Taylor Hall

The Buzzer: Crosby’s return, Matthews’ hat trick, Kubalik’s hot streak

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Three Stars

1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins. He made his return to the lineup on Tuesday night and dominated the Minnesota Wild with four points (one goal, three assists) in a 7-3 win. Along with his sixth goal of the season, he also made one of the plays of the night (see it below) to set up Dominik Simon for a highlight reel goal. Read more about his return to the lineup here.

2. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs. This seems like the type of game the Maple Leafs are going to be winning a lot of, especially given the current state of their defense. They score seven goals, had one of their stars (Matthews) record a hat trick, they gave up a hat trick (to Blake Coleman) and held on for a 7-4 win. Matthews’ three goal performance on Tuesday gives him 34 goals for the season and puts him on pace for 59 goals over 82 games. He is just six goals away from matching his career high (40). He is also just two goals behind David Pastrnak (36 goals) for the league lead.

3. Dominik Kubalik, Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks appeared to be on their way to an ugly loss to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night after giving up two early goals. The trio of Kubalik, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane was not going to let that happen. Kubalik extended his current goal-scoring streak to five consecutive games by netting a pair of goals to send the game to overtime, setting the stage for Toews’ game-winning goal early in the extra period. Kubalik is having an outstanding rookie season for the Blackhawks and has now scored 18 goals on the season. That is second best on the team, trailing only Kane. The Blackhawks still sit six points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference but they really needed this win given how difficult their upcoming schedule is.

Other notable performances from Tuesday

  • Elvis Merzlikins recorded his second straight shutout for the Columbus Blue Jackets as they beat the Boston Bruins 3-0 to move back into a tie for the second Wild Card spot with the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference. Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask was injured in this game after being hit in the head. Read more about that here.
  • Brock Nelson scored two goals and was one of seven Islanders to record at least two points in an 8-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings.
  • Connor Hellebuyck stopped all 41 shots he faced on Tuesday night (and tried to score a goal!) to help lead the Winnipeg Jets to a 4-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks.
  • The Tampa Bay Lightning overcame a 2-0 deficit to rally for a 4-3 shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings.
  • Big night for the Coyotes as Phil Kessel, Taylor Hall, Conor Garland, and Derek Stepan all had three points in a 6-3 win over the San Jose Sharks to move them into sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division.
  • Leon Draisaitl scored a pair of goals to help lead the Edmonton Oilers to a big 4-2 win to help them keep pace with the rest of the teams in the Pacific Division race.
  • Esa Lindell‘s overtime goal completed the Dallas Stars’ against the Colorado Avalanche, giving them a 3-2 win.

Highlights of the Night

Filip Forsberg scores with the Lacrosse-style goal for the Nashville Predators. Read all about it here.

Sidney Crosby passes to himself off the back of the net then sets up Dominik Simon for the goal.

Jack Eichel scored the game-winning goal for the Buffalo Sabres in a 4-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights with this incredible display of speed and skill.

Blooper of the Night

No video to share, but it has to be Wild coach Bruce Boudreau making a pre-game mistake on his lineup card and forcing his team to play with a shorthanded defense for the entire game. Read all about it here.

Honorable mention goes to this crazy sequence at the start of the Jets-Canucks game where the Jets put the puck in the net three times within only 37 seconds, only to have just one of the goals actually count on the score board.

Factoids

  • Hellebuyk’s shutout is the 18th of his career and puts him in first place in Jets franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • Kris Letang became the first Penguins defenseman to record 400 career assists with the team. [Penguins PR]
  • Eichel reached the 60-point mark in the Sabres’ 46th game of the season. He is the first Sabres player to record 60 points in 46 games or fewer since Alexander Mogilny and Pat Lafontaine. They both did it during the 1992-93 season. [NHL PR]

Scores

Buffalo Sabres 4, Vegas Golden Knights 2
Toronto Maple Leafs 7, New Jersey Devils 4
Tampa Bay Lightning 4, Los Angeles Kings 3 (SO)
New York Islanders 8, Detroit Red Wings 2
Pittsburgh Penguins 7, Minnesota Wild 3
Columbus Blue Jackets 3, Boston Bruins 0
Chicago Blackhawks 3, Ottawa Senators 2 (OT)
Winnipeg Jets 4, Vancouver Canucks 0
Arizona Coyotes 6, San Jose Sharks 3
Edmonton Oilers 4, Nashville Predators 2
Dallas Stars 3, Colorado Avalanche 2 (OT)

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.

