The Buzzer: Crawford leads Blackhawks out of slump

Leave a comment

Three stars

1. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks needed something to rally behind coming off their eighth straight on Tuesday. Two better periods to close out a 6-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets a night before was a start.

Scoring first would be crucial — something they accomplished on Wednesday — and they would need a solid outing by veteran netminder Crawford, which they received.

Crawford made 40 saves to help lift the Blackhawks out of their pit of despair after making 28 saves over the final two periods. Chicago squeezed out the winner in the third and that was that.

2. Ondrej Kase, Anaheim Ducks

The second hat trick of the night, but one that helped his team win (sorry Bryan Rust).

Kase opened the game’s scoring with his sixth, pulled the Ducks back to 3-2 with his seventh and capped off the hat trick to tie the game 3-3 in the third period with his eighth, which was the beginning of a four-goal explosion leading to the Ducks winning 6-3 against the Dallas Stars.

It’s been a pretty good past few games for Kase, who has six points in his past two games and nine in his past five.

3. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames

There was a point in Wednesday’s game where Gaudreau had to leave after a hit from Radko Gudas. Gaudreau was shaken up after trying to duck out of the way of an incoming Gudas and probably took a bigger impact than he would have if he stayed standing.

Gaudreau returned of course, and in vintage Johnny Hockey style, scored the game-winner 35 seconds into overtime to hand Calgary their 10th win in their past 13 games. Gaudreau added two assists earlier in the game, too. Matthew Tkachuk had four apples. Sean Monahan had two goals, including the game-tying marker with seven seconds left in the third.

It was a total team effort for the Flames, who had to overcome a 5-3 deficit in the final 1:08 of the third, and it was capped off by Gaudreau’s theatrics in OT.

Other notable performances: 

  • Bryan Rust. Rust was the reason why the Penguins were in this one. His second career hat trick brought the Penguins back from a 2-0 deficit and then a 3-2 disadvantage.
  • Brandon Montour. One goal — the game-winner — and three assists for a four-point night.

Highlights of the night

Rust’s hatty:

Kase hatty:

Flames steal a victory from the jaws of defeat:

Factoids

Scores

Golden Knights 3, Islanders 2

Blackhawks 6, Penguins 3

Flames 6, Flyers 5 (OT)

Ducks 6, Stars 3


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

Are Flames finally ready to contend?

Getty
6 Comments

During the last few seasons, the Calgary Flames have been one of the most frustrating and bewildering teams in the NHL.

Just look at the treasure trove of talent in Calgary. Johnny Gaudreau powers what’s perennially one of the best top lines in the league. Matthew Tkachuk and “The 3M Line” basically don’t allow opponents to touch the puck. Oh, and they also employ Mark Giordano, who’s a Norris defenseman without the trophy.

Considering all of those strengths, it’s been mind-boggling to see the Flames not only fall short of being an elite team, but miss the playoffs in two of the last four seasons, managing a single playoff series win during that span.

Along the way, they’ve surely teased us with moments of brilliance. With that in mind, maybe this post will be filed under “Fool Me Once …”

Yet … it does kind of feel like the Flames might be turning the corner.

Calgary won its fourth consecutive game in Thursday’s game against the Wild (which devolved into violence at the end), pushing their record to 18-9-2. That gives them 38 points in 29 games, which amounts to a pretty comfortable lead in the Pacific Division. Even more impressively, the Flames are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games.

This isn’t just a matter of beating up on the lesser lights in what’s admittedly a weak division. Calgary’s only a point behind the Predators and Avalanche (each with 39 points in 29 games) for the best record in the West.

At minimum, they’re in a strong position to at least land a berth in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Could they make an even bigger leap and become legitimate championship contenders? What’s been going so well during this 8-1-1 run? Let’s dig in.

Strong team numbers

Early on in 2018-19, the Flames must have given Bill Peters bad memories from his Hurricanes days, as Calgary was generating strong puck possession numbers but couldn’t get over dicey puck luck and wobbly goaltending from Mike Smith.

