Timo Meier

PHT Morning Skate: Brady Tkachuk is a pest; Leafs have no identity

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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.

• Former Humboldt Broncos player Ryan Straschnitzki has begun moving his legs again. (CBC)

• NHL popularity is growing in Sweden now that the Global Series has arrived. (NHL)

• The Swedish hockey experience is much different than what we’re used to in North America. (TampaBay.com)

• The non-Swedes on the Sabres roster have been enjoying their time in Stockholm. (Buffalo News)

• A five-person committee created the Stars winter classic jersey. (Dallas News)

• The Toronto Maple Leafs still don’t have an identity after 16 games. (Toronto Star)

Lars Eller is having a pretty good year for the Capitals. (Japers Rink)

Blake Wheeler will have to fill in at center for the foreseeable future. (Winnipeg Sun)

Brady Tkachuk has turned into an awesome pest for the Ottawa Senators. (Sporting News)

• Craig MacTavish wrote about his crazy three-month experience in the KHL. (TSN)

Jordan Binnington believes he should have won the Calder Trophy over Elias Pettersson. (Daily Hive)

• The Sharks need Timo Meier and their young players to start producing offensively. (NBC Sports Bay Area)

• There’s a Mighty Ducks TV series in the works. (Hollwood Reporter)

• Here’s how a failed Steelers tryout kick-started a daughter’s Olympic hockey dream. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Travis Konecny and Oskar Lindblom have had really strong seasons for the Flyers. (NBC Sports Philly)

• Check out this list of top 10 hockey jerseys in pop culture. (Hockey by Design)

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.

Blackhawks rally falls short in otherwise ugly loss to Sharks

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There is not much to like about about the play of the Chicago Blackhawks right now.

For 56 minutes on Tuesday night they looked completely incapable of generating any sort of a push against the San Jose Sharks, only managing to score a couple of garbage time goals late in the third period to make the final score of their 4-2 loss look a little more respectable than it otherwise should have been.

Make no mistake, this was a brutal performance by everyone not named Robin Lehner.

After two periods the Blackhawks found themselves facing a 2-0 deficit and were being outshot by an embarrassing 26-8 margin, getting completely dominated by a Sharks team that entered the game with the worst record in the Western Conference. It was not even close. The Blackhawks looked two steps slow to every loose puck, couldn’t retrieve dump-ins to the offensive zone, couldn’t get out of the defensive zone where they looked like they were on a penalty kill the entire time, and just looked bad.

It was a continuation of a recent trend where they have spent entire games defending in their own zone, bleeding shots against and being unable to mount any sort of sustained attack in the offensive zone.

It happened against Nashville (outshot 51-20) in a 3-0 loss, it happened against Los Angeles (outshot 49-27) in an overtime loss, and it happened again on Tuesday.

Even with their attempts to fix the defense over the summer all of the same problems still exist and there does not seem to be any kind of a solution in the immediate future.

As for the Sharks, this was a desperately needed win.

They came into the night at the bottom of the Western Conference standings and had lost five in a row and seven of their past eight. It’s not too early to start hitting the panic button when you’re already that far out of a playoff spot, and the time has come for them to start collecting points.

Patrick Marleau, Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl, and Timo Meier all scored goals in the win.

They may not have closed out the game the way they wanted to in the closing minutes, but this was the type of performance the Sharks were expecting from this group. They were in complete control of the game and for the first time started to look like the Stanley Cup contender they are supposed to be.

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 Fantasy Hockey: Vrana, Strome among this week’s best adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Ondrej Palat, Lightning – LW: Palat saw his ice time dip to 14:53 per night in 2018-19 and he finished with 34 points in 64 games. This season he’s averaging 16:52 minutes a night and more recently it’s been even higher with him logging 18:56 minutes per game. He’s recently played on the second line with Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point and Monday morning he bumped up to the first line with Steven Stamkos, per The Athletic writer Joe Smith. Palat already has five goals and nine points in 13 games this season and this seems like a good time to give him a chance.

