Joey Alfieri

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Wednesday Night Hockey: Kuznetsov’s season back on track after suspension

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers. 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.

The start of the 2019-20 season couldn’t have been an easy one for Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov. The 27-year-old was suspended for the first three games of the year for a positive cocaine test. When the suspension was announced, he admitted he was crushed, but he also mentioned that he had “taken many steps in the right direction”.

After missing games against St. Louis, the Islanders and Carolina, he came back and picked up six points in his first five contests. He went a little cold after that sizzling start, as he saw his ice time and production dip (he accumulated three points in seven games, but two of those points came in the same game).

NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire shared a story about Kuznetsov during his daily hit on Montreal radio, yesterday. Here’s what McGuire had to say about the situation between Todd Reirden and his player:

“Here’s the little secret behind (Kuznetsov’s success),” McGuire said during the interview. “I had a long visit with Todd Reirden (on Monday) and I asked: ‘How did you get Kuznetsov back on the track?’ Reirden answered: ‘There were five games in a row where I played him for 15 minutes or less and he wasn’t pleased. I was trying to get his attention. So, he came to me in Calgary and said ‘I’d like to have a meeting with you.’

“So (Kuznetsov and Reirden) sat down after a practice in Calgary and Todd said: ‘You want more ice? You have to prove to me that you’ve earned it.’ And so from then on, this guy has just run wild. He’s run wild over the opponents and he’s run wild in practice. Again, the coach got the player’s attention and the player actually went in and talked to the coach. There was a meeting of the minds and it worked!” 

In the game before they left for Calgary (they were in Chicago), the Caps forward had played just 13:46. In the game before that (at home against the Rangers), he played 13:03. Since those two games, the Russian center has played between 16:04 and 23:28. He’s regularly hovering around 18 and 19 minutes every night.

The result?

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

He’s scoring more goals than he’s ever scored before. We’ve known him as a point producer, but his career-high in goals is currently 27. Now that he’s found the back of the net eight times in 16 games, he’s on pace to score 41 times this season. Can he keep that up? We’ll find out. But it’s nice to see him battle back from the personal issues that plagued him over the last little while.

The Capitals saw their six-game winning streak come to an end on Monday night, as they dropped a 4-3 shootout decision to the Arizona Coyotes, but they fought back after being down 3-0. Kuznetsov scored two of his team’s three goals in that one.

“You can tell when he’s feeling it and he’s going to be able to control the game, which he did most of the night,” teammate T.J. Oshie said of Kuznetsov’s performance in the game, per NHL.com.

This will be the start of a busy stretch for Washington. After traveling to Philly to take on the Flyers tonight, they’ll have a home game against the Canadiens on Friday, a road game against Boston on Saturday and another home game against the Ducks on Monday. Three games in four nights and four games in six nights are never easy.

The Caps are currently the top team in the East and in the NHL, with 30 points.

MORE: Why Flyers fans have reason for optimism

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp and NHL insider Darren Dreger. Kenny Albert, Mike Milbury and Brian Boucher will call Capitals-Flyers from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Gudas returns to Philly; living in McDavid’s shadow

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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.

Radko Gudas wants to make a grand return to Philadelphia with his new team. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

Sean Couturier‘s line has been really strong for the Flyers, but how do they compare to Boston’s top line? (Broad Street Hockey)

• Devils veteran Andy Greene‘s season has been surprising so far. (All About the Jersey)

• Who is Sebastian Aho? (Cardiac Cane)

• It’s time for the Canadiens to sign Victor Mete to a long-term contract extension. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

Jason Spezza has a soft spot for Don Cherry, but he understands Sportsnet’s decision to part ways with him. (Toronto Star)

• The next five games are really important for the Florida Panthers. (The Rat Trick)

Jared McCann has been a nice find for the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Pensburgh)

• Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton explains why his team made a certain schematic change. (NBC Sports Chicago)

• The Golden Knights are reportedly searching for a mobile defenseman. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• It’s taken some time, but Kevin Fiala is finally starting to fit in with the Wild. (Hockey Wilderness)

• What’s it like to live in Connor McDavid‘s shadow? Leon Draisaitl tells ESPN.com.

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.

NHL on NBCSN: Coyotes need to develop killer instinct

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Arizona Coyotes and Washington Capitals. 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.

The Arizona Coyotes are off to a decent start this year, as they’re 9-6-2 through 17 games, but they’ve also been very streaky. From Oct. 3-12, the ‘Yotes went 1-2-1. They followed that up by picking up eight wins in their next 10 games and they’re now in the middle of an 0-2-1 slump.

The most disappointing part of Arizona’s three-game losing streak, is that they had a lead in each one of those games.

In last Tuesday’s loss to the Calgary Flames, they were up 2-0 and 3-1 before losing in overtime. In Thursday’s home loss to Columbus, they were up 2-1 late in the second period. In Saturday’s loss to Minnesota, again, they were up 2-0 and 3-1 before blowing that advantage, too. Teams with serious playoff aspirations don’t blow points away like that.

“It’s not so much about the percentages,” head coach Rick Tocchet said before Thursday’s loss to the Blue Jackets, per the Arizona Republic. “I go by the timely stuff. Like it’s 3-1 and can we make it 4-1? When you get that power play, you can put the nail in the coffin. But we were sloppy. That was the disappointing part to me. It definitely wasn’t good. We lost the specials team battle (in Calgary) and lost the game.”

