adamgretzpht

AP

Sabres storm back to extend Penguins’ early season misery

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PITTSBURGH — These aren’t the Buffalo Sabres you have come to know over the past seven years.

These also are not the Pittsburgh Penguins you have come to know, either.

The two teams continued on their early season paths — which are going in completely opposite directions — on Monday night as the Sabres stormed back and erased a three-goal second period deficit to pick up a 5-4 overtime win on a Jack Eichel goal, leaving the Penguins stunned and still searching for answers.

For the Sabres, it continues what has been the team’s best start in close to a decade, extending their current winning streak to six games and giving them a 10-2-2 record in their past 14 games. Everything is clicking for them right now, from new acquisitions like Jeff Skinner stepping in and making a massive impact on the top line, to new starting goalie Carter Hutton giving the team capable goaltending every night.

[Related: The Sabres are good]

Hutton did not have a spectacular game on Monday overall, but he still made some huge saves early in the game to keep his team in it. He also played a huge factor on the penalty kill to help kill off a two-man advantage in the second period when the team was already trailing by three goals.

Once they killed off that penalty, Zach Bogosian scored to cut the deficit in half.

From that point on the Sabres completely took over the game and absolutely manhandled the Penguins in their own zone for the final 25 minutes.

“I think obviously there is that desperation in our game there in the third,” said Eichel. “We’ve been in that spot before. We’ve been a resilient bunch. There is that belief in the room every time we go out there we can make a push and find a way to get a point or two. We definitely want to work on our starts, but it’s great to see the way the team sticks together. It’s a credit to all the guys in the room to stick with it even when things don’t go our way.”

“There is a bit of confidence now because we’ve done it a few times,” Eichel continued. “I think it’s a trust and a belief in each other that the next guy is going to get the job done and set you up for your next shift. We’re a pretty tight bunch for how many new guys have come into this team and we’re doing it for each other. Everyone goes out there and doesn’t want to let the guy next to you down.”

While things are going wonderfully for the Sabres right now things for the Penguins are … well …  bad.

How bad? Look at it this way: They are left trying to find silver linings after their past two games. Those games — a 6-4 loss in Ottawa where they mounted a late — and ultimately futile — third period rally, and an overtime loss to Buffalo on home ice in which they had a 4-1 lead (while getting a 29-second two-man advantage) with 15 minutes to play in the second period.

For a team that was winning Stanley Cups just a couple of years ago and entered the season with a roster it thought was capable of winning another one, that is an astonishing and sudden slide.

Coach Mike Sullivan is trying to remain positive.

“On a couple of the goals they score, we make a couple of mistakes and they end up in the back of our net,” said Sullivan.  “Just seems like the way it is going right now. There was a lot to like about our game and our effort. We certainly have to clean up some areas defensively but there was certainly a lot to like in this game as well.

There definitely was a lot to like about the first 25 minutes, especially when it came to the team finding some even-strength scoring from players they need to get it from.

Derick Brassard, who has battled injuries and inconsistent play since arriving before last season’s trade deadline, opened the scoring with a much-needed goal, while recent acquisition Tanner Pearson scored a goal and recorded an assist. Those two points exceeded his total for the season between the Kings and Penguins entering the game.

From there, everything went south.

Defensive breakdowns, an inability to smoothly and efficiently exit the zone, no sustained offensive zone pressure, and more sub-par goaltending (this time from Casey DeSmith) turned what looked to be a much-needed win into yet another loss.

That is now nine losses in their past 10 games as the Penguins are tied with the New Jersey Devils for the lowest point total in the Eastern Conference.

Sullivan was asked if it is too early for things to be getting “desperate.”

[Related: NHL’s most impactful offseason additions]

“I don’t think it’s ever too early,”said Sullivan. “Every game is important, every point is important, and we’re scratching and clawing through it anyway we can. We are well aware of the position we are in. None of us are happy about it. We have a proud group. I do think we are getting better in a lot of areas. We’re not getting the results. We very well could have in a number of games, tonight being one of them. We have to clean up some areas I know we are capable of being better, we have to make sure we do not get down ourselves, and we keep the right attitude and the right energy around the rink so we can pull together.”

How they are able to start getting the results and how they can pull it together still seems like a mystery, but they better start figuring it out.