Hischier replaces Palmieri as Devils’ All-Star Game rep

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Nico Hischier replaced Kyle Palmieri as the New Jersey Devils’ representative for the 2020 NHL All-Star Game. (Palmieri suffered an injury blocking a shot during the Devils’ upset win over the Lightning on Sunday.)

This marks the first All-Star Game appearance for Hischier, 21, the first pick of the 2017 NHL Draft.

There might be a temptation to throw Hischier in with the Devils’ many problems. After all, the Devils lucked into two top overall picks (with Jack Hughes being the latest from 2019), made strong trades including landing Taylor Hall, yet couldn’t get it done.

Don’t blame Hischier, though.

The Swiss-born center ranks among the Devils’ brightest spots — alongside Palmieri, honestly. The young forward brings plenty to the table while rarely taking anything away. Consider his heatmap from Hockey Viz as just one illustration of Hischier’s many strengths:

If standard offensive stats work better for you, Hischier passes those tests, unless you’re grading him too harshly based on his draft status. Hischier ranks second on the Devils in scoring (28 points in 40 games), trailing only Palmieri (31 points in 44). In case you’re wondering, Hall was at 25 points in 30 games before being traded to the Coyotes.

The Devils need more players like Hischier. If his career trajectory continues as such, we also might see more of Hischier in future All-Star Games.

The 2020 NHL All-Star Skills Competition will take place on Friday, Jan. 24 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2020 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 25 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

MORE NHL ALL-STAR GAME COVERAGE:
All-Star Game rosters
NHL All-Star Game captains
All-Star Game coaches
Pass or Fail: 2020 All-Star Game jerseys
Alex Ovechkin will not play in 2020 All-Star Game

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.

Where it all went wrong for Ray Shero and the Devils

Shero Devils
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The New Jersey Devils fired general manager Ray Shero over the weekend, ending his four-and-a-half year run with the team.

On the surface, it’s not hard to see why the decision was made. Given the circumstances, it was inevitable.

The Devils have been a massive disappointment this season after a huge offseason, and were on track to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years under Shero’s watch. Not many general managers are going to make it through that sort of run unscathed. Especially when you consider how high expectations were in the preseason after the additions of top pick Jack Hughes and the acquisitions of Nikita Gusev, P.K. Subban, and Wayne Simmonds.

So where did it all go wrong for Shero and the Devils?

We should start with the very beginning.

1. Shero inherited a mess

While the lack of progress is the thing that will stand out in the wake of the change, it can not be understated how bad of a situation Shero walked into when he was hired by the Devils in May of 2015.

The Devils were coming off of a 2014-15 season where they had one of the worst records in the league, had missed the playoffs three years in a row, had a barren farm system, and had what was by far the oldest roster in the league.

Things were bleak. Very bleak.

Consider…

  • Seven of the top-12 scorers on the 2014-15 season were age 32 or older. Five of them were out of the NHL completely within two years.
  • Of the 35 players that appeared in a game that season, 18 of them were out of the NHL within the next two years.
  • Only two players on the team recorded more than 40 points, and nobody scored more than 43.

It was a team of fringe NHL players that were not only not very good, but were on their way out of the league.

Combine that with a mostly empty farm system and there wasn’t a lot to build on.

He had to start from the ground level and try to build a contender out of nothing. That was always going to take time.

2. The trades always seemed to look good on paper…

… But the timing and the luck was never on the Devils’ side.

Given the lack of quality talent on the NHL roster, Shero had to work quick to bring in talent from outside the organization. And when you break down his individual trades, he almost always seemed to come out on the winning side of them.

Getting Kyle Palmieri for a couple of draft picks was a steal.

He pounced on the Capitals’ salary cap crunch and picked up Marcus Johansson for two draft picks.

Adam Larsson for Taylor Hall was one of the biggest one-for-one steals in recent league memory.

The same thing happened this summer when he managed to get Subban and Gusev for next to nothing. Combined with a pair of No. 1 overall draft picks (Nico Hischier and Hughes) and there was a huge influx of talent on paper over the past couple of years.

But for one reason or another, the results never followed.

For as promising of an addition as Johansson was, his time with the Devils was ruined by injuries that prevented him from ever making an extended impact.