Overall, that seems to be leveling out now (their PDO is almost exactly at 1, which would indicate that the bounces are more or less “even”), and they remain a strong puckhogging group, via Natural Stat Trick and other site’s numbers.

To little surprise, they’ve been a high-end possession team during the last 10 games, as you can see at Puck on Net.

Granted, certain things are likely to sink, and a red-hot power play stands among them. During that 8-1-1 run, the Flames have connected on 31.6-percent of their chances, the fourth-highest rate in the NHL since Nov. 17. In their 19 previous games, the Flames were middle-of-the-pack at 18.5 percent, so that’s one obvious area where things could sink.

Overall, though, there are enough promising underlying numbers to suggest that the Flames have the making of a strong team.

Of course, we might as well consider their frequent Achilles Heel.

Role reversals in net

For most of this season, Mike Smith’s been struggling (10-7-1 record, .892 save percentage), while David Rittich saved the day (8-2-1, .919).

Things have been inverted during this 8-1-1 run, though. In six games, Smith’s 5-0-0 with a .939 save percentage; meanwhile, Rittich’s save percentage was .899 in five appearances.

In the grand scheme of things, this could be a fine development for the Flames. Yes, Rittich struggled, but still managed a 3-1-1 record thanks to some goal support. There must be increased organizational trust in the 26-year-old going forward.

But Smith gaining confidence is crucial. The big 36-year-old can get as hot as just about any goalie, so it’s promising to see him trending upward.

Are there caveats? Sure. Smith hasn’t always had the greatest injury luck throughout his career, and goalies his age usually don’t become sturdier with time. It’s nice that Rittich shows some promise, yet if Smith goes down, the Flames might still need to eye the trade market.

This still ranks as a promising stretch for a goaltending position that’s … let’s just say, vulnerable for the Flames.

Usual suspects, but with a supporting cast

You likely don’t need to ask who’s leading the way for the Flames when it comes to scoring.

With a whopping 18 points in 10 games (including eight in his last three), Johnny Gaudreau tops all Calgary scorers since Nov. 17. In fact, Gaudreau ties Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen for second-most points over that period of time, trailing only Nikita Kucherov‘s 22 points.

Gaudreau lighting up the scoreboard is really nothing new, as he now has 37 points in 29 games.

The difference is that the Flames are enjoying nice contributions from others. Sean Monahan (14 points) and Elias Lindholm (13) aren’t surprising as his linemates, and Matthew Tkachuk is going from “a handful” to a flat-out star, including getting 11 points in 10 games. Impressively Giordano rounds out the players with at least 11 points during this run.

It’s almost as promising to see some of the other names down the playbill.

Noah Hanifin‘s settling in, collecting eight points in 10 games. They’ve received six points from Derek Ryan. Sam Bennett‘s even offered five.

Some of those players will naturally cool off, but if the Flames can heat them up in decent intervals, they could be scary. Now if only they could get James Neal going …

***

As of early December, it looks like GM Brad Treliving’s “riverboat gambler” mindset has been paying off.

If Treliving wants to add that extra piece via a trade, he’d likely need to be creative. Cap Friendly places Calgary’s cap space at less than $900K, although their estimated deadline space would be about $4.08M.

That provides moderate wiggling room, yet they’re unlikely to make the sort of splash that, say, the Maple Leafs could consider.

Instead, if they clinch a playoff spot, they’re probably going in with largely the same group that Treliving put together entering 2018-19. If they can play anywhere near this recent level, the Flames may finally go from frustrating for their fans to frightening for opponents.

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.

The Buzzer: Hornqvist makes history; Flames score nine

Associated Press
2 Comments

Three stars

1. Patric Hornqvist, Pittsburgh Penguins

He scored the Pittsburgh Penguins’ fastest-ever hat trick on hat night.

Not bad from the 230th and final player drafted in the 2005 NHL Draft.

