Jack Eichel

NHL All-Stars enjoy ‘really hard’ and ‘unique’ Shooting Stars event

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ST. LOUIS — If it were up to Patrick Kane the NHL All-Star Skills would bring back events like the Puck Control Relay. So despite winning the first ever Shooting Stars challenge Friday night, he yearned for the past.

“I’m a fan of the original Skills stuff, like Puck Control Relay and the actual [Accuracy] targets, the foam targets that blow up,” Kane said. “But I understand where they’re is trying to go with it, where they’re trying to create something different and use technology to their advantage. I think it was a pretty fun night all around.”

The 10 players stood on a platform behind one of the nets in the lower bowl of Enterprise Center. Their goal was to hit targets on the ice, including one that was in the shape of The Gateway Arch. Kane and Mitch Marner each scored 22 points before the Blackhawks forward won after a tiebreaker.

“It’s a little gimmicky, but at the same time you try to have fun with it and enjoy the event,” Kane said. “I think we all had a little pact between that we were going to shoot for the Arch and try to get as many points as we can. It was fun to win it.”

[NHL All-Star Game 2020: Rosters, schedule, jerseys, how to watch]

“Bad preparation by me. I never practiced that,” joked Bruins forward David Pastrnak, who finished with 10 points. “Should’ve built a 30-feet high [platform] and practiced that before All-Star. Unfortunately, I was a bad pro and didn’t do it. That way I can’t deserve a win.”

Now that NHL players got a taste of how the event works they’ll know what to expect next year if they’re All-Stars again. Some, like Pastrnak, can even build a platform in their backyards to practice if they desire.

“I don’t remember them being that small yesterday when we just had a few practice shots,” said Matthew Tkachuk. “Today, it was tough. You can see the winner had 22. So at 22 that means you hit two of the arches — put two in the netting — and then you probably miss the Arch and you get two points. It’s hard. It’s really, really hard, but it’s fun.”

The crowd was engaged and not just because Matthew Tkachuk wore a Yadier Molina Cardinals jersey or that Keith Tkachuk had a try. It was a fun, new event introduced by the NHL. Yes, some tweaks are definitely required before the 2021 event in South Florida — adjust the points system, start the targets at center ice — but it definitely beats previous events that killed the energy in the rink.

“It was a little different. Pretty unique,” said Sabres captain Jack Eichel. “It seems like the crowd had a good time with it. They were trying to do something new to try and spark the fans’ interest a little bit. I thought it was cool.”

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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: Crosby’s return, Matthews’ hat trick, Kubalik’s hot streak

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Three Stars

1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins. He made his return to the lineup on Tuesday night and dominated the Minnesota Wild with four points (one goal, three assists) in a 7-3 win. Along with his sixth goal of the season, he also made one of the plays of the night (see it below) to set up Dominik Simon for a highlight reel goal. Read more about his return to the lineup here.

2. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs. This seems like the type of game the Maple Leafs are going to be winning a lot of, especially given the current state of their defense. They score seven goals, had one of their stars (Matthews) record a hat trick, they gave up a hat trick (to Blake Coleman) and held on for a 7-4 win. Matthews’ three goal performance on Tuesday gives him 34 goals for the season and puts him on pace for 59 goals over 82 games. He is just six goals away from matching his career high (40). He is also just two goals behind David Pastrnak (36 goals) for the league lead.

3. Dominik Kubalik, Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks appeared to be on their way to an ugly loss to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night after giving up two early goals. The trio of Kubalik, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane was not going to let that happen. Kubalik extended his current goal-scoring streak to five consecutive games by netting a pair of goals to send the game to overtime, setting the stage for Toews’ game-winning goal early in the extra period. Kubalik is having an outstanding rookie season for the Blackhawks and has now scored 18 goals on the season. That is second best on the team, trailing only Kane. The Blackhawks still sit six points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference but they really needed this win given how difficult their upcoming schedule is.

Other notable performances from Tuesday

  • Elvis Merzlikins recorded his second straight shutout for the Columbus Blue Jackets as they beat the Boston Bruins 3-0 to move back into a tie for the second Wild Card spot with the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference. Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask was injured in this game after being hit in the head. Read more about that here.
  • Brock Nelson scored two goals and was one of seven Islanders to record at least two points in an 8-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings.
  • Connor Hellebuyck stopped all 41 shots he faced on Tuesday night (and tried to score a goal!) to help lead the Winnipeg Jets to a 4-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks.
  • The Tampa Bay Lightning overcame a 2-0 deficit to rally for a 4-3 shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings.
  • Big night for the Coyotes as Phil Kessel, Taylor Hall, Conor Garland, and Derek Stepan all had three points in a 6-3 win over the San Jose Sharks to move them into sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division.
  • Leon Draisaitl scored a pair of goals to help lead the Edmonton Oilers to a big 4-2 win to help them keep pace with the rest of the teams in the Pacific Division race.
  • Esa Lindell‘s overtime goal completed the Dallas Stars’ against the Colorado Avalanche, giving them a 3-2 win.

