NHL Rink Wrap: Canadiens finally win, Kraken lose home opener

NHL Rink Wrap: Canadiens finally win, Kraken home opener
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Top player from Saturday in the NHL

David Perron, Blues

With three points (2G, 1A) in as many games, David Perron was already off to a solid start to 2021-22. He really broke through to become the top star in the NHL on Saturday, though. Perron generated a hat trick and an assist as the Blues improved to 4-0-0 this season.

Quietly, Perron just keeps humming along as one of the league’s most underrated scorers. He collected 60 points in 2019-20, and then almost reached 60 again in 2020-21 (58 points) despite being limited to 56 games.

Other NHL players generated hat tricks (Elias Lindholm, Mathieu Perreault), but Perron’s additional assist puts him over the top.

NHL injury, COVID news

Highlights from Saturday in the NHL

Check out footage of Perreault’s hat trick:

Lindholm notched his second career hat trick.

 

Then there’s David Perron’s hat trick (plus an assist).

 

Great ovation for Vince Dunn‘s goal, the first tally during a Kraken home game. The crowd reacted accordingly.

Saturday’s NHL takeaways

Maybe the Maple Leafs can’t take regular season success for granted?

After another playoff debacle, people wondered if another strong Maple Leafs regular season would even mean anything. Uh … about that.

At 2-3-1, the Maple Leafs aren’t in such a deep hole that they need to hit the panic button. (Even if people are talking about Mike Babcock and generally very-much-panicking in Toronto.)

Early in the season or not, getting blown out by the Penguins at least needs to raise an alarm bell or two. Again, the Penguins were without Crosby, Malkin, Letang, and others, yet they handed the Maple Leafs one of the worst losses in the NHL on Saturday.

Grant Sheldon Keefe this much. He captured many Maple Leafs fans’ spirits with this comment.

Canadiens make no mistake with much-needed win

When Dylan Larkin made it 1-0 just 5:25 in, the Habs could have sulked. Instead, the Canadiens scored six unanswered goals to get their first win of the season.

In many ways, this was a showcase for new faces. Again, Perreault notched a hat trick. Christian Dvorak collected a goal and an assist. Mike Hoffman found the back of the net, and David Savard added an assist. Jonathan Drouin isn’t a new face, yet he was tending to personal needs during the playoff run. It had to feel good for him to collect two assists.

As tough as the Atlantic Division looks on paper, the Canadiens can gain some comfort in others struggling. (Although the Panthers are red-hot, and the Bruins haven’t played enough to give a clear read, either way. But … hey, small victories.)

Who looked more like an expansion team: Kraken or Canucks?

Heading into their first season, the Seattle Kraken looked like they could be an analytics darling. The belief was that they’d look fancy by the fancy stats, but lack the finish to look as good in the standings.

So far … that hasn’t really been the case. Maybe a shabby offense isn’t shocking, but the Kraken have been more vulnerable in their own zone lately. Consider this chart from Hockey Viz:

NHL Rink Wrap: Canadiens finally win, Kraken home opener defense viz
via Hockey Viz

Not great. Not shocking for an expansion team. But not ideal considering the Kraken’s fixation on (seemingly stout) defense.

Yet, in the Kraken’s first home game, the Canucks looked more like a hapless, new team. Through 40 minutes, it was tied 1-1, but Vancouver needed luck and Thatcher Demko to get there.

The game-winner told some of the story. The Kraken pushed for the 3-2 goal with a lengthy sequence in the Canucks’ zone. They couldn’t score, though, and then Conor Garland burned Philipp Grubauer for a pretty game-winner.

In their first taste of home hockey, Kraken fans tasted a particularly acidic type of defeat: when it sure felt like your team “deserved” to win. Still, if the Kraken play like this often — even if it’s mostly in Seattle — they have something to build on. Meanwhile, the Canucks won, but really need to improve their process.

Sunday’s big story

Can the Blackhawks finally win a game?

Heading into Saturday’s NHL action, the question was whether the Canadiens could finally win a game. After all, it’s against a beatable opponent in the Red Wings.

Rewind that, and play it back. The Blackhawks are searching for their first win of the season, and they face the Red Wings on Sunday.

On one hand, as you saw in the NHL injury/COVID update section, the Blackhawks might be without Patrick Kane. On the other hand, the Red Wings are not juggernauts. Chicago also has the rest advantage, as the Habs just humbled Detroit.

So, it would behoove the Blackhawks to make like the Canadiens. Don’t just get that first win; do it with authority.

