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Gallant blasts Golden Knights for ‘soft’ play

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The Vegas Golden Knights saw a 2-2 tie devolve into a 5-2 loss against the Arizona Coyotes, and coach Gerard Gallant was not happy on Tuesday.

After the loss, Gallant reportedly had a word with players in the locker room. When asked about the message he sent, Gallant told The Athletic’s Jesse Granger “none of your business” — before giving his team the business.

“It was a 2-2 game, and all of a sudden we try to get cute again and start making drop passes and passes through the slot,” Gallant said. “I didn’t like the way we played. There was no passion in our game. No aggressive forecheck. We played a soft game.”

*Shakes hand to signify a take that’s too hot to touch.*

If there are two things hockey coaches disdain, they are softness and cuteness. Care Bears be warned.

But Gallant likely knows that it’s foolish to get too high or too low from one loss, even if he legitimately sees a lack of passion in one of those 82 games.

Instead, it might be that Gallant is trying to wake his team up. The Golden Knights are pretty securely placed at third in the Pacific Division, as the Sharks and Flames are far too sturdy for them to pass them, while no one else is much of a threat to push Vegas into the wild-card ranks.

Complacency is a threat to any team through a grinding, marathon season, yet it’s an especially big worry when you don’t have a ton of movement.

(As an aside: it’s surreal that the Golden Knights are dealing with the plights of prosperity so early in their existence, isn’t it?)

When you look at recent developments, it’s easy to see why Gallant might be frustrated, if not outright concerned.

After rattling off a seven-game winning streak from late December to early January, the Golden Knights have gone 4-8-0, generating the third-worst record in the NHL since Jan. 10. They’ve generated fewer points than the struggling Oilers and Senators during that slump, only besting the truly moribund Avalanche and Ducks.

The wider signs aren’t all bad. They’re still outshooting their opponents by a considerable margin, and they’ve remained a stout possession team since the calendar hit 2019.

It makes sense that Gallant would like to keep his team awake, and not accept these defeats, even if there’s a “nature of the beast” element happening here. Gallant’s taken measures such as briefly moving Reilly Smith away from William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault, with the goal of sending wake-up calls.

A lot of what Gallant is doing carries logic, although he might want to heed an unspoken wake-up call of his own when it comes to the most important position in the sport.

With the Golden Knights wedged in that third spot without much room to move, Gallant should break with his bad habit of leaning heavily on his starter, in this case with 34-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury.

Fleury already came to Vegas with a ton of mileage, and his 50 games played leads the NHL by a three-game margin. While the Golden Knights play a sound enough game that he’s only faced the third-most shots in the league, one cannot disregard the total workload. Since memorably joining the Golden Knights, Fleury’s played in 96 regular-season games, plus that 20-game playoff run.

We’ve seen much younger goalies such as Braden Holtby and Andrei Vasilevskiy admit they’ve broken down under too many starts, and for all we know, many other goalies have been worn out but haven’t said so on the record.

As much as Gallant wants to make every game count, the bottom line is that the Golden Knights would almost certainly have a better chance at another magical playoff run with an energetic Fleury.

Gallant might not like it, but sometimes the “soft” way is the right way.

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 Buzzer: History for Lundqvist; Blood from McDavid

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Three Stars

1. Jonathan Marchessault

The Golden Knights have been pretty hot lately (now eight wins in their last 10 games), but Marchessault isn’t having the easiest time. Heading into Saturday, he only had a goal and an assist in his last 10 contests.

Marchessault broke out during Vegas’ lopsided win against the Penguins, generated his second career hat trick. He’s the second Golden Knights player to generate a hat trick, with William Karlsson providing the other two.

This gives Marchessault 17 goals and 34 points in 50 games this season.

2. Steven Stamkos

Stamkos extended his point streak to six games with two goals and an assist, giving him three goals and seven assists for 10 points during that span.

This gives Stamkos 26 goals in 2018-19, one short of last season’s total.

3. Tyson Barrie

The Avalanche lit up the Kings on Saturday, and Barrie played into that, collecting three assists. Barrie now has five assists in his last three games.

It’s quite the season so far for the underrated offensive defenseman, as he has 37 points in 44 games. The Avs blueliner was quite impressive last season, too, as his 57 points came in just 68 contests last season.

