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The Buzzer: Bruins end slump; Blackwood baffles Penguins

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Three Stars

1. Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey Devils

If the Devils are going to dig themselves out of the big hole they made to start 2019-20, it’s highly likely that Blackwood will be the goalie who helps them do it.

Lately, the 22-year-old has been rotating nice wins (.968 save percentage or higher in three victories) with tough losses (.889 or lower in three defeats). Friday represented one of the nicest wins yet, as he stopped 38 out of 39 of the Penguins’ shots to help the Devils steal a 2-1 decision.

Natural Stat Trick places the Penguins’ expected goals at 3.55, and their high-danger chances at 14 at all strengths, so Blackwood was the clear difference-maker in that narrow triumph.

2. Tomas Tatar, Montreal Canadiens

The Habs got revenge on the scoreboard after Alex Ovechkin landed that devastating hit on Jonathan Drouin, and Tatar was a big catalyst for that rally.

Yes, his goal was an empty-netter, but Tatar already had a top-three-worthy night when he piled up three assists. If you’d prefer his linemate Phillip Danault (1G, 2A, nothing on that ENG), that’s fine, too. Being boiling up some righteous indignation, the plus side of Drouin getting shaken up might be that Claude Julien went back to Tatar, Danault, and Brendan Gallagher as a line ever so briefly. Via Natural Stat Trick, they generated two five-on-five goals for in just 42 seconds of TOI together. Piping-hot take: maybe keep them with each other a little bit longer?

Overall, Tatar was an absurd possession beast on Friday, generating a ridiculous 80% Fenwick Four. By any measure, he was spectacular, and there’s a compelling case for Tatar being placed above Blackwood as the top star of the night.

3. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins

Attempting to defense the Bruins’ top line must be agonizing, as Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak just bring so many strengths to the table. It might be especially frustrating to try to contain Marchand, though.

Not only will he trash talk you (and back it up), but he’s also very smart and elusive, finding openings even when there’s just a bit of space to work with. Marchand played a big role in Boston ending its winning streak, and also extending Toronto’s torment, by scoring two goals, including the game-winner.

But, yeah, that troll game is also there.

Highlight of the Night

Zach Werenski had been off to a bit of a slow start scoring-wise for the Columbus Blue Jackets this season, but the 22-year-old is gaining some serious steam lately. Werenski scored the overtime game-winner for Columbus on Friday, extending his goal streak to three games (three goals, one assist).

(Some might vote for the Ovechkin hit as the clip of the night, though.)

Factoids

  • Via NHL PR: Zdeno Chara became the fourth defenseman in NHL history aged 42 or older to generate a three-game point streak. Chris Chelios has done it twice, and holds the best run with a four-game tear. The other two (Doug Harvey, Tim Horton) make it quite the list.
  • Another aging defenseman stat from NHL PR: Shea Weber became the third active NHL defenseman to generate at least a five-game point streak at age 34 or older. Chara did it in 2011-12, while Mark Giordano has two streaks of seven games. Weber also scored his 209th goal, placing him 18th all-time among NHL defensemen, via Sportsnet.
  • Saucy one from Sportsnet: the Maple Leafs and Oilers have the same point percentage (.531) in 64 games since Jan. 1, and Edmonton actually has one more win (30 to 29).

Scores

BOS 4 – TOR 2
NJD 2 – PIT 1
MTL 5 – WSH 2
CBJ 3 – STL 2 (OT)
OTT 2 – PHI 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.

The great line nobody is talking about

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When we think about the best lines in hockey, our mind immediately goes to the Bruins’ perfection line of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron. Or we think of the trio in Colorado made up of Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon. Those are the two best lines in hockey right now, but there’s three players in Montreal that are being overlooked.

Phillip Danault, Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher aren’t superstars in the same way that Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak, Rantanen, MacKinnon and Landeskog are, but they’ve made up an important line since the start of last season. Not only does that line match up against the opposition’s best forwards, they usually tend to dictate the terms of the game night in and night out.