(But, seriously, get that win. People are basking in your defeats.)

Saturday’s NHL scores

Flames 4, Capitals 3 (OT)
Rangers 3, Senators 2
Wild 4, Ducks 3 (OT)
Avalanche 4, Lightning 3 (SO)
Devils 2, Sabres 1 (OT)
Panthers 4, Flyers 2
Penguins 7, Maple Leafs 1
Hurricanes 5, Blue Jackets 1
Jets 6, Predators 4
Canadiens 6, Red Wings 1
Blues 7, Kings 3
Islanders 3, Coyotes 0
Canucks 4, Kraken 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.

Which struggling NHL teams need to hit the panic button?

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Earlier this week we looked at some NHL teams that have maybe exceeded expectations in the early part of the season and tried to determine which ones are for real.

This is the opposite end of that spectrum.

Here we are taking a look at some teams off to rough starts and which ones need to consider hitting the panic button. Nobody wants to panic a week-and-a-half into the season, but sometimes you can get a sense for when things are just not going well with your team and the roster is all wrong. Some teams might already be there.

Montreal is a mess

Not only did they fall to 0-5-0 with Thursday’s loss to Carolina, continuing one of the worst starts in franchise history, they got embarrassed on home ice with offer sheet twins Sebastian Aho and Jesperi Kotkaniemi combining for three goals in the 4-1 decision.

There is a lot going on here because the 0-5 start just after a trip to the Stanley Cup Final is definitely staggering. But a lot of things had to go right for Montreal to reach the level it reached a year ago. They had to play in the right division to allow them to even make the playoffs. Get the right playoff matchups (again the result of the division). Get the white-hot goaltending for three rounds.

[Related: Should Canadiens be concerned about slow start? ]

Now they are back in a division and conference loaded with Cup contenders, and a lot of players that helped make that run possible a year ago are no longer on the ice. Carey Price is sidelined. Shea Weber is done for the season, and maybe for his career. Phillip Danault, Kotkaniemi, and Tomas Tatar are playing for new teams. The result has been four goals in five games, zero wins, and a lot of ugliness.

Is it time to hit the panic button? In the sense of them making the playoffs? Yes. That was always going to be a struggle and it is clear this team has some issues. But it is not this bad. You hope that Price is able to return soon. Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki are great young talents that will be better. There is some talent on this team. It will get better. Just probably not enough to make the playoffs in a tough division and conference.

Chicago is an even bigger mess

At least the Canadiens have some excuses.

What’s Chicago’s excuse? The Blackhawks got their No. 1 center back, made big splash after big splash over the offseason in terms of adding players and spending money, and they are still lousy.

[Related: Looking at Blackhawks’ lousy start]

Through five games they are 0-4-1, have been outscored 21-9 overall, 17-3 at even-strength, been booed off the ice in their only two home games, and perhaps even more shockingly, have yet to play a single second with the lead this season. They have either been trailing or tied all year. And given how early they have given up goals in games, they have spent the majority of their time playing from behind. How much time? They have trailed for 225 minutes this season. They have played 301 minutes of hockey. That is literally 75% of the season.

The only other teams that have trailed for more than 130 minutes this season are Montreal (200 minutes) and Seattle (174 minutes).

Is it time to hit the panic button? Most definitely. They should be slamming it. This is not a team missing people, or dealing with injuries, or a team that is less than 100 percent. This is the team as it was supposed to look. But what is staggering about that is nobody should have had any illusions that things would be dramatically better. They have missed the playoffs three out of the past four years, only sneaking in one time because of the Return To Play bubble when they were the 23rd ranked team in the league. Their solution for the offseason was to throw a monstrous contract at a declining defenseman, acquire a 37-year-old goalie that was going from a Cup contender to a defensive sieve of a team, and Tyler Johnson. Even the good moves had serious questions. Bad times ahead here.

Things are going as planned in Arizona

Okay, maybe Coyotes management will not come out and admit that, but this season is clearly not about winning hockey games. It is about tearing things down and accumulating as many future assets as possible.

Mission accomplished.

Is it time to hit the panic button? No need to at any point this season. Nobody should have had any thoughts about this team contending after trading Darcy Kuemper, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Christian Dvorak, and Conor Garland over the offseason. The only thing that should cause a panic here is if they do something outrageously stupid, like trade Jakob Chychrun.

What’s up with the Islanders?

Despite their recent playoff success the Islanders have never really been a great regular season team. They have that one 15-game stretch every year where they go 12-0-3, bank a ton of points, and then fumble along at a .500 pace the rest of the year before wrecking the playoffs for everybody.

