Jakub Vrana

PHT Face-Off: Marino’s rookie season; Vrana’s even-strength prowess

It’s Monday which means it’s time for the weekly PHT Face-off column. We’ll break down five stats/trends around the NHL ahead of a fresh week of action.

Here we go:

• Wild saved by play at home

No one expected the Minnesota Wild to be a playoff team this year. They’re not currently in a playoff spot, but they’re in the conversation. As of right now, they’re seven points behind the Edmonton Oilers for the final Wild Card spot (Minnesota has two games in hand). Even though that’s a steep hill to climb, it’s not an impossible number for them to overcome.

The Wild have been terrible away from home. They’re 9-14-2 on the road and that’s one of the big reasons why they’re not in a postseason spot this year. Thankfully for them, they’ve had to play just two road games since Dec. 21.

The reason they’re still somewhat alive in the playoff race is because they’ve found a way to accumulate points at the XCel Energy Center, where they have an 11-5-4 record. Only three teams in the NHL have fewer than five regulation losses on home ice (Boston, St. Louis and Philadelphia).

“This building has got to be two points for us night in and night out,” forward Eric Staal said after a win at home over the Winnipeg Jets earlier this month, per NHL.com. “Divisional game, important points, we’d like to do it in regulation, but it was a good job fighting with it and getting that game tied up and picking up the two points.”

There’s good news and bad news if you’re a fan of the Wild: The bad news, is that the Wild dropped a 4-1 decision at home to Vancouver last night. They’ve now dropped back-to-back games at home. On the bright side, seven of their next eight and 11 of their next 13 games will be at home.

This next stretch will either make or break their season.

• Keep an eye on Marino

John Marino isn’t going to win the Calder Trophy this year, but his rookie season has exceeded everyone’s expectations. The Pittsburgh Penguins defender has turned into an incredibly importance piece of the pie. Marino has 22 points in 43 games and he’s averaging 20:24 of ice time per game. Since Dec. 30, he’s played at least 21:51 in all but one game.

The 22-year-old was originally drafted in the sixth round of the 2015 NHL Draft by the Edmonton Oilers. Last summer, the Oilers traded him to Pittsburgh for a sixth-round draft choice. At the time, the Edmonton Journal’s headline read: “Edmonton Oilers trade marginal prospect John Marino for a draft pick.” Yikes.

In fairness to the Oilers, Marino wasn’t going to sign with them (they had his rights until August of 2019). Getting something for him is better than nothing. But you can’t help but feel that had they pushed to give Marino a contract a little earlier, they may have been able to get a deal done. We’ll never know for sure.

What we do know, is that the youngster is turning heads in the NHL right now.

• Vrana killing it at even-strength 

Raise your hand if you thought Capitals forward Jakub Vrana was going to be third in even-strength goals at the midway point of the season. Anybody? Thought so.

Vrana has been a terror for opposing teams at even-strength. The 23-year-old is up to 20 goals in 46 games this season. That currently puts him on pace for a career-high 36 goals. Of those 20 goals, only one has come on the power play. The rest have come at even-strength. That puts him in some elite company.

Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews leads the league with 23 even-strength goals. Sabres captain is second with 20, and Bruins winger David Pastrnak has 19. That’s it. Everyone else in the league has fewer even-strength goals than Vrana.

Alex Ovechkin, who is Vrana’s teammate, has scored 17 of his 26 goals at even-strength. He’s second on the team.

We’ll see whether or not he can keep this up, but it’s already impressive enough that he’s been able to put up these kinds of numbers halfway through a season.

• Perron enjoys winning games

Blues forward David Perron was one of the players voted into the 2020 NHL All-Star game by the fans. Perron may not be the biggest name at the event, but it’s hard to argue with the public’s decision to have him at the All-Star festivities.

The 31-year-old is having an amazing season. He’s picked up 20 goals and 46 points in 46 games this season, which puts him six points clear of Ryan O'Reilly for the lead on the team.

“Well-deserved, and we’re all pretty happy for him, for sure,” Blues head coach Craig Berube said of Perron being voted into the All-Star game, per NHL.com. “It’s a nice thing for him, it really is. It means a lot to him. It means a lot to us. He’s been a real good player for us.”

If you’ve been following the NHL this season, you probably know about the year he’s having. What you might not know about Perron, is that he currently leads the NHL in game-winning goals (he’s scored eight). Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl is right behind him (7), but for now the veteran has the edge in that category.

He’s picked up the game-winning tally in two of his team’s last three games, but he hadn’t had one since Nov. 9.

Perron has also scored a goal in four consecutive games.

