Zack Kassian

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WATCH LIVE: Flyers visit Oilers on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and Edmonton Oilers. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Oilers have missed the playoffs 12 of the last 13 seasons, but this year has started successfully under new GM Ken Holland and new head coach Dave Tippett. Edmonton won their first five games of the season before losing on Monday in Chicago, 3-1. Still, with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl carrying the load as usual, boosted by a torrid scoring pace from James Neal, the Oilers have shown promise early on.

The Oilers’ two superstars both have four goals and eight assists and are tied for the league lead with 12 points. They are tied with Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine, who have played two more games.

During the Oilers season-opening five-game winning streak, they became the first team in NHL history to win their first five games despite trailing at some point in each of those games.

Tonight, Carter Hart will play his first NHL game in his hometown; Hart was born in Sherwood Park, Alberta, which is just east of Edmonton. Hart did play the Oilers last season, but only in Philly; he was called up to the NHL three days after the Flyers played at Edmonton.

Hart’s mother Shauna will be in attendance, but his father John is in Regina on business and will not be at the game. In addition to Shauna, Hart’s longtime sports psychologist John Stevenson (who also works with Braden Holtby) will be there – the first time Stevenson will see Hart play an NHL game in person.

Prior to the game in Calgary yesterday, the Flyers signed Chris Stewart to a one-year contract after he joined the team on a PTO in the offseason. Stewart had three hits in 9:12 of ice time – his first NHL game since March of 2018.

[COVERAGE OF FLYERS-OILERS BEGINS AT 9:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Philadelphia Flyers at Edmonton Oilers
WHERE: Rogers Place
WHEN: Wednesday, Oct. 16, 9:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Flyers-Oilers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

FLYERS
Claude GirouxKevin Hayes – James van Riemsdsyk
Oskar LindblomSean CouturierTravis Konecny
Tyler PitlickScott LaughtonJakub Voracek
Chris Stewart – Michael Raffl – Carsen Twarnyski

Ivan ProvorovJustin Braun
Travis SanheimMatt Niskanen
Robert HaggShayne Gostisbehere

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

OILERS
Leon Draisaitl – Connor McDavid – Zack Kassian
Alex ChiassonRyan Nugent-Hopkins – James Neal
Jujhar KhairaRiley Sheahan – Patrick Russell
Tomas Jurco – Markus GranlundJosh Archibald

Darnell Nurse – Ethan Bear
Oscar KlefbomJoel Persson
Kris RussellMatthew Benning

Starting goalie: Mikko Koskinen

MORE: Oilers’ Neal comfortable again in bounce-back season

Kathryn Tappen will host NHL Live on Wednesday with analysts Patrick Sharp, Roenick and NHL insider Bob McKenzie. Chris Cuthbert and Ray Ferraro will have the call of Flyers-Oilers from Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta.

Why are Sabres, Rangers, Oilers, Ducks off to hot starts?

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It’s far too early to talk about hot streaks for the Ducks, Sabres, Rangers and Oilers … but it’s far too fun not to. But before we get into that, you might be wondering: are any of these teams for real?

The quick answer isn’t sexy: we don’t know much of anything yet.

In 2018-19, the Devils began the season with a four-game winning streak, yet they were bad enough (31-41-10) to win the draft lottery and land Jack Hughes. Meanwhile, the Avalanche started off last season 6-1-2, and ended up proving that their 2017-18 breakthrough wasn’t a fluke.

So … yeah, apply your grains of salt here, but let’s dive into what’s driving some quick starts.

(Note: this post is limited to four teams that are off to hot starts who missed the playoffs in 2018-19. Hence, no Hurricanes, who made it to the 2019 Eastern Conference Final, for example.)

Anaheim Ducks (3-0-0, six points)

If someone told you that the Ducks began the season on a three-game winning streak, you’d probably assume that goaltending would be the key. And you’d be right.

John Gibson has earned all three wins, generating a ridiculous .970 save percentage, making at least 31 saves in each game so far.

As all-world as Gibson is, this pace is unsustainable. The Ducks have killed every penalty so far, going 7-for-7. Looking at Natural Stat Trick’s all-strengths stats, there are some absurd numbers, including Gibson making the save on a league-leading 94.12 percent of the high-danger scoring chances he’s faced.

It’s not all bad news for the Ducks, necessarily. The early returns on Dallas Eakins seem positive, as Anaheim is more or less breaking even in possession stats, which wasn’t always a safe assumption under former coach Randy Carlyle, who was notorious for submarining his team’s puck possession numbers.

