Ilya Samsonov

Jack Eichel #9 of the Buffalo Sabres prepares for a faceoff during an NHL game against Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers
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A best on best mythical tournament: 23-and-under team

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold, Pro Hockey Talk will be creating full rosters for an imaginary best on best tournament over the next three Thursdays.

The first team to enter the competition will be a roster comprised of players 23 years of age or younger. Think a Team North America in 2020. In recent years, younger players have made an instant impact at the NHL level and this team is filled with already established superstars.

Line Combinations

First line: Sebastian Aho – Connor McDavid – David Pastrnak

Thoughts: Leon Draisaitl has benefitted greatly from playing alongside McDavid this season and the addition of two dynamic goal scorers (Aho, Pastrnak) should produce an explosive top line. Aho’s ability to light the lamp and create plays should be a perfect fit to round out the group.

Second line: Andrei Svechnikov – Auston Matthews – Patrik Laine

Thoughts: Matthews has the puck-handling skill and on-ice vision to be an elite distributor with Laine alongside him. The size of all three forwards will be tough for most defensive pairings to handle.

Third line: Kyle Connor – Jack Eichel – Mikko Rantanen

Thoughts: Can this line match up with the opposition’s best and still produce offensively? The trio has the skill to be a top line for most NHL teams, but these three will be relied upon to play a smart, efficient, two-way game.

Fourth line: Matthew Tkachuk – Dylan Larkin – Mitchell Marner

Thoughts: The inclusion of Larkin over a Mathew Barzal or Elias Pettersson will raise some questions, but he was the best option to be a fourth line center and contribute on the penalty kill. Matthew Tkachuk will provide some toughness and size to add an important element to the group.

First D pairing: Zach Werenski – Cale Makar
Second D pairing: Thomas Chabot – Charlie McAvoy
Third D pairing: Rasmus Dahlin – Adam Fox

Thoughts: The second pairing will likely match up against the opposition’s best, but each combination has a strong mix of complementary characteristics. I initially thought it would be tough to find a strong group of mature defensemen in this age range, but these players have established themselves as high-end D-men.

Starting Goalie: Carter Hart
Backup Goalie: Ilya Samsonov

Just Missed: Mathew Barzal, Quinn Hughes, Travis Konecny, Elias Pettersson, Ivan Provorov

Captain: Connor McDavid
Alternate captains: Zach Werenski and Charlie McAvoy

Analysis

This team should not struggle to score with a ton of fire power in the offensive unit. With two of the top three and six of the top 10 goal scorers from the current season, it will be hard to contain this prolific group of forwards.

Two areas of weakness for this team are its ability to play a strong two-way game in even strength situations and kill off timely penalties. Players of this ilk have the ability to play any style but the question will be if players like Eichel and Marner could buy in to a defensive oriented role.

Additionally, their goaltenders are unproven but have the talent needed to play against the world’s best.

Nevertheless, the amount of skill on this team should help them overcome any obstacles and be a formidable challenge for any opponent. The roster has several established leaders, but young stars of the NHL are always eager to prove they belong in the conversation with the game’s best. Channeling that emotion in the proper way could be the difference between a successful tournament run or an early exit.

Surprising omissions:

Quinn Hughes: The young blueliner has been sensational for the Canucks. He is currently in a tight race with Makar for the Calder Trophy awarded to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the NHL. But the team will need size on the backend and cannot carry three undersized defensemen.

Elias Pettersson: The Swedish center is an excellent talent but didn’t fill a need when creating the lineup. While his talent is immense, this is a player that received the short end of the stick in order to build the most complete roster.


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.

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.

The Buzzer: Kucherov carries Lightning; Hart makes victorious return

Nikita Kucherov #86 of the Tampa Bay Lightning
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Three Stars

1) Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

Kucherov scored twice including the overtime winner in Tampa Bay’s 2-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Russian winger has collected 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) during an 11-game point streak as the Lightning have climbed up the standings. The Bolts also extended their point streak to nine games (8-0-1) and moved to within three points of the Boston Bruins for first place in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. Captain Steven Stamkos did not play due to a lower-body injury and is considered day-to-day.

2) Anthony Beauvillier, New York Islanders

The focus was on Alex Ovechkin’s chase for 700 goals but Beauvillier and the Islanders quickly stole the spotlight with two early goals in a 5-3 victory against the Capitals. The 22-year-old forward set a new career high with his six-game point streak. No. 18 scored the opening goal after a beautiful tic-tac-toe passing sequence 3:30 into the game. He added his second less than three minutes later when he gathered a rebound during a scramble in front of Ilya Samsonov. His linemates Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson each had three assists in the victory.

3) Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers

After a nine-game absence due to a strained abdominal muscle, Hart returned with 30 saves in the Flyers’ 4-1 win against the Florida Panthers at Wells Fargo Center. Philadelphia improved to 7-2-1 over its last eight games and passed the Carolina Hurricanes for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Hart and the Flyers have been dreadful away from home this season and will need to improve in a hurry if they expect to keep up in the Eastern Conference Playoff race.

[RELATED: Ovechkin’s chase for 700 continues on NBCSN | Pens acquire Zucker]

Highlights of the Night

You have to see it to believe what Matthew Tkachuk pulled off in the third period against the San Jose Sharks.

Nelson left a perfect drop pass for Bailey before he slid the puck over to Beauvillier who completed the brilliant sequence to give the Islanders a 1-0 lead early in the first period.

