Tim Schaller

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The Buzzer: Islanders reclaim top spot in Metro; Flames clinch playoff spot

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Three Stars

1. Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers. This is the player the Philadelphia Flyers have been waiting decades for, a goalie that can be a difference-maker (for the better!) and steal them the occasional game. That is exactly what Carter Hart did on Sunday night as he stopped 41 of 42 shots he faced and gave his team a chance to score two late goals, one with 19 seconds remaining in regulation and another with three seconds remaining in overtime, to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, keeping their slim playoff hopes for at least another day. Read all about it here.

2. Brock Nelson, New York Islanders. The New York Islanders reclaimed the top spot in the Metropolitan Division with a 3-2 overtime win against the Minnesota Wild. Mathew Barzal had two more assists in the win, but it was Brock Nelson that gets the star in this one for his two points, including the overtime winner. He is now up to 47 points on the season, setting a new career-high with still 10 games remaining on the regular season schedule.

3. Tyson Barrie, Colorado Avalanche. The Colorado Avalanche have no margin for error the rest of the way and need to win as many games as possible if they are going to get back into a playoff position. Sunday’s 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils was a good place to start with Tyson Barrie’s two goals leading the way. He is now up to nine goals on the season and is just one goal away from what would be his fifth season with double-digit goals. There are only 17 active defenders in the NHL with at least that many in their career.

Other notable performances and notes from Sunday

  • Jonathan Marchessault scored two goals to help the Vegas Golden Knights keep rolling in a 6-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers. Read all about it here.
  • Entering play on Sunday Vancouver Canucks forward Tim Schaller had appeared in 37 games this season without scoring a goal. He scored two in the Canucks’ 3-2 shootout win over the Dallas Stars.
  • Alex Nylander had a pair of assists to help the Buffalo Sabres pick up a 4-3 shootout win over the St. Louis Blues.
  • Jakob Silfverberg‘s late third period goal was the difference in the Anaheim Ducks’ 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers. Not getting a point might be enough to put an end to the Panthers’ playoff chances.
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins will be without Evgeni Malkin on a week-to-week basis due to an undisclosed upper-body injury. Read all about it here.

Highlights of the Night

Carter Hart was the star of the game for the Philadelphia Flyers in their win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, but Sean Couturier made the play of the game to score the game-winning goal with just three seconds to play in overtime.

The Minnesota Wild did not get the result they wanted, but they were still able to get at least one point on Sunday night thanks in large part to this incredible goal from Zach Parise.

Tyson Barrie provided enough offense for the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday afternoon and Philip Grubauer stopped all 22 shots he faced to help their team get two important points to keep them in pursuit of a playoff spot. This is Grubauer’s best save of the day.

Factoids

  • The Calgary Flames did not even play on Sunday night but they still became the first team to clinch a playoff spot in the Western Conference thanks to the Minnesota Wild’s overtime loss to the New York Islanders. [Calgary Flames]
  • It came in a losing effort, but Connor McDavid is the first player since Vincent Lecavalier to record multiple points in at least eight consecutive games since Vincent Lecavalier in 2007. [NHL PR]
  • The Minnesota Wild have lost six of their past seven games that have gone to overtime or shootout. Those are big points to leave on the table, especially considering they are just one point out of a playoff spot as of this posting. [Michael Russo]

Scores

Colorado Avalanche 3, New Jersey Devils 0

Buffalo Sabres 4, St. Louis Blues 3 (SO)

New York Islanders 3, Minnesota Wild 2 (OT)

Vancouver Canucks 3, Dallas Stars 2 (SO)

Philadelphia Flyers 2, Pittsburgh Penguins 1 (OT)

Anaheim Ducks 3, Florida Panthers 2

Vegas Golden Knights 6, Edmonton Oilers 3

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.

Under Pressure: Jim Benning

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vancouver Canucks.

Are the Vancouver Canucks rebuilding? If you’re going off recent results, you’d think that they were going through some kind of re-tooling. But if you look at what they’ve done in free agency the last few years, you’d think differently.

The Canucks finished 26th in the overall standings last season, 29th two years ago and 28th in 2015-16. You’d think that those kinds of results would lead to the team going in a different direction. Instead, general manager Jim Benning has spent money on free agents like Loui Eriksson, Michael Del Zotto, Sam Gagner, Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel and Tim Schaller. There’s nothing wrong with those players. They can each serve as capable NHL players, but shouldn’t Benning have taken the time to give his younger players an opportunity to step in to bigger roles at the highest level?

There was more drama surrounding the team this off-season, as they decided to move on from president Trevor Linden. Some in Vancouver have speculated that Linden had a different vision for the team than Benning did, but the Canucks GM has denied having those kinds of disagreements with his former president.

