Auston Matthews leads Richard race; what are his Hart, Selke chances?

Auston Matthews leads Richard race; what are his Hart, Selke chances?
Andrew Lahodynskyj/NHLI via Getty Images

With 56 goals, Auston Matthews holds a commanding lead over Leon Draisaitl (50) and everyone else in the race for the Maurice Richard Trophy. Along the way, Matthews has been making history, scoring a lot of goals, and angering opposing fans here and there.

Beyond the sheer sniping supremacy, Auston Matthews impressed because he’s been more than “just” a great goal-scorer this season. His all-around play warrants recognition, which likely explains why Matthews could end up with more than just the 2022 Maurice Richard Trophy.

It’s not outrageous to picture Matthews smiling with the Hart Trophy, and maybe even the Selke. (Assuming voters wouldn’t willfully spread the wealth.)

Not surprisingly, Matthews scoring 49 goals in 49 games has people talking about history, and also the golden moment that is this present. Yet, as memories fade, it’s the records, awards, and Stanley Cups that stick with people.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s focus on awards Auston Matthews could end up winning.

An updated look at Matthews and the rest of the field in the Maurice Richard Trophy race

Entering Saturday’s NHL games, Matthews holds at least a six-goal lead on anyone else in the Maurice Richard Trophy race. For the sake of simplicity and realism, the cut-off point is 40+ goals. Click here for a more extensive goals list.

Auston Matthews: 56 goals, 11 games remaining
Leon Draisaitl, 50 goals, 10 GR
Chris Kreider, 47 goals, 10 GR
Alex Ovechkin, 44 goals, 11 GR
Connor McDavid, 42 goals, 10 GR
Kyle Connor, 41 goals, 10 GR
Kirill Kaprizov: 41 goals, 12 GR

As you can see, Kirill Kaprizov is the only player with an extra game remaining. Otherwise, Matthews and the Maple Leafs could play an extra game, assuming Toronto doesn’t rest its superstar sniper.

(Such rest may honestly boil down to whether or not Draisaitl, Kreider, or an even less likely competitor reaches a boil and makes this race more interesting.)

Pondering possible cold streaks, Matthews’ torrid pace feels less prone to a slump than his two closest competitors. Granted, not by much: Matthews’ shooting percentage is arguably a bit high at 17.8%, while Draisaitl and Kreider are both at 20. Such puck luck tends to slip … again, it tends to. Draisaitl may just be borderline-immune to such slumps, as his shooting percentage hasn’t dipped below 18.5% overall through the last four seasons.

To reiterate: injuries, slumps, and other strange things happen. Matthews has opened up about as comfortable a Maurice Richard Trophy lead as you can ask for, though.

Pondering quick cases for and against Matthews as Hart Trophy winner

There’s some beauty in the objective nature of the Maurice Richard Trophy and Art Ross Trophy. You score the most goals/points, you win. Aside from sometimes-fuzzy tiebreaker debates, that process is cut-and-dry.

That’s also what makes those awards boring once the races are over. Can’t really bash someone on Twitter at their Art Ross pick when the award’s been decided by cold, hard facts, right?

So, with both the Hart Trophy and the Selke, Auston Matthews’ viability comes down to a ton of factors.

If you just look at point totals (or, just glance a column over to [ugh] plus/minus), you may roll your eyes at Auston Matthews Hart Trophy talk.

Connor McDavid: 108 points, +22
Jonathan Huberdeau: 103 points, +32
Leon Draisaitl: 101 points, +20
Johnny Gaudreau: 99 points, +54
Auston Matthews: 97 points, +14

In mid-March, NHL.com’s staff pegged Jonathan Huberdeau as its Hart Trophy leader, and that was before Huberdeau surged past 100 points. Yet, other metrics don’t have Huberdeau in the top 10, sometimes giving Matthews the edge over, say, Gaudreau.

Some of that logic is based on the argument that, when you dig into deeper stats, Huberdeau’s defense looks shabby while someone like Matthews seems polished. Consider this single-season RAPM chart via Evolving Hockey, comparing their even-strength work:

Beyond the many ways people assess a player’s value (and defensive aptitude), there are sub-debates for the Hart Trophy. What happens when a team has two potential MVP-caliber players; could they steal votes from each other? Are people going to get tripped up by assigning meaning to “value” versus picking “the best player?”