Subban and Simmonds were big-name pickups this summer, but it has become increasingly clear as the season has gone on that he got them at the end of their careers.

There was even some bad luck with Hall when he lost almost the entire 2018-19 season to injury.

3. Cory Schneider rapidly declined, and the Devils never adjusted in goal

This might be the single biggest factor in the Devils’ lack of progress under Shero.

When he joined the Devils he had one franchise cornerstone that he could build around, and that was starting goalie Cory Schneider. And he was a legit building block.

Coming off the 2014-15 season Schneider was one of the best goalies in the league. Between the 2010-11 and 2014-15 seasons he owned the best save percentage in the NHL (minimum 100 games played) and was just beginning a long-term contract that was going to keep him in New Jersey for the next seven seasons.

He was also still at an age where his career shouldn’t have been in danger of falling off. But after one more elite season in 2015-16, Schneider’s career did exactly that. It fell apart.  After his 30th birthday Schneider went into a sudden and rapid decline that sunk him to the bottom tier of NHL starting goalies.

This is where Shero’s biggest failing in New Jersey came into play. He never found a goalie to replace Schneider. That was the biggest question mark heading into this season, and the play of their goalies this season has been one of the biggest factors in their disappointing performance.

Shero’s tenure with the Devils is a fascinating one to look at from a distance. He inherited a team that had absolutely nothing to build around and tried to swing for the fences with some big additions over the years. He made a lot of the right moves and brought in legitimate top-line talent. But some bad injury luck (Johansson; Hall a year ago), a couple of star players declining (Schneider, Subban), and his inability to make the one big move that he needed (a goalie) helped hold back what started as a promising season. The 2019-20 season ended up being one losing season too many for the Devils.

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 Power Rankings: 2020 trade deadline candidates

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In this week’s NHL Power Rankings we look ahead to the trade deadline and some of the players who could be on the move.

We have split the rankings into four different tiers focusing on the likelihood of a trade.

The first three tiers focus on players that are most likely to be traded for one reason or another (expiring contract, playing on rebuilding teams, requested a trade, etc.).

The fourth tier looks at players that could make a big impact and bring big returns, but aren’t anywhere near as likely to be traded.

To the rankings!

Tier 1: Players almost certain to be traded

1. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa Senators. This is a no-brainer for the Senators. With Taylor Hall already moved to Arizona, Pageau is the top rental available and there are going to be a number of teams lining up to acquire him in the hopes he can be their missing piece. Even as a rental his value in a trade will probably be worth more than his long-term value to a rebuilding Senators team that is still years away from contention.

2. Tyler Toffoli, Los Angeles Kings. He may not be a star, but I want to see what he can do on a better team with more talent around him. The Kings need to start turning the page on this core and Toffoli — a pending unrestricted free agent — is a good place to start.

3. Chris Kreider, New York Rangers. There is always the possibility that the Rangers could try to re-sign him, but you have to think if that was going to happen it would have already been done by now. He would be a great addition for a Colorado team that is all-in on winning right now. He would also be an intriguing replacement for Jake Guentzel on Sidney Crosby‘s wing in Pittsburgh, provided the two teams were willing to trade within the division.

4. Alex Galchenyuk, Pittsburgh Penguins. His value is at an all-time low, but there does not seem to be any chance he remains with the Penguins beyond the trade deadline. GM Jim Rutherford is quick to move on from mistakes or acquisitions that do not work, and this would qualify.

Tier 2: Expiring contracts that could/should be be traded

5. Brenden Dillon, San Jose Sharks. Even with their improved play as of late the Sharks are going to need a massive turnaround in the second half to make the playoffs. The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported that the Sharks are going to look to reset at the deadline, and that could mean a Dillon trade. As far as blue line rentals go he would be an intriguing option. He won’t put up a lot of points, but he makes a big impact defensively.

6. Robin Lehner, Chicago Blackhawks. Both of the Blackhawks’ goalies are free agents after this season, and Lehner doesn’t seem willing to take a below market contract again to stay in Chicago. Not keeping him creates another hole on a team that has too many to begin win. But can they re-sign him?

7. Erik Gustafsson, Chicago Blackhawks. He is not going to come close to matching his offensive output from a year ago, but he could be a good depth addition for a team that needs a little more scoring punch from its blue line.