Andreas Johnsson, Maple Leafs – LW/RW: Johnsson is nothing exciting, but he’s solid. He had 20 goals and 43 points in 73 games last season and he might do a little better in 2019-20 after scoring four goals and nine points through 15 games. Having eligibility on both wings gives him some extra flexibility and he chips in a bit in most common fantasy category. He’s not a bad stopgap when you have an injury.

Ryan Strome, Rangers – C/LW: Strome has always had so much potential, but he couldn’t seem to harness it for long with the Islanders or the Oilers. Now with the rebuilding Rangers, he might have finally found another level. He has four goals and 11 points in 11 games this season. That’s thanks to his current hot streak, but he’s also averaged an impressive 17:56 minutes in 2019-20, which I think will help his staying power. Take him now if you have an opening for him in the hopes that this will be his breakout campaign.

Michal Kempny, Capitals – D: If you’re looking for a hot defenseman who is available in most leagues, Kempny is about as good as you can do. He’s owned in just 15% of Yahoo leagues and has scored two goals and six points in his last four contests. Just be prepared to drop him when he cools off because he’s probably going to be unremarkable overall this season.

Anthony Duclair, Senators – LW: Duclair showed promise back in 2015-16 with a 44-point rookie campaign, but that’s still his career-high. It’s too early to write him off at the age of 24, and playing for the lowly Senators is leading to him getting more ice time than ever before (15:33 minutes per game), but he’s still a high-risk pickup if you intend to hold onto him all season. For now though, he’s an interesting short-term play given how hot he is. He’s scored four goals and five points in his last four games.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld]

Jakub Vrana, Capitals – LW: Vrana is on a five-game point streak, but he’s been especially crazy recently with five goals over his last two games. I don’t see him as a great long-term pickup, but you may as well take advantage of his hot streak while it lasts. Just don’t hesitate to drop him when he cools off.

Tomas Tatar, Canadiens – LW/RW: Tatar set a career-high last season with 58 points in 80 games and he seems to be building on that in 2019-20. He’s scored four goals and 11 points in 14 contests, which puts him on pace for 64 points. Despite that, his IPP is actually on the low side, which suggests that he might have actually had some bad puck luck thus far. Take that with a grain of salt, but even after doing that, he does look like a solid addition to most fantasy squads this season.

Oskar Lindblom, Flyers – LW: Lindblom is hot right now with two goals and four points in three games, but he’s also been solid throughout the 2019-20 campaign so far. He has seven goals and 11 points in 13 games, which would represent a big jump from his 33-point showing in 2018-19 if he could maintain his current pace. He probably will slow down – his 24.1 shooting percentage in particular looks unsustainable – but it’s still fair to bet on him comfortably surpassing the 33-point mark. A big part of that can be attributed to the 23-year-old’s development and his increased responsibilities. He’s gone from averaging 13:45 minutes in 2018-19 to 16:54 minutes this season.

Mark Borowiecki, Senators – D: Borowiecki is another player on a hot streak you might be able to ride, but there’s a nice secondary benefit to him. He has a goal and four points in his last four games, so if you grab him now and that streak lasts a little longer then that’s great. If it doesn’t though, the hits he provides are a good consolation prize. He ranks second among defensemen in the NHL with 47 hits in 12 contests and is first in hits per game among those who have participated in at least five contests.

Neal Pionk, Jets – D: Pionk is someone I’ve recommended before, but he’s still owned in just 49% of Yahoo leagues, so for many there’s still time to take him. He’s doing well in his second full NHL campaign and the shift form the Rangers to Winnipeg, which have given him a bigger role, has helped as well. He has two goals and nine points in 15 games this season.

Players You May Want To Drop

Dustin Byfuglien, Jets – D: If you were being patient with Byfuglien in the hope that eventually he’d report to the Winnipeg Jets and resume his NHL career, there isn’t much reason to still hold onto him. While it is possible that he will ultimately decide to play again, the situation changed when he underwent ankle surgery. He’s now expected to miss four months, which basically makes this season a write off no matter what he decides.