The formula of Gibson (and, to an extent, strong backup Ryan Miller) plus respectable overall play and timely offense might just work for the Ducks. If nothing else, there’s a decent chance that they’ll make gains after a lousy 2018-19.

Just don’t expect Gibson to remain superhuman.

(If I had to bet on any goalie to be superb in 2019-20, it would be Gibson, though.)

Buffalo Sabres (3-0-1, seven points)

While the Ducks have had a perfect penalty kill so far, the Sabres’ power play has been outrageous. Buffalo leads the NHL with eight power play goals, converting on eight of 15 opportunities.

The Sabres have a power-play shooting percentage of 25. Last season, the Lightning led the NHL with a 21.64 power-play shooting percentage, while no one else even hit 19 (Boston was second at 18.84 percent).

Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin are tied for the league lead with five power-play points, while Victor Olofsson chisels out a reputation as “Goal-ofsson” for his deadly work on the man advantage.

So far, the Sabres’ expected goals on the power play was 3.17, which ranks third in Natural Stat Trick’s listings, so there’s certainly some strength to the unit. Perhaps that’s where Ralph Krueger really picked up some especially strong tricks in soccer?

The Sabres are playing over their heads, yet there are positive signs possession-wise.

Edmonton Oilers (3-0-0, six points)

With 14 goals on 80 SOG, the Oilers lead the NHL with a 17.5 shooting percentage.

Not shockingly, James Neal is on fire after that four-goal game, generating six goals on 14 SOG for a 42.9 shooting percentage. Connor McDavid‘s hot hand isn’t so surprising (22.2 percent), but Zack Kassian won’t convert three goals on five SOG (60 percent) very often.

Looking deeper at the Oilers’ stats, they’ve struggled with the seventh-worst Corsi For and Fenwick For percentages, although they’ve generated slightly more high-danger chances for than against (34-30) early on under Dave Tippett. There are worse strategies than “being middle-of-the-pack while having McDavid.”

New York Rangers (2-0-0, four points)

The Rangers have the highest PDO (1.098) so far this season with a high shooting percentage (16.13) and save percentage (93.67). You probably won’t be stunned to realize that the Oilers rank second in PDO (1.077), the Ducks come in fourth (1.058), and the Sabres are ninth (1.043).

Mika Zibanejad‘s been worthy of more attention during the last couple of years, but he won’t generate four points per game (he has eight in two games so far). Artemi Panarin could very well maintain strong chemistry with Zibanejad, but this pace will inevitably subside.

New York’s underlying numbers are rough thus far, even when you factor in score effects.

The Rangers’ 6-4 win against Winnipeg to open the season on Oct. 3 might be the template for the Rangers: lots of goals and chances going both ways, goalies ending up miserable, and chaos generally ensuing. It might not always be pretty, but it could end up being fun to watch.

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.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Olofsson, Haula highlight this week’s best adds

Welcome to the first Adds/Drops column of the 2019-20 NHL season that actually features me recommending players for you to add/drop in fantasy leagues. The first two columns were preseason previews, but now that the games count, every Monday I’m going to be recommending 10 players who you might want to consider adding and five who you might want to part ways with.

As always, whether you should add/drop any of these players will depend entirely on your situation. You’ll want to evaluate your team needs and what your options are, but this column can help highlight who to look at if you want to make a change.

Players Worth Adding

Trevor Moore, Maple Leafs – LW/RW: Moore got his first taste of the NHL last season, scoring two goals and eight points in 25 games. That might not sound impressive, but keep in mind he was only averaging 9:06 minutes per game. This season he’s playing a significantly bigger role and has capitalized on that early on with two goals and three points in three games. He’s not one of the Leafs’ main offensive threats, but he does highlight their depth and is worth taking a chance on.

Oscar Klefbom, Oilers – D: Klefbom typically does decently offensively, but not quite enough to make him worth much consideration in standard leagues. I’m encouraged by how much the Oilers are leaning on him early on though. He averaged 25:27 minutes over his first two contests and is on the top power-play. He’s registered three assists, including two on the power-play, over those first two games. Obviously he’s not going to keep up that pace, but if you’re hurting for defensive help then he might chip in often enough to be a good fill-in.

Pavel Buchnevich, Rangers – RW: The Rangers have an impressive top line duo in Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, which has already gotten off to a stunning start. Buchnevich is a significantly less exciting player, but his presence on that line does make him noteworthy.  So far he has two assists in two games while averaging 17:27 minutes, up from his career-high of 15:10 minutes in 2018-19. As long as he’s with Panarin and Zibanejad, Buchnevich will likely be worth owning in most standard leagues.

