T.J. Oshie

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The Buzzer: Avalanche keep rolling; Capitals clip Bruins

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Three Stars

1. T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals.

With only one goal in his previous 10 games, Oshie scored two beautiful goals in the Capitals’ 3-2 win against the Bruins on Wednesday Night Hockey. The American forward recorded a power-play goal early in the second period to knot the score 1-1. Oshie rang a shot off the crossbar after a crafty deke and then found the loose puck behind Jaroslav Halak to pick up his 12th of the season. Then, Oshie scored the goal of the night when he avoided Bruins defenseman Connor Clifton and converted a breakaway opportunity to give Washington a 2-1 lead.

2. Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche.

In his sixth game back since suffering a lower-body injury that kept him out of the lineup for 16 games, Rantanen notched two goals to help the Colorado Avalanche earn a 3-1 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Finnish forward tapped in a pretty pass from Nathan MacKinnon to extend the Avalanche advantage to 2-0 in the second period. In the third, Rantanen sealed the game after Nazem Kadri delivered a perfect pass. Colorado has kept pace in the competitive Central Division with Rantanen sidelined, but will now look to emerge as the class of the division with the return of its star forward.

3. Cayden Primeau, Montreal Canadiens.

The first NHL win for any goaltender is always a special moment. Primeau made 35 saves as the Montreal Canadiens skated to a 3-2 victory against the Ottawa Senators.  Primeau, 20, was the No. 199 pick of the 2017 NHL Draft and is the son of former NHL All-Star forward Keith Primeau. He was recalled from the Canadiens’ American Hockey League affiliate on Tuesday after Montreal placed Keith Kinkaid on waivers.

Highlights of the Night

Oshie performed a nifty deke around a Bruins defender, then converted a breakaway while drawing a penalty.

Carter Hart submitted another candidate for the save of the year with this impressive glove save.

Factoids

  • Carlson (33 GP) required the fewest games by a defenseman to record his 45th point of a season since Al MacInnis in 1990-91 (32 GP w/ CGY). [NHL PR]
  • Carlson’s five game-winning goals (33 GP) are one shy of the Capitals single-season franchise record by defensemen (Kevin Hatcher: 6 in 83 GP, 1992-93). [NHL PR]

  • Only four goaltenders in Canadiens history recorded their first NHL win at a younger age than Primeau. [NHL PR]

  • Primeau is the second goalie in as many seasons to record his first NHL win prior to his 21st birthday. The other: Carter Hart on Dec. 18, 2018 w/ PHI (20 years, 127 days). [NHL PR]
  • Rantanen has collected 20 points in 15 or fewer games for the second time in his career [NHL PR].

Scores

Capitals 3, Bruins 2

Canadiens 3, Senators 2 (OT)

Avalanche 3, Flyers 1

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.

Oshie, Carlson lift Capitals over Bruins in mid-season test

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The 82-game regular season is a marathon for NHL teams, but at various points of the season you want to measure yourself up against a top team in your conference.

On Wednesday Night Hockey, the Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals defeated the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins 3-2 at Capital One Arena.

John Carlson scored the go-ahead goal 4:42 into the third period to help propel the Capitals. T.J. Oshie scored twice and Braden Holtby made 30 saves as the Capitals collected their seventh win in the previous eight games.

David Pastrnak scored his NHL-leading 26th goal for Boston but the Bruins have dropped four consecutive games (0-3-1).

Oshie often overlooked

Whether it’s Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Carlson or Holtby, Oshie is often neglected when listing the Capitals’ star power.

Since being acquired in July of 2015, Oshie has been a consistent offensive threat for the Capitals in the previous four-plus seasons. He has averaged 25.5 goals and added his 12th and 13th of this season in stellar fashion on Wednesday.

Oshie made a quick deke to his forehand before ringing a shot off the crossbar, but then finished his own rebound to even the score early in the second period.

Oshie gave the Capitals a 2-1 lead with a highlight-reel goal. The American forward danced around Bruins defenseman Connor Clifton before converting a nifty deke 3:30 after his first of the game.

While other players in Washington’s lineup receive credit for the Capitals’ strong play in recent years, Oshie should not be forgotten about as he has proven to be a key piece to the puzzle in Washington.

Pastrnak remains red-hot

The Czech winger has solidified himself as one the best pure goal scorers in the NHL today and recorded his 26th goal of the season on Wednesday. No. 88 is on pace for 67 goals this season and has helped the Boston Bruins secure a 10-point lead in the Atlantic Division.

Pastrnak tallied a short-side snipe to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead against the Capitals Wednesday. Defenseman Charlie McAvoy was able to complete a cross-ice pass because centerman Patrice Bergeron skated hard to the net in order to create an open passing lane.

If Pastrnak is able to continue this torrid pace, he could be in line to collect a lot of hardware at the NHL Awards show and help the Bruins collect a trophy they fell just short of last season.

Ovechkin’s office

The sign of dominance in any competitive sport is if you can continue to repeat an action while your opponent is aware of what is coming.