Oh, and how do you weigh a historic season for Auston Matthews vs. a goalie like Igor Shesterkin or Frederik Andersen? How do we compare all of them to Roman Josi playing out of his mind, for that matter?

Truly, this year’s Hart Trophy race may boil down to something like when Corey Perry won one: who makes the best impression late in the season. Maybe that impression will be Matthews dropping a hat trick on the Lightning, Huberdeau generating five points the next night, or some splendid performance we haven’t even seen yet.

Matthews probably shouldn’t be top Selke candidate, but he fits the mold

In early February, PHT released its staff Selke “ballots,” and Patrice Bergeron won by a mile.

At times, Selke voting feels like it’s just a step slow. Sean Couturier‘s put together Selke-caliber work, just less so when he actually won it. Pivoting to a different award — yet one that emphasizes defense — Nicklas Lidstrom is a legend, yet his last Norris Trophy was more a lifetime achievement award than a measure of that specific season of his.

Remarkably, Bergeron’s just been astounding this season, with incredible defense leading the charge alongside productive offense. Seeing Bergeron’s RAPM chart (this time both even-strength and on the power play) made me chortle; it’s majestic.

No forward’s even close when it comes to Bergeron in defensive wins above replacement (9.8), with teammate Brad Marchand a distant second at 6.9. Matthews impresses at third place (5.7), but if you truly lean on defense, Bergeron’s close to a no-brainer.

Again, though, different voters look at different things.

A Selke voter may determine that, with Bergeron “limited” to 55 points in 63 games, they may opt for Matthews’ supernatural scoring and still-quite-sound defense. Using those Evolving Hockey RAPM charts one more time, consider that Matthews’ 2021-22 work basically looks like an enhanced version of 2021 Selke Trophy winner, Aleksander Barkov.

Some Selke voters will be wowed by Matthews’ mix of offense and defense, indeed adhering to two-way standards. Others will note just how superlative Bergeron’s been at limiting chances against, while still contributing on offense. Others (wince) will look a plus/minus for way too long.

Maybe most crucially, plenty will weigh how much a candidate kills penalties. That would be the area that hurts Matthews the most.

Thus far, Matthews has only averaged four seconds of penalty kill per game. Generally, that’s the domain of a defensive-minded Maple Leafs forward like David Kampf (2:30 shorthanded TOI per game) and SHG threat Mitch Marner (1:59).

If you want Selke candidates with two-way reputations who kill penalties, you’d swing back to Barkov, Couturier, J.T. Miller, Marchand, and Bergeron.

In many ways, it’s unfair to ding Matthews for his lack of PK time. That’s ultimately a coach’s decision. Frankly, it makes a lot of sense to conserve Matthews’ energy for even-strength and power-play reps. Yet that will register with Selke reps, and arguably that’s fair, particularly when splitting hairs among the elite.

Wrapping up Matthews’ chances at Hart, Richard, and Selke

So, Matthews has a hearty lead in the Maurice Richard Trophy. When it comes to the Hart, my guess is that it’s anyone’s game, and likely comes down to these final weeks of the season.

Personally, I wouldn’t hate Matthews at least getting more mentions as a Selke candidate. Patrice Bergeron deserves it this year, easily, and that’s not an insult to anyone else. He’s just been that great. (A phrase you can utter about Matthews in an impressive array of contexts.)

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.

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    NHL Rink Wrap: Marner rages on; Matthews reaches 30 before injury scare

    maple leafs marner
    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Top players from Monday in the NHL

    Mitch Marner, Maple Leafs

    During the NHL action on Monday, player of the night candidates waxed and waned. Auston Matthews scored two goals to reach 30+, but there were scares after he left with an injury. Anthony DeAngelo collected two points, while Frederik Andersen looked like he might help beat his former teammates.

    You could even make a feel-good argument for Matt Murray stopping 32 out of 33 shots for a win in 2022.

    Eventually, Mitch Marner emerged as the clear player of the night for Monday in the NHL (just two games).

    Marner scored the goal to send Hurricanes – Maple Leafs to overtime, then scored the overtime game-winner. He also collected an assist, so it was a three-point night for Marner, who reached 40 points in 34 games overall.

    Most impressively, Marner’s now on a five game multi-point streak (7G, 7A). Marner’s on an eight-game point and goal streak (10G, 9A for 19 points in 8 GP). He’s scored multiple points in seven of eight contests. Goodness.