General manager Marc Bergevin deserves a lot of credit for helping create this line. Yes, Claude Julien put them together, but Bergevin went out and acquired two of the three players when they weren’t exactly in high demand. Gallagher was drafted before Bergevin arrived, but Danault was acquired, as a prospect, from Bergevin’s former team, the Chicago Blackhawks. And Tatar was thrown into the trade involving Max Pacioretty by the Vegas Golden Knights.

Individually, their offensive numbers don’t pop. Danault has nine points in 15 games, while Tatar and Gallagher both have 13 points in 15 games. But take these three players, put them together and watch them dominate.

Danault has played over 156 minutes with Tatar and almost 170 minutes with Gallagher this season, according to Natural Stat Trick. When the trio is on the ice together, they control nearly 60 percent of the shot attempts. Again, keep in mind that they nearly always draw the most difficult assignment of the night.

Last night, at even strength, the trio matched up against the vaunted Perfection Line for most of the night. Keep in mind, the Bruins were playing their second game in two nights, but that still doesn’t take away from the job the Danault line did against them.

Pastrnak managed to score a power-play goal in the first period, which Bergeron helped set up by winning the offensive-zone faceoff. But Marchand saw his 13-game point streak come to an end.

Check out this go-ahead goal by Tatar. Before the puck goes into the net, it was Gallagher that forced the puck away from Pastrnak in the neutral zone. The Canadiens went the other way in transition and they end up scoring. That came just moments after the Bruins’ winger tied the game.

31 seconds later, Paul Byron made it 3-1.

That’s what this three-man unit does for the Canadiens. When Claude Julien starts a period, he usually turns to them. When he needs an energetic shift to spark his team, he turns to them. More often than not, they deliver.

“They’re pretty easy players to play with,” Gallagher said of Danault and Tatar last month, per the Montreal Gazette. “For me, they seem to find me quite a bit and that’s probably why I end up with more shots. They’re very good playmakers and for me to kind of stick to my game is kind of what I try to do.

“I think the three of us enjoy playing together, we enjoy the challenges that the coaching staff gives us every game. That’s something that we’ve had to embrace and I think it’s been good for all three of us.”

The Habs have players with more individual talent. Max Domi, for example, led the team is scoring with 72 points last year and Jonathan Drouin can do things with the puck than most players can only dream of. But these three, when together, are the team’s engine.

Without their chemistry, there’s no way the Canadiens are as good as they are right now. Montreal will have to continue scratching and clawing for every point in the standings, but they can do so knowing they have this group of three leading them into battle every night.

So yeah, they probably won’t get the recognition they deserve nationally because they aren’t the biggest names in the game (they don’t even have a nickname yet), but they have to be considered one of the five best lines in hockey right now.

MORE: Habs’ Domi using special sticks to further diabetes awareness

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.

Canadiens snap Bruins’ winning streak: 3 takeaways

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If the Montreal Canadiens are going to escape the constant state of mediocrity they have been in the past few years these are the types of games they need to win.

Not only a divisional game against one of the best teams in the league, but against a team that played the night before, was playing its third game in four nights, and was probably vulnerable against a rested team.

This was a big test to see if they could take a step forward and they passed it in a wildly entertaining 5-4 win, snapping what had been a six-game winning streak for the Bruins.

1. it was a Big night for the Canadiens’ unsung heroes. Specifically, defensemen Victor Mete and Ben Chiarot. Entering the game Mete had scored one — one! — goal in 134 NHL games and he managed to top that total on Tuesday night alone, scoring two goals in the win.

Then, just a few minutes after Bruins forward Charlie Coyle had a goal disallowed on an offside review (more on that in a second) Chiarot scored his first goal as a member of the Canadiens for the game-winner.

Paul Byron and Tomas Tatar were the other goal-scorers for Montreal, but it’s expected that they will provide offense on occasion. Getting three goals from the duo of Mete and Chiarot was an unexpected surprise for the Canadiens.

2. Claude Julien made a bold call that paid off. Midway through the third period it appeared as if Coyle had given the Bruins a 5-4 lead, only to have it wiped away on an offside challenge by Julien. It was an incredibly bold call given the circumstances because the Bruins’ entry into the zone was ridiculously close and it wasn’t a slam dunk that the play would get overturned. Considering the Canadiens could have found themselves behind and  shorthanded (as is the penalty for a failed challenge) if it did not go their way it could have easily backfired. Fortunately for Julien and the Canadiens it went their way.