Hornqvist’s goals came pretty much the same way they always do: by working hard. He cleaned up some trash in front of the net, had a knuckle puck fool a goalie and then saw his shot on the hat trick goal re-direct off a defenseman. Hornqvist added an assist for the four-point night.

2. Sean Monahan & Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames

Look, I have to cheat here. Tuesday was a wild night and the wildest game came in Calgary (highlights here), where the Flames won 9-6 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. That’s right, 15 goals, and Monahan and Gaudreau each had four-point nights to help propel the Flames past their Blue Jackets.

Both Monahan and Gaudreau scored twice and added two helpers in the game. Matthew Tkachuk had a goal and two assists. Mark Giordano had three helpers.

3. Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers 

Luongo has dealt with a couple injuries now this year and still comes back with a vengeance each time.

Lu returned from a five-game hiatus due to a knee injury and stopped 33 shots for his 77th career shutout (and first of the season) in a 5-0 win against the Boston Bruins.

Luongo returned after a month off in early November and steered the Panthers to a win against the Winnipeg Jets in Finland. He plays well in these games coming off a layoff, but the Panthers need him to stay healthy from here on out. Tuesday was a good example as to why.

Other notable performances:

  • Cam Atkinson extended his point streak to 11 games with a hat trick of his own. On any normal night in the NHL, Atkinson would be among the three stars. Tuesday wasn’t a normal night.
  • Ditto for Frans Nielsen, who scored a natural hatty. [Video]
  • Auston Matthews scored an incredible goal in overtime to help the Toronto Maple Leafs past the Buffalo Sabres by a 4-3 margin. Matthews scored earlier in the game and added an assist. He’s got 15 goals in 14 games this season and five goals and two assists in three games since returning from injury.
  • Jack Eichel scored twice, bringing the Sabres from 2-1 down to a 3-2 lead in the third period.
  • Eddie Pasquale, 28, got his first win in his NHL debut. It wasn’t pretty, but he turned aside 19 of 24 shots in through 65 minutes and two of three Red Wings shooters in the shootout. [Highlights]
  • Max Domi had two goals and an assist as the Montreal Canadiens downed the Ottawa Senators 5-2.
  • Sticking in Tampa, Mathieu Joseph had two goals and an assist in the Lightning win.
  • Mike Hoffman had two goals for the Panthers. Jonathan Huberdeau had a goal and two assists.
  • Evgeni Malkin had a goal and an assist. [Highlights]
  • Adin Hill keeps winning. He’s now 4-0-0 in five games played this season after making 25 saves.
  • Nate Schmidt scored twice and added an assist in a 5-3 win over his former team in the Washington Capitals.

Highlights of the night

Hornqvist makes history:

Auston Matthews doing the impossible:

Matheson goes coast-to-coast:

One-handed:

Factoids

Scores

Panthers 5, Bruins 0

Jets 3, Islanders 1

Penguins 6, Avalanche 3

Flames 9, Blue Jackets 6

Maple Leafs 4, Sabres 3 (OT)

Canadiens 5, Senators 2

Lightning 6, Red Wings 5 (SO)

Wild 3, Canucks 2

Golden Knights 5, Capitals 3

Coyotes 2, Kings 1


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

The Buzzer: Saturday night’s alright for shutouts

Getty Images
4 Comments

Three Stars

1. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

How often does this happen? You wake up on your birthday, sign a big-money extension and then go out and put up 26 save shutout against the Boston Bruins. If you answered never, you’d actually be wrong. Apparently, this is something Rinne does for fun. Yes, Rinne woke up, signed a two-year, $10 million extension and then went out and took care of business on the ice just hours later on Saturday. Rinne is now 5-1-0 this season and is making an early case for a second straight Vezina Trophy with his shiny .948 save percentage. Happy Birthday, indeed.

