 24-team playoff format involving two “hub cities.” Plenty of dates still need to be determined, but there are key windows, such as “early June” for resuming skating in small groups, and “no earlier than the first half of July” for formal training camps.

NHL 2019-20 Final standings

Eastern Conference standings (top 12 make cut for NHL 24-team format)

East final NHL standings 2019-20
rankings based on points percentage, via NHL.com

EASTERN CONFERENCE (Scotiabank Arena)

Click here for updated TV info for the Qualifiers

Round-robin
Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers vs. Bruins, 3 p.m. ET
Monday, Aug. 3:
Capitals vs. Lightning, 4 p.m. ET
Wednesday, Aug. 5:
Lightning vs. Bruins, 4 p.m. ET
Thursday, Aug. 6:
Capitals vs. Flyers, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8:
Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9:
Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens
Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m. ET
Monday, Aug. 3: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m. ET
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET
Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens*
Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins*

(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers
Saturday, Aug. 1: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET
Monday, Aug. 3: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Hurricanes vs. Rangers, 8 p.m. ET
Thursday, Aug. 6: Hurricanes vs. Rangers*
Saturday, Aug. 8: Rangers vs. Hurricanes*

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers
Saturday, Aug. 1: Panthers vs. Islanders, 4 p.m. ET
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Panthers vs. Islanders, 12 p.m. ET
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Islanders vs. Panthers, 12 p.m. ET
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers*
Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets
Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 8 p.m. ET
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 4 p.m. ET
Thursday, Aug. 6: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, TBD
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs*, TBD

[MORE: NHL announces full schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers]

Western Conference standings (top 12 make cut for NHL 24-team format)

West final NHL standings 2019-20
rankings based on points percentage, via NHL.com

WESTERN CONFERENCE (Rogers Place)

Click here for updated TV info for the Qualifiers

Round-robin
Sunday, Aug. 2: Blues vs. Avalanche, 6:30 p.m. ET
Monday, Aug. 3: Stars vs. Golden Knights, 6:30 p.m. ET
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Avalanche vs. Stars, 6:30 p.m. ET
Thursday, Aug. 6: Golden Knights vs. Blues, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Golden Knights vs. Avalanche, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Stars vs. Blues, TBD

(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks
Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 3 p.m. ET
Monday, Aug. 3: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 10:30 p.m. ET
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m. ET
Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks*, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers*, TBD

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes
Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2 p.m. ET
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2:30 p.m. ET
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*, TBD

(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild
Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:30 p.m. ET
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:45 p.m. ET
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks vs. Wild, TBD
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*, TBD

(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets
Saturday, Aug. 1: Jets vs. Flames, 10:30 p.m. ET
Monday, Aug. 3: Jets vs. Flames, 2:30 p.m. ET
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Flames vs. Jets, 4:45 p.m. ET
Thursday, Aug. 6: Flames vs. Jets*, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Jets vs. Flames*, TBD

* – if necessary

2020 NHL Draft Lottery Results

The Draft lottery was won by a team involved in the Return to Play plan. That means there will be a Phase 2 drawing featuring the eight losing teams from the Qualifying Round. Those teams will each have a 12.5% chance to the top pick in the drawing, which will be held between the Qualifying Round and the First Round.

1. Placeholder team
2. Los Angeles Kings
3. Ottawa Senators (via San Jose)
4. Detroit Red Wings
5. Ottawa Senators
6. Anaheim Ducks
7. New Jersey Devils
8. Buffalo Sabres
========================
9. Placeholder team
10. Placeholder team
11. Placeholder team
12. Placeholder team
13. Placeholder team
14. Placeholder team
15. Placeholder team

If the COVID-19 pandemic forces the NHL to pull the plug on playing games the lottery would then include only the eight lowest teams by inverse of their regular season points percentage. That would mean Arizona, Chicago Columbus, Florida, Minnesota, Montreal, New York Rangers, and Winnipeg would be in the running for the No. 1 pick.

