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WATCH LIVE: Oilers visit Golden Knights on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and Vegas Golden Knights. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Edmonton Oilers’ playoff hopes are hanging by a thread heading into their game on Sunday against the Vegas Golden Knights, and if they have any hope of pulling off the impossible and erasing what is a seven-point gap (and jumping over four teams!) over the next 11 games it is going to have to begin with a win tonight.

Standing in their way will be a Vegas Golden Knights team that has won seven of its previous eight games and is pretty much locked in to the third playoff spot in the Pacific Division. At this point it is simply a matter of whether or not they will have to play the Calgary Flames or San Jose Sharks in their first-round matchup.

The Oilers are led by Connor McDavid who enters the game riding an 11-game point streak, while also recording at least one point in 19 of his previous 20 games. That 20-game stretch for McDavid features 12 multi-point games, including seven in a row.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Edmonton Oilers vs. Vegas Golden Knights
Where: T Mobile Arena
When: Sunday, March 17, 2019, 10 p.m, ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Oilers-Golden Knights stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

Edmonton Oilers

Forwards

Milan Lucic – Connor McDavid — Zack Kassian
Tobias RiederLeon DraisaitlAlex Chiasson
Jujhar KhairaRyan Nugent-HopkinsSam Gagner
Joseph Gambardella – Colby CaveJosh Currie

Defense

Oscar KlefbomAdam Larsson
Darnell NurseKris Russell
Andrej SekeraMatt Benning

Starting Goalie: Mikko Koskinen

Vegas Golden Knights

Forwards

Jonathan MarchessaultWilliam KarlssonReilly Smith
Max PaciorettyPaul StastnyMark Stone
Tomas NosekCody EakinAlex Tuch
Ryan CarpenterPierre-Edouard BellemareRyan Reaves

Defense

Nate SchmidtDeryk Engelland
Brayden McNabbShea Theodore
Jon Merril – Colin Miller

Starting Goalie: Malcolm Subban

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.

The Buzzer: A night for clunky defensemen

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Three Stars

1. Ryan O'Reilly

Confession: usually, I giggle when people make a big deal about faceoffs.

It’s been argued, persuasively, that the impact of FWs (faceoff wins, for you non-fantasy people) is often exaggerated. And I agree with those arguments, as much as I feel like I’m affronting the memory of Rod Brind’Amour.

But sometimes stuff like that can provide a portal to other realizations, like the fact that Ryan O’Reilly is putting in serious work for the Blues.

Most obviously, O’Reilly scored a goal and an assist for the Blues in their eyebrow-raising, up-and-down win against the Ducks. Those two points were crucial.

Yet, Troy Terry might technically be the better choice here, as he had three points (all assists, two of them primary) in this same game.

O’Reilly’s overall work really stood out, however, and it starts with the work in the faceoff circle. He went 23-16 on draws, which is just a ridiculous workload for a regular season game that … honestly, only means so much. (The Blues are pretty comfortably placed as the Central’s third seed, in my opinion.)

ROR also logged an impressive 24:37 TOI on Wednesday, more than Colton Parayko (24:21) and only slightly less than Alex Pietrangelo (24:41).

Even beyond Terry, there are other Blues who have arguments for the top three. Robert Thomas inspired Matchbox 20 jokes with two goals. Pietrangelo scored a goal and an assist, as did Brayden Schenn.

Yet, it’s that all-around effort that makes me roar for ROR. I understand if you disagree.

(Consider those other mentions as part of the collective roar argument.)

2. Marc-Andre Fleury

Flames – Golden Knights was a tight 2-1 game, in large part because of the goaltending, as the two teams combined for 72 shots on goal.

Fleury didn’t keep his shutout streak active after blanking opponents for two consecutive games, yet “The Flower” only allowed a single goal against the very-much-flammable Calgary offense, making 33 out of 34 saves.

This is as much as weeklong achievement award as anything else, but even if you just keep it to Wednesday, Fleury was excellent.

I’ve made repeated comments about the Golden Knights needing to rest MAF, and I stand by them, but this was impressive stuff.

