2019 NHL free agency

NHL injury roundup: Coyotes lose Hjalmarsson, Wild without Zuccarello

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Checking in on some significant injury news around the NHL at the start of the week…

Coyotes lose Hjalmarsson

One of the biggest issues for the 2018-19 Arizona Coyotes was a season-long run of injuries to some of their most important players.

The 2019-20 season does not seem to be getting off to a better start.

The Coyotes announced that veteran defender Niklas Hjalmarsson is going to be sidelined indefinitely due to a lower-body injury. The Athletic’s Craig Morgan reported that Hjalmarsson suffered a cracked fibula when he blocked an Erik Johnson slap shot over the weekend and is expected to be sidelined for approximately three months.

He exited that game after playing just four minutes and did not return. In four games this season he has one goal for the Coyotes.

Zuccarello to miss Wild’s road trip

The Minnesota Wild are off to a miserable start this season, losing each of their first four games heading into Monday afternoon’s game against the Ottawa Senators. That game is the start of a three-game road trip this week and they will have to play all of it without the services of free agent signings Mats Zuccarello.

The Wild announced on Monday that Zuccarello did not make the trip with the team and will be sidelined all week due to an unspecified lower-body injury.

Signing Zuccarello was one of the final moves made by former general manager Paul Fenton this summer. It added another player over the age of 30 on a long-term contract to a team that already has too many such players, but it at least seemed like a short-term upgrade to a roster that needed more offense. So far, though, it has been a slow start for both sides. In his first four games with the Wild Zuccarello has yet to record a point, has just three shots on goal, is a minus-6, and was playing just 14 minutes per game.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 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.

Devils lose again, remain winless: 3 takeaways on slow start

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The New Jersey Devils were one of the biggest stories of the offseason thanks to some aggressive roster moves by general manager Ray Shero.

Along with the return of a healthy Taylor Hall, the Devils won the NHL’s draft lottery and selected Jack Hughes No. 1 overall to add to a young core that already included the No. 1 overall pick from the 2017 class (Nico Hischier). They surrounded their newly formed core with the big summer acquisitions of P.K. Subban, Nikita Gusev, and Wayne Simmonds.

Expectations immediately skyrocketed and there was a ton of optimism around the team.

That optimism might be starting to quickly disappear.

Following Saturday’s 3-0 loss to the Boston Bruins, the Devils remain winless (0-3-2) through the first five games of the season and you have to wonder how much longer it is going to be until head coach John Hynes’ seat starts to get a little warmer.

What has gone wrong for the Devils so far? Here are three key factors.

1. It has been a slow start for the new faces

Out of all the big offseason acquisitions, Gusev is the only that has found the back of the net through the first five games (he has two goals). Other than that, it has been a giant goose egg for everyone else that was expected to make a difference.  Simmonds and Subban have combined for just two assists, while Hughes is going through some early growing pains with zero points and only 10 shots on goal through the first five games.

When it comes to Hughes you had to expect some struggles at times. He is 18 years old and making a massive jump to the NHL. Not everyone is going to step in and immediately be Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, or Connor McDavid. And while Subban is off to a slow start and might be starting to slow down a little, he has enough of a track record and is still good enough that you have to think he is going to shake off this slow start.

Adding to the problems offensively is that Hall, Hischier, and Kyle Palmieri have combined for just two goals so far (both belonging to Palmieri). If you wanted to put a positive spin on this for the Devils it’s that their best players haven’t yet played anything close to their best hockey. They are not going to struggle this much forever.

But as long as they do, goals — and wins — are going to be few and far between.

2. The power play has been awful

Calling it awful might actually be an understatement. After their 0-for-4 performance against Boston on Saturday night the Devils are now 0-for-15 on the season. That is zero goals in 30 minutes of power play time, and it is not like they have been unlucky. Entering play on Sunday their power play unit was one of the worst in the league when it comes to generating shot attempts and getting shots on goal.

3. Goaltending is still an issue 

It is not the biggest issue, but it is still an issue and it was the single biggest question mark the team had entering the season. Through five games the Devils have allowed at least three goals in every game, with Saturday’s game in Boston being the first one where they did not allow at least four. While the team in front of them has not been particularly good on any given night, the duo of Cory Schneider and Mackenzie Blackwood has an .863 save percentage after Saturday. No matter what is happening around them, your team has no chance with that sort of production from your goalies.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 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.