Barrie’s 37 points ties him for eighth among defensemen with Keith Yandle, even though Barrie’s missed some time with injuries.

Rough, eventful night for the Oilers

Connor McDavid wasn’t just on the losing end of a game against the Flames, he was also left bloodied on Saturday.

Despite the loss, Mikko Koskinen made some impressive saves. This behind-the-back bit was the odder one, while this one was more … traditional?

Consider this a 3b (or maybe 2b?) for the three stars: Mark Giordano generated a goal and two assists for three points in this one. Giordano now has an outstanding 52 points in 48 games this season, leaving him just four points behind his career-high of 56 from 2015-16.

Hey, at least Milan Lucic is heating up for the Oilers, right bummed out fans?

Oh yeah, the Zamboni also broke down, playing into the night of comic relief.

Highlights of the Night

Here’s that behind-the-back Koskinen save, to spare you a click:

Nolan Patrick really did pull a move straight out of “NHL 19,” didn’t he?

This Stamkos to Yanni Gourde goal is a lot of fun to watch.

Factoids

Up next at fifth place is Curtis “Cujo” Joseph, who’s at 454 wins. After that, it’s a steeper climb to fourth place (Roberto Luongo at 480 and counting).

Scores

ANA 3 – NJD 2
COL 7 – LAK 1
STL 3 – OTT 2
DAL 4 – WPG 2
NYR 3 – BOS 2
PHI 5 – MTL 2
TBL 6 – SJS 3
FLA 4 – NSH 2
MIN 2 – CBJ 1
VGK 7 – PIT 3
CGY 5 – EDM 2

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.

Vegas Golden Knights keep hot streak going

When you’re winning, it’s easy to laugh off Ryan Reaves‘ empty-net attempt putting your team down a man late in a game.

The Vegas Golden Knights finished Sunday in that state, as they won their sixth consecutive game by holding off the New Jersey Devils 3-2. Max Pacioretty generating two game-winning goals in a row makes that even sweeter.

This is about more than a six-game surge for Vegas, too.

With a 7-0-2 record in their last nine contests, they’ve extended an impressive point streak. Their overall record improves to 26-15-4 for 56 points. About the closest thing to bad news is that, while they have the same number as points as the West and Pacific-leading Flames, Calgary’s really the leader considering their two games in hand.

That’s a pretty small concern when you remember that there were very real worries about the Golden Knights following last season’s Cinderella run by missing the playoffs in their second campaign.

The lowest point of the season may have come against those Flames, as Vegas slipped to 9-12-1 after a 7-2 drubbing on Nov. 19. Such struggles inspired PHT to ponder serious goaltending slumps and generally lousy luck.

Maybe that 7-2 loss lit a fire under the Golden Knights.

Vegas rattled off a five-game winning streak after that embarrassing defeat, including a 2-0 win against Calgary on Nov. 23. They’re now 17-3-3 in their last 23 games; their 37 points since Nov. 21 tie the Tampa Bay Lightning for the most in the NHL during that span (though the world-beating Bolts got to 37 points in two fewer games).

Can they keep it up?

On one hand, the Golden Knights have some reason to believe that they can keep things going.

They’ve been able to get some nice balanced scoring. Alex Tuch continues to look like an impressive scorer, showing promise with Pacioretty and Paul Stastny. Even with Jonathan Marchessault suffering from ice-cold shooting luck, it seems like his trio with Reilly Smith and William Karlsson remain legit. Nate Schmidt‘s return from a suspension sure seems like a big deal for Vegas.

Vegas is also often impressive from a possession standpoint, with its speed and aggressiveness putting opponents on their heels.

But there remain some red flags, as noted earlier this season.

The Golden Knights continue to put a lot of pressure on Marc-Andre Fleury. “MAF” has really impressed lately, yet having the 34-year-old (who’s had some history of injury issues) play 20 of the last 23 games smells like a recipe for disaster.

As of this writing, Fleury is the only goalie who’s logged 2,000 minutes in 2018-19, with John Gibson (25) and Jacob Markstrom (28) trailing close behind. Fleury’s 38 games played tops all goalies.

Malcolm Subban won Sunday’s game against the Devils, holding strong as New Jersey fought to try to tie that contest. Maybe that performance will help him gain Gerard Gallant’s trust?