Highlights of the Night

Filip Forsberg scores with the Lacrosse-style goal for the Nashville Predators. Read all about it here.

Sidney Crosby passes to himself off the back of the net then sets up Dominik Simon for the goal.

Jack Eichel scored the game-winning goal for the Buffalo Sabres in a 4-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights with this incredible display of speed and skill.

Blooper of the Night

No video to share, but it has to be Wild coach Bruce Boudreau making a pre-game mistake on his lineup card and forcing his team to play with a shorthanded defense for the entire game. Read all about it here.

Honorable mention goes to this crazy sequence at the start of the Jets-Canucks game where the Jets put the puck in the net three times within only 37 seconds, only to have just one of the goals actually count on the score board.

Factoids

  • Hellebuyk’s shutout is the 18th of his career and puts him in first place in Jets franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • Kris Letang became the first Penguins defenseman to record 400 career assists with the team. [Penguins PR]
  • Eichel reached the 60-point mark in the Sabres’ 46th game of the season. He is the first Sabres player to record 60 points in 46 games or fewer since Alexander Mogilny and Pat Lafontaine. They both did it during the 1992-93 season. [NHL PR]

Scores

Buffalo Sabres 4, Vegas Golden Knights 2
Toronto Maple Leafs 7, New Jersey Devils 4
Tampa Bay Lightning 4, Los Angeles Kings 3 (SO)
New York Islanders 8, Detroit Red Wings 2
Pittsburgh Penguins 7, Minnesota Wild 3
Columbus Blue Jackets 3, Boston Bruins 0
Chicago Blackhawks 3, Ottawa Senators 2 (OT)
Winnipeg Jets 4, Vancouver Canucks 0
Arizona Coyotes 6, San Jose Sharks 3
Edmonton Oilers 4, Nashville Predators 2
Dallas Stars 3, Colorado Avalanche 2 (OT)

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.

Matthews, Pastrnak set up thrilling Maurice Richard race

Matthews Pastrnak Richard race
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For quite some time, it looked like David Pastrnak (32 goals) would run away with the Maurice Richard Trophy. While Pastrnak remains atop that race, Auston Matthews is knocking on that door with 31 goals. If they keep this up, hockey fans are in for one heck of a battle.

Of course, it wouldn’t be one bit surprising if this turned into a three-horse race, or more. Alex Ovechkin demands attention as the most obvious threat, and he currently sits in a three-way tie for third place alongside Jack Eichel and Nathan MacKinnon at 26 goals.

Frankly, someone could alter the landscape with a hot month (or, for all we know, a hot weekend).

Pastrnak vs. Matthews is just too fun, and close, not to pick apart, though.

Before we burrow, consider the simplest facts:

Pastrnak: 32 goals , Bruins have 38 games remaining
Matthews: 31 goals, 37 GR

(Don’t worry, potentially aggrieved other fanbases; we’ll also discuss some of the other frontrunners to end this post.)

Matthews on fire, Pastrnak seemingly shakes slight cold streak

Chalk it up to Sheldon Keefe replacing Mike Babcock or not, the bottom line is Matthews is red-hot. After scoring an already-strong 14 goals during his last 23 games under Babcock, Matthews now has a ludicrous 17 goals in 22 games with Keefe at the helm.

Luck matters just as much as coaching. That’s worth noting considering how many bounces have been going Matthews’ way lately. Matthews has scored 15 goals on just 63 SOG over his last 17 games, a 23.8 shooting percentage since December. In November, he enjoyed a comparatively pedestrian 10.6 shooting percentage.

Pastrnak wandered through dramatic shifts of his own. The Bruins winger managed an absurd 30 percent rate in 10 October games. Pastrnak barely slowed down in November, but he seemed somewhat human in December, though he was still dominant (five goals and 18 points in 15 games, limited by an earthly 9.1 shooting percentage).

Overall, they’re both enjoying some bounces, with Pastrnak at 18.5 percent and Matthews at 18.3. Cold streaks could bring one or both of them back to the pack.

Pastrnak the power play phenom; Matthews’ interesting ice time notes

“Pasta” swiped the power play wizard torch from Ovechkin at some point, it seems. Pastrnak easily leads the NHL with 15 power-play goals, with James Neal being the only other player at double digits with 12.