Captain Sidney Crosby is getting closer to a return, but there is only so much he can do. He also does not fix the issues on the blue line, in the goal crease, or in the bottom-six (though his return does push Brassard back down to the third-line role he was acquired to play in).

With Monday’s loss they now find themselves five points behind the Washington Capitals for the third playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division and seven points behind the second wild card team in the Eastern Conference. That is not an insignificant gap, even if it is still November. No team five or more points out of a playoff spot in 2017-18 on Nov. 20 (which is where the Penguins will sit on Tuesday) managed to make the playoffs.

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.

How much longer can Oilers go on like this?

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The Edmonton Oilers are in year four of the Connor McDavid era, and at the risk of becoming a broken record here it looks like they are headed toward yet another wasted season if things do not dramatically turn around.

Soon.

Given that McDavid himself has met every expectation the hockey world could have had for him as a player, they should be on their way to becoming contender in the Western Conference. At the very least, they should be a group that is a consistent playoff team and is just a couple of tweaks away from being a contender. It has been enough time for the front office and coaching staff to assemble the right pieces around the game’s most dominant offensive force, especially given the assets that were already on the roster and in the team’s possession when McDavid was drafted in 2015 (they had a future league MVP on the roster, after all).

They are most definitely not that team, or anything close to being that team.

After dropping back-to-back games over the weekend to the Calgary and Vegas — the latter of which being a particularly ugly 6-2 loss on Sunday night to a disappointing Golden Knights team that has been crushed by injuries — the Oilers are on pace to finish with the exact same record they finished 2017-18 with.

A record that saw them miss the Stanley Cup playoffs by 17 points.

That is more than baffling; it is completely unacceptable.

They have now lost six out of their past seven games (and seven out of 10), have been outscored by nine goals on the season, and are still as top-heavy and overly reliant on McDavid to carry them as they have been during the first three years of his career. Just about the only reason for optimism here is the fact they do have McDavid, and the rest of their division is so completely mediocre that it has left the door open for them to maybe — emphasis on maybe — steal a playoff spot.

But when you have an MVP caliber player at the top of your roster (and another star-level player in Leon Draisaitl) you should not have to depend on the rest of the teams around you to simply be more inept than you are just to give you a chance to get in the playoffs.

Last year’s disastrous results should have put everyone in a position of power — from general manager Peter Chiarelli, to head coach Todd McLellan — on the hot seat.

You would also have think that with yet another slow start the temperature is only starting to increase. Especially since all of the same problem exist, from terrible special teams play to a stunning lack of depth at pretty much every position.

The biggest issue has, once again, been with the asset management of the roster. It was highlighted once again this past week when Ryan Strome was traded straight up for Ryan Spooner, a shuffling of the deck chairs type of move where both teams hope a fresh start might spark the middling players involved.

Bigger picture, though, is with that trade the Oilers managed to turn a top-line winger in Jordan Eberle — a position where the Oilers have zero quality NHL depth — into a reclamation project in just a little more than one year.  It just continued a disturbing trend of taking high value players and working backwards. As I pointed on the day of the Strome trade, the cupboard wasn’t totally bare back in 2015. It is astonishingly bare today.

You just can not win by moving in the wrong direction, talent-wise, on so many trades.

The result today is a team whose top wingers are either one of their natural centers (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Draisaitl), or the likes of Drake Caggiula, Alex Chiasson, and Tobias Rieder. The latter trio are the top-scoring natural wingers on the tea so far this season.

None of them have more than 10 points entering the week.

None of them have ever topped 40-points in a single NHL season.

So again, the question remains, how much longer can this continue before meaningful changes get made?

And perhaps the more concerning question: What is there to make you believe the Oilers will get it right when they do make changes? Because they have made changes before. Todd McLellan is not the first coach to fail in Edmonton over the past decade-and-a-half. They changed coaches six other times between 2005-06 and McLellan’s hiring in 2015-16.

General managers have come and gone as well, from the end of the Kevin Lowe era in 2008, to Steve Tambellini, to Craig MacTavish, to Chiarelli.

They have had No. 1 picks. They have promising prospects. They have reasons for optimism that maybe this version of the rebuild was going to be the one to return the Oilers to glory.