3. Alex Ovechkin

From MAF to the rare player who’s often tormented him, we have Ovechkin, who scored a goal and assist, and was just one heady Ivan Provorov play from adding another goal.

Ovechkin continues to make history, and delightfully, he didn’t just do his usual “from the office” thing on Wednesday. Granted, he kind of did, as he scored from that basic spot for his goal, but even then, he needed to “reload” his shot rather than ripping a one-timer.

But it was his pass that really sealed the deal, for me anyway. More on Ovechkin in the rest of The Buzzer …

Highlights of the Night

Including that pass, which set up a Tom Wilson goal:

The Blues managed a staggering win by scoring two goals in 12 seconds in the final minute of the third period against the Ducks:

The other highlight of the night comes next.

Defensemen score goals – clunky and otherwise

The headline revolves around two defensemen scoring unexpected goals. Deryk Engelland scored the game-winning goal for the Golden Knights, while Mitch Marner really set the table for Ron Hainsey(!) to score shorthanded (!!).

But, really, it was a night for defensemen scoring goals in general, whether they’re the ones you’d expect or not.

  • That Golden Knights win against the Flames was all-defensemen goals. Engelland scored, along with a guy you’d expect in Shea Theodore (his 11th of the season), and someone in the middle (Travis Hamonic scored his seventh of 2018-19).
  • Alexander Edler‘s still a worthy contributor, but you don’t really expect the Canucks veteran to score overtime game-winners. He did so on Wednesday, while a very-much expected Maple Leafs defenseman (Morgan Rielly) helped Toronto at least secure a standings point.
  • Six-foot-five Flyers defenseman Philippe Myers scored his first NHL goal. (His nickname better be Philly, or some variation of it.) Ducks defenseman Jaycob Megna is another huge hockey human (listed at six-foot-six) who scored his first career NHL goal on Wednesday. Something was in the air, wasn’t it?

Factoids

So, to review, Ovechkin has more 45+ goal seasons than Wayne Gretzky/Mario Lemieux/Mike Bossy, etc., while Holtby’s winning at a rate that only falls short of the author of “The Game.”

  • Another Canadiens great, Jacques Plante, was third behind Holtby. His name came up again on Wednesday, as Fleury tied Plante with 437 wins, leaving them tied for eighth all-time in NHL history.

Scores

WSH 5 – PHI 3
VAN 3 – TOR 2 (OT)
STL 5 – ANA 4
VGK 2 – CG 1

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.

Golden Knights’ second act shaping up to rival first

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LAS VEGAS — Shea Theodore and Alex Tuch had to have faith.

When the Vegas Golden Knights decided to send them to the minors at the start of last season, Theodore and Tuch chose to believe what general manager George McPhee told them.

”The message was that we were part of the future of this team and he definitely saw us in that long-term plan,” Theodore said.

Within weeks, they were back in the NHL as part of the fastest-starting expansion team in history and played significant roles in the Golden Knights’ run to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season. Each player got a long-term contract before he played his first game this season, and they weren’t alone as McPhee went about the process of turning Vegas from a one-year wonder into a perennial title contender.

He locked up 75-point forward Jonathan Marchessault through 2024, signed face-of-the-franchise goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to a three-year extension, inked defenseman Nate Schmidt to a six-year contract that begins next season, signed center Paul Stastny as a free agent and acquired big winger Max Pacioretty in a trade with Montreal. Those moves have paid off so far with Vegas five points back of first place in the Pacific Division and looking like its second act could rival its first.

”We have a couple guys signed long term, and it’s fun because it means that we have a core and we’re building something,” Marchessault said. ”You want to be part of a story as a hockey player, and it feels like we’re part of one here.”

The Golden Knights’ story was a fairy tale: A team that looked on paper like it would be among the worst in the league won its division and steamrolled to the final before losing to McPhee’s former team, the Washington Capitals, in five games. Marchessault said he felt in June like this team could be a legitimate threat for years to come.

