Eric Staal

Blue Jackets surprises Elvis Merzlikins
Getty Images

The Buzzer: Blue Jackets hold on for six wins in a row

Three Stars

1. Pierre-Luc Dubois, Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets continue their run of resiliency by fighting back from three deficits (1-0, 2-1, and 3-2) to win in regulation. Their narrow victory against the Jets pushes the Blue Jackets to six wins in a row. With that, they tie the Panthers for the hottest streak entering the All-Star break.

Dubois ended up as Wednesday’s only three-point player, collecting them all on assists. That outburst leaves Dubois with 38 points in 51 games this season.

While those aren’t astronomical numbers, his strong all-around play confirms to me that PLD isn’t just a product of Artemi Panarin.

Now, does Panarin boost the numbers of about everyone he plays with, though? Sure, but Dubois is proving that he can stand on his own.

2. Oliver Bjorkstrand, Columbus Blue Jackets

Bjorkstrand merits an argument as the top star of the day. If nothing else, the winger is hotter than PLD — and plenty of others — if you zoom out.

Bjorkstrand scored two goals for Columbus for the third game in a row. In all three cases, Bjorkstrand collected the game-winning goal. Hmm … maybe Bjorkstrand really deserves that top star nod?

Watch out for a possible strong finish to 2019-20. Last season, Bjorkstrand scored more goals (16) and points (22) in 34 games after the 2019 All-Star break than he did in 43 games before it (seven goals, 14 points). While I’d chalk quite a bit of that up to linemates — wait for it, Bjorkstrand enjoyed some nice Panarin reps, and some Matt Duchene ones too — Bjorkstrand is also one of those snipers who can get on a hot streak. If he repeats history, it could be a big difference-maker for a Blue Jackets team forced to scratch and claw.

3. Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild

Flip Zadina might deserve the nod more than Staal. Zadina, like Bjorkstrand, generated his two points by way of goals. The rookie also affected the game in other ways, firing seven shots on goal and drawing a late penalty that gave Detroit a slight chance for a comeback.

The Wild won, however, and that strikes me as a tiebreaker. That said, even choosing the best Wild skater is tough. I’m giving Staal the edge because both of his points (1G, 1A) were of the primary variety. (Mats Zuccarello‘s 1G, 1A includes a secondary helper). Mathew Dumba makes a strong argument with his two assists and +3 rating, so really, it’s a matter of taste.

Either way, it’s surreal that Staal recently reached 1,000 points. It might even make some of us feel old.

/makes old man noise just from shifting in seat

Highlights

Wednesday provided us with a scant two games, so why not just enjoy clips from both? If you want a standout moment, I’d argue Seth Jones‘ goal was the pick:

Here are the highlights for Minnesota dominating the second period to beat Detroit:

Factoids

  • Again, the Blue Jackets extended their winning streak to six by coming back. It’s apparently their 15th comeback win of 2019-20, second only to the Capitals’ 16 for the most in the league, according to NHL PR.
  • Bjorkstrand became the first Blue Jackets player to score multiple goals in three games or more, via NHL PR. I’m a little surprised Rick Nash never managed that when he was their go-to guy and a premiere power forward.
  • Wednesday marked the first multi-goal game of Zadina’s career. The 20-year-old joins select Red Wings company.
  • Kyle Connor collected his 15th goal since Dec. 1. Auston Matthews is the only player with more (18) during that span, according to NHL PR. Connor has 25 goals overall in 2019-20.
  • Sportsnet stats notes the Jets are 1-6-0 in their last seven, and other numbers are disturbing.

Scores

CBJ 4 – WIN 3
MIN 4 – DET 2

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.

Wild avoid Red Wings upset, now five points from playoff spot

Wild five points from playoff spot Red Wings
Getty Images
1 Comment

If the Wild want to make a playoff push, they can’t afford being upset by a team like the Red Wings. Detroit gave Minnesota a scare by going up 2-1 in the first period, but the Wild ultimately won 4-2 on Wednesday.