[Canucks Day: 2017-18 Review | Breakthrough: Boeser | 3 Questions]

No matter how you slice it, the pressure is on Benning to deliver a quality product sooner or later. Even if the Canucks want to head into a full-out rebuild, positive on-ice results will have to come eventually. As we mentioned above, Benning is the GM of a team that has finished near the basement of the NHL for the last three years. Not many general managers get to keep their jobs after those kinds of runs.

There’s no denying that the team has some solid building blocks in place. Bo Horvat has been a productive NHLer, Chris Tanev is an underrated defenseman, Brock Boeser looks like he’s going to be a superstar and Elias Pettersson is one of the best prospects in all of hockey. But the rest of the roster looks kinds of “meh” to put it bluntly.

Even with the players mentioned above, there’s still a lot of work for this organization to do before they can get back to being one of the best teams in the Western Conference. Can Benning get them to where they need to go? So far, the answer to that question appears to be “no”. And how much more time does he have on his side? Only Canucks ownership can answer that question, but you’d have to think that he’s under the gun at this point.

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.

It’s Vancouver Canucks day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vancouver Canucks.

2017-18
31-40-11, 73 pts. (7th in the Pacific Division, 14th in the Western Conference)
Missed playoffs

IN
Antoine Roussel
Jay Beagle
Tim Schaller

OUT
Henrik Sedin
Daniel Sedin
Jayson Megna
Michael Chaput
Nic Dowd
Jussi Jokinen

RE-SIGNED
Sven Baertschi
Markus Granlund
Jake Virtanen
Derrick Pouliot
Darren Archibald

– – –

The Vancouver Canucks weren’t expected to move the needle much last season and they obliged many preseason predictions that had them finishing in the basement of the league.

Trying to turn around this ship with the additions of Thomas Vanek, Michael Del Zotto and Sam Gagner weren’t exactly the earth-shattering moves needed. Sure, the Canucks were a busy bunch last summer as they tried the fix-on-the-fly strategy, but that’s almost always a futile task.

The 2018-19 Canucks were a team that couldn’t score (26th fewest). They gave up too many goals (sixth most). Their team save percentage was among the worst in the league (.902, 26th) and neither goalie outworked the other to be called a bona fide No. 1.

[Under Pressure: Benning | Breakthrough: Boeser | 3 Questions]

These are the days of an NHL rebuild and a team waiting for promising young talent to emerge and take over.

Perhaps, then, it was as good a time as any for the Sedin twins to retire. Daniel and Henrik called it a career after 17 years of heroics in Vancouver. Even in their elder years as NHL players, the Sedins were still responsible for a good chunk of Vancouver’s offense, which is a hole that someone is going to have to fill.

The bad news is that likely won’t happen this season. It’s quite likely the Canucks wallow at the bottom of the tank for another year.

The good news is that among the rubble of the rebuild is several signs of life.

Brock Boeser may have given Mathew Barzal a run for the Calder if not for an apparent scary back injury that forced him to miss the final 20 games of the season. His 29 goals led all rookies until Kyle Connor of the Winnipeg Jets pipped him for the title late in the year. He finished with 55 points in 62 games and 23 power-play points, which was second among rookies and helped the Canucks to a top-10 showing with the man-advantage.

Bo Horvat‘s season was also derailed by injury. A fractured foot forced him to miss over six weeks from early December to late January. How’d Vancouver fare without him in the lineup? They were 4-12-2.

Horvat still managed 22 goals, a career-high. He likely would have set a new mark in points, too, if not for those 18 missed games. He finished with 44 points and appears to be coming into his own as a top-line NHL center.

The Canucks went out and added once again this offseason.

It’s highly unlikely that Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle or Tim Schaller are going to be world-beaters, but that’s not what they’re being tasked with.

Their purpose is to help the Canucks’ young core along and provide Vancouver with the ability to develop some of those prospects in the minors instead of slotting them into the Show earlier than they need to be. Continued development is key, and there are several models the Canucks can look to around the league to help them resist those temptations.

A quick note on team defense: It certainly needs to improve, but it should be noted that a healthy Chris Tanev and Erik Gudbranson should go a long way to helping that. The duo missed a combined 70 games last season.

Prospect Pool

Elias Pettersson, C/RW, 19, Vaxjo (SHL) – 2017 first-round pick

One prospect that likely won’t need much seasoning in the minors is Pettersson. He’s already played among men in the Swedish Elite League, where he dominated as an 18-year-old, scoring 24 goals and 56 points in 44 games.