McPhee’s job was to ensure that. The veteran executive who got to build the Golden Knights from scratch through a wildly successful expansion draft understood he had the benefit of not having to dig out from bad contracts. But he also shouldered the burden of drawing up a whole host of new ones after one season during which seemingly everyone overachieved.

”We did have a lot of work to do because most of the guys that we acquired were either free agents or were on one-year deals and their deals had matured and it was time to negotiate again,” McPhee said. ”And we just thought, we know what they are, we’re comfortable projecting what they will be in the future and we had the cap space, so why not use it now because cap space is like perishable inventory. If you don’t use it, it’s gone at the end of the year. We just wanted some cost certainty moving forward, so it would help us to plan for things better in the future.”

Fleury got $7 million a year, Schmidt, $5.95 million, Theodore, $5.2 million, Marchessault, $5 million and Tuch, $4.75 million. Fleury leads the NHL with 26 wins, Schmidt has played over 23 minutes a game since returning from suspension, Theodore leads Vegas defensemen with 21 points and Tuch and Marchessault are 1-2 on the team in scoring.

Beyond cost certainty, it was money smartly spent to keep morale up, raise expectations and get bang for owner Bill Foley’s buck.

”When you have a guy believe in you like that, sign you to that kind of a term, you don’t want to make him look bad and I think every night you want to go out and you want to play your best,” said Theodore, who is under contract through 2025. ”I think it’s been paying off for us and hopefully will in the future.”

Even though only wingers James Neal and David Perron and defenseman Luca Sbisa aren’t back from the core group that went to the Cup final, McPhee couldn’t stand pat and think success would repeat itself. He consciously added Stastny, Pacioretty and Nick Holden to replace the lost production and provide an influx of talent.

”When you’re a couple games away from winning, I think you’ve got to try and do whatever you can,” Schmidt said. ”You have to add something in order to beat the best teams.”

The way Pacioretty looks at it, McPhee wasn’t scanning the aisles. He was shopping off a specific list. They weren’t part of the playoff run – Stastny was on the Winnipeg Jets team that Vegas beat in the Western Conference final – but brought some more balance.

”They wanted guys like me and Stas to come in and play a little bit of a two-way game,” Pacioretty said. ”That’s how we want to help our team. We know that especially offensively that this team last year had guys who were relied upon every night to create. And we still want to be those guys coming in, but we also know that there’s areas on both sides of the puck that we can help this team.”

Injuries have hampered Pacioretty and Stastny so far, but they and the Golden Knights will really be judged in the playoffs. After falling three victories short of a championship, players feel like they have what it takes to win this time and for years to come.

”As our owner said at the beginning of the year, we just don’t want to be a winning team. We want to have a winning franchise,” Marchessault said. ”Last year we really felt like we have something special, and we have some unfinished business.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Sorry, Seattle: NHL GMs learned from Vegas expansion draft

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By STEPHEN WHYNO (AP Hockey Writer)

Hindsight is 43/35 for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

That’s how many goals and assists William Karlsson put up for the Vegas Golden Knights after the Blue Jackets let him go in the most recent NHL expansion draft. They also sent first- and second-round draft picks to Vegas to unload David Clarkson‘s contract and hold on to forward Josh Anderson and goaltender Joonas Korpisalo.

”I think we’ve looked at probably 100 times already that, ‘Could we have done something different the last time around?”’ Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. ”Probably not. You’re going to make some mistakes and you might let the wrong guy go. You do your studying, you do your evaluation of your players and you do your projections and it’s not an exact science.”

Maybe the second time’s the charm.

NHL teams face another expansion draft in 2021, when Seattle enters the league. And the Seattle GM, whoever that turns out to be, probably won’t receive the same kind of windfall George McPhee picked up in 2017 to help the Golden Knights make a run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final because some important lessons have been learned.

”We might get to a situation where we’re like, ‘Boy I don’t want to lose any of these guys,’ so a team may have to do it again,” Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill said. ”But we’ve lived it now and I think we’ll have a better understanding of it. And if you’re going to (make a trade), you’re going to make sure it’s for the right person. You’re going to be like: ‘I’m giving up a lot of assets here. Is this the right thing to do?”’