Wild move within five points from playoff spot

Losing against dreadful Detroit would have been brutal for Minnesota. Instead, the Wild improved to 23-21-6 on the season, or 52 points in 50 games played.

Wild fans searching for optimism will find a mixed bag. The Wild hold an advantage over the two wild-card teams in games in hand, yet the Predators have a bigger advantage in that regard (Nashville: 47 GP) while sitting at 51 points. Take a look at the races for the wild-card spots:

Wild playoff wild card race

Not great, but it could be worse, too.

The larger plus is that, so far, the Wild have mostly taken advantage of a long stretch of home games, as originally discussed here.

Jan. 16: vs. Tampa Bay (3-2 win)
Jan. 18: vs. Dallas (7-0 win)
Jan. 20: vs. Florida (5-4 loss)
Jan. 22: vs. Detroit (4-2 win)
Feb. 1: vs. Boston
Feb. 4: vs. Chicago
Feb. 6: vs. Vancouver
Feb. 7: at Dallas
Feb. 9: vs. Colorado
Feb. 11: vs. Vegas
Feb. 13: vs. Rangers
Feb. 15: vs. San Jose

Three out of four wins is a pretty good start (but a bad “Meatloaf” cover). Once the Wild get back into the groove on Feb. 1, it’s key to exploit that stretch of seven of eight in Minnesota.

Minnesota gutted Wednesday out, dominating the second period in goals (3-0) and shots on goal (14-4). Jason Zucker, Eric Staal, Mathew Dumba, and Mats Zuccarello triggered the rally:

Wild need Dubnyk to rebound

Bruce Boudreau deserves credit for molding the Wild into a dominant defensive team. While their scorers won’t terrify opponents, they’ve generally been competent enough.

But if the Wild are going to complete a difficult push into the playoffs, they need Devan Dubnyk to rebound.

Dubnyk came into Wednesday with a troubling .892 save percentage, versus a .915 mark for his career. Just about every metric points to the Wild providing a nurturing atmosphere for their goalies, so the results need to start rolling in.

Granted, sometimes luck just isn’t on your side:

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.

Jets furious over Minnesota’s controversial overtime winner

2 Comments

The Winnipeg Jets are in a bit of a slump right now.

Their 3-2 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild on Saturday was their eighth in the past 10 games, and saw them give up a crucial point to a team they are competing with for a playoff spot. Making things even more frustrating on Saturday is how they felt Eric Staal‘s winning goal shouldn’t have counted due to goaltender interference.

Here’s what happened: During a scramble in front of the net, Minnesota’s Zach Parise made contact with Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck just before Staal scored his 16th goal of the season. The play was reviewed by the situation room in Toronto, and it was determined that Jets players Anthony Bitetto and Tucker Poolman caused Parise to make the contact, thus allowing the goal to count.

You can see the play the video above.

There is definitely some contact between Bitetto and Poolman, but was it enough to force Parise into the goalie? Did Parise do enough to avoid making contact? Those are important questions, and given the way he stretches his arms and stick out and hits Hellebuyck it is not hard to see why the Jets are so mad about the call.

After the game Jets coach Paul Maurice said (Via the Winnipeg Sun) “It’s goalie interference all day long for me and there’s not a lot of grey area on that one.”

From there, he refused to offer any more comment on the play because anything else was going to get “expensive” for him.

The Jets exceeded expectations for much of the first half given the state of their defense. The play of Hellebuyck was one of the big driving factors in that early success. They are still holding the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, but they are very much on the postseason bubble.

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.

 

PHT Morning Skate: Sabres thrilled for Bills; Hall’s impact on Arizona

Sabres Bills fans
Getty Images

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.