If not, that gamble could really go wrong for Vegas.

***

Overall, it’s heartening to see the Golden Knights make a profound argument that they’re not just some fluke, and they’re simply fun to watch. The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs would be more fun with this speedy team and its silly pre-game antics.

The hotter Vegas stays, the better the odds are that they will stay in the playoffs.

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.

The Buzzer: Barzal’s hat trick, Crosby’s on a roll, Blackwood’s shutout

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Three Stars

1. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders. No John Tavares for the New York Islanders? No problem on Saturday night. Mathew Barzal was the big star in their 4-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs with a natural hat trick in the Islanders’ first game against their former captain.

2. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pittsburgh Penguins power play was a perfect 4-for-4 on Saturday night in a 6-1 rout over the St. Louis Blues. At the center of that was Sidney Crosby who opened the scoring with a power play goal in the first minute on his way to another three-point game. It is his third consecutive multi-point game (a stretch that has seen him record eight points) and he now has 13 points in his past eight games, including three multi-point games.

3. Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey Devils. Goaltending has been a big issue for the New Jersey Devils this season, but 22-year-old rookie MacKenzie Blackwood has given them a nice lift in recent weeks with a .939 save percentage in his first four appearances. That number only went up on Saturday with a 37-save shutout, the first of his career, in a 2-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

Other notable performances from Saturday

— The Vancouver Canucks young stud forwards continued to shine in their 3-2 win over the Calgary Flames as Brock Boeser scored his 14th goal of the season and Elias Pettersson scored his 19th.

— The Florida Panthers scored two goals in the final six minutes to pick up a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. Jonathan Huberdeau set up the game-tying goal and scored the game-winning goal.

Patrick Kane scored two goals for the Chicago Blackhawks, including the game-winner in overtime, to lift his team to a win over the Colorado Avalanche.

— The Dallas Stars were big winners a day after their CEO ripped the their two best players.

— Big night for Washington Capitals defender Tyler Lewington as he scored his first NHL goal, recorded an assist, and got into a fight. Yes, he had a Gordie Howe Hat Trick.

Malcolm Subban stopped 30 shots to help lift the Vegas Golden Knights to another win over the Los Angeles Kings. William Karlsson scored his 14th goal of the season and Paul Stastny had two assists for a Golden Knights team that is making a serious push for the top spot in the Pacific Division.

— Without Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, and David Backes the Boston Bruins were able to pick up a 3-2 overtime win in Buffalo. Marchand and McAvoy were injured while Backes was serving the first game of his three-game suspension.

Highlights of the Night

Connor McDavid scored what may have been the most beautiful, yet pointless goal you will see this season. This came with less than 10 seconds to play in a game the Oilers would lose to the San Jose Sharks by a 7-4 margin. Look at him just tip the puck into the net, mid-air, as Martin Jones was going to catch it.

Mathew Barzal was obviously the big star of the night for the New York Islanders, but the goal of the night for the Islanders belonged to Valtteri Fippula for splitting through the Toronto Maple Leafs’ defense.

Alexander Edler helped the Vancouver Canucks top the Calgary Flames in overtime.

Factoids

The St. Louis Blues gave up six goals at home on Saturday night. This is something that has happened a lot lately.

Injuries are really taking their toll on the Nashville Predators right now.

Mika Zibanejad had a huge night for the New York Rangers in their win over the Nashville Predators.

Of course Nikita Kucherov had yet another multi-point game.

Nice rally for the Arizona Coyotes against the Anaheim Ducks.

Scores
New Jersey Devils 2, Carolina Hurricanes 0
Vegas Golden Knights 4, Los Angeles Kings 1
San Jose Sharks 7, Edmonton Oilers 4
Minnesota Wild 3, Winnipeg Jets 1
Boston Bruins 3, Buffalo Sabres 2 (OT)
New York Islanders 4, Toronto Maple Leafs 0
Washington Capitals 3, Ottawa Senators 2
Tampa Bay Lightning 6, Montreal Canadiens 5
Florida Panthers 2, Philadelphia Flyers 1
Pittsburgh Penguins 6, St. Louis Blues 1
New York Rangers 4, Nashville Predators 3
Dallas Stars 5, Detroit Red Wings 1
Chicago Blackhawks 3, Colorado Avalanche 2 (OT)
Arizona Coyotes 5, Anaheim Ducks 4 (OT)
Vancouver Canucks 3, Calgary Flames 2 (OT)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

The best goals of 2018 (PHT Year in Review)

PHT

Pro Hockey Talk is taking a look back at the year in hockey. We’ll be presenting you with the best goals, saves, moments, players and more as we remember 2018.