NHL AWARD FINALISTS
Ted Lindsay Award: Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon, Artemi Panarin
Calder Trophy: Quinn Hughes, Cale Makar, Dominik Kubalik
Jack Adams Award: Bruce Cassidy, John Tortorella, Alain Vigneault
• Masterton Trophy: Stephen Johns, Oskar Lindblom, Bobby Ryan

Lady Byng Trophy: Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews, Ryan O’Reilly
Vezina Trophy: Connor Hellebuyck, Tuukka Rask, Andrei Vasilevskiy
Selke Trophy: Patrice Bergeron, Sean Couturier, Ryan O’Reilly
Norris Trophy: John Carlson, Victor Hedman, Roman Josi
Hart Trophy: Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon, Artemi Panarin

Flyers top Penguins in OT as NHL Return to Play exhibitions begin

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Scott Laughton‘s overtime goal gave the Flyers a 3-2 win over the Penguins in the first exhibition game of the NHL’s Return to Play.

The Penguins took the early lead after Conor Sheary‘s goal 5:06 into the first period. Philadelphia answered to close out the opening 20 minutes as Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes scored to grab a 2-1 lead.

After a goalless second period, the Penguins took advantage of a Flyers’ breakdown as Jason Zucker tied the game with 3:55 to go.

NHL regular-season overtime rules apply to the exhibition and round-robin games, which meant three-on-three was needed to decide a winner. After chances from both teams, Travis Konecny sent a wonderful pass to a streaking Laughton to set up the winner.

A different atmosphere

There we no fans inside Scotiabank Arena. Seats were covered by NHL tarps and the sounds of players communicating and skates cutting the ice were partnered with ambient crowd noise. Ice crews wore masks, as did the workers (along with gloves) who sanitized the benches between periods. It was a unique situation for all.

Even our own Brian Boucher had safety on his mind with a new and improved “Inside the Glass” position:

Once the puck dropped, it was a good 60-plus minutes for both teams to get back up to speed after so much time off. The Flyers will want to see some better defensive zone coverage, while the Penguins are hoping to wake up a power play that 0-for-3.

“It’s something where we expected some hiccups and little things that you’re not going to get in intra-squad games,” said Zucker. “It was good for us to get out there, get the feels and see what we need to shore up before Saturday.”

The setting was not what we are used to, but it was still a hockey game. There was plenty of sloppiness and lots for both teams to work out in the coming days. That’s what you get after a 140-day absence.

But still, hockey is back.

NHL on NBCSN exhibition schedule – Wednesday, July 29

Carolina vs. Washington – 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Chicago vs. St. Louis – 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
N.Y. Rangers vs. N.Y. Islanders – 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

————

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: Fleury’s playoff streak; Boeser’s mission

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Marc-Andre Fleury is set to play in the playoffs for the 14th straight season. That streak is currently the longest active one of any athlete in the four major North America sports. [Sin Bin Vegas]

Bruce Cassidy on how he plans to use the Round Robin games to prepare the Bruins for the First Round. [National Post]

Max Domi, a Type 1 diabetic, on deciding to join the Canadiens for the Stanley Cup Qualifiers: “We’re learning more and more day by day, and I think to have that little buffer there to make sure that when I got here it was super safe — not that it wasn’t at the start — worked out great. Now that I’m here, it’s awesome, and I’m just worried about Game 1 against Pittsburgh and super excited to be part of the group now.” [Sportsnet]

• NHL coaches on reminding players not to break NHL bubble rules. [ESPN]

Brock Boeser entered summer training camp on a mission to finish off this season strong. [NHL.com]

• Why the Rangers could be the NHL’s next dynasty. [NY Post]

• How Brendan Lemieux‘s two-game suspension hurts the forward more than the Rangers. [Forever Blueshirts]

Connor McDavid on Leon Draisaitl‘s chances at both the Lindsay Award and Hart Trophy: “I think the players [in Pearson voting] will get it right with Leon. Probably should do both but I don’t have a lot of faith in the media [for Hart Trophy].” [Edmonton Journal]

• The voting for the 2019-20 Norris Trophy was a difficult choice. [The Hockey News]

• What makes Sean Couturier a great choice as a Selke Trophy finalist. [NBC Sports Philadelphia]

————

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 Training Camp News and Notes: Carter Hart hurt; Bruins, Blackhawks updates

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Let’s rummage through news and notes from around the NHL during day nine of formal training camps.

Flyers’ Carter Hart leaves practice on a goalie-heavy day of news from NHL training camps

Tuesday presented a fairly goalie-heavy slate of news and notes from around NHL training camps.

