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PHT Morning Skate: Boynton’s incredible tale a must-read

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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.

• If you haven’t read former NHLer Nick Boynton’s story yet on The Players’ Tribune, well, stop whatever you’re doing and read it. Now. (The Players’ Tribune)

• A look into the reason why pending UFA John Tavares has not signed yet (The Crest on the Front)

• For many Oilers’ fans, bruising winger Milan Lucic needs to be shipped out of Edmonton. Here’s how to make that happen (Oilers Nation)

William Karlsson needs a contract extension, and there could be trouble lurking in that deal (Knights on Ice)

• The Vegas Golden Knights had one hell of a first season in the NHL. But what is in store for their sophomore campaign? (Spectors Hockey)

• Why there’s no rush to extend the contract of Philadelphia Flyers forward Travis Konecny (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• The Ottawa Senators will suffer greatly until the truth is out in the Karlsson-Hoffman story (Ottawa Sun)

• Senators are a raging tire fire under Eugene Melnyk — so when will the NHL see fit to intervene? (The National Post)

• Sportsnet’s Sean McIndoe looks at10 NHL teams facing toughest off-season decisions (Sportsnet)

• A curious look at what the NHL combine’s bench press gauges for NHL prospects? (Canes Country)

• For the Calgary Flames, the numbers suggest the team should stick with the 3M line (TSN.ca)

• The Montreal Canadiens fired their Ontario scout just days before the NHL Draft (Montreal Gazette)

• Olli Määttä’s encouraging development opens up possibilities for the Pittsburgh Penguins (PGH Hockey)

• Former University of North Dakota women’s hockey players file discrimination suit (The Grand Forks Herald)


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

After improbable debut, where do Golden Knights go in year two?

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The Vegas Golden Knights inaugural season was a wonderful statement on the unpredictability, randomness and downright chaotic nature of the National Hockey League.

At the start of the year expectations were about as low as they could have possibly been for an NHL team, and for good reason. It was a roster that was mostly a collection of second-and third-tier players from all over the league where the initial intention was, presumably, to hope enough of them would perform at a high enough level that they could be flipped at the trade deadline for more future assets to continue building an expansion team from the ground up.

It was going to be a brutally tough job for general manager George McPhee.

Then a bunch of wild stuff happened and expectations suddenly changed to something else entirely — win the Stanley Cup. Right now. Not in two years. Not in five years. Not within the decade. Right. Now.

[Related: Welcome to playoff heartbreak, Vegas]

We realized a lot of those second-and third-tier players were maybe better than anyone thought, including the general managers that willingly gave a lot of them away when they didn’t actually need to. The goalie played the best hockey of his life and masked a lot of flaws on defense for most of the playoffs. A forward that had scored 18 goals in 173 career games on an 8 percent shooting percentage coming into the season suddenly could not miss and finished as the league’s third-leading goal-scorer. All of it together pushed them to the Stanley Cup Final where they fell just three wins shy of doing the impossible.

Now that this improbable, magical season has come to an end, McPhee and the Vegas front office have another tough job ahead of them as they try to build on this season.

There are a lot of big questions here that should lead to an absolutely fascinating offseason.

One of the biggest questions facing them is what they do with leading goal-scorer William Karlsson.

Karlsson is a restricted free agent this summer and after scoring 43 goals and being one of the driving forces of the team’s offense is going to be in line for a substantial raise over the $1 million he made during the 2017-18 season. How Vegas handles this is going to be tricky because at no point in his career did he ever play at a level like this. You can’t really pay him like a 40-goal scorer because you don’t know if he is going to ever be this play again, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest he wont. The best hope is that he is willing to sign a “prove it” bridge deal and show what type of player he really is before going all in on him.

Along with Karlsson’s contract situation the Golden Knights have four pretty significant unrestricted free agents in James Neal, David Perron, Ryan Reaves and Luca Sbisa.

Who do they try to keep (Neal?) and who do they say goodbye (Reaves, Perron?) to in free agency?

But perhaps the most enticing question is what they do outside of their own players, because McPhee is going to have seemingly unlimited options.

The Golden Knights will enter the offseason with more salary cap space than nearly every other team in the NHL. They have 27 draft picks over the next three years to deal from. They has a prospect pipeline that includes three top-15 picks from a year ago. They have what might be the greatest free agency sales pitch ever (We just went to the Stanley Cup Final, we have a ton of money to pay you, oh and we play in Las freakin’ Vegas). All of that makes pretty much any player in the NHL that could conceivably be available in play.

They could, if they wanted to, make a serious run at John Tavares and give the team another superstar to build around alongside Marc-Andre Fleury.

They could, if they wanted to, make another run at trading for Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson and theoretically pay him whatever market value contract he wants beyond next season. Heck, they could probably go after both him and Tavares given the cap space and assets they have at their disposal.

There is, however, a danger in that sort of approach for this team.

The danger: What if the rest of this team, as currently constructed, simply is not as good as it looked this season? It would not be the first time a team went on a lengthy, unexpected playoff run and then came back the next season and cratered across the board.