Hockey is a game of skill. Some have it, some don’t. In 2018, there were a number instances where hockey players all over the world showed off incredible moves before putting the puck in the back of the net.

We love hockey for so many reasons. There’s jaw-dropping saves, hilarious bloopers, incredible moments, the amazing players and much more. But there’s nothing like an incredible goal to get you out of your seat. So let’s see what some of these crazy kids did on the ice to entertain us throughout 2018.

Keep in mind that these are in no particular order. Just sit back, keep scrolling and enjoy the show!

Let’s start in Nashville, where the Predators were bounced from the Stanley Cup Playoffs a little earlier than they had hoped, but not before Filip Forsberg was able to score one of the best goals you’ll see on this list. Avs defenseman Samuel Girard is a really good player, but Forsberg went around him like he wasn’t even there on this fabulous play:

Sometimes, when you see a goal, you’re left wondering how on earth an NHLer could pull off such a spectacular move on another NHLer. Well, earlier this season, that’s exactly what Penguins captain Sidney Crosby did to Ryan Strome. Crosby’s elite, but this just isn’t fair:

William Karlsson and the Vegas Golden Knights used the 2017-18 season to put themselves on the hockey map. Karlsson scored an incredible 43 goals last year, including this between-the-legs beauty against the San Jose Sharks last March:

Are you a fan of incredible hand-eye coordination? Well, if you are, you’ll love this goal by Senators forward Matt Duchene. How on earth he was able to get a shot off and then bat the rebound out of mid-air is simply ridiculous. Many players around the league bat pucks out of mid-air, but not many can do it like this. It’s just not fair:

Duchene was able to bat the puck away from distance, but how about this double-tap from Crosby from in-close. Carey Price has absolutely no chance of keeping this puck out of the net. Also, Crosby would be a fantastic ball player:

Sorry Flyers fans, you’re on the list again for all the wrong reasons. It’s been an up and down year for Anthony Duclair, as he’s played on three teams over the last two seasons. He’s been a healthy scratch in Columbus on a few occasions this year, but he also scored a remarkable goal from his knees:

Alright, let’s get away from the NHL for a little bit. A gentleman by the name of Vincent Praplan pulled off a lacrosse-style goal during a Swiss League game this year. Yeah, this has been done before but it’ll never get old. Impressive stuff right here:

Montreal Canadiens prospect Jarret Tyszka will never be confused with Alex Ovechkin, but how about the effort and concentration it took to score this goal while falling down during WHL action last season:

Speaking of scoring while falling down, this goal by Cameron Stokes of the Paris Mounties is pretty sweet, too. Steal the puck in the corner and take care of business while going down. Not bad, not bad at all:

Another Canadiens prospect finds himself on the list. Josh Brook somehow managed to carry the puck for a while before going between the legs to beat the opposing goaltender. This one is pretty sweet:

Can we give some love to a goalie? USHL netminder Roman Durny snuck onto this list thanks to the goal he scored last week. A perfect shot from downtown:

Just in case you’re not aware, Alexis Lafreniere isn’t draft-eligible until 2020. That doesn’t stop him from doing ridiculous things like this though:

Here’s one you don’t see every day. Nic Petan with the Superman stretch to score a goal in the AHL.

Jocelyne Lamoureux helped the U.S. win gold with this shootout goal against Team Canada:

Alright, back to the NHL. Panthers defender Mike Matheson isn’t known for his silky-smooth mitts, but he scored an incredible buzzer-beater against the Detroit Red Wings earlier this season. Even he seemed to be a little surprised that he was able to pull this off:

There’s some soft defending by Noah Juulsen here, but this is still a pretty incredible goal by Neal Pionk:

Don’t forget to check out NBC Sports’ Top 18 Goals of 2018. There’s some beauties here too:

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.