[Ready for the season? Get the Rotoworld Draft Guide]

Victor Olofsson, Sabres – LW/RW: When people were talking about rookies going into this season, the focus was often on Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko. So far though, Moore and Olofsson are tied for the scoring title. Moore was mentioned above, but Olofsson has even more potential in 2019-20. Olofsson averaged 18:20 minutes per game over his first two contests of 2019-20, which is a crazy amount for a rookie forward to get early on. To put that in perspective, Hughes has averaged 14:48 minutes and Kakko has averaged 14:43 so far. Among other things, Olofsson is playing on the top power-play unit and has scored twice as a result. In short, he’s a great rookie to gamble on.

Zack Kassian, Oilers – RW: Kassian isn’t someone you’re going to want to pick up long-term. He’s been around for a while now and though he does combine grit and skill, he leans far more towards the prior than the latter. The reason why he’s worthy of being on standard fantasy league teams right now is because he’s playing on the second line with Leon Draisaitl. Kassian has a goal and two assists in two games and all of those points have involved Draisaitl. If that line breaks up, then Kassian’s fantasy value could very well plummet, so this is a situation you’ll want to monitor closely.

James Neal, Oilers – LW/RW: Neal had just seven goals and 19 points in 63 games last season with Calgary, but the trade to Edmonton should do him a lot of good.  It’s a fresh opportunity and a role he’s more familiar with. With the Flames, Neal fell into a supporting role, averaging 14:57 minutes while he’s averaged 16:50 minutes in two contests with Edmonton. Neal has already scored two goals with the Oilers, which already matches his goal total for the entirety of October 2018.

Sammy Blais, Blues – LW/RW: Blais is one of the players I highlighted during my preseason preview because of how well he had been doing in the exhibition games. He’s carried that momentum into the regular season with two goals and three points in his first two games. Like Moore, Blais’ playing time was very limited in 2018-19, but he’s playing a bigger role this season and is capitalizing on that.

Neal Pionk, Jets – D: Over the summer, Winnipeg lost defensemen Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, and Ben Chiarot and to add to all that, Dustin Byfuglien isn’t playing because he’s considering retirement. That’s a huge hole in their defense, but they did add one notable defenseman over the summer in Pionk. He came over in the Trouba trade and the Jets have been leaning on him hard, giving him an average of 24:42 minutes over three games, which has contributed to him scoring a goal and an assist. He had a modest (at least by fantasy standards) 26 points in 2018-19, but his expanded role with the Jets coupled with his natural development make him an interesting defenseman this season.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld.]

Erik Haula, Hurricanes – C/LW: Haula broke out in 2017-18 with 29 goals and 55 points in 76 games, but was limited to just 15 contests last season due to injury. It seems many have soured on him in the meantime given that he’s only owned in 15% of Yahoo leagues, but he’s been showing what he can do when healthy. Now with the Hurricanes, he’s scored a goal in each of their first three games while averaging 18:08 minutes.

Alex Galchenyuk, Penguins – C/LW: Galchenyuk had just 19 goals and 41 points in 72 games last season, but he didn’t have much to play off offensively in Arizona. Now that he’s with Pittsburgh, it’s a very different situation. Galchenyuk has seen ice time on the second line with the likes of Evgeni Malkin and if he continues to play with either Malkin or Sidney Crosby, he should improve on those 2018-19 numbers.  So far he has two assists in two games.

Players You May Want To Drop

Gustav Nyquist, Blue Jackets – LW/RW: Nyquist is actually off to an okay start with a goal in two games, but I’m discouraged that he’s averaged just 14:13 minutes so far. After the summer the Blue Jackets had, their offensive group isn’t particularly scary, but the plausible silver lining there for Nyquist was that he might be getting a significant role. So far that doesn’t seem to be the case, so I wonder if he will really have much fantasy value.

Eric Staal, Wild – C: Staal has no points, one shot, and a minus-five rating in two games, but as is the case with Nyquist, my bigger concern has been his playing time. He has averaged just 13:02 minutes so far, which is a huge dive from his 18:08 minutes in 2018-19. To put this in perspective, he logged 15:23 minutes or over in 75 of 81 games last season and never got under 13:44 minute in a single contest.  So in other words, each of his first two games of 2019-20 have been lower than any of his games in 2018-19. If Staal’s not going to get top minutes anymore then obviously his value will drop accordingly.  For what it’s worth though, Bruce Boudreau did offer something of a defense.