McPhee held all the leverage that summer, and he stockpiled talent as a result. Because only seven forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender (or seven skaters at any position and a goaltender) could be protected, a lot of deep teams were stuck with core players unprotected and willing to do almost anything to keep them.

Just some of the ”fear factor” moves: The Wild traded prospect Alex Tuch and let center Erik Haula go to Vegas to keep Matt Dumba. The Panthers traded Reilly Smith and lost Jonathan Marchessault. The Islanders traded a first-round pick to get rid of Mikhail Grabovski’s contract. The Ducks traded Shea Theodore to clear Clayton Stoner’s salary and keep Sami Vatanen and Josh Manson. The Penguins even sent a future second-round pick to ensure Vegas would take goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

Chuck Fletcher, who was Minnesota’s GM, figured out the hard way that expansion means every team loses something. Now with Philadelphia, his approach will likely be to lose as little as possible to Seattle.

”No matter what you do you’re going to lose a good player,” Fletcher said. ”You either let them make the choice for you or you try to help them out by making sure you’re keeping the things you want to keep. It was a great process to go through and I’m sure there were some lessons learned, but at the end of the day, if you have too many players than you can protect, you’ve got to pick your poison.”

A popular choice last time? Teams giving up players to clear salary-cap space. That was the impetus for the Fleury move and others, but so much time to prepare could reduce the need for those trades in the summer of 2021.

”That’s just one thing that I see could happen, that if the teams aren’t financially strapped against the cap then they don’t have to make those sacrifices of young players to get the cap relief,” Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning said.

With two full offseasons until Seattle can plunder 30 NHL teams (Vegas will not participate), a lot of GMs are already planning ahead. Offices in Columbus and Dallas have already been the scene of some long-range preparation while acknowledging a lot can change between now and then. Nill said teams will likely need to decide whether someone is a ”core player” or someone who isn’t going to be around in the future.

All GMs will need to grapple with the impact of no-movement clauses in player contracts that the NHL decreed must be protected in any expansion draft. Ottawa lost defenseman Marc Methot, in part, because Dion Phaneuf wouldn’t waive his no-movement clause. Now that GMs know the rules, deals through 2021 could be affected.

”You’re reluctant to give no-move clauses at any time, but certainly with knowing what your expansion protected list is going to be, I think that will make teams a little more cautious,” Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said.

According to PuckPedia , there are already 36 players with no-movement clauses for 2021-22. The Penguins, Stars and Blackhawks lead the league with four players each. Don’t be surprised if GMs attempt to change some of those situations to put themselves in a better spot.

”You don’t want to fill your protection list with guys that you have to protect because of the clauses in their contract,” Kekalainen said. ”You want to fill it with the guys you want to protect, so you want to leave that option to yourself.”

DE-IMPROVED PENGUINS

After sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference on Nov. 20, Pittsburgh is 6-2-2 in its past 10 games to surge up the standings. Backup goaltender Casey DeSmith, who has stepped up for injured starter Matt Murray, is a big part of that with his 2.10 goals-against average and .927 save percentage over that time.

”I’m not surprised,” Rutherford said. ”Casey took the long road to the National Hockey League. He worked at it. He’s worked very close with Mike Buckley, our goalie coach, and he’s a goalie that really worked on his fundamentals.”

The Penguins activated Murray off injured reserve Wednesday. Even with Murray’s return, don’t expect Pittsburgh to keep DeSmith on the bench for long.

”You have to have two goalies because if you want to have a long run in the spring, you can’t wear your No. 1 goalie out,” Rutherford said.

GAME OF THE WEEK

The top two teams in the Atlantic Division face off Thursday when the Toronto Maple Leafs visit the Tampa Bay Lightning.

LEADERS

Goals: Alex Ovechkin (Washington), 25; Assists: Mikko Rantanen (Colorado), 39; Points: Rantanen, 52; Ice time: Seth Jones (Columbus), 26:29; Goals-against average: Pekka Rinne (Nashville), 1.91; Save percentage: Rinne, 9.32.

AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed from Vancouver.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

The Buzzer: McElhinney steals another; MacKinnon scores two more

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Three Stars

1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. Nathan MacKinnon is on some kind of a roll for the Colorado Avalanche. His two goals on Tuesday night were the difference in a 3-2 win over the Nashville Predators and gave him his fifth consecutive multi-point game. He now has at least two points in six of his past seven games, a stretch that includes six goals to give him 17 on the season. His 37 points on the season are second in the league, trailing only his linemate Mikko Rantanen. Rantanen set up both of MacKinnon’s goals on Tuesday.

2. Curtis McElhinney, Carolina Hurricanes. Did you expect Curtis McElhinney to be the savior for the Carolina Hurricanes this season? Of course you didn’t, but he has been a rock for them in net lately and continued his strong play on Tuesday night by making a career-high 48 saves in a 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens. With that performance he has now won each of his past four decisions and allowed just five goals on the past 150 shots he has faced. That is a .966 save percentage during that stretch.

3. Shea Theodore, Vegas Golden Knights. Pretty much everybody had a hand in the Golden Knights’ big win over the Chicago Blackhawks, but Shea Theodore had perhaps the biggest night of them all by logging more than 23 minutes, scoring a pair of goals, adding an assist, and finishing as a plus-four. The Golden Knights are starting to get on a roll to climb back up the Pacific Division standings.

More big performances from Tuesday

Oscar Klefbom scored in overtime to give the Oilers a win in Ken Hitchcock’s home debut. That goal came just after Connor McDavid appeared to score the winning goal, only to have a replay review determine the puck never fully crossed the goal line.

Shea Weber made his 2018-19 debut for the Montreal Canadiens and was not exactly eased back in. He played a team-high 25 minutes, attempted 13 shots, got three on net, and assisted on their only goal in their 2-1 loss to the Hurricanes.

Brady Tkachuk scored a pair of goals — just three minutes apart — for the Ottawa Senators to help them erase a 3-1 deficit with less than 10 minutes to play in the third period.

— The Pittsburgh Penguins received two goals from their fourth line (and one from their third line) to defeat the Winnipeg Jets. They have now collected eight out of a possible 10 points in their past five games. Sidney Crosby scored his 10th goal of the season on yet another ridiculous backhand shot.

Dustin Brown had another big game for the Los Angeles Kings, recording two more points and scoring the game-winning goal in overtime to lift them over the Vancouver Canucks.

— The Arizona Coyotes rallied from a 3-1 third period deficit to beat the Minnesota Wild thanks in large part to a pair of goals from Josh Archibald.

Highlights of the Night

Rasmus Ristolainen helped the Buffalo Sabres push their winning streak to 10 games with this incredible individual effort against the San Jose Sharks.

Even with Weber back in the lineup it was starting goalie Carey Price taking care of the physical play for the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday.

Matt Duchene scored the goal of the night to help lift the Ottawa Senators to a come-from-behind win against the Philadelphia Flyers. This came just a few minutes after Tkachuk scored his two goals to tie the game.

Factoids

The Philadelphia Flyers have used a lot of goalies this season. They added another starter to the list on Tuesday night. The result was more of the same.

The Vegas Golden Knights crushed the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night by scoring eight goals. That is a franchise record.

Ryan Miller backstopped the Anaheim Ducks to a big win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, and in the process moved one step closer to the top of the all-time wins list for American-born goalies.

Scores

Buffalo Sabres 3, San Jose Sharks 2 (OT)

Ottawa Senators 4, Philadelphia Flyers 3

Carolina Hurricanes 2, Montreal Canadiens 1

Anaheim Ducks 3, Tampa Bay Lightning 1

Colorado Avalanche 3, Nashville Predators 2

Arizona Coyotes 4, Minnesota Wild 3

Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Winnipeg Jets 3

Vegas Golden Knights 8, Chicago Blackhawks 3

Edmonton Oilers 1, Dallas Stars 0 (OT)

Los Angeles Kings 2, Vancouver Canucks 1 (OT)

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.