    Monday NHL highlights: Hurricanes – Maple Leafs, Senators – Devils

    Two strong NHL teams battled it out on Monday, as the Maple Leafs hosted the Hurricanes in front of a condensed Canadian crowd. (You might have heard Gary Bettman complaining about that.)

    If this was a playoff preview for the Hurricanes and Maple Leafs, then fans are in for a treat:

    When the Devils play the Senators, are the highlights for the winners, or the losers?

    Monday NHL Takeaways

    NHL injury, COVID updates returning from All-Star break

    With Monday representing something of a soft return to NHL action (Senators – Devils, Maple Leafs – Hurricanes being the only games played), there were some injury and COVID updates out of the break for 2022 NHL All-Star weekend.

    Did Jack Hughes contract COVID after participating in NHL All-Star weekend? Perhaps, and it makes you wonder if the events brought on unnecessary risks.

    Either way, Jack and his brother Quinn Hughes entered NHL COVID protocol, as did Penguins star Evgeni Malkin. Three Winnipeg Jets also entered NHL COVID protocol around Monday: Pierre-Luc Dubois, Neal Pionk, and Austin Poganski. In brighter NHL COVID news, Alex Ovechkin may play as early as Tuesday if he’s cleared after missing a game and the All-Star festivities.

    As far as NHL injury news goes, Jack Eichel is closing in on his Golden Knights debut after being cleared for contact. Tuukka Rask won’t practice this week, while Jake Muzzin and Teuvo Teravainen are getting healthier.

    Matthews third in NHL to 30 goals, stays in Maurice Richard race … unless he got injured?

    It’s likely easy to forget, but Auston Matthews began the season on a cold streak individually. Through six October games, Matthews was limited to one goal and one assist.

    Since Nov. 1, Matthews ranks among four players who’ve scored at least 50 points, and his 30 goals lead everyone during that span. With that goal on Monday, Matthews stayed strong in the Maurice Richard Trophy race overall, becoming the third player in the NHL to reach 30 goals this season. What seemed like a William Nylander goal was switched to Matthews, so Matthews ended the night at 31 goals.

    All due respect to Alex DeBrincat as a 26-goal cutoff, here’s how Matthews and the rest of the Maurice Richard Trophy frontrunners look after the NHL action on Monday:

    Updated look at Matthews in the Maurice Richard Trophy race

    Chris Kreider: 33 goals in 47 games played (Rangers: 47 GP), 147 shots on goal, 22.5 shooting percentage
    Leon Draisaitl: 32 goals in 42 GP (Oilers: 42 GP), 149 SOG, 21.5%
    Auston Matthews: 31 goals in 40 GP (Maple Leafs: 43 GP). 180 SOG, 17.22%
    Alex Ovechkin: 29 goals in 46 GP (Capitals: 47 GP), 213 SOG, 13.6%

    As remarkable as Kreider has been, this is the first 30-goal season of his career. Going forward, both Kreider and Draisaitl are likely to see at least a bit less puck luck.

    Ovechkin, meanwhile, as been slowing down — though he’s still shooting a ton, and hasn’t really even been living off of the power play as much this season.

    All three of those snipers could outlast Matthews in the Richard race. That said, it certainly wouldn’t be shocking if Matthews makes it two straight goal-scoring titles in a row.

    Naturally, that’s all contingent upon Auston Matthews not being injured. Once again, a Maple Leafs star was shaken up by an unlucky fall where an opponent accidentally kneed them in the head/neck. While it wasn’t nearly as scary as the Corey PerryJohn Tavares accident, Matthews took quite some time to leave the ice after his collision.

    Naturally, PHT will stay posted on the injury status for Matthews. Hopefully it’s not as bad as it looks? He was shaken up late in the third, and then Marner ended the contest quickly in OT, so it’s not clear if he was unable to return, or just didn’t have enough time.

    Can Hischier do more to help Devils improve?

    If you were to grade Devils captain Nico Hischier for his play last season, you’d probably just give him an “Incomplete.” Injuries and all-around bad luck really doomed Hischier in 2020-21.

    Generally speaking, injuries haven’t been as much of an excuse this season. Following the NHL action on Monday, Hischier appeared in 40 of the Devils’ 46 games.

    Yet it’s tempting to still grade Hischier as an “Incomplete,” or for the Devils to hope that his true value is TBD.