Brayden Point will make return to Lightning lineup Thursday night

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The Tampa Bay Lightning are off to a slow start to the 2019-20 NHL season, but will get back a big piece of their offense Thursday night. Brayden Point has been cleared to return to the lineup and will make his season debut against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Point, who signed a three-year, $20.25 million contract in September, has yet to play in any of the Lightning’s first three games as he recovered from offseason hip surgery. GM Julien BriseBois said last month that the expectation was the 23-year-old forward would return later this month. This is a nice surprise for a team that needs to get going.

“We’ve all watched him play, he’s one of the guys that drives the bus for us,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper earlier this week. “You miss players like that when they’re gone.”

Tampa is hoping to begin trending upward following a 1-1-1 start. After their overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday, a loss that saw the Lightning go without a shot for over 25 minutes, Stamkos called his team out.

“We just continue to be the freewheeling team that thinks we can just come into games and win because we’re skilled,” he said. “We keep falling back into the same old bad habits that we’ve been doing, that cost us the season we had last year. Unless we change things, it’s going to be a really, really, really long year.”

During Thursday morning skate Point was on a line with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. Have fun trying to slow them down.

MORE: Lightning get a steal with Point’s new contract

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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.

Stars’ Honka joins Finnish team with NHL opt-out clause

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Julius Honka has joined fellow unsigned restricted free agent Jesse Puljujarvi in Finland as he awaits a trade from the Dallas Stars.

The 23-year-old Honka, who requested a trade last month, has signed with Liiga’s JYP Jyväskylä, the club he where he played youth hockey, on a deal that includes an NHL opt-out clause. Like Puljujarvi, who’s currently with Oulun Karpat, the blue liner has until Dec. 1 to sign with a team before he’s ineligible to play in the NHL this season. Once he plays a game in Finland, he will require waivers if he signs an offer sheet. If he’s traded and then signs, waivers is not required.

The 14th overall pick in 2014, Honka has had a difficult first three seasons in the NHL. He’s played only 87 games with the Stars and saw average his ice time hit 13 minutes in each of the last two seasons. He was a regular healthy scratch last season.

Stars general manager Jim Nill said in September that a trade request had been made and that he has been speaking with other teams. He also acknowledged that both sides are at fault for the lack of Honka’s development at the NHL level.

“Did we handle him right at times? Yes or no, we don’t know. And it’s on the player, too,” Nill said. “You get an opportunity, you’ve got to grab it. Sometimes, things don’t work out. There’s different personalities, but that’s sports and that’s life. Some people fit in, some people don’t, and away we go.”

The return Nill is seeking, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, is a second or third-round pick or a young player.

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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.

Marleau’s Sharks return will come Thursday vs. Blackhawks

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Welcome back, Patrick Marleau, and welcome back to the San Jose Sharks’ top line.

One day after it was announced the 40-year-old forward would be returning to the franchise where he spent his first 19 years in the NHL, Marleau was skating on the No. 1 line with Logan Couture and Timo Meier. The Sharks are in Chicago ahead of Thursday’s game at United Center and are looking to snap their four-game losing streak to begin the season.

The one-year, $700,000 contract was made official on Wednesday, and while Marleau missed the opening week of the season his consecutive games played streak remains intact at 788 games since he wasn’t registered before their game against Nashville. Once the puck drops Thursday, the veteran forward will be 11 games away from being only the sixth player in NHL history to play 800 straight games, joining Keith Yandle, who reached the mark Tuesday. He’s also 110 games away from passing Gordie Howe for first on the all-time games played list.

“I think he can give us a boost,” said Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer on Tuesday. “He’s an experienced guy. He’s not going to panic under pressure. He’s going to make the right play. He’s a big, strong guy. I think he fits with how we want to play.”

The Sharks are hoping Marleau can play a role in turning around a poor start. The shots on goal have been there, but the goals have yet to come. According to Darin Stephens, San Jose is the eighth team since 1967 to score fewer than five goals in their first four games while taking at least 128 shots on goal.

Marleau, who joked after his first skate back with the Sharks that he may have to use adrenaline to his advantage when he makes his debut Thursday, is eager to get going.

“The supporting cast I had kind of kept me grounded, kept me patient,” he said via Curtis Pashelka of the Mercury News. “I couldn’t be more happy to be back here and be a Shark again. The emotion I felt when that phone call came from Doug [Wilson] was just overwhelming. I’m just very grateful to be back and just want to help the team as much as a I can.”

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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.