Isles’ Mathew Barzal impresses All-Star teammates

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SAN JOSE — Barry Trotz’s message to Mathew Barzal before he left for the 2019 NHL All-Star Game was simple.

“Take note of the top, top players, the absolute top players, how they interact with not only the fans, but other players and how prepared they are,” the New York Islanders head coach said earlier this week.

The 21-year-old Barzal was one of the youngest players to take part in All-Star Weekend and got to live out a dream playing with his idol, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. 

Set up with Crosby and Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, the trio helped guide the Metropolitan Division to the All-Star title, first topping the Atlantic Division 7-4 before winning the $1M prize after a 10-5 victory over the Central Division in the final. Barzal played his part scoring twice and assisting on two others. The three of them combined to score eight of their team’s 17 goals.

The extra space provided by the 3-on-3 format allowed Barzal to show off his puck-handling abilities and utilize the speed that helped him finish third in Friday’s Fastest Skater event. Those talents also impressed his All-Star teammates, who see a lot of him on the other side of the ice as division foes.

“The way he holds onto the puck, the way he skates, 3-on-3, I don’t know if there is anyone better when it comes to holding onto it,” said Crosby, who earned MVP honors. “The way that he can just beat you 1-on-1, beat you with his speed, hold onto it. You watch him out there against the best, I don’t see anyone that really beats him in that category.

“Five-on-5, he’s able to do that, so 3-on-3 with all that ice, seeing that firsthand, I’ve seen that a lot and today was another example of that.”

The extra space and having those two dynamic forwards on the ice helped create tough situations for the Atlantic and Central Division teams. Crosby and Letang have played together for 13 seasons in Pittsburgh, so there was already a chemistry built in between the Penguins teammates. Barzal’s skills only strengthened the trio.

“You already have a chemistry going and we added a tremendous player with Mathew, who was just skating everywhere carrying the puck,” said Letang. “I was just staying back making sure there was nothing happening behind us.”

“Sid just kind of said, ‘Just grab it and get us up the ice and we’ll find a spot,’ so, it was kind of cool,” Barzal said. “Those guys would pass me the puck and them working to get open and I was just trying to find them.”

Barzal, last season’s Calder Trophy winner, leads the Islanders in points through 49 games with 14 goals and 31 assists. In his second NHL season he’s helped guide the team to a surprising start — one that sees them atop their division. He’ll now get to remember this weekend and enjoy a few days off as the team begins its bye week before a big matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning at Nassau Coliseum on Friday.

“It’s obviously something I’m not going to forget,” Barzal said. “I’ve got my parents here this week, which is great. It’s just been really fun lately. Our Islander team’s been doing well and to come here and do well and get a chance to play with Sid and Letang and Claude [Giroux] and some new faces, it’s been a blast.”

MORE:
NHL All-Star Skills 2019: Winners, funny moments, Gritty
NHL All-Star Game 2019: Metro wins final, Crosby lands MVP
All-Star MVP adds to Crosby’s ‘great memories’ of San Jose
Sharks soak in the love from fans during NHL All-Star Weekend

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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.

Scott Hartnell raises stakes in his own ceremonial puck drop

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It’s not often you see intense faceoffs during a ceremonial puck drop — like never — but there isn’t always a financial gain to be had attached to them, either.

That was apparently the case on Thursday night in Philadelphia as the Flyers were hosting the Nashville Predators and honoring former Flyer and former Predator Scott Hartnell before the game.

Here’s the puck drop:

According to Dave Isaac of USA Today, Hartnell put both Preds captain Roman Josi and Flyers captain Claude Giroux — both former teammates — up to it, offering the winner of the draw $100.

Giroux got a little richer, it seems.

Hartnell was drafted by the Predators in the first round, sixth overall in 2000 and suited up in 498 games with the club, including finishing his career there last season.

Between his two stints in Nashville, he had stops in Columbus for three seasons and Philly for seven before that, where he played 517 games.

Hartnell seemed to have quite the day in his return to Philly, where he and the now infamous Gritty befriended one another.

It’s not hard to see why these two get along so well.


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

Marc-Andre Fleury saves the day vs. Flyers (Video)

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Marc-Andre Fleury had himself quite the afternoon as the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Philadelphia Flyers.

While making 26 saves during a 1-0 shutout, Fleury denied the Flyers time and time again Saturday afternoon, preventing numerous high-grade opportunities.

Just ask Scott Laughton, who found himself on a shorthanded breakaway late in the second period. His backhand attempt was stopped.

Just ask Claude Giroux, who stormed in a minute later and tried to wait out Fleury only to get robbed.

Ask Giroux again, who had the the game-tying goal on his stick with 38 seconds left in the third period, but was once again frustrated by the Golden Knights netminder.