[NBC and NBCSN TV schedule for the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers]

Carter Hart hurt, Flyers teammates indicate it might not be serious

If you’ve followed coverage of NHL training camp news at PHT, you realize that teams aren’t being forthcoming with injury updates. Chalk that up to the culture of the league, and even NHL mandates, but it leads to “COVID-19, injury, or restroom run?” debates. None of this is fun.

So we can only speculate about Hart. According to NBC Sports Philly’s Jordan Hall, Hart left quietly during the first period of a Flyers scrimmage. Hall notes that it was unlikely to be an equipment issue, being that Hart did not return.

For fans hoping for optimism, Kevin Hayes‘ comments bring a mixed bag. He seems upbeat about it … but Hayes also didn’t notice that Hart left. Maybe he’s not totally clued-in, yet any insight is welcome as NHL teams prefer the “keep everyone in the fog” approach.

“I think it’s nothing too serious,” Hayes said, via Hall. “Obviously it’s important to get into shape and get game-ready, but if you have something that’s minor that you don’t want to push, it’s not a big deal to get off the ice like that. We’d rather have him be 100 percent than pushing hard at like 85, 90 percent. Probably a smart decision by him. I don’t think it’s anything major.”

Flyers such as Sean Couturier said all the right things about Brian Elliott being capable if Hart is unavailable, but if we’re being honest, it’s tough to be too confident in Elliott at this point in his career.

(Then again, goalies are unpredictable, and the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers may end up even more difficult to forecast.)

Latest round of Bruins updates, including troubling Tuukka news

Being that the Bruins boast plenty of veterans, it’s not that surprising that they’ve been a team to watch for training camp news. Even so, it might be getting a little exhausting for fans, players, and staff alike to try to parse details as David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy and others miss training camp activities.

Apparently there was even a Brad Marchand scare on Tuesday.

Marchand and others seem to shake off worries about Pastrnak missing opportunities to shake off rust. Similarly, Tuukka Rask didn’t seem too concerned despite admitting that he suffered a fractured finger while training.

Hmm, none of this seems ideal. At least the Bruins are merely fighting for seeding during the Round Robin portion of the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, eh? Also … at least Jaroslav Halak puts up starter-quality numbers too, right?

(Insert cringe emojis where applicable.)

Blackhawks optimistic about Crawford, Toews still missing time

After trading away Robin Lehner, the defense-optional Blackhawks’ ability to upset the Oilers may hinge on whether Corey Crawford can play. That remains unknown, as Crawford hasn’t been involved in Phase 3 yet. When speaking to the media, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman seemed hopeful about Crawford being available.

“We are hopeful on that,” Bowman said, via NBC Sports Chicago. “We’ll be able to give you a better idea toward the weekend. Something we’re still shooting for, but I don’t have any definitive comment. Still hoping that’s the case.”

Jonathan Toews recently joined Crawford in the mystery training camp absence zone. After Toews left team activities early on Monday, Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton insisted that the team is merely trying to keep Toews fresh. Toews missed Tuesday’s training camp action too, though, and this time Colliton defaulted to “unfit to play.”

Hmm.

Other NHL training camp news and notes from day nine

  • Here’s one for the “Thank Goodness” files: Jay Bouwmeester is in Canada, but won’t join the Blues. Considering what Bouwmeester went through, and what he’s accomplished during his lengthy NHL career, it’s probably wisest to hang them up altogether. For now, we’ll settle for cooler heads prevailing in at least this case.
  • Zach Hyman returned to action for the Maple Leafs, who deployed him with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Toronto is rolling with a lot of interesting looks during this stretch of NHL training camps. Selfishly, I’d love to see mad scientist combinations like Matthews, Marner, and John Tavares more often.
  • Speaking of mad science, the Stars continue to flirt with the good (Tyler Seguin with Denis Gurianov and Roope Hintz) and the bad (Corey Perry on the second line, while Joe Pavelski and Alexander Radulov languish on the fourth). Maybe it will be more situational, and thus more logical, than those designations look on paper? Either way, I wouldn’t be thrilled if I was Jamie Benn possibly being saddled with a dramatically declining Corey Perry.
  • Agent Dan Milstein notes that Ilya Sorokin (Islanders) and Alexander Romanov (Canadiens) are both Toronto-bound. Nice news, even if they can’t help their teams until 2020-21 at the earliest.

More on NHL return to play, CBA extension, COVID-19:

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.