2. Thomas Greiss, New York Islanders

One of the reasons for the Islanders’ success this season has been the performances they’ve seen from their goalies. New York entered Saturday with the third-best team save percentage and only improved on that as the day ended. Greiss made 35 saves for his first shutout of the season, improving his record to 4-2-0 with a 1.85 goals-against-average and a .944 save percentage. The Islanders are now 8-4-1 without John Tavares and haven’t skipped a beat with Robin Lehner nursing a back strain, winning five straight.

3. Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs

Sticking with shutouts, Andersen posted a 31-save effort himself against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Maple Leafs came into the game 0-2 without Auston Matthews, who is out long-term with a shoulder injury. The Leafs hadn’t given their goalies run support in those previous two outings with a single goal in each of them. A lack of scoring wasn’t an issue on Saturday, however, as Toronto put up a five-spot on the Penguins. Andersen was a big factor in the win, stopping all five shots on the penalty kill as Pittsburgh went 0-for-5.

Bonus star: Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights

The fourth and final shutout of Saturday night belonged to Fleury, who made 34 saves to become the 29th player in NHL history to hit 50 clean sheets. Fleury’s second shutout of the season came against the team that puts up more shots per game than any other. Fleury also helped the Golden Knights end a two-game skid.

Other notable performances:

  • Jason Pominville and Jeff Skinner went full beast mode in the Buffalo Sabres 9-2 thumping of the Ottawa Senators. Both Pominville and Skinner each scored twice and added assists.
  • Kyle Brodziak had two goals, including the game-winner, as the Edmonton Oilers won their eighth game of the season.
  • Jaroslav Halak didn’t get an ounce of support as he stopped 39-of-40 shots in a 1-0 loss to the Predators.
  • Morgan Rielly scored twice to put him on six goals for the season, the same number he had in 76 games last season. His career-high is nine.
  • Sean Monahan had two goals and Elias Lindholm added three assists as the Flames came from behind to win 5-3 against the Blackhawks.
  • Dustin Brown had two goals (one shorthanded) and an assist for the Kings against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Anze Kopitar also scored shorthanded in the game. Torts won’t be happy.
  • It was “Timo Time in Overtime” according to the play-by-play man Randy Hahn on NBC Sports California on Saturday. Meier scored his second of the game 13 seconds into overtime to seal the win for San Jose.

Highlights of the Night

Koskinen is huge. This save is also huge.

Dangles, dekes and game winners.

What a shot:

Ever watched Brad Marchand act?

Factoids

Scores

Sabres 9, Senators 2

Stars 4, Capitals 3 (OT)

Oilers 4, Red Wings 3

Islanders 3, Devils 0

Lightning 4, Canadiens 1

Maple Leafs 5, Penguins 0

Wild 5, Blues 1

Predators 1, Bruins 0

Golden Knights 3, Hurricanes 0

Flames 5, Blackhawks 3

Sharks 4, Flyers 3 (OT)

Kings 4, Blue Jackets 1

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule


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

Blackhawks’ Keith tossed after scary hit from behind (Video)

Twitter
14 Comments

Duncan Keith suited up for just 2:14 of the first period on Saturday night against the Calgary Flames.

By 2:15, the veteran Chicago Blackhawks defenseman was in the showers after an ugly boarding major on Flames forward Dillion Dube.

The hit, which you can see below, is sure to be the first thing on the docket for the NHL Department of Player Safety department come Sunday morning.

Keith followed Dube down behind the net, committed to the hit and couldn’t do much about it once Dube tried to turn back toward him.

Here’s the tape:

Dube’s face appeared to be in shambles after he got up. Dube held a towel over his nose, while blood had made its way onto his visor.

To Keith’s credit, he immediately checked on Dube but the damage was already done. The hit didn’t appear to be predatory, but it’s the type of hit that the NHL wants to be eliminated from the game. On top of that, Dube was injured in some fashion on the play and didn’t return to the game due to precautionary reasons.

Oh, and Keith has a history. His most recent suspension came in 2016 for this nasty bit of business.

The Flames were able to score on the ensuing penalty as Sean Monahan scored his seventh of the season.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule


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