The victory snapped a three-game losing streak for the Golden Knights, who finished their five-game road trip (2-3-0) on Saturday.

The win was also an historic one for Fleury. As per the NHL, with his 406th victory he moved to within one of tying Glenn Hall for 10th on the League’s all-time wins list among goaltenders. It was also his 49th career shutout, tying him for 29th all-time.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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.

Flyers ready for ‘next man up’ mentality with Couturier out for Game 4

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PHILADELPHIA — Before the Philadelphia Flyers fully trickled out to the Wells Fargo Center ice for their optional morning skate ahead of Game 4 (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, live stream), the word from the team was that there was no update on Sean Couturier, who was injured following a collision with Radko Gudas during Tuesday’s practice.

When pressed, all head coach Dave Hakstol would say is that it’s a game-time decision. If Couturier is out, that could mean rookie Nolan Patrick centering the top line or Claude Giroux moving from the wing to back down the middle.

“We’ll be ready and prepared, regardless of what the lineup is,” Hakstol said. “You can’t center it around one or two players.”

“Anytime somebody gets injured or traded, it’s a great opportunity for guys to step up,” said Giroux. The Flyers captain would reference their run to the 2010 Stanley Cup Final that saw players like Ville Leino and Giroux himself step up when Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne were forced from the lineup. It’s understood that it’s next man up in these situations.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Patrick would see his responsibilities upped should Couturier sit, as there’s the possibility of him being matched up with Sidney Crosby.

“If the lines are different I wouldn’t change how I play against [Crosby],” Patrick said.

There’s no replacing what Couturier brings to the Flyers lineup. Patrick called him “one of the best two-way players” he’s ever seen, and if the option for Hakstol to play him in all situations is taken away for Game 4, that would leave a big hole in a vital game for Philadelphia.

The penalty kill would take a hit in his absence, a unit that was overwhelmed in Game 3 and allowed three goals on seven Penguins power play opportunities. Six of those penalties were stick infractions, and while relying on special teams isn’t something that necessarily built into Mike Sullivan’s game plan, the Flyers did make sure to talk about being smarter. Going back to Pittsburgh down 3-1 is something they want to avoid.

“I think everyone knows those mistakes before our coach even tells us,” Patrick said. “Can’t happen and we’ll be better in that area.”

More: Flyers hoping new lines can get offense going vs. Penguins

UPDATE:

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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.

Flyers survive Bruins third-period rally in 4-3 overtime win

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Give credit to the Boston Bruins — the word ‘quit’ isn’t one that computes with the Atlantic Division leaders — but the Philadelphia Flyers had no intentions of giving up either on Easter Sunday.

That isn’t to say they’d be blamed if they did. Game-tying goals with 3.8 seconds left in the third period can be deflating, to say the least.

But after Patrice Bergeron tied the game up with mere seconds left on the game clock, Claude Giroux, who had already scored in regulation, added another highlight-reel marker to his repertoire in a 4-3 overtime win for the Flyers — their 40th — on the NHL on NBC.

Giroux’s marker was his 29th, setting a new career-high in goals after previously setting a new career-high in points with 94 earlier in the game after his first goal.

Boston trailed 3-1 after Nolan Patrick scored on a breakaway 25 seconds into the third period, but found the strength to mount a comeback, finding it through David Pastrnak at 6:54 and then Bergeron’s 30th of the season at 19:56.

The Bruins, who played to a 5-1 win over the Florida Panthers 24 hours earlier could have just rolled over for the rest of the period after Patrick’s goal, but found a way to eek out a point to extend their lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning (who play later on Sunday) to two points in the race for top spot in the Atlantic.

The win was big for the Flyers, who moved level with the Columbus Blue Jackets for third place in the Metropolitan Division on 94 points. Perhaps most importantly, the win moved Philly three points ahead of the New Jersey Devils who sit a spot behind the Flyers in the second wildcard in the Eastern Conference. New Jersey is set to play later on Sunday.

The Flyers took a 1-0 lead after a nasty save from Petr Mrazek, who finished with 35 saves in the contest, kept the games nil-nil in the first period.

After winning the ensuing faceoff, the Flyers produced a nice breakout and created an odd-man situation that was capped off by Giroux, who fired home the one-timer for his 28th of the season.

The goal also pushed the 30-year-old’s point streak to seven games.

The Flyers doubled their advantage on a spectacular goal that is sure to be in the running for goal of the season.

Travis Konecny picked up a loose puck just inside the Bruins zone, split both David Pastrnak and Adam McQuaid and then beat Patrice Bergeron before tucking the puck past Anton Khudobin.

Khudobin allowed four goals on 20 shots in the loss.

Boston moved to 110 points with the win, one back of the Nashville Predators in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy. Nashville can do Boston a favor with a win over the Lightning later on Sunday.


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