Not too surprisingly, Pastrnak soaks up a lot of ice time on the power play, averaging 3:39 PP TOI. Time on ice remains an interesting topic with Matthews, actually …

During much of Babcock’s run, the veteran coach was (justifiably) chastised for using Matthews less than he should have. While Babcock did deploy Matthews more in his final season (19:50 TOI in 23 games, versus 18:33 in 2018-19), Keefe is giving Maple Leafs fans more of what they want. Matthews’ average climbed to 20:42 TOI per night under Keefe.

Interestingly, that boost is coming at even strength. After averaging 3:24 PP TOI per night during Babcock’s last run, Matthews’ power play average is actually down under Keefe to 2:38.

Overall, the response is “More Matthews, the merrier.” Matthews averages more time per game than Pastrnak since Keefe took over (20:42 vs. Pastrnak’s 19:29), while Pastrnak receives about an extra minute of power play time lately.

The two might indirectly make for some interesting quality vs. quantity debates if those trends continue. (That’s not a guarantee, mind you, as certain variables can change, but it’s a factor to watch.)

Considering the rest of the field

  • This is somewhat uncharted territory for Matthews and Pastrnak. Their youth and occasional injury issues make their ceilings unclear. Alex Ovechkin, meanwhile, delivers the goods, and lingers as a huge threat at 26 goals.

Ovechkin might be the greatest sniper ever, already boasting eight Richard trophies, including two in a row, and six of the last seven.

Ovechkin is firing the puck more than usual (210 SOG for 4.67 SOG per game, his highest rate since 2015-16), possibly because his shooting percentage is “just” at 12.4. Ovechkin’s track record and durability make him a strong pick to climb the ranks.

  • Nathan MacKinnon gives Ovechkin competition for trigger-happiness with 204 SOG. He’s right behind Ovechkin in SOG (4.64 per game), improving on what was already a career-high last season (4.45 in 2018-19, his first in the four range).

As spectacular as MacKinnon is, I wonder if his tendency to be a “volume shooter” might doom him in this race. If he maintained his current 12.7 shooting percentage, it would rank as the second-highest mark of MacKinnon’s career.

  • Jack Eichel completes that three-way tie for third, getting his 26 goals on 147 SOG (17.7 percent). Another Sabres swoon might take the wind out of his sails, although who knows?
  • Leon Draisaitl stands alone at sixth place with 25 goals. Patrick Kane and Connor McDavid have 24 apiece, while Sebastian Aho and Artemi Panarin round out the top 10 at 23. There are 16 players at 20+ goals so far in 2019-20.

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.

Big injury losses: Sabres’ Olofsson, Islanders’ Pelech

Pelech Olofsson injury
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The Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders began 2020 with some tough injuries. The Sabres expect Victor Olofsson to miss five-to-six weeks, while the Islanders lost Adam Pelech to a season-ending injury.

Let’s ponder these losses for each team, and the larger outlook for the Sabres and Isles.

Olofsson injury continues turbulent times for Sabres

Don’t blame Sabres fans if they feel like their heads are spinning right now.

Jack Eichel touched on what Olofsson’s absence might mean, as reported by The Athletic’s John Vogl:

Olofsson tops all NHL rookies in goals (16) and points (35), leading both categories by four. Olofsson’s Hockey Viz heat maps back up Eichel’s comments about the rookie’s all-around play:

The thinning of the Sabres isn’t ideal considering their competition.

The Bruins remain perched atop the Atlantic Division, while the Maple Leafs and Lightning look like they’re back to being scary opponents. The Panthers also have more standings points (47 to Buffalo’s 43) despite Florida playing two fewer games (40 versus the Sabres’ 42 games played). The Metro could produce four or even five playoff teams, so Buffalo faces a perilous path without Olofsson.

Islanders lose Pelech for regular season

The Athletic’s Arthur Staple reports that Pelech’s injury timeline is four months, opening up some possibility of a playoff return. The Islanders currently rank second in the Metro with 53 points, so Pelech’s recovery window could indeed become relevant.

The Islanders stumbled a bit to end 2019 (3-1-4 in their last eight). With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how they handle the loss of a workhorse who ranked second in both time on ice per game (21:08) and penalty kill reps (2:47 per game).

Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello said that “you don’t replace an Adam Pelech at the trade deadline,” according to Staple, so Barry Trotz faces a challenge in dealing with this loss. Pelech is the type of player Trotz adores, especially going by these quotes from Kris Knoblauch, Pelech’s former OHL coach.