8. Sami Vatanen, New Jersey Devils. Ray Shero’s firing kind of throws a wrench into the things for the Devils, but given their spot in the standings and the expiring contracts they have you have to think they are going to be sellers. Vatanen might have the most value out of that group.

9. Wayne Simmonds, New Jersey Devils. He was a good low-risk signing for the Devils, but he hasn’t quite bounced back as either side hoped. His pending free agency makes him a potential rental, but there may not be a lot left here.

10. Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators. One of the many veterans in Ottawa playing on an expiring contract. He is not the goalie he was during his prime years, but he could be a solid backup addition for a contender.

11. Mikael Granlund, Nashville Predators. Granlund was an outstanding player in Minnesota, but things simply have not worked for him in Nashville. If the Predators do not play their way back into a playoff position they could become sellers, and Granlund’s expiring contract might be at the top of the list.

12. Zach Bogosian, Buffalo Sabres. Bogosian already requested a trade earlier this season and the Sabres have dropped like a rock in the standings. It is probably a matter of when and not if he moves. Do not expect a significant return when he does.

Tier 3: The change of scenery candidates

13. Alexandar Georgiev, New York Rangers. Should they trade him? No. But they are currently carrying three goalies and seem to love Igor Shesterkin. The ideal situation is to simply keep both Shesterkin and Georgiev — two very good young goalies! — and see who emerges long-term. And if they both do? Even better! He will have more value to them that way than he will in a trade.

14. Kyle Turris, Nashville Predators. Maybe things change with John Hynes behind the bench, but Turris hasn’t worked out in Nashville and he still has a ton of money left on his contract.

15. Josh Ho-Sang, New York Islanders. Just because it has to happen at some point, right?

16. Lias Andersson, New York Rangers. He has requested a trade and a fresh start somewhere else would probably be in everybody’s best interest.

17. Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers. He can not play in the NHL this season but he has zero future with the Oilers and needs a fresh start somewhere else.

Tier 4: Really players that could make huge impacts, but probably won’t move

(Several of these players are the best players on the list and would make the biggest impact, but they are also far less likely to actually be traded this season than the players above)

18. Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild. Former general manager Paul Fenton seemed determined to trade him but was never able to get it done. He is an outstanding two-way player that would bring a big return given that he still has a year remaining on his contract, but it would also be a pretty big white flag from the organization if the Wild move him.

19. Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks. He doesn’t seem likely to be traded, but the Blackhawks would be wise to at least listen to offers. He is a good two-way player and has performed in big spots in the past. A contender would love to have him.

20. Alec Martinez, Los Angeles Kings. Out of all the potential trade candidates on the Kings’ roster Martinez might bring the biggest return given his position, ability, and contract (one full year remaining after this one at a fair price). Trading him would actually require a commitment to a rebuild, however.

21. Tomas Tatar, Montreal Canadiens. It is going to be fascinating to see what the Canadiens do at the deadline. They lack quality scoring depth so trading one of their most productive players would be a step backwards, but this team is going nowhere fast as currently constructed and might need to change course.

22. Kyle Palmieri New Jersey Devils. Trading him would be a pretty drastic move for the Devils, but all options should be on the table. He is an excellent player with another year remaining on his contract at a good price. His value would be high.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Kovalchuk paying off; Golden Knights’ flaws

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

• The Hockey News breaks down good, bad and ugly numbers. (The Hockey News)

Auston Matthews is getting a heavy workload early in games and it’s helping him. (TSN)

• The Ilya Kovalchuk signing is paying off for him and the Canadiens. He might continue to get even better. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• Justin Williams doesn’t need the ‘C’ to be a leader for the Hurricanes. (Cardiac Cane)

• The Leafs probably shouldn’t be a player at the trade deadline. (Leafs Nation)

Noel Acciari has been an important part of the Panthers this season. (Rat Trick)

• Could the Penguins still get their hands on Taylor Hall? (Pensburgh)

• It’s almost like the Avs need to feel like underdogs. (Mile High Sticking)

• The Coyotes are finding out just how much they rely on goaltending. (Arizona Republic)

• The Ducks could take on bad contracts if it means adding an asset or two. (Anaheim Calling)

• The Golden Knights have legitimate flaws that they should be concerned about. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• ICYMI: Watch this feature on Nate Thompson, who battled addiction for years. (Sportsnet)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.