The results: All the same. That points to an even bigger problem at the top — above even the head coach and general manager — because that has been the one constant in the organization. It also paints a disturbing picture for Oilers fans because it should be obvious that the current organizational structure is not working and that changes probably need to be made. But what faith do you have that the people in charge are going to make the right changes?

If history is any indication, you probably should not have much. It is a devastatingly frustrating cycle.

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.

PHT Power Rankings: NHL’s most impactful offseason additions so far

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In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we take a look at how your team’s biggest offseason acquisition has performed through the first quarter of the season.

Who has been an impact player? Who has exceeded expectations? Who has failed to meet expectations?

This is by no means a final grade or a definitive statement on the move itself; it is more of an initial progress report to see what the early returns are. Things can still change the rest of this season and in future seasons.

We also tried to limit this to the *big* signings/trades. Players that were involved in bigger, multi-player trades and free agents that were signed to multi-year, long-term contracts since those are the moves that carry the most risk for teams.

So let us get to the rankings.

The impact additions

1. Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres — The Sabres desperately needed a player like Skinner, and they didn’t really have to give up a ton to get him. He has given Jack Eichel a legitimate front-line running mate on his wing, while Eichel has given him an All-Star playmaking center. Neither player has ever had a linemate like the other in their careers, and the early results have been stellar for a Sabres team that is starting to look … kind of good.

2. John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — When you sign a seven-year, $77 million contract to join the Toronto Maple Leafs and be what they hope is the missing piece for a championship team, there is going to be a ton of pressure to go with sky-high expectations. So far, Tavares has been just what the Maple Leafs hoped he would be. Entering play on Monday he is better than a point-per-game player and has given them the luxury of still having a No. 1 center even while Auston Matthews is sidelined.

[Related: Tavares living up to hype with Matthews out]

3. Ryan O'Reilly, St. Louis Blues — A shutdown center that is, as of Monday, on a 104-point pace this season offensively. Will he maintain that pace over 82 games? No way, but he has still been the Blues’ best player this season by a mile. They gave up a lot of assets to get him, but it was a definite quantity over quality trade. It is not his fault the team has failed to meet expectations.

Better than expected so far … will it last?

4-5. Max Domi and Tomas Tatar, Montreal Canadiens — I admit it, I thought the Canadiens’ offseason was a disaster and was going to be another step backwards for the organization. Maybe in time it will still play out that way. So far, though, everything general manager Marc Bergevin touched over the summer has somehow turned to gold. A lot of Domi’s early success is tied to a 24 percent shooting percentage that is going to come down, but he has at least rebounded from back-to-back down years in Arizona.

Speaking of rebounds, Tomas Tatar is showing that he is still a really good player and that his post-trade deadline struggles with the Vegas Golden Knights were a fluke. Do not expect him to maintain this current scoring pace, but he is a proven 20-25 goal scorer in the NHL and should once again be at that level this season, even if his production regresses a bit the rest of the way.

6. Mike Hoffman, Florida Panthers — His production has been remarkably consistent through the first quarter of the season with a 15-game point streak entering the week. He has not had a truly dominant game (two points is his season high) but entering Monday he has had at least one point in all but two games this season (the first two games of the season).

[Related: Can Max Domi continue current pace?]

7. Elias Lindholm, Calgary Flames — During his time in Carolina Lindholm was a top-five pick that was just simply good, but nothing really special. His career high in goals? 17. His career high in points? 45. Certainly not a bust, but also not really an impact player. Through his first 20 games in Calgary he has erupted offensively and is a point-per-game performer and on pace to shatter all of his previous career highs. On one hand, he is still only 23 years old and should be, in theory, entering his peak years in the NHL. On the other hand, that 21.6 shooting percentage is set for a big fall in the second half.

8. Jaroslav Halak, Boston Bruins — I still think if the Bruins are going to win the Stanley Cup — or at least seriously compete for it — they are going to have Tuukka Rask in net for it. Right now, though, Halak has been the best goalie in Boston and has been a huge surprise with a .935 save percentage and a 7-2-2 record entering play on Monday. After a disastrous season with the Islanders in 2017-18, and in his age 33 season, this is a pretty stunning performance.