That kind of production helped his team to a league championship, the honor of being named the top forward in the SHL, its MVP, it’s top point-producer, it’s playoffs MVP and it’s rookie of the year. Those are just some of his accolades from last year, too. He also won a silver medal at the world juniors and followed that up with gold hardware at the world championships.

Did we mention he’s Swedish? Vancouver loves their Swedes.

Quinton Hughes, D, 18, University of Michigan (NCAA) – 2018 first-round pick

Hughes had a solid freshman season with the Wolverines with 29 points in 37 games, garnering him a spot on the NCAA (B1G) All-Rookie Team. He captured bronze at the world juniors and the world championships with Team USA, contributing five assists across 17 combined games in both tournaments.

He was also the best player at this summer’s world junior showcase.

“He’s going to be that type of player that young kids try to emulate — that they want to be, that they strive to be — but it’s going to be very difficult to duplicate what he does,” said Hughes’ U-18 coach John Wroblewski. “With this guy, he’s another generational-type talent, and he’ll be an influence on defensemen for years to come. I truly believe that.”

Thatcher Demko, G, 22, Utica (AHL) – 2014 second-round pick

We’ve highlighted one forward, one defenseman and now one goalie that could change the landscape for the better in Vancouver.

Demko is Vancouver’s future in goal, and he was solid with Utica last season in the American Hockey League with a .922 save percentage and 25 wins in 46 games played. For his efforts, he was named an AHL All-Star and got his first NHL start and subsequently his first NHL win on the last day of March.

Demko is likely to see more time this season in Vancouver, but there needs to be a fine balance of not letting him sit when he could be hogging the crease in the AHL. The Canucks aren’t shooting for the playoffs, so keeping him where he will play the most seems like the best option until the Canucks are willing to give him plenty of action as their backup.


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

It’s Boston Bruins day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Boston Bruins.

2017-18

50-20-12, 112 pts. (2nd, Atlantic Division; 2nd, Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Lost 4-1 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, second round

IN:

Jaroslav Halak
John Moore
Joakim Nordstrom
Chris Wagner
Cody Goloubef

OUT:

Riley Nash
Rick Nash
Brian Gionta
Tommy Wingels
Nick Holden
Anton Khudobin
Austin Czarnik
Tim Schaller
Paul Postma

RE-SIGNED:

Zdeno Chara
Sean Kuraly
Matt Grzelcyk

The Bruins got off to a decent start in 2017-18, but they took off near the beginning of December, as they went 10-2-2 that month, 8-1-2 in January, 9-4 in February and 11-2-3 in March. At one point, they even managed to pass the Tampa Bay Lightning for top spot in the division, but a mediocre finish led to the Bolts reclaiming the crown.

Many expected the Bruins to be competitive, but the fact that they were that dominant for a long stretch of time was kind of surprising. The future looks bright in Boston. Even though they have some older, established players on the roster, they also have youngsters like David Pastrnak, Danton Heinen, Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy, Anders Bjork, Ryan Donato and a few others.

One of the reasons they were able to so dominate was because of the play of their top line. Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron have morphed into one of the best lines in hockey. They’re chemistry is superb and they seem to be a threat to score every time they’re on the ice together. Marchand led the team in points (85 points in just 68 games), Pastrnak finished second (80 points in 82 games) and Bergeron finished third (63 points in 64 games).

The Bruins didn’t really make a significant splash in free agency, which means GM Don Sweeney is hoping to see some of the younger players on the roster take a significant step forward.

In goal, Tuukka Rask went through some ups and downs last season, but he also had a dominant stretch where he just couldn’t lose. The 31-year-old finished 2017-18 with a 34-14-5 record, a 2.36 goals-against-average and a .917 save percentage. His numbers dipped in the playoffs (2.88 goals-against-average, .903 save percentage), but he’s the go-to guy again.

It’ll be interesting to see how this roster handles these expectations. Last year, they surprised everyone. This year, they’re expected to compete for the Eastern Conference crown.

Prospect Pool:

• Ryan Donato, C, 22, Harvard/Boston Bruins – 2014 second-round pick

After completing his third season at Harvard, Donato made the leap straight to the Bruins and he didn’t look out of place. He suited up in 12 games regular season games and scored five goals and nine points. Not bad for a guy fresh out of college. Unfortunately the on-ice success didn’t carry into the playoffs, as he only played in three games. Heading into next season, expectations will be high for Donato. Look for him to play a significant role for Boston.

• Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C, 21, Providence Bruins – 2015 second-round pick

Forsbacka-Karlsson spent two full years at Boston University before jumping to the professional ranks in 2017-18. He put together a solid AHL season last year, as he accumulated 15 goals and 32 points in 58 contests with Providence. He might not play much of a scoring role in Boston this season, but he could definitely contribute as a bottom-six forward if he makes the team.