But one thing they always do well is defend.

And that is not necessarily happening this season. At least not yet. And that is probably the most concerning development about their 1-2-1 start. They are not really playing like the Islanders yet.

Is it time to hit the panic button? No, probably not. This is still a good team with great goaltending, a great coach, and an outstanding defense. And even though they are not a dynamic team offensively it is still a team with a deep collection of forwards with few weaknesses. They will get there. The one thing that might be a little bit of a concern is the 13-game road trip to open the season that has them criss-crossing North America. You do not want to get off to a slow start that many games into the season. That can be tough to get out of.

Colorado will be fine

Maybe the most surprising start is the Colorado Avalanche being 1-3 through four games, including a three-game losing streak.

This is a team that only had two three-game losing streaks all of last season — a three-game streak late in the regular season, then losing four games in a row to the Golden Knights in the playoffs.

They have not yet been at 100% this season, with Nathan MacKinnon missing two games, Gabriel Landeskog being suspended for two games, Valeri Nichushkin being sidelined, and Devon Toews not yet playing.

Is it time to hit the panic button? Not even close. This is still the best roster in the league on paper and it is only a matter of time until they get rolling again. Especially once we see them at full strength.

PHT Morning Skate: Lightning power play without Kucherov; Matthews on Olympics

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.

• How will the Lightning power play adjust without Nikita Kucherov? [Tampa Bay Times]

Auston Matthews on representing the U.S. at the 2022 Olympics: “Gold is absolutely on our minds. I’ve been fortunate to represent the U.S. before, but obviously never at the biggest stage, which is the Olympics, so I’m really looking forward to it.” [NBC Olympics]

• The pressure in Montreal is mounting as the on-ice results don’t paint a pretty picture. [TSN]

Jack Hughes has a dislocated shoulder, will not need surgery, and will be re-evaluated next week. [PHT]

• Fun story on former figure skaters using their talents to help NHL players on the ice. [NHL.com]

• On the topic of Stanley Cup contenders and their new goaltenders. [Five Thirty Eight]

• “The Cannons tells the story of the Fort Dupont Cannons, a Washington D.C. youth hockey team and one of the only predominantly Black hockey teams in the U.S. The team is led by coach Neal Henderson (or ‘Coach Neal’ as the filmmakers repeatedly refer to him), who founded the Cannons in 1978 as a developmental program for local and inner-city youth, and has been the team’s head coach for more than four decades.” [Real Screen]

• The Maple Leafs really seem to run into hot goalies an awful lot. [Faceoff Circle]

Justin Schultz on the tough start to his NHL career and his contributions to the Capitals. [Washington Hockey Now]

• Why the Rangers remain set up for long-term success. [Blue Seat Blogs]

• A look at which NHL players have been affected by the EA Sports NHL cover “curse.” [The Hockey News]

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL Rink Wrap: Panthers, Sharks, Oilers stay unbeaten; Blackhawks booed off ice again

NHL Scores
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Top player from Thursday in the NHL

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

Another night, another dominant performance from Connor McDavid.

He scored two goals (including his 200th career goal, which you can see below) and added an assist in the Oilers’ 5-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes to improve to 4-0 on the season.

With three more points McDavid now has 11 points in the first four games of the season. That comes out to a 225 point pace over 82 games. Is he going to maintain that? No. Well, probably not. But he did have 100-points in a 56-game season so nothing should be off the table with this guy right now offensively.

Highlights from Thursday in the NHL

McDavid scored his 200th career goal on Thursday night, and it was a vintage McDavid goal where he just makes everybody else on the ice look slow.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi was back in Montreal on Thursday night and helped the Hurricanes get a 4-1 win. Of course he scored a goal.

The Blue Jackets are one of the early season surprises with wins in three of their first four games. That includes Thursday’s 3-2 overtime win against the New York Islanders that was ended with Patrik Laine‘s second overtime goal of the season.

There were always going to be two important keys for Columbus to be competitive this season.

Elvis Merzlikins being great in goal (he has been). Also Laine having a bounce back season and playing like a star (he has so far). With Thursday’s goal he nows has two goals and three assists in Columbus’ first four games of the season.

Three Takeaways from Thursday in the NHL

The Panthers are 4-0 and looking good

All aboard the Florida Panthers bandwagon, because tickets are going to go fast.

