Andre Burakovsky

Improved depth makes Avalanche Stanley Cup contender

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NBC’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Saturday’s Stadium Series matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings from Falcon Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Colorado Avalanche have had one of the NHL’s most dominant top lines for a couple of years now thanks to the trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog. When they are on the ice together and playing at their best they can be borderline unstoppable.

They carried the Avalanche to a playoff appearance a year ago and a Round 1 upset over the No. 1 seeded Calgary Flames.

They are the foundation of the team and a massive part of what makes them a playoff team.

But for the Avalanche to become a Stanley Cup contender — and potential Stanley Cup champion — they needed to address their biggest Achilles heel over the summer.

Secondary scoring.

It is not unfair to say that the 2018-19 Avalanche were a top-heavy team.

When none of the MacKinnon-Rantanen-Landeskog trio was on the ice last year they were outscored by a 95-76 margin and controlled just 48 percent of the total shot attempts.

With the MacKinnon-Rantanen-Landeskog on the ice they outscored teams 46-29 and controlled more than 54 percent of the total shot attempts.

It is great to have an amazing top-line that can win games for you on any given night, but they are not going to be able to win games for you every night. The Avalanche had to address that over the summer.

And through a series of shrewd moves, they did.

  • After years of trade rumors and speculation, the Avalanche finally completed a Tyson Barrie trade and sent him (and Alexander Kerfoot) to the Toronto Maple Leafs for center Nazem Kadri, giving the team a bonafide second-line center that can play a shutdown role and score 30 goals. He was on track to score 30 goals again before his recent injury. Dealing Barrie was made possible by the emergence of young blue-liners Cale Makar, Sam Girard, and the selection of Bowen Byram with the No. 4 overall pick (acquired in the Matt Duchene trade).
  • They took advantage of Washington’s salary cap crunch and acquired Andre Burakovsky for two draft picks and Scott Kasmachuk. After being unable to fully reach his potential in Washington, Burakovsky is currently the Avalanche’s second-leading scorer.
  • They dipped into the free agent market and signed former Sharks forward Joonas Donskoi to a multi-year contract. While his offensive numbers were never going to make him a star, Donskoi has always been a strong possession-driving two-way player. He is having a career-year offensively for Colorado.
  • In what was perhaps their most under-the-radar signing, they signed Valeri Nichushkin to a one-year, $850,000 contract. After going through the most uneventful season in NHL history (0 goals, 0 penalty minutes in 57 games) he already has 11 goals in 51 games for the Avalanche.

Those four moves have helped turn the Avalanche into a true contender in the Western Conference.

They enter Saturday’s Stadium Series game against the Los Angeles Kings with the second-best record in the Western Conference, just three points behind the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues with still two games in hand.

Even with Thursday’s loss to the Washington Capitals, they are also 8-2-2 in their past 12 games.

All of that added depth has paid off in a big way this season, especially as they had to deal with early season injuries to Landeskog and Rantanen.

The Avalanche are so much deeper this season that when none of the MacKinnon-Rantanen-Landeskog trio is on the ice they are outscoring teams 79-42 and controlling 52 percent of the total shot attempts. It is not even a comparison to what they managed a year ago, and there is no way the 2018-19 roster would have been able to overcome extended absences for two of their big three the way this year’s team did.

The trio of Kadri, Nichushkin, and Burakovsky had recently formed a dominant second line that out had scored teams 11-1 and controlled possession. Kadri being sidelined for the time being obviously takes that option away, obviously, but the option to reunite it when he returns will be there.

There is also the potential to keep adding to the roster as the Avalanche approach the NHL trade deadline with the second most salary cap space available in the NHL to add whatever they think they need to put them over the top.

It may not result in a Stanley Cup this season, but the Avalanche are positioned to be one of the powerhouse teams in the Western Conference for the foreseeable future.

It starts with the trio of stars on the top line.

But the pieces they added over the summer to complement them are what can help take them to where they want to go.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk, and Brian Boucher will call the matchup. On-site studio coverage at Air Force Academy will feature Kathryn Tappen hosting alongside analyst Patrick Sharp and reporter Rutledge Wood.

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.

Capitals return to winning ways; Ovechkin remains at 698

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Alex Ovechkin still has 698 goals. But the Washington Capitals returned to their winning ways with a 3-2 come-from-behind victory against the Colorado Avalanche.

T.J. Oshie scored a go-ahead goal late in the third period to help the Capitals snap a two-game losing streak. Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson erased a two-goal deficit and Braden Holtby recorded 32 saves in Washington’s first part of a three-game road trip.

Andre Burakovsky and Mikko Rantanen found the back of the net, but Colorado’s five-game winning streak came to an end.

Race for first in Metropolitan

The chase for 700 goals is a significant moment in Ovechkin’s career, but the larger objective for the Capitals is to return to the Stanley Cup Final.

Home-ice advantage and playoff seeding are always important during a treacherous journey through playoff hockey, but Washington’s recent slump allowed Pittsburgh to slide within striking distance for first place in the Metropolitan Division. The Penguins currently sit in second place, trailing the Capitals by five points and have played two less games.

Caps’ goalie competition continues

Ilya Samsonov and an expiring contract have opened the door for Holtby to lose his position as the Capitals’ undisputed starting goaltender after this season comes to an end.

Samsonov has seamlessly made the transition to the NHL with a 16-4-1 record in 23 appearances this season. However, he has not led a team through the rigors of a postseason or proven he can handle the emotional roller coaster ride of a grueling playoff series.

The Capitals have not been afraid to yank Holtby after a subpar performance in the playoffs, but the 30-year-old netminder backstopped the Capitals to a championship in 2018.

There are questions in the crease that will be tough to answer after the season, but the Capitals’ best chance at winning this season is with Holtby between the pipes.

Ovechkin’s quest for 700:


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Burakovsky finding his fit with Avalanche after summer move

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild. 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.

It became clear last season that Andre Burakovsky did not have a future in Washington. The winger was in the final year of his contract, but the team owned his rights as a restricted free agent. But inconsistent production and the Capitals’ need for salary cap space fueled a trade to the Avalanche.

After five seasons of inconsistencies, Burakovsky’s trade to Colorado and his one-year deal was a classic change of scenery move. The Capitals had other priorities heading into the 2019 off-season and it was clear it was time to move on.

In Colorado Burakovsky is taking advantage of the chance that he couldn’t keep hold of in Washington. Through 51 games he’s recorded a career high 40 points. His 17 goals is tied for the highest total in his six-season NHL career. 

“I think I have been fitting in pretty good with this team. I like everyone and everyone is good to me, so that helps,” said Burakovsky this week via the Avalanche website. “Feeling comfortable here, coming to the rink every day, you are looking forward to it and that wasn’t something I had in the past. It was not always the best time to go to the rink, but like this year I just want to go see the boys all the time.”

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

It’s not just Burakovsky, who has 12 points in his last seven games, having a resurgent year on that second line. Valeri Nichushkin has bounced back from zero goals in 57 games last season in Dallas to 10 in 47 games in Colorado. Factor in veteran Nazem Kadri’s presence and 19 goals, and you have a line that’s been together for a month adding to the team’s depth up front. Also of note: none of those three players were with the team a season ago.

“I think we have the keys that we need to have a successful line,” said Burakovsky. “We got Val, he is like a horse out there. It is tough to get the puck from him, he is working really hard and making plays and he is having a really good year too. Obviously Naz, making all the plays and is so, so good with the puck and finding open lanes and just give it to us.”

As the Avalanche enter Sunday’s meeting with the Wild (6:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN) they sit only a few points behind the Blues for the Central Division lead with games in-hand. The division race will be something to watch down the stretch, especially in a year where many are expecting Colorado to take another big step forward.

With much of the focus on the top dogs in Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, the Avalanche will need Burakovsky to continue delivering scoring depth. It will not only pay off for the team, but also for the soon-to-be restricted free agent.

Chris Cuthbert and Pierre McGuire will have the call from Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul., Minn. Liam McHugh hosts studio coverage with Mike Milbury and Keith Jones.

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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.

The Buzzer: Ovechkin remains red hot; Beauvillier lifts Islanders in OT

Three Stars

1) Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

The Russian superstar is on an incredible pace and added his third hat trick of 2020 on his quest to reach 700 career goals. Ovechkin recorded a natural hat trick in the final six minutes and 10 seconds as the Washington Capitals erased a one-goal third-period deficit in a 4-2 win against the Los Angeles Kings. Ovechkin became the second player in NHL history to reach the 40-goal mark for the 11th time in his career, trailing only Wayne Gretzky’s record of 12 seasons. Players have often struggled when approaching a momentous milestone in their career, but Ovechkin has 14 goals in the previous seven games as he prepares to join an illustrious group.

2) Anthony Beauvillier, New York Islanders

The 22-year-old forward opened and closed the scoring in the Islanders’ 4-3 overtime victory against the Dallas Stars Tuesday. Beauvillier started the night with a beautiful backhander 90 seconds into the game. Jordan Eberle delivered a perfect pass which allowed Beauvillier to get behind the Stars defense. In overtime, Brock Nelson forced a neutral-zone turnover and set up Beauvillier for the overtime winner. No. 18 has five goals and four assists in the previous seven games.

3) Andre Burakovsky, Colorado Avalanche

Burakovsky has proven to be a wise offseason acquisition by Joe Sakic and continued his strong season with a career best four-point performance in the Colorado’s 6-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres. Burakovsky picked up his 17th of the season with a wicked wrist shot in the opening period. He also dished out three assists including a deft pass to set up Nikita Zadorov in the second period. The Avalanche were looking to add scoring depth to complement their top line and Burakovsky has helped fill the void.

Other Notable Performances

  • Joe Thornton became the 14th player to score 1,500 NHL point with two assists.
  • Andrei Vasilevskiy made 27 saves and improved to 14-0-2 in his last 16 starts.
  • Kieffer Bellows recorded his first career point in his NHL debut.
  • Tuukka Rask picked up his fourth shutout of the season as the Boston Bruins extended their winning streak to four games with a 4-0 win against the Vancouver Canucks.
  • Cale Makar set the record for most points by a rookie defenseman in Colorado Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques history with 27th assist and 38th point this season.
  • Antti Raanta recorded his second shutout of the season in the Arizona Coyotes’ 3-0 win against the Edmonton Oilers.
  • Ilya Kovalchuk netted the only goal in the shootout in the Montreal Canadiens’ 5-4 win against the New Jersey Devils.

Highlights of the Night

It is hard enough to control a bouncing puck off the boards, but Mathew Barzal was able to place his stick between his legs and score a third-period equalizer in the process.

Zach Werenski fired a wrist shot past his former teammate Sergei Bobrovsky to lead the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 1-0 overtime victory against the Florida Panthers.

Bloopers of the Night

Samuel Girard knew where the puck was, but nobody else on the ice had any idea until it was too late.

Anybody have an idea where Alex Stalock was going early in the first period? Fortunately, the Wild survived the phantom delayed penalty.

Stats of the Night

Scores

Boston Bruins 4, Vancouver Canucks 0

New York Islanders 4, Dallas Stars 3 (OT)

Colorado Avalanche 6, Buffalo Sabres 1

Tampa Bay Lightning 4, Vegas Golden Knights 2

Montreal Canadiens 5, New Jersey Devils 4 (SO)

Washington Capitals 4, Los Angeles Kings 2

Columbus Blue Jackets 1, Florida Panthers 0 (OT)

Anaheim Ducks 3, Ottawa Senators 2 (SO)

St. Louis Blues 6, Carolina Hurricanes 3

Minnesota Wild 3, Chicago Blackhawks 2 (OT)

Nashville Predators 2, Winnipeg Jets 1 (OT)

San Jose Sharks 3, Calgary Flames 1

Arizona Coyotes 3, Edmonton Oilers 0


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Killorn, Schwartz highlight this week’s best adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Jaden Schwartz, Blues – LW: The 2018-19 campaign was a rough one for Schwartz, but he’s he’s more than making it for it this season. After being limited to 11 goals and 36 points in 69 contests last season, he already has 13 goals and 34 points in 40 games this time around. Part of that is thanks to his current hot streak though. He has four goals and 11 points in his last six games. He’ll certainly need to be re-evaluated after he cools down, but as long as he’s this hot he’s an easy pickup for those who can make the space.

Jake Virtanen, Canucks – RW: Virtanen is red hot right now with five goals and eight points in eight games. That makes him worthy of consideration at the moment, but I do caution that you should regard only as a short-term option. He averages just 12:19 minutes with Vancouver and has never been a major offensive contributor, so the odds of him being a significant fantasy asset in standard leagues for the rest of the season is low. All that said, I still like him as a short-term gamble. I recommend waiting until Wednesday before picking him up given that the Canucks are off until Thursday anyways. Then Vancouver will play against Chicago on Jan. 2nd, the Rangers on Jan. 4th, and Tampa Bay on Jan. 7th, which are all teams in the bottom half of the league in terms of goals allowed per game.

Alex Killorn, Lightning – LW/RW: Killorn had just two assists in his first six games, but he’s been great since then with 13 goals and 29 points in his last 29 contests. Over that 29-game span, he’s never gone more than two games in a row without recording a point. It’s true that Killorn was limited to 40 points last season, but his playing time has jumped from an average of 14:52 minutes in 2018-19 to 18:22 minutes this season. He’s still only owned in 48% of Yahoo leagues, so if he’s available for you then you should seriously consider grabbing him.

Tony DeAngelo, Rangers – D: DeAngelo is just someone to consider in general right now. He’s only owned in half of all Yahoo leagues despite having a very healthy eight goals and 28 points in 38 games. He’s been regularly chipping in throughout the season, never going more than two games in a row without getting a point. DeAngelo had 30 points in 61 games last season and with the strides he’s taken in 2019-20, he looks like he might be a great offensive defenseman for many years to come.

Tanner Pearson, Canucks – LW: Pearson has two goals and five points in his last three games, so he’s pretty hot right now, but beyond that he should be regarded as a good injury replacement, should you need one. Pearson isn’t going to turn heads for any prolonged period of time, but he’s a solid secondary scorer with 11 goals and 27 points in 40 games. If you’re hurting for a left winger at any point during the season, he’s a good fallback option until either you get healthy or you find an alternate solution, say on the trade market.

Sami Vatanen, Devils – D: I wouldn’t own Vatanen all the time, especially given how hot-and-cold he’s been so far, but he’s worth picking up during his hot streaks. He’s on one such run right now with a goal and seven points in his last six contests. It doesn’t hurt that the Devils also won’t be lacking for games in the short-term with them set to play eight times from Dec. 31-Jan. 14.

Ryan Strome, Rangers – C/RW: For years Strome has had potential, but hasn’t been able to live up to it. After struggles with the Islanders and Oilers though, it seems like he’s found his way with the Rangers. He has 10 goals and 35 points in 38 contests this season. Of course, it helps a great deal that he’s averaging 19:34 minutes in 2019-20, which is by far a career-high for him. That increased ice time makes the notion of him surpassing the 60-point milestone this season seem feasible and with him still available in slightly over half of all Yahoo leagues, you should give serious consideration towards adding him if you have the option.

Nikita Gusev, Devils – LW/RW: Gusev was an elite player in the KHL, but he’s been slow to getting going in his first North American season. He had five goals and 14 points in his first 29 games while averaging a modest 13:25 minutes. He’s managed to hit his stride recently though with two goals and eight points in his last six contests. He only averaged 14:12 minutes over that six-game span, so his ice time remains unimpressive, but there’s a real chance that he’ll have a strong second half as he gets used to North American hockey. If nothing else he’s an interesting short-term pickup, but this is one player you might end up holding onto for the remainder of the campaign.

Alex Iafallo, Kings – LW: Iafallo had 25 points as a rookie and 33 points in his sophomore campaign. With six goals and 21 points in 41 games this season, he’s well on his way to taking another step forward, but he’s still not a great option in standard fantasy leagues. In the short-term though, he’s not a bad gamble given that he’ll be going into Tuesday’s contest against Philadelphia on a four-game point streak. I wouldn’t recommend keeping him much beyond this point streak though so be prepared to swap him with a different option once he cools down.

Lucas Wallmark, Hurricanes – C: As is the case with Iafallo, Wallmark is a player who typically isn’t worth having on your squad, but is of temporary use given how hot he is. In the case of Wallmark, he has four goals and eight points in his last six games. If you have a slot open for a short-term pick and are debating between Wallmark and Iafallo, it really does just come down to positioning. Which forward position do you more need to fill over the next week or so? 

Players You May Want To Drop

Jake Muzzin, Maple Leafs – D: Muzzin has been okay, but not great offensively this season with three goals and 13 points in 38 games. I’d could still see the benefit of holding onto him under normal circumstances, but he hasn’t done enough to just hanging onto him while he’s recovering from the broken foot he sustained on Friday. Circle back to him once he’s healthy and if he’s still available at that time, consider picking him back up, but for now I’d drop him if the alternative on my team was him occupying a bench slot.

Jeff Skinner, Sabres – C/LW: Similar to Muzzin, Skinner is a recently injured player that I don’t think it’s worth holding onto for the duration of the injury. I feel stronger about Skinner than Muzzin though because I’d lean towards parting ways with him regardless. In fact, I recommended dropping Skinner two weeks ago while he was still healthy. Skinner scored 40 goals last season, but he’s fallen back to Earth in 2019-20 with 11 goals and 19 points in 39 games. Now that he’s set to miss the next three-to-four weeks with an upper-body injury, the chances of him bouncing back in any significant way this season have been further diminished.

James Neal, Oilers – LW/RW: Neal got off to an amazing start with nine goals and 10 points in his first eight games, but since then he’s been nothing special. Over his last 10 contests, he has two goals and three points and overall he has 16 goals and 23 points in 41 games even with that stunning start accounted for. If you picked up Neal early on hoping that the switch from Calgary to Edmonton would lead to sustained success, you should cut your losses at this point.

Andre Burakovsky, Avalanche – LW/RW: Burakovsky has enjoyed some big hot streaks this season. From Oct. 10-18 he had four goals and seven points in five games and from Nov. 14-23 he scored six goals and nine points in five contests. The problem is that he’s been very inconsistent with lows that have matched those highs. He has a goal and no assists over his last nine games. Keep an eye out for him for his next hot streak, but don’t bother holding onto him in the meantime.

Antti Raanta, Coyotes – G: Darcy Kuemper suffered a lower-body injury on Dec. 19th and was regarded as week-to-week as a result. It was a blow to the Coyotes, but it was also an opportunity for Raanta, who had been relegated to the backup role.  Unfortunately Raanta hasn’t taken advantage of the opportunity thus far. He’s 0-3-0 with a 4.37 GAA and .877 save percentage in his last three starts. It made sense to give Raanta a try, but it might be best at this point to look elsewhere for goaltending help.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.