For Alex Ovechkin, his presence from the left circle throughout the course of his career has been spectacular. The captain of the Washington Capitals has recorded 299 of his 679 goals (44%) from the left circle or above. And since the 2012-13 season, 54% of his goals have come from that spot on the ice.

NHL teams will continue to game plan and know exactly where No. 8 will be on the ice, especially when Washington is on a power play, but his excellence from that area should be viewed in the same breath as Wayne Gretzky’s operation from behind the net.

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.

Stunning Numbers: John Carlson edition

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The current pace. With 11 goals and 43 total points through the Capitals’ first 32 games Carlson is currently on an 82-game pace that would give him 27 goals and 109 total points. It would be asking a lot and probably setting an unreachable bar to expect him to maintain this pace, but let’s just pretend he can for a second just for laughs.

This is how rare such an offensive performance would be.

  • There have only been 14 100-point seasons for defensemen in NHL history, while only five different players have done it (Bobby Orr six times, Paul Coffey five times, Denis Potvin, Al MacInnis, and Brian Leetch once each).
  • It has not been done since Leetch did it for the New York Rangers during the 1991-92 season.
  • Carlson would need 57 points in 50 games to reach that mark.
  • No defenseman has topped 90 points since Ray Bourque during the 1993-94 season. Carlson could get there with 47 points in 50 games, which is similar to the per-game pace he scored at the previous two seasons.
  • Only three defensemen have topped 80 points since 1995-96 (Nicklas Lidstrom in 2005-06, Erik Karlsson in 2015-16, Brent Burns in 2018-19).

No stat padding going on here. His 43 points entering Wednesday are 13 more than any other defenseman in the league (Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton is closest), and while he no doubt gets a boost by being a part of the Capitals’ power play unit alongside Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and T.J. Oshie, it is not just the power play that is driving his production.

His 30 even-strength points are 10 more than the next closest defender (Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber is the closest with 20 points at even-strength).

He also leads all defenseman with 20 first assists, which are eight more than any other defender in the league.

Thirty-one of his 43 points are primary points (meaning he either scored the goal, or had the first assist on a goal scored by someone else). No other defenseman in the league has more than 22 primary points (Hamilton has 22). Only 12 of his 43 points have come by way of a “secondary” assist.

Driving the offense. Carlson has had a hand (scoring or assisting) in 37 percent of the Capitals’ goals this season. Hamilton is the only other defenseman in the league that has contributed to more than 30 percent of their their team’s goals (Hamilton is just over 30 percent).

Dominant three-year stretch offensively. Here is where Carlson has ranked among the NHL’s defenseman since the start of the 2017-18 season.

  • Goals: second (39)
  • Assists: first (142)
  • Total points: first (181)
  • Shots on goal: fourth (514)
  • Even-strength goals: second (30)
  • Game-winning goals: first (9)

He was mostly a top-20 defenseman in all of those categories in the three years prior to that, and throughout most of his career. This current level of production, where he is in the top-two in almost everything, is a recent development for him over the past three years.

Is there a flaw? With numbers like this offensively it would seem to make Carlson a lock to at least be a finalist for the Norris Trophy, but if there is one thing that might hold him back it’s that his defensive metrics in terms of shot attempts, scoring chances, and goals against are all only middle of the pack or worse (via Natural Stat Trick). Meaning that for as much as he is giving the Capitals offensively, other teams are getting a lot for themselves as well. Right now it is still working out in the Capitals’ favor as they are getting significantly more with Carlson on the ice. His dominance this season is almost entirely offensively driven.

Multi-point games. Carlson already has 13 multi-point games this season, six more than any other defender in the league. Only nine defensemen topped that number during the entire 2018-19 season. That includes six three-point games. No other defenseman in the league has more than three. Only two defensemen had six three-point games a year ago (Mark Giordano had eight; Brent Burns had six) for the entire season. The Capitals are 5-1-0 in his three-point games this season. Since the start of the 2015-16 season NHL teams are 358-38-0 when a defenseman has at least three points in a game. That is a 90 percent winning percentage.

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Patrick Sharp and Keith Jones and NHL insider Darren Dreger. Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will call Bruins-Capitals from Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.

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.

Backstrom expected to return for Capitals vs. Blue Jackets

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ARLINGTON, Va. — Nicklas Backstrom had a smile on his face and no concerns about missing another game.

“I’m good to go,” Backstrom said. “It’s like that guy in `Mighty Ducks.’ I woke up, no pain.”

Backstrom was referring to the fictional Adam Banks character who returned from a wrist injury in time for a championship game. The Washington Capitals are getting the real standout Swedish center back while they’re on a roll.

The Capitals are expected to have Backstrom back Monday when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets. He missed the past eight games with an undisclosed upper-body injury, and Washington went 6-1-1 in that time.

With Backstrom ready to go, the Capitals are set to have their full, healthy lineup on the ice for the first time this season. Despite injuries, they lead the NHL with 22 wins and 49 points through 31 games.

“As of right now, we are playing good hockey and we are getting the points we needed,” Backstrom said Sunday. “It is still early in the season, so you have to keep build, build and build. We are a team that is building for upcoming things.”