With their 4-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, the Panthers are now 4-0 and looking like a strong contender in the early season. They are not only unbeaten through four games, they have beaten four really good teams in Pittsburgh, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Colorado. They have not only beaten four quality teams, they have mostly carried the play against them, including Thursday against the Avalanche.

The key stat on Thursday: They held Nathan MacKinnon to zero shots on goal.

This team is going to be a problem.

The Sharks win again

Don’t look now but the San Jose Sharks are 3-0 this season.

They spoiled Brady Tkachuk‘s season debut in Ottawa on Thursday night with a 2-1 win that was highlighted by goals from Logan Couture and Kevin Labanc, as well as a 30-save effort from James Reimer in goal. On one hand, the early season schedule has not been all that daunting just yet (games against Montreal and Ottawa are not a huge challenge), but they still managed to collect six out of a possible six points. Given how much the team has struggled in recent seasons and how bleak the outlook seemed at the start of the season, Sharks fans will definitely take that.

Blackhawks lose again, get booed off the ice again

This is getting ugly.

With their 4-1 loss to Vancouver on Thursday the Chicago Blackhawks are now 0-4-1 on the season.

They have yet to hold the lead in a single game all season.

They have been outscored 15-2 during 5-on-5 play.

In their two home games so far they have been booed off the ice at the end of each game. There is nothing else to say here.

Friday’s big story

It has to be, *checks notes*, the Buffalo Sabres?!

Yes, yes it does. The Sabres are looking to extend their season-opening winning streak to four games when they host the Boston Bruins.

The Sabres have been without question the biggest surprise this season as they have not only managed to win every game they have played so far, they have done it with a shell of an NHL roster that does currently include Jack Eichel. Based on preseason expectations them winning three of their first 10 games probably would have been a shock.

Now, to be fair, there is some reason for skepticism here given the early schedule, and things do get dramatically tougher on Friday with a game against Boston. But it is a big opportunity for Buffalo to continue to open some eyes around the league.

Thursday’s NHL scores

Hurricanes 4, Canadiens 1
Sharks 2, Senators 1
Panthers 4, Avalanche 1
Capitals 4, Devils 1
Blue Jackets 3, Islanders 2 (OT)
Flames 3, Red Wings 0
Rangers 3, Predators 1
Jets 5, Ducks 1
Canucks 4, Blackhawks 1
Oilers 5, Coyotes 1

Kotkaniemi gets harsh reception, scores goal in return to Montreal

Kotkaniemi Montreal Return
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Montreal Canadiens fans were not happy to see Jesperi Kotkaniemi make his first visit as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night.

Their anger only grew when he scored his first goal of the season — and first as member of the Hurricanes — midway through the third period to help drive the Hurricanes to a 4-1 win.

That win also furthers the Canadiens’ early season struggles, pushing them to 0-5-0 on the season.

The big story in this game though was Kotkaniemi’s return to Montreal following the offseason offer sheet drama.

In case you’ve forgotten: The Canadiens and Hurricanes have been involved in a two-year beef over restricted free agent offer sheets. It was the summer of 2019 when the Canadiens tried to sign Hurricanes star Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet. Carolina matched, but was unhappy with the structure of the deal and the fact that Montreal had the audacity to try and explore a legal avenue of improving its team.

[Related: Should Canadiens be concerned about slow start? ]

So the Hurricanes responded this offseason by signing Kotkaniemi to a one-year, $6.1 million offer sheet that Montreal did not match. The Canadiens received a first-and third-round pick as compensation.

On Thursday, Kotkaniemi and the Hurricanes made their first trip to Montreal for the season and Canadiens fans were not happy to see any of them. Kotkaniemi was loudly booed — and the recipient of a vulgar chant or two — pretty much every time he stepped on the ice and touched the puck. He ended up getting the last laugh, though, scoring on a deflection in the third period to help put the game away.

It is also a little fitting that Aho, the player that started the offer sheet madness between the two teams, also scored two goals in Carolina’s win.

The Hurricanes are now 3-0 on the season.

Montreal, meanwhile, is a mess.

This was always going to be a frustrating season and probably a big step backwards from the stunning run to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago. The Canadiens had to leave the all-Canadian North Division, were no longer playing only other Canadian teams, and were dealing with a significant roster turnover that not only included Kotkaniemi, but also Phillip Danault, Tomas Tatar, a season-ending injury to Shea Weber, and the early season absence of starting goalie Carey Price.

The Canadiens are not only winless through five games, they have scored just four total goals and have yet to score more than one goal in any game. They have been outscored 19-4 so far.