Patric Hornqvist, Penguins – RW: Hornqvist has been solid this season with five goals and 10 points in 14 games, but he’s now on the injured reserve list. He sustained a lower-body injury on Saturday and it’s believed that he will be out “longer-term,” per the Penguins. If you’re in a standard league, then Hornqvist doesn’t bring enough to the table to warrant holding onto him while he’s hurt unless you happen to have a spare IR slot to stash him in anyways.

Victor Olofsson, Sabres – LW/RW: Olofsson got off to an incredible start this season with six goals and eight points in seven games, but he has just two assists in his last eight contests. He’s also seen his ice time drop from an average of 18:10 during those first seven games to 16:13 in his most recent eight contests. His hot streak was nice while it lasted, but you may as well look elsewhere at this point.

Timo Meier, Sharks – LW/RW: Meier broke out in 2018-19 with 30 goals and 66 points in 78 games, but he can’t seem to get going this season. Through 15 games he has just two goals and four points in 15 contests. He’s far from the only Sharks player who has underperformed, but he is one of the more extreme cases. I think it’s fair to evaluate your alternatives at this point.

Martin Jones, Sharks – G: Jones is a bit of a different situation as far as the Sharks go. Even when they’re good, he’s somewhat suspect. Jones has his moments, but he had a 2.94 GAA and .896 save percentage in 62 starts last season despite the strength of the team in front of him. His main appeal from a fantasy perspective last season was wins and so far in 2019-20 he doesn’t even have that going for him. He has a 2-7-1 record, 3.52 GAA, and .887 save percentage in 11 contests. Even if the rest of the Sharks bounce back, I’m not sure Jones will be particularly good. He’s one of the weakest starter options in the league from a fantasy perspective.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

Maple Leafs enter Marleau reunion in a tense state

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“Sometimes you gotta yell at your family,” is something you’d expect from Archie Bunker or some other disheveled sitcom dad, not Auston Matthews when he’s talking about the Toronto Maple Leafs. Yet that’s how Matthews explains his approach as the Maple Leafs have been soul-searching (and maybe screaming) amidst a troubling 5-4-2 start.

It feels a bit like the sort of mess that would get a teenager in trouble, so maybe it’s only fitting that Friday represents the return of “dad,” as Patrick Marleau and the San Jose Sharks will face the Maple Leafs in Toronto.

Marleau’s first game against the Maple Leafs since taking a circuitous route back to San Jose seems like as good a time as ever to dig deeper on Toronto’s troubles, and ponder Marleau’s hot start.

How dysfunctional is this Leafs family?

If the playoffs began before Friday’s games, the Maple Leafs would be on the outside looking in. It’s almost as troubling that other teams in the bubble could pass Toronto thanks to games in hand:

The Maple Leafs’ goals for (40) vs. against (39) categories segue smoothly into an explanation of how Toronto’s played so far in 2019-20: they’s scored a lot of goals, yet unfortunately have allowed almost as many.

Indeed, you can trot out a positive sign, and then quickly “Yeah, but …” away most points of optimism.

They’ve controlled the higher number of events by Corsi, Fenwick, and scoring chance measures at even-strength, but Natural Stat Trick’s measures indicate that they’ve allowed more high-danger scoring chances at 5-on-5 (80) than they’ve generated (72).

The Maple Leafs have, essentially, been what many people thought they were: a team trying to outscore its problems.

Where things can change

To some extent, the Maple Leafs might just need to live by the sword, and die by the sword. The key, then, is to stay sharp in areas where they can.

Most obviously, the Maple Leafs need to avoid the penalty box. While their power play hums along (25-percent success rate, eight PPG), they’ve allowed just as many power-play goals (eight), thanks to going on the PK 38 times versus only getting 32 power-play chances. Such discipline troubles are especially confounding being that the Maple Leafs have only played four of their first 11 games on the road (it’s human nature for home teams to get at least moderately favorable officiating, after all).