• Trent Frederic, C, 20, University of Wisconsin – 2016 first-round pick

Frederic decided to sign his entry-level contract with the Bruins after two years at Wisconsin. He put together a couple of strong seasons in college (33 points in 30 games as a freshman, 32 points in 36 games as a sophomore). He also helped lead Team USA to a World Junior bronze medal last winter. Frederic finished the season with AHL Providence where he put up eight points in 13 contests. He’ll probably start the year in the minors, but he could get a promotion at some point during the season.

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.

Bruins’ Donato, Predators’ Tolvanen begin playoffs as scratches

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Hype won’t always protect you from being a healthy scratch.

When it comes to some prominent late-season additions to potential Stanley Cup contenders, a spot in the lineup isn’t guaranteed. That’s something Ryan Donato is experiencing with the Boston Bruins, and the same can be said of prized Nashville Predators prospect Eeli Tolvanen. While NHL coaches are prone to throwing fastballs, it sure looks like those two young scorers will sit out Game 1 for their respective teams.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Donato the bigger surprise?

NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty reports that Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed that Donato won’t be in the lineup, with Brian Gionta and Nick Holden also being out.

Donato probably has more reason to be irritated by the snub than Tolvanen. For one thing, Donato’s a little older at 22 (Tolvanen is just 18, he’s turning 19 on April 22). Donato’s already shown serious potential by scoring nine points in 12 games despite sometimes-limited ice time.

Also, Riley Nash is unable to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight, so one might argue that the Bruins could find a spot for Donato. Take a look at the B’s projected bottom two lines, via Haggerty:

Danton Heinen / Noel Acciari / David Backes
Tim Schaller / Sean Kuraly / Tommy Wingels

Overall, the Bruins deserve a lot of credit for diving in feet-first with young players. They didn’t hesitate to put Charlie McAvoy in a prominent role right off the bat during last season’s playoffs, and guys like Heinen have been given opportunities to prove themselves.

Maybe this is a bit of a correction in that area, especially since the Bruins will face a team that can really exploit mistakes in the high-powered Maple Leafs. (Of course, the natural counterpoint is that you’d want more firepower on the ice to out-gun Toronto, in which case Donato would make a ton of sense).

For what it’s worth, Donato seemed to take a healthy attitude toward a healthy scratch, according to what he told Rich Thompson of the Boston Herald.

“I’m just going to keep working hard, and whenever they need me and my number is called, I’ll be ready to go,” Donato said. “I don’t really take it as an insult. I’ll just take it that the team has been good all year.”

Tolvanen a work in progress

While Donato’s been scoring at an impressive rate, things haven’t “clicked” yet for Tolvanen in the NHL.

The young Finn failed to score a goal or an assist through three regular-season games before getting scratched during the final two contests. Tolvanen’s only logged 36:20 of ice time so far at this level, generating his three shots on goal in his third game. In his first two contests, he didn’t even get a puck on net. To little surprise, his possession stats have been putrid over that tiny sample.

Tolvanen has only been with the Predators since late March, and this Nashville team was loaded without him. Consider that Scott Hartnell and a Calle Jarnkrok joined Tolvanen as potential scratches for Game 1 (though it’s worth noting that it seems like Jarnkrok is a little banged-up). Do note that, while Donato’s confirmed to be out, there’s an outside chance Tolvanen does play. It just seems improbable.

[Morning Skate: how will Predators deal with Nathan MacKinnon?]

In an ideal world, Tolvanen would have been able to gain more traction before the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs began, but considering the fact that they lost Ryan Johansen and Kevin Fiala during last year’s run, Nashville can attest that injuries could open the door for the 30th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen in the playoffs,” Peter Laviolette said, according to the Tennessean’s Adam Vignan. “If anything, last year proves that more than ever. … We’re probably going to need everybody.”

***

These aren’t the easiest calls regarding Donato and Tolvanen. These aren’t just rookies vying for time; these are players who haven’t been with the Bruins and Predators for very long.

Still, the fears of them making mistakes against attacking opponents like the Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche could be countered by the perks of getting more talent on the ice. Ultimately, their coaches will probably end up deploying them, especially if each squad enjoys deep playoff runs.

Thursday’s schedule

Lightning vs. Devils, 7 p.m. ET – NHL Network
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Capitals vs. Blue Jackets, 7:30 p.m. ET – USA
Predators vs. Avalanche, 9:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Ducks vs. Sharks, 10:30 p.m. ET – USA

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.