“He’s very undervalued and underappreciated,” Knoblauch said back in October, via Staple (sub required). “We relied on him a ton — he was our power-play defenseman, our shutdown guy. There’s a lot of calm to his game now and there was back then, too.”

Can the Islanders continue to insulate their goalies without Pelech? We’ll find out. Either way, the Sabres and Islanders both received some rough injury news on Friday.

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: Nylander keeps Maple Leafs rolling; Canucks make it 6 in a row

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Three Stars

1. William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs. Following a restricted free agent contract dispute and a down 2018-19 performance, Nylander became a popular target for criticism in Toronto. Not anymore. He continued what is turning out to be a massive breakout season on Thursday night by scoring two more goals and adding an assist in the Maple Leafs’ 6-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets. The Maple Leafs are now 14-4-1 under new coach Sheldon Keefe and 8-0-1 in their past nine games. Nylander has 19 goals and 38 total points in 41 games this season. That puts him on a pace for 38 goals and 76 points over 82 games. That level of production makes his $6 million cap hit a bargain.

2. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. MacKinnon got the Avalanche rolling with a late first period goal and never slowed down as the cruised to a huge 7-3 win over the St. Louis Blues. He recorded his fourth four-point game of the season, most in the NHL. It is his ninth since the start of the 2017-18 season, tied for second-most in the league (behind only Nikita Kucherov) during that stretch. Read more about the Avalanche’s big win here.

3. J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks. Miller continues to be a massive addition to the Canucks’ lineup and helped them win their sixth game in a row with his second four-point game of the season. He opened the scoring with an early first period goal, then added three assists, including the lone assist on Adam Gaudette‘s game winning goal in a wild 7-5 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. He has at least one point in five of the Canucks’ six games during this streak and continues to help push them toward a playoff spot. They paid a steep price to get him, but he has been worth it so far.

Other notable performances from Thursday

  • Pierre-Luc Dubois‘ overtime goal against the Boston Bruins helped the Columbus Blue Jackets improved to 8-0-4 in their past 12 games.
  • Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 38 shots to help the Tampa Bay Lightning pick up a huge 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens.
  • Jonathan Huberdeau remained hot and Evgeni Dadonov had three points as the Florida Panthers used a four-goal second period to storm by the Ottawa Senators.
  • Brent Burns scored an overtime goal and Aaron Dell made 36 saves to help the San Jose Sharks get a much-needed 3-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
  • All 12 Arizona Coyotes forwards recorded a point in their 4-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks.
  • Max Pacioretty continued to be a dominant force for the Vegas Golden Knights as he scored two more goals in their 5-4 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
  • Johnny Gadreau had a goal and an assist for the Calgary Flames as they beat the New York Rangers.

Highlights of the Night

It did not result in a win, but Patrik Laine finished with 13 shots on goal for the Winnipeg Jets and scored this beauty of a goal after turning Morgan Rielly inside out.

Thanks to this beauty of a Nico Hischier goal the New Jersey Devils were able to win their third game in a row. It is their first three-game winning streak of the season. Read all about it here.

Jack Eichel helps the Buffalo Sabres get a huge win by scoring the game-winning goal on a penalty shot in overtime.

Blooper of the Night

This is only a blooper in the sense that it should NEVER HAPPEN if you are the New York Rangers. They allowed Calgary’s Mikael Backlund to score a shorthanded goal in a 3-on-5 situation. That was the difference in a 4-3 Flames win.

Factoids

  • Zdeno Chara, Joe Thornton, and Patrick Marleau became 12th, 13th, and 14th players in NHL history to play in four different decades in their NHL careers. [NHL PR]
  • David Pastrnak is the first Bruins player since Cam Neely during the 1993-94 season to score his 30th goal in 42 or fewer games. [NHL PR]
  • With his assist on Brent Burns’ overtime goal, Joe Thornton collected the 1,080th assist of his career to move him into sole possession of seventh place on the NHL’s all-time list. [NHL PR]

Scores

Columbus Blue Jackets 2, Boston Bruins 1 (OT)
Buffalo Sabres 3, Edmonton Oilers 2 (OT)
Tampa Bay Lightning 2, Montreal Canadiens 1
New Jersey Devils 2, New York Islanders 1
San Jose Sharks 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 2 (OT)
Florida Panthers 6, Ottawa Senators 3
Toronto Maple Leafs 6, Winnipeg Jets 3
Calgary Flames 4, New York Rangers 3
Arizona Coyotes 4, Anaheim Ducks 2
Colorado Avalanche 7, St. Louis Blues 3
Vancouver Canucks 7, Chicago Blackhawks 5
Vegas Golden Knights 5, Philadelphia Flyers 4

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.