    [No surprise, Devils aren’t killing it in latest PHT Power Rankings]

    By deflecting in a power-play goal against Ottawa, Hischier scored his ninth goal and 25th point of the season. He also broke a painful six-game pointless streak where he accrued a -7 rating* and went two games without a shot on goal.

    Thankfully for the Devils, this slump doesn’t tell the whole story about Hischier. The 23-year-old’s season has mostly been solid, peaking with 10 points in 13 November games.

    But the highs and lows cancel each other to readout that’s mostly … OK. His Hockey Viz heat map radiates “fine.”

    For the Devils, the dream would be to hold big advantages at 1C (Jack Hughes) and 2C/maybe a wing spot (Hischier). Hughes is increasingly holding up his end of the bargain, making that $8M per year look like a bargain in the making. But can Hischier be a difference-maker? At this point, he’s arguably not worth his $7.25M cap hit (The Athletic puts his current “market value” at around $5.9M).

    Considering his age, at least Hischier has time to flip that script.

    * – Plus/minus is largely a dreadful stat, but players still care about it. And it can be decent shorthand for “player enduring a bad time,” even if it’s foolish to put too much weight in how that reflects a player’s performance.

    Tuesday’s big story

    Golden Knights serve as an interesting test for Oilers in Evander Kane era

    Through three games with Evander Kane as a controversial addition, the Oilers won twice and gathered at least a point in each contest (2-0-1). Kane’s been productive, too, scoring a point per game (2G, 1A in three GP).

    That said, the Capitals were the only game on the Oilers’ schedule that hasn’t been a “gimme” so far, and Washington was without Alex Ovechkin. To some, beating the Canadiens and dropping an OT loss to the Senators may qualify as the minimum.

    Starting with Tuesday’s game against the Golden Knights, the Oilers get truer tests during the Evander Kane era. They play their next three games at home, and four of six in Edmonton. Time to collect standings points, whether Evander Kane remains productive or not.

    NHL scores from Monday

    Maple Leafs 4, Hurricanes 3 (OT)
    Senators 4, Devils 1

    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.

    Norris Trophy Race: Adam Fox a slight favorite to repeat

    Norris Trophy Race: Adam Fox a slight favorite to repeat
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    With about a quarter of the 2021-22 NHL season in the books, PHT will break down races for major awards. This feature continues with the wide-open race for the Norris Trophy. Here’s our look at the Calder Trophy race.

    Note: stats collected from before Monday’s games, unless otherwise noted. The Professional Hockey Writers Association votes annually on the Norris Trophy.

    Norris Trophy race: Repeat possible for Adam Fox

    Some years, the Norris Trophy debate boils down to a couple defensemen. Other times, the best battles are to become the two finalists who lose to a formidable frontrunner. Other seasons, the Norris Trophy race is wide open.

    At the moment, the 2021-22 Norris Trophy race feels wide open, although reigning winner Adam Fox boasts a strong argument to repeat.

    Adam Fox

    If you want a rhyming device, consider: Adam Fox checks just about every Norris box.

    Heading into Monday’s NHL games, Fox held a small lead in points for defensemen, as he’s generated 18 in 18 contests (4G, 14A). Voters tend to lean toward workhorses, and Fox fits that bill, averaging 24:46 TOI. Fox even averages about two minutes of penalty kill time per game.

    Move over Lex Luger, because Fox is basically “The Total Package.”

    So, you satisfy some of the old-school talking points. Adam Fox became an analytics darling basically from day one because of his all-around brilliance. To little surprise, he ranks among the NHL’s best defensemen in expected Goals Above Replacement, along with vanilla GAR, as you can see from this Evolving Hockey chart:

    Honestly, it’s hard to believe Adam Fox is already a perennial Norris-level defenseman at age 23. You’re simply not supposed to be so polished, so soon.

    Roman Josi and Victor Hedman

    Reigning Norris winner Adam Fox doesn’t enjoy much distance between two former Norris winners tied for second in points. Both Roman Josi and Victor Hedman enter Monday’s action with 17 points in as many games.

    At this point, you likely know what Roman Josi brings to the table. He’s one of the highest-impact offensive defensemen, carrying the puck like few blueliners. While he’s not among the upper crust by every defensive measure, Josi doesn’t take much away from the table while bringing so much offense.

    In 2020-21, Hedman sparked some “fancy stats vs. eye test” debates. To an extent, that could carry over a bit to this season, as his stature leads to some people mildly overrating his overall impact.