What if William Karlsson gets re-signed and regresses back to the 8 percent shooter he was in Columbus and Anaheim only scores 15 goals next season? What if Marc-Andre Fleury goes back to the .915 save percentage he has had for most of his career? What if Reilly Smith goes from being the near point-per-game player he was this season to the 45-50 point player he has been throughout his career? What if Neal and/or Perron leave in free agency and Tomas Tatar can not match what they provided over a full season?

Those are a lot of big, important questions and they are ultimately the ones that will dictate where this team goes in the immediate future, perhaps even more than whatever free agent they can acquire or what trade they can make.

At the start of the year we expected this Vegas team to stink. In hindsight, we had no idea how good they were as they stormed through the Western Conference on their way to the Stanley Cup Final. Funny thing is even after doing that we still probably do not really know how good they are or where they are headed in year two.

That, too, is a wonderful statement on the unpredictability, randomness, and chaotic nature of the National Hockey League.

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.

Golden Knights don’t need to worry about Marchessault

While the scale of concern sometimes feels as overblown as the Vegas Golden Knights’ vaunted pre-game presentation (they are only down 2-1), it’s true that the Washington Capitals gave the upstart expansion team a lot to worry about from Games 3 to 4.

Unlike their Western Conference opponents and just about everyone Vegas faced during the regular season, the Capitals found a way to clog up the Golden Knights’ exhilarating transition game. For all the jokes about Vegas “finally becoming an expansion team,” the real worry is that they looked, almost … flat and boring.

The Golden Knights also saw poor work from their second line, to the point that Gerard Gallant is subbing in Tomas Tatar for David Perron heading into Monday’s key Game 4 on NBC.

[Here’s the livestream link for Game 4. You can also enjoy “NHL Live” before the contest here.]

People might also be worried about the play of Vegas’ first line for the first time during this magical run.

After shockingly keeping pace – and in plenty of cases, getting the better of – the likes of Anze Kopitar, Joe Pavelski, and the Winnipeg Jets’ frightening high-end players, the trio of Reilly Smith, William Karlsson, and Jonathan Marchessault is sputtering a bit against the Caps.

Take Marchessault, for instance. Overall, he has a star-status-affirming 19 points in 18 postseason games, but lately things have dried up. The undersized, undrafted, indefatigable forward has only managed a single assist over the past four games, three of which came against Washington.

Does that mean it’s time to say that the pixie dust has worn off? Maybe for some elements of this team, but don’t blame Marchessault. And the Golden Knights shouldn’t worry about him.

For one thing, he’s putting up the sort of volume of shots that would indicate that he’s “due” for some positive bounces, and maybe those good breaks will come as early as tonight.

Despite coming up with zero goals (but two assists) over the past five games, Marchessault generated a whopping 28 shots on goal. That’s Alex Ovechkin-level trigger-happiness.

Did you yawn at those numbers and that chart (how dare you)?

Well, just consider the sports-car-swagger it takes to make a move like this, which was foiled only thanks to a great save by Braden Holtby:

No one wants to hear this, but in the modern NHL, just about every scorer is going to be doomed by poor luck. Or a keyed-in goalie. Or hitting a litany of posts.

It’s only human to get frustrated, and surely Marchessault must be feeling that a bit. Especially since he’s rarely struggled since the Florida Panthers made the Internet-entertaining gaffe of including him with Reilly Smith during the expansion draft.

The concern would be if Marchessault started getting in his own head too much. If the shot totals and highlight clips are any indication, it seems like he’s plugging away admirably.

Now, sure, it wouldn’t hurt if Vegas found a way to reinvigorate their flow to the speedy, exciting levels they’re used to. Such tweaks would help diversify their attack and take a little bit of the burden off of that top line. It also wouldn’t hurt if Reilly Smith has a rebound contest after an up-and-down Game 3 of penalties and mistakes, and if William Karlsson could get a bit more involved in the attack. Both of those scenarios seem reasonable, and maybe likely.

After praising the hardhat work of the fourth line (Pierre-Edouard Bellmare, Tomas Nosek, and Ryan Reaves), Gallant stated that he wanted his top trio to channel energy from the regular season.

“To a point yeah for sure, Belly and those guys play straight line, they work hard, they contain pucks down low and the way they have been successful in this series has been outstanding,” Gallant said. “Do I want Marchy and them playing like Bellemare? No I don’t. I love Belly, he does his job the way he does it, but our first line has to play the way they have played all season long.”

Even with Barry Trotz’s defensive tactics gumming up the works, Marchessault has been the most consistent source of scoring chances for Vegas.

To some, such work might only count under “moral victories,” but Marchessault and his partners would be better off ignoring the noise and keep doing what they’ve been doing. The goals should come … although as Ovechkin can attest, playoff success can be a fickle beast.

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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.