While every season is different, there’s justification to believe that the Maple Leafs can be smarter with their sticks. They were only shorthanded 204 times in 2018-19, the second-lowest total in the NHL.

Being on the PK less often should help their goalies to a degree, but either way, the Maple Leafs need more out of the likes of Frederik Andersen, Michael Hutchinson, and possibly others.

Honestly, the Leafs might not have a ton of hope getting more out of Hutchinson, yet Andersen’s capable of much better. To remind you of the warping effects of small sample sizes, consider the strange quirk that, so far this season, Andersen’s PK save percentage (.881) is slightly higher than his even-strength mark (.879). Considering that Andersen’s career even-strength save percentage is .923, you can expect improvement, even if this ends up being an off year.

Ultimately, the Maple Leafs need to optimize, even if they might see flaws. While Hockey Viz’s heat maps show promise on offense:

It’s clear that the defense needs tidying up:

Marleau riding high

The hacky instinct would be to look at Marleau’s hot scoring start (two goals, four assists for six points in six games), plus Toronto’s bumpy beginning, and argue that Toronto made a big mistake … or they miss his leadership, and so on.

It’s great to see Marleau back in teal, but the numbers are less flattering when you dig deeper. His possession stats are troubling, despite playing almost all of his even-strength shifts with strong linemates in Timo Meier and Logan Couture. You’d like not be that surprised that his shooting percentage (20, vs. 9.9 last season) and on-ice shooting percentage (17.9, vs. 8.5 for his career) both rank as unsustainable.

That’s not meant to degrade Marleau’s inspiring start, because it’s extremely cool. Frankly, the Sharks are weak enough on the wings that it makes perfect sense to bring back their old chum.

Just don’t buy in to potential narratives about the Maple Leafs being lost without Marleau.

Now, arguments about Toronto needing to find answers from a bigger picture sense? That’s a more compelling conversation, although I’d argue that it’s more about how deep the Maple Leafs can go in the playoffs, rather than whether or not they can make it at all.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 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.

Marleau’s Sharks return will come Thursday vs. Blackhawks

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Welcome back, Patrick Marleau, and welcome back to the San Jose Sharks’ top line.

One day after it was announced the 40-year-old forward would be returning to the franchise where he spent his first 19 years in the NHL, Marleau was skating on the No. 1 line with Logan Couture and Timo Meier. The Sharks are in Chicago ahead of Thursday’s game at United Center and are looking to snap their four-game losing streak to begin the season.

The one-year, $700,000 contract was made official on Wednesday, and while Marleau missed the opening week of the season his consecutive games played streak remains intact at 788 games since he wasn’t registered before their game against Nashville. Once the puck drops Thursday, the veteran forward will be 11 games away from being only the sixth player in NHL history to play 800 straight games, joining Keith Yandle, who reached the mark Tuesday. He’s also 110 games away from passing Gordie Howe for first on the all-time games played list.

“I think he can give us a boost,” said Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer on Tuesday. “He’s an experienced guy. He’s not going to panic under pressure. He’s going to make the right play. He’s a big, strong guy. I think he fits with how we want to play.”

The Sharks are hoping Marleau can play a role in turning around a poor start. The shots on goal have been there, but the goals have yet to come. According to Darin Stephens, San Jose is the eighth team since 1967 to score fewer than five goals in their first four games while taking at least 128 shots on goal.

Marleau, who joked after his first skate back with the Sharks that he may have to use adrenaline to his advantage when he makes his debut Thursday, is eager to get going.

“The supporting cast I had kind of kept me grounded, kept me patient,” he said via Curtis Pashelka of the Mercury News. “I couldn’t be more happy to be back here and be a Shark again. The emotion I felt when that phone call came from Doug [Wilson] was just overwhelming. I’m just very grateful to be back and just want to help the team as much as a I can.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.