    To be clear, that debate mainly revolves around splitting hairs in Norris debates of the absolute best of the best. If a strong postseason didn’t restore much of Hedman’s luster, then a rebound so far in 2021-22 should do the rest. With Nikita Kucherov and now Brayden Point sidelined, the Lightning will lean on Hedman, and that may really bolster his Norris case.

    Aaron Ekblad

    Last season, MacKenzie Weegar emerged as a stealth Norris candidate. Once Aaron Ekblad suffered a scary injury, Weegar probably landed on a few mainstream radars, too.

    So far in 2021-22, Weegar continues to turn heads. Yet, by a lot of Norris standards, Aaron Ekblad’s arguably been even better.

    Scroll up to that xGAR chart and you’ll see Ekblad ranked highly. If you prefer typical stats, Ekblad shines too. He’s one of the leading defensive scorers (15 points in 18 games) and will appeal to those who still cling to plus/minus (+17!).

    Ekblad also isn’t as reliant on power-play production, as four of his 15 points are PPP. His 11 even-strength points ranks only second to Flames defenseman Oliver Kylington, whose breakthrough is truly something to behold.

    (The Flames already bumped up Kylington’s ice-time average from 15:07 in October to 17:57 in November, but he might be primed for even more. Remarkable for a player who seemed like he was struggling to convince Calgary to give him more than cursory looks.)

    [MORE: Looking at the 2021-22 Calder Trophy race]

    Other Norris Trophy considerations

    Truly, it’s a packed field so far, so don’t consider this comprehensive. (Feel free to mention more candidates in the comments.)

    • Will John Carlson ever break “The Mike Green Curse” of high-scoring Capitals defensemen who can’t win a Norris Trophy? Maybe eventually. But he’s a stride or two behind the truly elite from an all-around standpoint. No shame in that, but it may keep him from winning a Norris.
    • Often unfairly, Seth Jones absorbs a ton of blame for the Blackhawks’ struggles. Truly, he has his defensive issues. But he’s scoring (15 points in 18 games), logging big minutes, and writers love a comeback story. Narrative-wise, that comeback story might get “published” a little further away from one of the ugliest hockey scandals in recent memory, though. Still, plenty of voters look at points, even for defensemen, so Jones deserves a mention.
    • It may not exactly be a feel-good story, but Tony DeAngelo‘s enjoyed a strong start with the Hurricanes. He’s not quite getting the workload of a Norris Trophy defensemen, though, putting him more in range with the likes of Kevin Shattenkirk and Oliver Kylington.
    • Not the hottest starts for Charlie McAvoy and Cole Makar. Some of that is out of their hands, especially with more injuries for Makar. But both are special enough (in their own, different ways) that they can’t be counted out. And both defensemen are a mere hot streak away from being more prominent parts of the discussion.
    • Don’t look now, but Erik Karlsson‘s enjoying a nice rebound. Not quite to Norris-favorite-levels, yet it sure beats Karlsson and the Sharks being totally miserable.

    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.

    McDavid, Draisaitl are carrying the Oilers again: How far can they go?

    Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid Leon Draisaitl
    Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

    Even with their 4-2 loss to the Red Wings on Tuesday night the Oilers are still off to one of their best starts in years.

    They are 9-2-0 as of Wednesday, have one of the NHL’s best records, and are probably exceeding whatever low expectations we have been conditioned to have for them at the start of every season.

    The key to their early success is pretty much what you might expect.

    Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are playing like the All-World MVPs, they are and embarrassing NHL defenses on a nightly basis. The power play is like a group of sharks smelling blood in the water and is nearly unstoppable. They are, to this point, getting strong goaltending with Mikko Koskinen off to a fantastic start with a .920 save percentage in his first eight appearances. All important developments, and all of them working together have them on top of the Pacific Division and Western Conference.

    If you wanted, you could probably point to the offseason addition of Zach Hyman with seven goals in his first 11 games, or the arrival of Duncan Keith via trade with Chicago, as turning point moves for the Oilers.

    You would probably be wrong if you did that, though, because so far this Oilers team is eerily similar to every recent Oilers teams that has fallen short in recent seasons and has all of the same underlying issues lurking below the surface of its great early record.

    Those problems, of course, are a shaky defense and a dependence on McDavid and Draisaitl to carry literally all of the offense.

    That recipe has not worked before. Why should we think it will work this season?