3. David Pastrnak is still unstoppable right now. The bright spot for the Bruins had to be Pastrnak scoring yet another goal. That gives him 15 on the season and makes him the first player since the 2005-06 season to score at least 15 goals through his team’s first 15 games when Simon Gagne, Dany Heatley, and Daniel Alfredsson all did it. He also added a little excitement to the closing seconds when he nearly set up a game-tying goal with an incredible rush into the Montreal zone.

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 on NBCSN: Bruins a big test for Canadiens team trying to make its mark

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

For the past four years the Montreal Canadiens have been stuck in hockey purgatory.

They haven’t made the playoffs since the 2016-17 season, they haven’t won a playoff round since 2014-15, and they haven’t really taken a step in any real direction as an organization. They are not really a rebuilding team, but they have clearly not been a Stanley Cup contender, either. They just kind of exist in the middle of the league trying to find their way and make their mark in a top-heavy division that has been dominated by three of the league’s best teams the past three years.

On Tuesday night they get a major test against one of those teams — the Boston Bruins — in the latest chapter of one of the league’s fiercest rivalries. It will be a pretty good measuring stick game for a team that has showed flashes of potential this season.

One of the biggest positives in Montreal has been an offense that has been one of the league’s best through the first 14 games.

They enter Tuesday’s game fifth in the league in goals per game, sixth in shots on goal per game, and already have six players with at least four goals scored on the season, including three players with at least five goals. And that is with two of their best young players for the future — Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki — not yet having a breakout offensively.

Jonathan Drouin has started to play like the impact player the Canadiens hoped he would be when they traded Mikhail Sergachev for him, Brendan Gallagher is still one of the league’s most underrated players as a possession-driving, 30-goal forward, and veterans like Tomas Tatar and Max Domi are still solid top-six wingers that can contribute to a contender.

[COVERAGE OF HABS-BRUINS BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

When you look at how the Canadiens have played there’s a lot to like in their game. They are tilting the ice in their favor (as the shot attempt and scoring chance numbers illustrate) and they can obviously score a little bit. But results have not always been there yet as they have played at a 93-point pace entering Tuesday’s game.

That would almost certainly just barely leave them on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture yet again (they missed with 96 points a year ago). It would be an almost identical repeat of the 2018-19 season, and it just reinforces the single biggest problem with the current Canadiens’ organization — they are good, but not quite good enough and missing that one significant piece to help them break through the glass ceiling they have seemingly constructed over their heads.

The encouraging thing about this season is their territorial advantage is starting to produce more goals (something that was a problem last year) and should give them a chance to pick up the few extra wins they need, especially if Carey Price can be Carey Price when he plays (a capable backup to give him a break on occasion would also help).

Getting two points on Tuesday would be a nice step toward building something positive this season, especially as the schedule starts to lighten over the next couple of weeks. Their next 11 games after Boston include matchups against: Philadelphia (twice), Los Angeles, Columbus (twice), Ottawa, New York Rangers, and New Jersey (twice). There is a chance to stack some wins and get some points.

And for as good as Boston has been this season, and as dominant as the top line of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron has been, the Canadiens are catching a little bit of a break here with the schedule. While Montreal was sitting at home on Monday, the Bruins were playing a grueling back-and-forth game with the Pittsburgh Penguins, which was followed by an overnight trip to Montreal. There is an opportunity there for the Canadiens to pounce on a tired opponent, win a measuring stick game, and maybe start building something for this season.

Kathryn Tappen will anchor tonight’s studio coverage with Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter. John Forslund and Mike Milbury will have the call from Bell Centre in Montreal, Que.

NBC Sports will premiere “The Russian Five” documentary, a feature on the first five Russians to play hockey together in the NHL, Wednesday, November 6, following Wednesday Night Hockey between the Red Wings and Rangers. The documentary tells the story of how Sergei Fedorov, Slava Fetisov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Slava Kozlov, and Igor Larionov were able to defect from their homeland and transform the Detroit Red Wings into perennial contenders and back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions in 1996-97 and 1997-98.

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.