• The Coyotes landing Taylor Hall in that big trade with the Devils presents a challenge for Arizona’s potential as a hockey market, while Hall could pump up his own value as a free agent. Mark Spector explores those two interweaving storylines, asking if Hall can “take that team as his lawfully wedded knife, and carve out some long awaited success for both parties?” (Sportsnet)

• A lengthy look at Hall’s legacy with the Devils, even though he wasn’t with New Jersey for a lengthy amount of time. (All About The Jersey)

• Former NHL head coach and player Ted Nolan, now an inspirational speaker for indigenous youth, reflects on the resiliency he had to show during his playing days. (NHL.com)

• Reddit user arahn17 presents an idea that takes #OskarStrong a step or five further: urging people to vote Oskar Lindblom into the 2020 NHL All-Star Games as Metropolitan Division captain. (reddit/Sporting News/NHL All-Star Ballot)

• The Sabres discuss how thrilled they are for the Buffalo Bills. The Sabres also discuss what they can learn from the Buffalo Bills. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• The Capitals are justified in using Ilya Samsonov more often going forward, even beyond keeping Braden Holtby fresh. (Nova Caps)

• Filip Zadina just played his 10th game of 2019-20, burning a year off of his entry-level contract. The Red Wings explain that they’re emphasizing his development. (The Detroit News)

• Strange, this story about Max Pacioretty‘s great year isn’t just “because Mark Stone” over and over again. OK, Patches deserves credit too … but it’s not a coincidence that Pacioretty’s play is taking off alongside an elite player like Stone. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

• This piece discusses Anthony Duclair, nickname “Duke,” going “nuclear” yet there’s no mention of classic, tasteless first-person shooter “Duke Nuke’Em.” Is that for the best, or a missed opportunity? Either way, Duke took the high road with John Tortorella after Duclair’s hat trick against Columbus. (Sportsnet)

Eric Staal hit career point 1,000, making for a great time to ask if he’s underrated. (The Hockey News)

• You’d think that you can’t really mess up the Flames’ jerseys, but … yes, you can. (Hockey By Design)

• Which NHL teams provide the best and worst values for fans when it comes to a night of family fun? (The Athletic [sub required])

• As a supplement to this strong analysis of the Oilers’ potential impending plummet from PHT’s Adam Gretz, Travis Yost looks at their slipping goaltending, specifically. (TSN)

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.

NHL Power Rankings: Flames on the rise

NHL Power Rankings Calgary Flames
Getty

In this week’s NHL Power Rankings the Metropolitan is still the league’s most dominant division, the defending champs are still picking up wins, while the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers both hit a little bit of a slump to fall a few spots.

One team on the rise has been the Calgary Flames as they have collected at least one point in 10 of their past 11 games and are finally starting to make a move in the standings. They are 6-1-0 since Geoff Ward took over behind the bench, Johnny Gaudreau is starting to break out of a slump that saw him go 10 consecutive games without a goal earlier this season, and even Milan Lucic has chipped in offensively after going 27 consecutive games without a goal to open the season.

Given the lack of a truly dominant team in the Pacific Division this season they are still right in the thick of that race even after their slow start.

They make a move up to No. 7 this week.

Where does every other team sit this week?

To the rankings!

1. Colorado Avalanche. The league’s best top line is united again, they have scoring depth, they have a young superstar on defense, and they have earned a point in 14 of their past 17 games. The best team in hockey.

2. Washington Capitals. John Carlson is still putting up absurd numbers and one of the most impressive offensive seasons ever for a defenseman.

3. New York Islanders. They will not score a lot of goals, but they give up nothing. It is working for them. Again.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins. They just keep finding ways to win and looking really good while doing so. Tristan Jarry has been their big star in recent weeks as he continues to earn playing time over Matt Murray.

5. St. Louis Blues. David Perron has stepped up in a big way to help fill the void offensively left by the absence of Vladimir Tarasenko.

6. Carolina Hurricanes. His performance is getting overshadowed by Carlson’s points production in Washington, but Dougie Hamilton is putting together a Norris-caliber season for the Hurricanes.

7. Calgary Flames. They have collected 19 out of a possible 22 points in their past 11 games to climb to within two points of first place in the Pacific Division. They are one of the hottest teams in the league.

8. Boston Bruins. Over an 82-game regular season even the very best teams are going to go cold on occasion. The Bruins hit one of those stretches lately. Nothing to be concerned about.

9. Winnipeg Jets. Every year there is that one team whose success comes out of nowhere and makes no sense. The Jets are that team this season.

10. Dallas Stars. No team in the league gives up fewer goals per game than the Stars. Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin are having outstanding years in net.

11. Minnesota Wild. Eric Staal recorded his 1,000th career point over the weekend, a testament to his longevity and productivity. But it’s not just about playing for a long time, either. He was a truly dominant offensive player early in his career. You might think this spot is too high for the Wild, but they have been one of the league’s best teams for the past month-and-a-half.

12. Arizona Coyotes. They have the defense and goaltending. They just need a little more offense.

13. Vegas Golden Knights. They were always better than their early record indicated. Now the results are starting to show up to prove it.

14. Philadelphia Flyers. The most hot-and-cold team in the league. They enter the week having lost four out of five while being outscored by a 20-10 margin.

15. Tampa Bay Lightning. Do you know what would really help here? If Andrei Vasilevskiy started to play like the Vezina caliber goalie that he is.

16. Toronto Maple Leafs. They had a great west coast road trip that saw them take six out of eight points. Thankfully for them the Atlantic Division has been so bad this season that their slow start did not totally bury them.

17. Buffalo Sabres. They enter the week in second place in the Atlantic, have one of the league’s best players who is playing the best hockey of is life, and have still lost more games (18, including overtime and shootout games) than they’ve won (16). If they make the playoffs Jack Eichel will be in the MVP discussion. He should be even if they do not.

18. Vancouver Canucks. Quinn Hughes is going to be a superstar, but he needs a lot of help on the blue line if the Canucks are going to take the next step in their rebuild.

19. Montreal Canadiens. Shea Weber is having an absolutely monster season and can still be an impact player.

20. New York Rangers. Artemi Panarin just keeps getting better and more productive. He is worth the price of admission all by himself.

21. Edmonton Oilers. They are trending in the wrong direction as this season starts to look disturbingly similar to the 2018-19 season.

22. Nashville Predators. They really miss Viktor Arvidsson. But will his return be enough to salvage what is one of the league’s most disappointing teams?

23. Florida Panthers. Joel Quenneville and Sergei Bobrovsky have not yet solved their goal prevention issues. When it comes to the former there is only so much a coach can do with the talent they have to work with. When it come to the latter, they have a lot of reason to be concerned given that contract.

24. San Jose Sharks. They clearly needed to change something, but a goalie is still probably the bigger priority over the coach.

25. Ottawa Senators. Anthony Duclair has been an incredible find for them and is showing what he can do with a real chance.

26. Anaheim Ducks. They have used eight players age 22 or younger this season, with six of them playing in at least 18 games. It is not a particularly good team, but at least they are giving their future a chance to play.

27. Chicago Blackhawks. They are a long way from contending again, and that loss on Saturday may have been rock bottom for them this season.

28. Los Angeles Kings. Jonathan Quick put together a couple of decent games for the first time this season. Does he have more of that in him?

29. Columbus Blue Jackets. John Tortorella was livid with his team’s effort against an undermanned Penguins team this past week, and for very good reason. It was bad. Then they followed it up by losing to Ottawa in overtime the next day. 

30. New Jersey Devils. Maybe it was time for a new voice behind the bench. That could be true. It is also true that the team given to him wasn’t good enough to compete.

31. Detroit Red Wings. They are four points behind New Jersey, the second-worst team in the league, even though they have played in three more games.

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.