Not quite what we expected (yet), but still pretty good

9. Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks — The offensive production has not been what we have come to expect from Karlsson, but that does not mean he has been bad. When he is on the ice the Sharks are controlling more than 59 percent of the total shot attempts and more than 55 percent of the scoring chances that take place. Those are dominant numbers. The offense will eventually come and like many of the players on the Sharks at the moment he is getting crushed by lackluster goaltending. I would be willing to wager that by the end of the season he would be near the top of such a ranking.

10. Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes — Pretty much the same story as Karlsson. Probably been a lot better than his traditional box score numbers would indicate and getting hurt by bad goaltending.

11. Ilya Kovalchuk, Los Angeles Kings — He has shown flashes of still being able to be a dominant top-line player, and also flashes of being a 35-year-old that had not played in the NHL in more than five years. He alone was never going to be enough to fix what ailed this team, but he is still on pace for 20 goals and 60 points this season. That pretty much makes him an offensive powerhouse in relation to the rest of the players in Los Angeles.

What should have been expected

12-13. Michael Grabner and Alex Galchenyuk, Arizona Coyotes — They have been nice additions for a Coyotes team that should be able to threaten for a playoff spot in a weak Pacific Division. Galchenyuk missed some time at the start of the year but now that he is healthy is on track for another season around 20 goals and 50 points, while Grabner has been a tremendous addition to the team’s lethal penalty kill unit that has helped drive their early start.

14. Carter Hutton, Buffalo Sabres — He was never going to repeat his performance from a year ago when he finished with the league’s best save percentage. While it would have been great for the Sabres if he somehow managed that, they mainly just needed him to be competent and give them a chance to win on most nights. He has done that.

[Related: The Sabres are good]

14-15. David PerronTyler Bozak, St. Louis Blues — The Blues needed scoring depth and spent big money this summer to try and find it. O’Reilly has played at an All-Star level, while their two big free agent acquisitions — Perron and Bozak — are producing at about the level you would expect David Perron and Tyler Bozak to perform at. Are they game-changers? No. But if the Blues’ goaltending situation was not the total dumpster fire it has been so far the team would would probably have a few more wins and all of their offseason additions would look a lot better.

The disappointments

16. Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights —  Pacioretty has simply not produced the way anyone expected him to. He had a down year in Montreal in 2017-18, and so far this season has seen his production fall off even more. It has to be even more frustrating at the moment for Vegas when you look at Tomas Tatar — traded for Pacioretty, along with top prospect Nick Suzuki — scoring for the Canadiens the way Vegas hoped he would score for them when they gave up a boatload of draft picks for him at the trade deadline.

17. James Neal, Calgary Flames — Just a total non-factor in every area for the Flames so far. Hopefully for the Flames it is just a poorly time slump at the start of a new contract because they are paying too much money over too many years for this level of production.

18. Jack Johnson, Pittsburgh Penguins — This was a questionable signing — at best — from the very beginning, and so far the results are everything critics of the deal thought they would be. Not good.

Jury is still out/Incomplete

James van Riemsdyk, Philadelphia FLyers — He has only played in four games this season due to injury, but he looked really good in those games and seemed to be just what they needed to improve their scoring depth. When healthy he has been one of the top goal scorers in the league for a couple of years now, and he probably still has a couple years of that remaining when he is healthy. He just has not been healthy for the Flyers yet.

Paul Stastny, Vegas Golden Knights — Along with Pacioretty he was supposed to help give the Golden Knights a second dominant scoring line to go along with their top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith. Pacioretty has struggled mightily so far and Stastny has appeared in just three games due to injury. He also does not appear to be close to returning. Too soon to call him (or Pacioretty, for that matter) a total bust, but the early results are not what Vegas was hoping for. Both due to bad luck (Stastny’s injury) and just all-around disappointing play (Pacioretty).

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 Buzzer: Petersen gets first win for Kings; Skinner scores again for Sabres

AP
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Three Stars

1. Cal Petersen, Los Angeles Kings. With injuries to Jonathan Quick and Jack Campbell, the Kings have had to resort to their third-and fourth-string goalies Cal Petersen and Peter Budaj. On Friday night in Chicago it was Petersen getting the start and he was absolutely fantastic in a 2-1 shootout win over the Blackhawks stopping 34 shots through regulation and overtime to pick up his first NHL win. This is only the sixth win of the season for a Kings team that has struggled from the start. It also snapped what had been a three-game losing streak. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, have now lost nine of their past 10 and have managed just four goals in their past four games.

2. Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres. Things are starting to look good for the Buffalo Sabres who have now won four in a row and five of their past six thanks to a 2-1 shootout win over the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night. At the center of this recent surge has been Jeff Skinner, their biggest offseason acquisition. His goal early in the third period on Friday was the game-tying goal and his 14th of the season, which keeps him in second place in the league’s goal-scoring race. He has been especially hot lately with five goals in his past four games and 13 goals in his past 12 games. He has been everything the team hoped he would be when they acquired him from the Carolina Hurricanes over the summer.

3. Ryan O'Reilly, St. Louis Blues. After his 10-game point streak came to an end on Wednesday night against the Chicago Blackhawks, Ryan O’Reilly was able to get back on the scoresheet with a pair of goals on Friday in a 4-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights. O’Reilly has been the Blues’ best player by a substantial margin this season and is already up to 10 goals and 23 total points this season in only 17 games.

Highlights of the Night

The Washington Capitals were 3-2 overtime winners in Colorado on Friday night and it was Devante Smith-Pelly getting them on the board by finishing this beautiful tic-tac-toe passing play.

Morgan Rielly continued his incredible season on Friday night with the game-winning overtime goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs. With the win Toronto takes over the top spot in the NHL standings while Rielly continues to pace all defenders with 25 points in 20 games. Ottawa Senators rookie Thomas Chabot and San Jose Sharks defender Brent Burns are the only other players at the position with more than 20 points so far this season.

Factoids

This is a tremendous stat from the Washington Capitals-Colorado Avalanche game, where both Avalanche goalies are former long-time Capitals netminders, and the Capitals two goalies on Friday have barely played for the team.

The Dallas Stars win over the Boston Bruins did not have a lot of offense, but it certainly had a lot of excitement thanks in large part to Brad Marchand. Still, it was the Stars getting the 1-0 overtime win. That is something that had never happened in Stars franchise history.

 

Scores

Dallas Stars 1, Boston Bruins 0 (OT)

Buffalo Sabres 2, Winnipeg Jets 1 (SO)

Los Angeles Kings 2, Chicago Blackhawks 1 (SO)

Washington Capitals 3, Colorado Avalanche 2 (OT)

St. Louis Blues 4, Vegas Golden Knights 1

Toronto Maple Leafs 2, Anaheim Ducks 1 (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.

Brad Marchand pulls a Roger Neilson, waves ‘white flag’

Fox Southwest
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It was another eventful for night for Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

After a series of penalties in the second period of his team’s 1-0 overtime loss in Dallas, he decided to pull a Roger Neilson and wave the white flag by sticking a towel on the blade of his hockey stick and … well … waving it from the penalty box. This was presumably a form of surrendering to the referees.

Or simply Brad Marchand doing Brad Marchand things.

His adventure started in the second period when he was given a double-minor for roughing Radek Faksa after Marchand came to the defense of his linemate, Patrice Bergeron, who was sent flying into the boards at the hands of Faksa. Bergeron briefly exited the game before returning.

Here is the entire sequence.

After serving his four minutes for that altercation, Marchand returned to the ice and was almost immediately sent back to the box for slashing stars goalie Ben Bishop.

Nobody from Boston liked the call at all, with Marchand at being at the top of the list.

That was when he waved the white flag and was sent off for 10 additional minutes.

That might look familiar to you because you might recall former long-time NHL coach Roger Neilson doing something similar during the 1982 playoffs when he was coach of the Vancouver Canucks.

Marchand has been in rare form this season, even for him. Earlier this month he was given a 10-minute misconduct for mocking Nashville Predators forward Colton Sissons for embellishing a high-sticking call, which came after he bloodied Washington Capitals forward Lars Eller in the season-opener after Eller taunted the Bruins’ bench.

In the playoffs the NHL had to instruct Marchand to stop licking opposing players.

No matter what you think of Marchand as a player you at least have to admit this: It is never boring with him around.

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.