Brayden Point stole the puck from Zach Werenski preceding a marvelous string of passes that allowed Kucherov to slam home the overtime winner.

Ivan Provorov could not have fired the puck into a better spot for his 10th goal of the season.

There are times when all you have to do is put your stick on the puck, but in this situation Milan Lucic wisely redirected a pass to the top portion of the net to give the Flames an early one-goal lead.

Stats of the Night

Scores

New York Islanders 5, Washington Capitals 3

Arizona Coyotes 3, Montreal Canadiens 2

Philadelphia Flyers 4, Florida Panthers 1

Tampa Bay Lightning 2, Columbus Blue Jackets 1 (OT)

Vancouver Canucks 6, Nashville Predators 2

Calgary Flames 6, San Jose Sharks 2

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.

Beauvillier, Nelson lead Islanders past Capitals, 5-3

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The New York Islanders did not forget what happened against the Washington Capitals in their last meeting.

Alex Ovechkin recorded his second hat trick of 2020 as Washington erased a three-goal third-period deficit with five unanswered goals.

On Monday, the Islanders took a two-goal lead into the third period and buckled down defensively to leave Capital One Arena with a 5-3 victory. Anthony Beauvillier scored twice in the opening period, Brock Nelson added three assists and the Islanders picked up their third win in the previous four games.

Ovechkin failed to push his goal total past 698 as the Capitals closed out a four-game homestand with a 1-3 record. Ilya Samsonov was chased from the net after he allowed five goals on 20 shots. John Carlson, Lars Eller, T.J. Oshie scored for Washington and Nicklas Backstrom recorded two assists in Washington’s second consecutive loss.

[RELATED: Ovechkin’s chase for 700th goal continues Thursday on NBCSN]

Beauvillier producing

The 22-year-old scored twice in the opening period and extended his point streak to a career high six games. The Islanders moved into third place of the Metropolitan Division with three games in hand on the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Beauvillier is often looked at as an afterthought in a series of trades that eventually brought Mathew Barzal to the Islanders. But, he is quickly becoming the additional scorer that New York desperately needs.

The Islanders have proven that they can play a structured game while severely limiting chances from the opposition. However, consistent offensive production has been a lingering question since Barry Trotz took over behind the bench.

The Islanders are 28-2-3 this season when they score at least three goals (including overtime winners).

Beauvillier’s increased scoring is a great starting point as the trade deadline approaches. But, if the Islanders are looking to play deep into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they’ll likely need reinforcements.


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 Injuries: Frederik Andersen to miss Maple Leafs’ game Wednesday

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Checking in on some notable injuries around the NHL…

Frederik Andersen will not play for Maple Leafs on Wednesday

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ loss to the Florida Panthers on Monday night looks even more costly the next day.

Not only did they lose a 3-1 lead, at home, to a team they are directly competing with for a playoff spot, but they also lost their starting goalie to a neck injury.

Frederik Andersen will not travel with the team to New York for Wednesday’s game against the Rangers and is currently listed as being “day-to-day” with a neck injury. Backup Michael Hutchinson will start in his place and be backed up by Kasimir Kaskisuo who was called up from the AHL’s Toronto Marlies on Tuesday.

This is a pretty significant situation to watch because the Maple Leafs are going to be in a lot of trouble if Andersen is not healthy. Their goaltending depth has been a major issue this season as neither Hutchinson or Kaskisuo (only one appearance, for what it’s worth) have been consistent enough.

While Andersen is 24-9-6 in his appearances with a .910 save percentage, the other two are just 4-9-1 with a combined .882 save percentage.

Hutchinson replaced Andersen on Monday and allowed three goals on the 13 shots he faced.

Ekman-Larsson to miss second straight game for Coyotes

Huge game in the Pacifici Division on Tuesday night when the Arizona Coyotes host the Edmonton Oilers.

The Coyotes will be without Oliver Ekman-Larsson, their captain and best overall defenseman, for the second straight game as he continues to deal with a lower-body injury.

Arizona enters the game in the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, three points ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks and three points back of the Oilers for the second playoff spot in the Pacific Division. Given that Edmonton still has two games in a hand a regulation win on Tuesday would be significant for the Coyotes.

They enter Tuesday on a five-game losing streak while also having lost eight out of their previous nine. They have collected just five out of a possible 18 points (1-5-3 record) during that stretch.

Samsonov shaken up in practice

The Washington Capitals received a bit of a scare in practice on Tuesday when goalie Ilya Samsonov was hit up high by an Alex Ovechkin shot and had to leave practice.

He was not expected to start Tuesday’s game, but the Capitals did call up Vitek Vanecek from the AHL as a precautionary measure.

Samsonov, one of the NHL’s top rookies so far this season, has also been the Capitals’ best goalie.

No word on Barkov for game against Columbus

The most impressive thing about Florida’s big win against Toronto on Monday night — they did it without star center Aleksander Barkov who missed the game due to a lower-body injury.

They have another massive game in their playoff push on Tuesday night when they face a Columbus Blue Jackets team that is 17-2-5 in its past 24 games.

The Panthers held an optional morning skate on Tuesday, so there is no official word on whether or not they will get Barkov back.

The initial diagnosis on his injury is that he is “day-to-day.”

If he does not return Tuesday, the Panthers’ next game will be on Thursday at home against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Related: Another injury for Blue Jackets as Wennberg to miss 3-4 weeks

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.