It’s time for Golden Knights’ second line to step up

Depth is one of the big reasons why the Vegas Golden Knights have been able to have an incredible inaugural season. They used the expansion draft to create a solid lineup and that group has carried them to the Stanley Cup Final. But, somehow, depth is proving to be an issue for them against the Capitals.

For Vegas to play themselves back in this series, they’ll need their second line to pick up their play by a notch or two. James Neal, Erik Haula and David Perron have to get going before it’s too late.

Despite starting in the offensive zone 75 percent of the time in Game 3, the line really struggled at even strength. Perron had a team-worst CF% of 32.14 percent, while Neal (37.93) and Haula (45.16) were all below 50 percent.

Perron was moved to the second line in an attempt to get himself and the other two players rolling, again. That simply hasn’t happened. The 30-year-old is still searching for his first goal of the playoffs and outside of Neal’s tally in Game 2, the trio hasn’t produced much.

“We just weren’t good enough,” Neal after Game 3, per the Vegas Review-Journal. “That’s our line, for sure. A lot to blame. We were on the ice for every goal, so we’ve got to be better. We’re a veteran line and we’ve been in this situation before.”

When a Stanley Cup Final has been tied 1-1, the team that wins Game 3 goes on to win it all 78 percent of the time, so the odds are stacked against the Golden Knights at this point. Thankfully for them, this isn’t the first time they’ve overcome long odds.

In fairness to them, many people counted them out after they dropped a 4-2 decision to the Winnipeg Jets in the Western Conference Final. Not only did they bounce back, they managed to sweep the next four games to punch their ticket to the final.

The first line of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith helped carry them to this point, but they’ll continue to get most of the tough matchups, especially in Washington. That’s where the Haula line has to come in and do the job. There’s going to be nights when the first line doesn’t chip in. If Vegas doesn’t get any offense from the top two lines, there’s a very good chance they’re not going to come away with a victory.

Using their speed to get to the dangerous areas in the Capitals zone is vital to their success. They haven’t done it enough in this series and that has to change.

“I’m sure everyone can play more simple,” said Perron. “But as a line, for us, we’re offensive guys, and if there’s a play, we need to execute. We made it up to this point because we executed all year, and we’ve got to do it again.”

UPDATE: Perron will likely be scratched for Game 4 in favor of Tomas Tatar.

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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.

Road warriors? Vegas hopes for boost as Cup Final goes to DC

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WASHINGTON (AP) — At home, the Vegas Golden Knights have a fortress to protect, a Knight to vanquish opponents and Michael Buffer to introduce the combatants.

On the road, they have hockey.

The Golden Knights are looking for a little road cookin’ as the Stanley Cup Final against the Capitals goes to Washington for Games 3 on Saturday night with the series tied at one game apiece. They’re 6-2 on the road so far in the playoffs.

”I think it’s going to be good we get on the road,” forward Jonathan Marchessault said. ”I think we got comfortable there a little bit. It’s going to be good to just keep it simple and play our game on the road.”

Vegas is plenty comfortable on home ice, 7-2 even after dropping Game 2 Wednesday. That’s a far cry from the Capitals, who are 4-5 at home.

Road success has been a hallmark of each team’s run to the Final. Vegas won two of three games in a tough building in Winnipeg in the Western Conference final and has built plenty of confidence playing away from home.

”We try and play the same game no matter what game we’re playing at, and it worked really well so far in the postseason,” coach Gerard Gallant said Thursday. ”We just try and play the same game – play a quick, fast game, an up-tempo game. Every game’s important in the playoffs, so I really don’t think it matters if you’re playing at home or on the road. Just make sure you’re focused for that game.”

Focus can be hard to keep at an arena on the Las Vegas Strip where the pregame entertainment is the talk of the NHL. The Golden Knights scored the first goal and allowed the next two in each of the first two games this series, which isn’t how they got to this point.

After a 3-2 loss, Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt said the message going to his old hometown of Washington is: ”Play more direct. Play to our strengths. Try not to get sucked into the transition game that they want to play.”

His former teammates would be wise to listen. For some reason, the Capitals’ game has been better on the road where they can slow things down and take advantage of odd-man rushes.

Three rounds in, they haven’t quite figured out how to do that at home. But coach Barry Trotz doesn’t think there’s a systemic problem with his team at home.

”I think you try to bring some of the things that you do on the road,” Trotz said. ”We’ll get some energy off our crowd and hopefully you want to get the other team on their heels when you’re at home a little bit just as you do on the road. I just think managing the puck is key for us at home. When we do that well, we do it well and we’re pretty effective.”

Gallant concedes that his top line of Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith will have to play against whoever Trotz wants because the Capitals get the last line change on the road. That’s one big plus for the Capitals, who might not have top center Evgeny Kuznetsov after he left Game 3 with an apparent left arm or wrist injury.

”We can get some matchups that we actually prefer,” Trotz said. ”It should be fine. We’re very comfortable at home. Our record over the last four years at home was one of the best in the National Hockey League, so I think that’ll get back to where we want it to be.”

More Stanley Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/StanleyCupFinals

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno