Bryan Rust

PHT Morning Skate: Hockey community rallies for Nashville tornado relief

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

• People are stepping up to help those affected by the Nashville tornadoes. That includes the Predators’ Alumni Association donating $20K, but not just that team. Both the Wild and current Wild owner/former Predators owner Craig Leipold are donating $25K apiece in tornado relief efforts. The NHL announced that it is matching that $50K for tornado relief as well. Fantastic stuff stemming from that terrifying natural disaster. (The Tennessean)

• How did the Lightning turn their season around? Can this season’s team compare to the 2018-19 version that stomped through the regular season, and what about the playoffs? (ESPN)

• Some of the Lightning’s turnaround boils down to Andrei Vasilevskiy getting on track. This post looks at a similar trajectory for Mike Smith, who is heating up while Mikko Koskinen stays steady. Between the two, the Oilers have enjoyed reliable goaltending lately. (Oilers Nation)

Bryan Rust‘s breakout season boils down to combining his talent with the Penguins giving him a better opportunity to succeed. (Pensburgh)

• The Maple Leafs look better by a lot of metrics since Sheldon Keefe took over, but goaltending hasn’t been panning out. How much might it help to lighten Frederik Andersen‘s burden? (Rotoworld)

• Speaking of underlying numbers, these smile upon the chances for both the Wild and Hurricanes making late-season playoff pushes. (NHL.com)

[HURRICANES FACE FLYERS ON NBCSN ON THURSDAY; WATCH IT LIVE]

• Now, while goaltending has been letting the Leafs down lately, GM Kyle Dubas views defense as a “long-term need.” (TSN)

• Are the Flames on the verge of a goalie controversy? (Sportsnet)

• In standing firmly behind Claude Julien going forward, Habs GM Marc Bergevin is also gambling on himself. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• No, Valeri Nichushkin hasn’t generated the kind of offense that was expected of him as the 10th pick of the 2013 NHL Draft. Nichushkin has, however, become a useful play-driving forward as he settles into a still-fairly-new niche as an Avalanche supporting cast member. (The Hockey News)

I mean, look at these almost-off-the-charts Evolving Hockey RAPM charts for Nichushkin:

Kevin Fiala continues to be a catalyst for the Wild’s surge. (Pioneer-Press)

• Breaking down the Flyers’ elite penalty kill. (Broad Street Hockey)

• What’s been different about Cory Schneider during his latest return back with the Devils? (NJ.com)

• Hm, it’s been a while since the Senators experienced some drama … (The Score)

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.

The Buzzer: Fiala stays hot; Rust’s hat trick gets Pens back on track

Kevin Fiala #22 of the Minnesota Wild celebrates after scoring a goal
Getty Images

Three Stars

1) Bryan Rust, Pittsburgh Penguins

His third NHL hat trick helped the Penguins end a six-game slide as they defeated the Ottawa Senators, 7-3. Rust broke a 1-1 tie late in the opening period with a perfectly placed wrist shot from the high slot. He netted his second at 13:29 of the third when he buried a loose puck in front after crashing the net. No. 17 would complete his hat trick late in the third after forcing a turnover near the blue line then firing a wrist shot between the goaltenders’ pads. Evgeni Malkin had four assists and Sidney Crosby recorded his 800th career helper as the Penguins restored order in Pittsburgh with an important victory.

2) Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets

When you think of elite goal scorers, Connor does not immediately jump to the top of the list for many. However, the 23-year old is tied for sixth in the NHL scoring race and is closing in on his first career 40-goal season. Connor scored twice and added an assist in the Jets’ 3-1 win against the Sabres at Bell MTS Place. He has scored in four consecutive games and registered his sixth multi-goal game of the season as the Jets picked up their second win in the previous two games. Connor netted his first of the evening when he buried a perfect feed from Blake Wheeler at 13:59 of the first period. He notched his second of the game in the middle frame when he quickly pounced on a loose puck in front and buried the rebound.

The Jets remain in a heated wild-card race in the Western Conference, but Connor’s consistent offensive production should help Winnipeg reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

3) Kevin Fiala, Minnesota Wild

Fiala scored in his fifth straight game to lead the Wild to a crucial 3-1 victory against the Nashville Predators. The Swiss forward has five goals and six assists in the previous five games. Minnesota is only one point from both Western Conference Wild Card spots and has played two less games than the Jets who occupy the position currently. Fiala’s 23 points since February 4 are second most in the NHL, trailing the scorching-hot Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers.

Highlights of the Night

Jake DeBrusk won a foot race and converted a breakaway to break a 10-game scoring drought as the Bruins topped the Lightning, 2-1.

Mitch Marner put the puck between his legs then slid a backhanded shot past Martin Jones to even the score at 2-2.

Fiala maneuvered around Ryan Ellis with a patient toe drag and then evened the score at 1-1 with a nifty wrist shot.

Charles Hudon’s wicked wrist shot helped the Montreal Canadiens cruise past the New York Islanders, 6-2.

Patrick Kane helped Dylan Strome notch his second goal with a perfect cross-ice pass in the Blackhawks’ 6-2 win.

Craig Smith snagged a puck with his glove then rifled a bouncing puck into the back of the net.

Push for the Playoffs

Stats of the Night

Injury news

Scores

Montreal Canadiens 6, New York Islanders 2
St. Louis Blues 3, New York Rangers 1
Pittsburgh Penguins 7, Ottawa Senators 3
Boston Bruins 2, Tampa Bay Lightning 1
Minnesota Wild 3, Nashville Predators 1
Winnipeg Jets 3, Buffalo Sabres 1
Chicago Blackhawks 6, Anaheim Ducks 2
Edmonton Oilers 2, Dallas Stars 1 (OT)
Vegas Golden Knights 3, New Jersey Devils 0
San Jose Sharks 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 2


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.

Marino, Dumoulin make instant impact as Penguins snap losing streak

Penguins
Getty

PITTSBURGH — They may not be their biggest stars, but the Pittsburgh Penguins got two of their most important players back on Tuesday night with the returns of defensemen Brian Dumoulin and John Marino.

It is not a coincidence that their presence helped spark one of the Penguins’ best overall games in weeks to help them snap what had been a six-game losing streak with a 7-3 win over the Ottawa Senators.

It did not take them very long to make an impact, either.

Marino opened the scoring for the Penguins with a goal just 48 seconds into the first period.

That was followed by Dumoulin making a smooth play in the offensive zone to set up Conor Sheary less than a minute later to give the Penguins a two-goal lead they would never come close to surrendering.

Bryan Rust also recorded a hat trick in the win, while Evgeni Malkin had four assists.

Sidney Crosby also recorded the 800th assist of his career.

But the big picture news here for the Penguins is what the return of two of their top blue-liners could mean.

Their absence put a significant dent in the lineup (Dumoulin had been sidelined since the end of November, while Marino had missed about a month) the past few weeks. It not only took away two of their best defensive players, but it also put them into a situation where the remaining blue-liners had to take on bigger roles than they’re accustomed to playing. Jack Johnson had to move up to the top pairing alongside Kris Letang, Justin Schultz had to play on the second pairing, and their third-pairing was a revolving door of extra defensemen.

On Tuesday, everything was back to the way they intended it to be: Letang with Dumoulin, Marino with Marcus Petterson, and Schultz and Johnson on the third pairing.

The other underrated part of their presence is what they can do for the offense due to their ability to get the puck out of the defensive zones and feed the Penguins transition game. That element had also been lacking in recent games.

“They’re such good players on both side of the puck,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan of Marino and Dumoulin. “They defend so well, they have puck poise and good breakouts, and they help us create some balance throughout our pairs. It just makes us a better team when they’re in the lineup.”

Marino, one of the league’s top rookies this season, now has six goals and 26 points in 52 games this season thanks to his early tally on Tuesday.

“Honestly just tried to get it to the net,” said Marino when asked about his goal. “I saw [Rust] had a good screen in front and luckily it went in.”

Along with the goal he also broke up a 3-on-1 rush in the second period, nearly scored a second goal later in the period, and was at times a one-man breakout coming out of the defensive zone. The Penguins acquired him from the Edmonton Oilers for a sixth-round draft pick over the summer and it has helped completely transform their defense.

Even with their recent slide the Penguins are still in a pretty good spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Their win on Tuesday gives them a seven-point cushion over the non-playoff teams, while they are also four points ahead of the Wild Card teams. They are also just one point back of the Philadelphia Flyers for the second spot in the Metropolitan Division. They still sit four points back of the Capitals for the top spot, which could be difficult to make up, but they do have two head-to-head meetings (both in Pittsburgh) remaining.

“Honestly, every team goes through this,” said Marino of the team’s recent slump. “We happen to be going through right now, but other teams go through it. There’s a lot of veteran players here that know to stay calm. We have the right guys in the room to do what we want. As long as we just stick to our game we will be fine.”

Related: Penguins get two important players back with John Marino, Brian Dumoulin

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.

Crosby’s four-point performance helps Penguins claim top spot in Metro

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have quietly claimed the top spot in the Metropolitan Division with an impressive 5-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Washington Capitals have lost four of five while Alex Ovechkin has not been able to score his 700th goal and Pittsburgh has taken advantage with a four-game winning streak.

Sidney Crosby had a goal and three assists as Pittsburgh improved to 6-1-1 following the NHL All-Star break in late January. Bryan Rust had a goal and two assists while Jason Zucker recorded his third goal in four games with Pittsburgh.

Evgeni Malkin took part in warmups prior to the game but was a late scratch due to an illness. Anthony Angello filled in and scored his first career NHL goal.

“The amount of injuries we have had and what we have gone through, different guys have stepped up,” Crosby told Pierre McGuire after his third straight multi-point game. “But our work ethic has stayed consistent all the way through and that’s the identity of our team.”

Crosby helped the Penguins expand their two-goal advantage with contributions on three consecutive goals in the second period. Crosby set up the recently acquired Zucker with a cross-ice pass 2:52 into the middle frame. The Penguins captain would then add a power-play goal and set up Teddy Blueger to put the game out of reach.

Rust opened the scoring when Crosby delivered a perfect pass 11:41 into the first period. Angello redirected a shot from Sam Lafferty with less than three minutes remaining in the opening frame to double Pittsburgh’s lead.

Pittsburgh took a commanding 5-0 lead before Auston Matthews scored his NHL-leading 43rd goal to spoil Tristan Jarry’s shutout bid. Kyle Clifford scored his first goal as a member of the Maple Leafs since being acquired from the Los Angeles Kings earlier this month.

Pittsburgh entered the final period with a 5-2 lead and improved to 22-2-1 this season when leading after 40 minutes.

Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen has been dreadful since an injury forced him to miss four games earlier this month. The netminder has allowed 13 goals in three straight losses since returning to the lineup.

The Maple Leafs entered the season with hopes of competing for the Atlantic Division title. The Stanley Cup Playoffs were initially a given for a such a talented roster, but Toronto has only a slim two-point advantage on the Florida Panthers.

MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker


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.

Roundtable: Biggest surprises, disappointments at NHL All-Star break

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What player has been your biggest surprise of the first half of the 2019-20 season?

SEAN: Tristan Jarry, Penguins. A season ago the Penguins netminder played only two games in the NHL having lost the backup job to Casey DeSmith. This season he’s usurped Matt Murray for the No. 1 job and helped backstop the team into contender status as the roster has dealt with numerous injuries.  He’s top five in even strength save percentage, goals saved above average, and has helped Pittsburgh to 16 wins in 22 starts.

JAMES: John Carlson, Capitals. Look, we all knew Carlson could score. He’s been rising up the defensive scoring ranks for a while now (interestingly, increasing even after he got paid). Still, 60 points in just 49 games, placing him comfortably in front of Auston Matthews for 10th overall in the NHL right now? Yeah, can’t say I saw that coming.

ADAM: Bryan Rust, Penguins. He has always been a pretty good complementary player, but this year his play has just reached an entirely unexpected level. He is on a near 50-goal, 100-point pace over 82 games! No one ever expected that from him. Even if he cools off in the second half he is still going to have career year.

JOEY: David Perron, Blues. He’s currently on a point-per-game pace and he’s also top 20 in league scoring. We knew he was a good hockey player, but he’s playing at a totally different level right now.

SCOTT: Artemi Panarin, Rangers. High-priced free agents have a long history of failing at Madison Square Garden but Panarin has been everything the Blueshirts could have hoped. The Russian winger is on his way to his first All-Star game and could be the star player that helps the Rangers right the ship.

What team has been your biggest surprise so far?

SEAN: Blue Jackets. They lose their two biggest stars and their trade deadline pick ups walk in free agency. The enter 2019-20 with one goaltender who posted back-to-back seasons with a sub-.900 save percentage and another who had spent his entire pro career in Switzerland. So of course they’d be sitting in a wild card spot on the heels of third place in the Metropolitan Division at the All-Star Break. Just as we all expected.

JAMES: Blue Jackets. Honestly, I’d expected the Blue Jackets to be scrappy, but without that extra oomph to avoid being (word that rhymes with scrappy). Instead, they’re in the thick of the East wild-card races, not that differently from last season, when they still had Sergei Bobrovsky and especially Artemi Panarin. Managing to hang in there with a legitimately crushing run of injuries makes them even more surprising.

ADAM: Canucks. The easy answer here is probably Columbus or Arizona, but I had fairly high hopes for both at the start of the season. So I am going to say the Canucks get the call for biggest surprise. I liked Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, and figured Quinn Hughes would make a big impact, but the rest of the team just seemed like it was years away from contention. 

JOEY: Blue Jackets. Somehow, they’ve found a way to be in a Wild Card spot at this point. John Tortorella is doing the coaching job of his life and he’s been able to get some reliable goaltending from unlikely candidates. It would be awesome to see them make it back to the postseason after losing Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel.

SCOTT: Blues. I felt there was potential for a huge letdown after a surprising championship run last season and the Vladimir Tarasenko injury only strengthened those beliefs. However, they have been dominant at home and are sitting on top of the most competitive division in the NHL.

[MORE: PHT’S MIDSEASON NHL AWARDS]

What player has been your biggest disappointment?

SEAN: Andreas Athanasiou, Red Wings. There’s a lot of work to be done in Hockeytown to make the Red Wings a playoff team again, but there is a small core of players for GM Steve Yzerman to build around. Athanasiou is supposed to be one of those players but has struggled mightily after posting 30 goals last season. Through 36 games he only has five goals and 19 points. You’d expect his 5.7 shooting percentage to jump in the second half, which he needs since he’ll be an RFA this summer and can earn himself a nice raise.

JAMES: P.K. Subban, Devils. The hope was that Subban would bounce back from a troubling 2018-19. After all, it seemed like Subban was injured. Instead, things have gone worse, as his offense dried up while he continues to struggle defensively. I’m not totally giving up on P.K. — he might still be less than 100 percent — but I’m not exactly betting on him being a $9M defender again, either.

ADAM: Sergei Bobrovsky, PanthersI thought Bobrovsky’s contract was going to be a problem in three or four years, but I figured the Panthers would at least get a couple of quality seasons out of him before that happened. They have not even been able to get that yet. I figured he would be the missing piece to get them back in the playoffs in the short-term, and while they might make the playoffs it is currently in spite of Bobrovsky’s and not because of it. 

JOEY: Alex Galchenyuk, Penguins. The Penguins gave up Phil Kessel in a trade for Galchenyuk, but things just haven’t worked out the way they had hoped with him. Despite all the injuries in Pittsburgh this year, Galchenyuk hasn’t been able to make an impact with his new team. He’s now played for three teams in three seasons and it doesn’t look like his stop in Pittsburgh will be very long. Who knows what’s next for him.

SCOTT: P.K. Subban, Devils. The hope was Subban’s career would be rejuvenated by a trade to the New Jersey Devils. However, not much has gone right in Newark and Subban’s disappointing play has been a factor in John Hynes and Ray Shero losing their jobs.

Getty Images

What team has been your biggest disappointment?

SEAN: Predators. Teams you expected to be better but aren’t so far can pinpoint poor goaltending as a main factor. You wouldn’t expect that from Nashville but Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros — with a combined .918 even strength save percentage — helped sink Peter Laviolette and have kept the Predators outside of the Western Conference playoff picture.

JAMES: Sharks. How can it not be the Sharks? Looking at the age of that roster, many of us expected a stark reality … just not so soon. The parallels between the 2018-19 version of their hated rivals, the Kings, are honestly getting a little scary. Maybe the Sharks can be respectable again soon … kind of like the Kings, whose underlying numbers indicate they’re actually better than their place in the standings indicates.

ADAM: Sharks. Couple of options here but I think the Sharks take this title pretty easily. You had to know the goaltending was going to be a problem again, but it is far from their only problem. Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns have both had terrible seasons (by their standards), while several forwards have regressed or underperformed. This should still be a Stanley Cup contender and they are not only a disappointment, they are downright bad. 

JOEY: Predators. The Predators made a splash when they signed Duchene in free agency and another one when they dumped P.K. Subban on New Jersey. Unfortunately for them, those moves haven’t made them any better this year. They’ve already fired head coach Peter Laviollette and things haven’t looked much better since then.

SCOTT: Predators. A coaching change could help turn things around, but the Predators expected to compete for the Stanley Cup this season and are currently on the outside looking in.

What current team in a playoff spot will fall out by the end of the regular season?

SEAN: Oilers. Their team even strength save percentage is .909 and Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl make up 35% of their goals scored. Winnipeg and Chicago are right behind them and Nashville is lurking.

JAMES: Blue Jackets. A competitive team is going to finish ninth in the East. To me, the Blue Jackets just don’t give themselves good enough margins for error. Sometimes it’s as simple as looking at goal differential, and when you see that, it seems clear that the Blue Jackets are only slightly outscoring their problems.

ADAM: PanthersI want to buy into the Panthers because I love the way Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau play, but the goaltending question still concerns me and if they fall out of the top-three in the Atlantic Division I question if they can finish ahead of one of those Metropolitan teams in a Wild Card spot. 

JOEY: Blue Jackets. As impressed as I’ve been with the Blue Jackets, it’s hard to envision them making the postseason ahead of teams like Toronto, Philadelphia and Florida. They deserve credit for the job they’ve done, but they still have a long way to go before they clinch a playoff spot.

SCOTT: Blue Jackets. They have overcome great odds to remain competitive but eventually they will feel the loss of three star players. John Tortorella should be in the Jack Adams conversation with a strong first half, but a second-half slump could be looming.

What team currently out of the playoffs make it in?

SEAN: Predators. They’ve underachieved all season and the hole to dig out of isn’t too deep. If Saros and Rinne can start making saves again and Nashville’s special teams can wake up, they can find a way back in the postseason.

JAMES: Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs aren’t perfect. They are brilliantly talented, however, and have been able to unleash the fury since Sheldon Keefe took over. I think that talent will help them push across the finish line.

ADAM: Maple Leafs. Toronto is too talented to not make it. I know they have their flaws defensively, but you have to think they are going to do something to address that and I just can’t imagine this roster missing. Do they have enough to get through Boston or Tampa Bay? Maybe not. But they will be in. 

JOEY: Maple Leafs. Yes, the Leafs are without Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin right now, but you have to imagine that they’ll figure things out before it’s too late. Toronto has too much firepower with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares.

SCOTT: Flyers. It has previously taken teams quite a while to adjust to Alain Vigneault’s system. If the Flyers can figure out their struggles on the road and survive Carter Hart’s injury, they have the talent to find their way into the tournament.

What team needs to make a big splash at the February trade deadline?

SEAN: Maple Leafs. Their star core players are off their rookie contracts and three straight Round 1 exits means the pressure is on in Toronto. The blue line is the biggest area of need, especially with Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin out injured. GM Kyle Dubas will need to shore up the back end in order to put them in a better position entering the playoffs — if they get there, of course.

JAMES: Oilers. Look, there are teams like the Bruins, whose windows could close in a hurry. But, frankly, we as hockey fans should be more outraged that Connor McDavid, hockey superhuman, is so rarely in the playoffs. It’s a travesty, and the Oilers need to give him some help. Not just for McDavid, but frankly, for all of us.

ADAM: Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs need to do something on defense. Morgan Rielly’s injury is huge and Tyson Barrie has not quite worked out as hoped. Add to that the fact that Barrie and Jake Muzzin are unrestricted free agents after this season and they need to do something to strengthen the blue line for now and in the future. 

JOEY: Bruins. The Bruins could add a defenseman and/or some secondary scoring before Feb. 24. Boston is good enough to go on a postseason run, but they could definitely use some reinforcements.

SCOTT: Islanders. They have won with excellent coaching and strong defensive play, but they desperately need a big-time scorer up front. They missed out on Panarin this summer and didn’t pull the trigger on Mark Stone last season. Is Lou Lamoriello ready to bring in the proper support to help the Islanders advance through the Stanley Cup Playoffs?