Read into that as you will, but at the very least you’ll want to monitor this situation closely if you have Staal.

Mackenzie Blackwood, Devils – G: Taking Blackwood was a risk to begin with. He doesn’t have much NHL experience and he’ll be competing with Cory Schneider, so it was always a long shot that he would be a favorable option. So far though he’s been particularly rough, posting a 6.58 GAA and .800 save percentage in two games. Obviously it’s still early and he can bounce back, but in a lot of cases, there should be better options available on the free agent market.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, Blue Jackets – C: Dubois had 27 goals and 61 points in 82 games last season, but he was commonly paired with Panarin. Now that Panarin is in New York, Dubois has lost a valuable linemate and the Blue Jackets didn’t place him with anyone who plays even close to that level. It’s still early of course, but so far Dubois has been limited to no points and one shot in two games. Given how deep centers are to begin with, if you’re going to hold on to a player who is eligible for no other position, you really want them to bring a lot to the table, so even a mild decline on his part would be a significant problem for fantasy owners.

Mats Zuccarello, Wild – RW: Zuccarello did well when he was with the Rangers last season, scoring 11 goals and 37 points in 46 games, but it helped that he was averaging 20:01 minutes. Now with Minnesota, he’s gotten just 14:45 minutes per game so far and hasn’t recorded a point. Of course, the points will come eventually, but if the Wild intend to playing him in more of a supporting role, then it’s unlikely that he’ll be as significant an offensive producer as he has been in the past. Keep in mind that when he recorded between 53-61 points in each of three seasons from 2015-16 through 2017-18, he was logging well over 18 minutes per contest.

If you’re looking for more fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld has got you covered, including Michael Finewax’s “The Week Ahead” column.

If you’re on the hunt for rankings, projections, strategy and advice on how to dominate your drafts, check out the all-new Rotoworld NHL Draft Guide. Now mobile-optimized with a new look and feel, it’s never been easier to take our award-winning advice with you to your drafts for that extra competitive edge! Click here to learn more!

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

Oilers star Connor McDavid cleared to practice

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EDMONTON, Alberta — Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid was cleared for practice and didn’t require a non-contact jersey as the team hit the ice Friday for the first time in training camp.

”I feel good,” McDavid said after playing on a line with Leon Draisaitl and Zack Kassian. ”It was a complicated summer. Lots of stuff going on. Lots of different opinions. There was a time when (getting on the ice for camp) was definitely in doubt, but as of right now it’s good.”

McDavid, the second-leading scorer in the NHL last year (116 points), partially tore a left knee ligament five months ago in the last game of the regular season when he rammed into a goalpost against Calgary. He didn’t require surgery, but has been working to heal the knee all summer.

McDavid and Draisaitl will be expected to carry the offensive load for the Oilers again this season. Draisaitl scored 50 goals and added 55 assists last year to finish fourth overall in the NHL. Kassian scored a career-high 15 goals.

He said McDavid didn’t show any rust or wear and tear.

”The way he was competing the way he was working, he’s ready to rock by the looks of it,” Kassian said.

Coach Dave Tippett said the plan is to take it slow with McDavid to make sure he is ready for the season opener Oct. 2. He may not see as much action in the preseason.

PHT Morning Skate: Penguins need summer miracle again; Devils begin new chapter

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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.

• The Pens need to make another mid-summer magical change. (Pensburgh)

• Maple Leafs almost certain to lose any trade involving Mitch Marner. (Editor In Leaf)

Zack Kassian to get his chance to play alongside Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl. (The Hockey Writers)

Ryan Spooner heading to Switzerland next season. (Sportsnet)

• The RFA waiting game for big-name players is the norm now, in Winnipeg and the rest of the NHL. (Winnipeg Sun)

• Each team’s worst contract heading into the 2019-20 season. (Puck Prose)

• Biggest fantasy winners thus far in the offseason. (Yahoo Sports)

• Devils begin a new chapter with additions of Jack Hughes, P.K. Subban. (NHL.com)

• Oft-Overlooked Hurricanes On the Rise. (Featurd)

• The oddsmakers are taking the Colorado Avalanche seriously, and so should you. (The Hockey News)

• NHL Network analyst believes Andre Burakovsky will score ‘a minimum’ of 20 goals next season. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

• The Nashville Predators should go all-in and trade for William Nylander. (Pred Lines)


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