    The McDavid-Draisaitl dependence

    This really is the foundation of the Oilers team as constructed. When one of them is on the ice, the Oilers are fine. When both are on the ice, they are dominant. If neither is on the ice, they are one of the worst teams in the league.

    Through 11 games the Oilers have played nearly 265 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey with neither McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice. In those minutes the Oilers have attempted just 47%t of the shot attempts and been outscored by a 14-8 margin.

    Those seven goals for newcomer Hyman? Only two of them (one shorthanded, one even-strength) have come without one of Edmonton’s two-headed monster on the ice next to him.

    Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is Edmonton’s other big core player and has an impressive 14 assists as of Wednesday. He has also scored zero goals, while the bulk of those helpers (nine of them) have come on the power play where he is usually playing alongside McDavid and Draisaitl.

    The shot attempt and goal numbers on a team level are pretty much identical to the previous six seasons. We have been over this before in this space (mainly because it keeps happening and the team never changes), but the table below shows their shot attempt share, goal share, goals for per 60 minutes and goals against per 60 minutes with neither on the ice during 5-on-5 play. It remains not good (again, we only keep pointing this out because it never changes).

    The goal share is as bad as it has ever been, and while they are scoring more goals without those two than they typically do, the goals against are alarmingly high, even by Oilers standards.

    Overall 35 of the Oilers’ 48 goals this season have come with one of those two superstars on the ice. Since the start of the 2020-21 season alone the Oilers are being outscored by 66-37 (that is a minus-29 goal differential) when neither McDavid or Draisaitl is on the ice during 5-on-5 play. They control just 44% of the total shot attempts.

    While there should be an expectation for a team to play worse without its top two players on the ice, the Oilers still take that to an extreme, and in a way that is unlike any serious Stanley Cup contender.

    [Related: Oilers third in latest NHL Power Rankings]

    Pick a contender. Any contender. Look at how they play without their top two players on the ice and compare it to Edmonton since the start of last season.

    How about Florida? When neither Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau is on the ice? They control 51% of the shot attempts and have outscored teams by a 56-53 (plus-3) margin.

    Vegas? Without Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone they control 53% of the shot attempts and outscored teams 104-89 (plus-15).

    Colorado? Without Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen they have a 56% shot share and are outscoring teams by an 80-70 (plus-10) goal edge.

    Carolina?  Without Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov they are at 53.3% shot share and are outscoring teams by a 65-53 (plus-12) goals edge.

    Tampa Bay? Without Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point they have a 51.8% shot share and are outscoring teams by a 75-68 (plus-7) margin (and keep in mind this is also mostly without Nikita Kucherov as well).

    We could go on with this, contender by contender, and see the same trend playing out. Contenders have depth. A lot of it. The Oilers have still not been able to adequately find that.

    The defensive play

    It was just a couple of weeks ago that head coach Dave Tippett got really angry when asked about the number of shots his team gives up, clinging to the same thing we always hear coaches and teams say when they give up a lot of shots — they are not good shots, we are keeping things to the outside, we are fine with that, etc. etc. etc. 

    But this isn’t really that complicated. Good defensive teams do not give up a lot of shots. From high-danger areas, from low-danger areas, from any area. They keep the puck, they apply the pressure. And just to get a sense for the Oilers’ defensive struggles, they are allowing 2.69 goals per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play. That is 25th in the league. Near the bottom.

    Their saving grace defensively has been the fact their penalty kill has been outstanding. And that is really what drives this Oilers team — two generational talents, and elite special teams. That is something. It can make you competitive. But it probably will not make you a Stanley Cup team or anything close to it. And that is the problem the Oilers have still been unable to solve around their two superstars.

    Because for as good as the record looks right now, eventually that power play is going to level off a little. Even if it finishes the season at the 28 percent rate it has scored at the past two years (which is still an elite number, nearly unmatched in the salary cap era) there is still a regression to be had there. Eventually McDavid and Draisaitl are not going to team up for three goals every game.

    That is when this team and how it is built will really be put to the test.

    Do they finally have enough to pass that test? An early look below the surface of the record makes it seem questionable.

    Can Stone, top Golden Knights shake off frustrations vs. Canadiens?

    Can Stone, top Golden Knights shake off frustrations vs. Canadiens?
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    If you needed a reminder of how quickly a situation can change in the NHL, look no further than the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

    During the Second Round, Mark Stone and the Golden Knights didn’t just beat the Avalanche. At times, they genuinely outplayed a juggernaut team, and clearly frustrated Nathan MacKinnon and other top Avs.

    Heading into Game 6 of Golden Knights – Canadiens on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; USA Network / Peacock), the shoe is on the other foot. Stone and other Golden Knights find themselves on the end of plays they’re used to making.

    For many, that thought really stood out on this 3-0 Nick Suzuki goal, one where Stone seemed error-prone and then a little slow on the backcheck:

    Stone, other Golden Knights scorers seem clueless vs. Canadiens

    Truly, the lack of production from top Golden Knights is pretty stunning.

    Mark Stone hasn’t scored a single point in five games vs. the Canadiens. Plus/minus is a busted stat, but Stone himself might be frustrated with his -3 mark during the series.

    Big picture, the most troubling trend is a lack of chances. Sometimes you just don’t finish, especially against a keyed-in goalie like (playoff) Carey Price. But for Stone to only have a single shot on goal during his past two games? Not a great sign.

    [NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

    While Stone won’t experience the same media scrutiny that linemate Max Pacioretty endured in Montreal, there are calls for more from Stone. Yet, when you consider the single-minded approach of Phillip Danault — a player who, quietly, has built up dark horse Selke buzz from those who delve deeper into analytics — it’s probably unfair to single out Stone and Pacioretty alone.

    As great as Stone performed against Nathan MacKinnon, the Golden Knights “other top line” of Reilly Smith, William Karlsson, and Jonathan Marchessault did a lot of the actual scoring damage.

    Yet, against the offense-hobbling Habs, they haven’t had much luck, either. Marchessault recognized that deficit on Monday.

    “At some point, the big guys are going to have to come out and step up here, including myself…. Obviously, we’re facing an unbelievable goalie, but that’s no excuse,” Marchessault said. “It’s the same thing last year against Vancouver, Dallas…. We’ve got to find a way … We don’t have any excuses. We need solutions ASAP.”

    A lack of solutions

    Marchessault touched on a lingering thought: are the Golden Knights just out of answers vs. the Canadiens? When asked about top players not scoring, Peter DeBoer pointed to a general level of confusion.

    “We have to find a way, you know?” DeBoer said. “You have to find ways this time of year against good teams and against pressure and against attention and against a good goalie. You have to find a way. Those are the teams that end up standing at the end of the day.”

    Truly, you can find issues in just about every aspect of the game.

    [COVERAGE BEGINS AT 8 P.M. ET – USA NETWORK]

    Much like every other power play unit Montreal’s faced these playoffs, the Golden Knights look lost against the Canadiens’ penalty kill. So far, Vegas hasn’t found the right adjustments — assuming they’ve been looking. Time is running out, but maybe DeBoer should throw other ideas at the wall?

    Recently, that frustration’s shown in Vegas’ transition game, as well. Some of that might be systemic: this is a team that likes to get moving, fast. But with the way the Canadiens are comfortable sitting back and taking away the high-danger areas, maybe the Golden Knights need to practice more patience?

    Stranger things have happened — for both the Golden Knights and Canadiens

    Again, there’s a sinking feeling that Vegas is out of solutions. It’s not that different from those series Marchessault alluded to against the Canucks and Stars. Only when it comes to the Canadiens, it doesn’t even really seem like the Golden Knights can exert their will to create a massive disparity in quantity.

    Then again, with all of those negative feelings permeating this Golden Knights – Canadiens series, Vegas “merely” needs to string two wins together. That’s not nothing — hence the scare quotes — but this franchise sometimes delivers the most when people expect the least.

    And they really need to only look at Montreal, who came back from a much more dire 3-1 deficit, to realize it can be done. Even against the perpetually doomed Maple Leafs, things looked pretty grim for the Habs then, too.

    CANADIENS VS. GOLDEN KNIGHTS (MTL leads 3-2) – series livestream link

    Game 1: Golden Knights 4, Canadiens 1
    Game 2: Canadiens 3, Golden Knights 2
    Game 3: Canadiens 3, Golden Knights 2 (OT)
    Game 4: Golden Knights 2, Canadiens 1 (OT)

    Game 5: Canadiens 4, Golden Knights 1
    Game 6: Thurs. June 24: Golden Knights at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (USA Network / Peacock)
    *Game 7: Sat. June 26: Canadiens at Golden Knights, 8 p.m ET (NBCSN / Peacock)

    *if necessary

    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.