Upcoming are matchups against the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning, a popular preseason pick to win the Stanley Cup. But Backstrom is of course referring to the playoffs, where the Capitals are looking to bounce back from last season’s first-round exit and make another championship run like they did in 2018.

There’s no reason to think they couldn’t do that, especially given their success more than a quarter of the way through the season without the full complement of healthy bodies.

“That shows the depth that we have all the way through our lineup,” coach Todd Reirden said. “That’s been a good problem to have, and it’s allowed us to see some other players get opportunities and showcase some of the abilities they have.”

Backstrom’s return puts Washington’s lineup back in regular order. He’ll take his regular place between Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson, allowing Reirden to keep the hot second line of Jakub Vrana, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie together.

Braden Holtby is expected to start in goal against Columbus.

Ice wizards: NHL stars are embracing their creative side

Matthew Tkachuk watched Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov from 20 feet away and knew something special was about to happen.

Svechnikov picked the puck up behind the net, cradled it on the end of his stick and rammed it past the goaltender from behind the net. Someone in the NHL actually pulled off the lacrosse-style move made famous by Mike Legg in a college game in 1996.

Tkachuk was impressed.

“I had the best seat in the house,” the Calgary Flames’ forward said. “That was a sick, sick goal. You see a lot of guys try it around the league, but nobody’s been able to perfect it yet like him.”

Tkachuk knew what the Hurricanes’ forward was going to do because he has practiced the move many times before and tried it in games. And two nights later, he one-upped Svechnikov by scoring an overtime winner through his legs at full speed.

The highlight-reel goals seem to be piling up. Thanks to an infusion of talented young players motivated to raise the bar with GIF-worthy goals, coaches willing to encourage risk-taking in the name of offense and revamped rules designed to light the lamp, there is more freedom than ever for players to express themselves creatively in the NHL. Svechnikov, for example, routinely gathers 10 pucks behind the net to work on his nontraditional move at practice.

“A lot of these kids now, they’re growing up trying these moves, practicing these moves,” Vegas forward Cody Eakin said. “Skill work has been such a huge part of kids’ development, now that when there is opportunities or time or space, they can get creative. When there’s room and the guys have the skill to make the plays, there’s some fantastic plays being made out there.”

Some players think goals like Svechnikov’s happen once a decade. Maybe not, not with players around the league watching and eager to figure out the next cool way to go viral.

Arizona’s Clayton Keller and Montreal’s Nick Suzuki check out the highlights every day and take those inspirations to the rink.

“I try to watch all of them every morning,” Keller said. “When you see different goals and stuff like that, maybe you try it in practice. It’s something I did as a kid, whether it was watching (Sidney) Crosby or (Patrick) Kane, seeing their breakaway moves and I would do it the next time in practice.”

Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov is a little bit older but still turns to YouTube to get his fix of beautiful plays across soccer and hockey. When he’s the one making the highlights, the leading scorer from Washington’s 2018 Stanley Cup run appreciates the green light from coaches and very quickly calculates the risk/reward of doing something unusual.

“You actually don’t have time to think about it out there,” Kuznetsov said. “You just do it naturally. I feel like every player is different. I was like that since a kid, and for me, it’s kind of what hockey’s about.”

Mostly gone are the days of a star player getting stapled to the bench for trying and failing on something on offense. Play within the team structure, don’t turn the puck over in the neutral or defensive zones and it’s all good.

“Coaches like when players use their creativity, but you’ve got to pick your spots,” Suzuki said. “You can’t be doing it to cost your team. I think you can be pretty creative down low on the other team’s net and trying to create offense.”

No one is creating offense better right now than Boston’s David Pastrnak, a playmaking wizard who leads the NHL in goals. One game, Pastrnak tried a drop pass on a breakaway and often keeps opponents and even his Bruins teammates guessing.

“He’s so confident you never know what he’s going to do with the puck,” linemate Brad Marchand said. “Even we don’t know. … He feels like he can do anything.”

Confidence is a big reason for some of this newfound offensive creativity. Svechnikov asked his brother Evgeny four years ago for help on a lacrosse-style goal but only tried it after scoring two goals in his previous game.

“When you’re not really confident, you kind of try just to chip the puck or do something,” Svechnikov said. “When you’re confident, you can do anything.”

It helps that the league has taken steps to give skilled players more space and leeway. A generation after cracking down on hooking, holding and other obstruction, there has been a push to eliminate slashing and big hits that can slow down some of the game’s best.

“From when I came into the league, there’s a lot less of those big defensemen that can grab you and not get penalized,” Capitals forward T.J. Oshie said. “From top to bottom, players can play. It’s not surprising that these days you’re seeing more scoring.”

The best part is it’s not just greasy goals or from scoring from the dirty areas – a time-honored hockey cliche that becomes more prevalent come playoff time. The skill level in hockey is so high that each game is another chance to see something different, which begs the question: What’s next?

“Ooh, I don’t know,” Tkachuk said. “I’ve seen a couple guys try it – and sometimes I try it – the behind the back goal, kind of through the legs. That’s hard. I don’t know. That might be the next one. But that really takes a lot of courage to do.”