Despite the advantages that they’ve held, the ‘Yotes are still just 21st in the NHL in goals scored, with 49. Their power play has also struggled, as it’s currently ranked 22nd in the league. So this team can’t play a run-and-gun style if they have to come back from a blown lead. That’s part of the issue. When the jump ahead in a game, they need to make sure they close it out before their opponent can come back.

“We’ve got to figure it out, we can’t let that happen,” forward Michael Grabner said after his team’s most recent loss. “Every point matters, and right now we’ve got to get back on track. I think if you told us two, three weeks ago that we had a 3-1 lead and we were going to lose in regulation, I don’t think we would have believed you, so we’ve got to get back to the basics and play our style of hockey.”

Things won’t get any easier for the Coyotes this week. They’ll start with two road games against the last two Stanley Cup winners. They get the Caps tonight and the St. Louis Blues tomorrow. They finish off this road trip with a trip to Minnesota on Thursday night. So that means they’ll play three road games in four nights before returning home on Saturday to take on the Flames.

Getting more offense out of Phil Kessel would certainly help Arizona’s chances of winning games. The 32-year-old has three goals and 10 points in 17 games this season. It’s important to note that two of those goals came in one game. He’s also failed to score in four consecutive games and he’s scored just once in his last 11 outings.

It’s still early enough that the Coyotes shouldn’t be overly concerned about the lack of production from their star winger, but he has to get going soon. If they had other players that were filling the net, it wouldn’t be as much of an issue, but the fact that they can’t produce much is a problem if Kessel can’t do more.

Nobody thought the ‘Yotes would be a slam dunk to make the playoffs, so the fact that they’re just one point out of a Wild Card spot with games in hand as we approach the quarter mark of the season isn’t such a bad thing.

John Walton and Pierre McGuire will have the call from Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Ahmed Fareed will host coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Keith Jones and Anson Carter.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Flyers’ important week; Splitting up Hall, Hischier

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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 Bruins would like Charlie Coyle to take more shots on goal. (NBC Sports Boston)

• Caps defender Jonas Siegenthaler continues to grow into his role. (Washington Post)

• It might be time to split up Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier. (All About the Jersey)

• The Flyers are about to enter the most important week of their season. (Broad Street Hockey)

• It’s been a tough start to the month of November for the Hurricanes. (Cardiac Cane)

• What’s holding back Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei right now? (New York Post)

• These Fender NHL telecaster electric guitars are pretty interesting. [Puck Junk]

• What can Jay Bouwmeester and Zdeno Chara teach us about longevity and the hall of fame? (The Hockey News)

• Guy Carbonneau’s defensive awareness helped get him into the Hockey Hall of Fame. (NHL.com)

• Just because Dan Girardi retired, it doesn’t mean he has to step away from the game. (Sportsnet)

• The NHL issued a statement on controversial comments Don Cherry made on Saturday night. (Canadian Press)

• Andrew Berkshire shares his thoughts on who the best Canadian team in the NHL is. (Sportsnet)

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.

NHL on NBCSN: Can Global Series trip get Bolts turned around?

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Friday’s Global Series matchup between the Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning. Coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Tampa Bay Lightning dominated the regular season from start to finish last year. Where did that game them? It got them bounced in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in just four games. That’s a cruel way to go out and it seems to have stayed with them heading into this year.

Heading into this Global Series weekend in Sweden against the Buffalo Sabres, only three teams in the Eastern Conference have accumulated fewer points than the Bolts and they are: the New Jersey Devils, the Ottawa Senators and the Detroit Red Wings. That’s not exactly elite company to be lumped in with at this point.

No matter what they went through last spring though, the expectations were clearly higher than 6-5-2 through 13 games this season.

“While you have these games, you do have to get points out of them,” head coach Jon Cooper said, per TampaBay.com. “I’m not going to sit here and say we have to win both of these games. I want us to play well.”

The Lightning won’t use this as an excuse, but they’ll finally get to enjoy some extended home cooking after this Global Series is over. Of their first 13 games of the season, only four were played at home. Once this Swedish excursion is over, they’ll play 16 of the final 23 games of 2019 at home. That will be a crucial part of the season.

Feeling good about their game is a must coming out of this trip to Sweden. They can also pounce on a Sabres team that has dropped three games in a row.

“Eventually we’re going to get rewarded and then hopefully we can go on a little bit of a streak here,” Cooper mentioned after Tampa’s last loss to the Islanders, according to NHL.com. “We are seeing improvement in a lot of areas, so we’ve just got to weather through this. We knew this was coming. … But we’re still above .500 heading into Sweden and hopefully we can come back with some more points and then dig our heels in once our schedule evens out.”

Getting reigning Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov going will also help in their quest to dominate the Eastern Conference again. The 26-year-old led the NHL with 128 points last season, but he’s picked up 11 through the first 13 games of the year. Those totals are good for most players, but not Kucherov, who also added 41 goals last season.

The good news for Kucherov, is that the quality of his shots is right around the same as it was last year. His xGF% is at 52.59 percent this year, while it was 52.42 last year. His high-danger chances for percentage is up nearly five percent (50.3 last year to 55.2 this year). His shooting percentage has dropped from 16.7 percent to 12.8 percent though.

Here’s a lineup note heading into this afternoon’s game:

Hedman had missed the previous two games due to a lower-body injury.

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.