What’s coming up this week?
• The Battle of New York twice, Rangers vs. Islanders, Mon. Jan. 13, 7 p.m. ET and Thu. Jan. 16, 7 p.m. ET
Matthew Tkachuk vs. Brady Tkachuk, Sat. Jan. 18, 4 p.m. ET
Max Pacioretty goes back to Montreal, Sat. Jan. 18, 7 p.m. ET
Artemi Panarin revenge game: Blue Jackets vs. Rangers, Sun. Jan. 19, 7 p.m. ET

Wednesday Night Hockey
• Flyers vs. Blues, Wed. Jan. 15, 8 p.m. ET

NHL on NBCSN
• Wild vs. Penguins, Tue. Jan. 14, 7 p.m. ET
• Lightning vs. Wild, Thu. Jan. 16, 8 p.m. ET

NHL on NBC
• Bruins vs. Penguins, Sun. Jan. 19, 12:30 p.m. ET

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Sharks give away crucial point with late meltdown against Capitals

Capitals
Getty
4 Comments

It is going to take an incredible second half for the San Jose Sharks to play their way back into playoff position. They need wins, and a lot of them. They were in a prime position on Sunday afternoon to pick up one of their most impressive wins of the season and were one minute away from winning their third game in a row by beating one of the league’s best teams in Washington.

Then everything fell apart.

The Sharks gave up two goals in the final 47 seconds of regulation, and then a game-winning goal to Lars Eller two minutes into overtime, to drop a 5-4 decision to the Capitals.

How they got there

Evander Kane had a massive game for the Sharks, scoring three goals for his second hat trick of the season to give the Sharks a 3-2 lead late in the third period.

When Logan Couture scored an empty-net goal with one minute to play in regulation to increase the lead to 4-2 everything seemed to wrapped up for the Sharks. Things quickly unraveled from there.

Off the ensuing face-off the Capitals easily gained entry into the Sharks’ zone and then capitalized on a failed clear when Jakub Vrana scored on a spinning shot from between the circles. That cut the deficit to one.

Just 32 seconds later T.J. Oshie scored the game-tying goal when he found a soft spot in the Sharks’ defense and ripped a one-timer into the back of the net. It was all set up by a slick passing play in the corner by Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Here is the game-tying sequence in the closing minute.

Bougher looks for positives

If you’re a Sharks fan and want to look at the bright side of things, they did go on the road and get a point from the best team in the league.

And for 59 minutes they did play really well. That was the message coach Bob Boughner tried to send across in his post-game interview.

“It’s tough to let that one get away, 4-2 with a minute to go. Third period we didn’t allow a lot 5-on-5, defensively we were pretty tight. You can take a million great things out of this game for us, but that’s why they lead the league, why they have the most points because they find ways to win games.

“As disappointed as I am, I am pretty content on the way our 5-on-5 game looks. You get a couple break downs, we don’t get one out on the wall in the 6-on-5. It comes back in our net. We ice one, we can’t get a couple centers out there on the next face-off, and things happen. All of that is forgotten if you score in overtime. We had a post, two-on-one, and a breakaway. That’s the way the game goes. We just have to concentrate on getting a day of rest tomorrow and taking the positives out of this one for the St. Louis game.”

Where they go from here

Bougher’s outlook is surprisingly optimistic given the way that game ended and where the Sharks are in the standings, but he’s also not entirely wrong.

The Sharks did do a lot of good things. There were positives to take out of it. And they have collected at least one point in five of their past six games (eight out of a possible 12). It is not hard to see things trending in a better direction. But still, when you are that far out of a playoff spot with that many teams ahead of you and have a chance to secure that second point you have to get it. You can not allow two goals in the final 60 seconds.

Things do not get any easier from here.

The Sharks’ schedule over the rest of January gets really intense, really fast. Their next 10 opponents include St. Louis, Colorado, Dallas, Arizona, Vancouver (twice), Columbus, and Tampa Bay. Other than Columbus (who is on an 8-1-4 run), all of those teams are currently in a playoff position and are among the hottest teams in the league.

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.

The Buzzer: Another shutout for Jarry; Draisaitl puts Oilers back in first

Getty
1 Comment

Three Stars

1. Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins. Another big win for the Penguins on Friday night, and they owe this one to Jarry as he recorded his second consecutive shutout and stole the show in Phil Kessel‘s first visit back to Pittsburgh as a visiting player since the offseason trade. Jarry has been getting the bulk of the starts over the past couple of weeks and is making a pretty convincing case to keep getting them as he improved his season save percentage to .942 with Friday’s win. He has stopped all 61 shots he has faced over the past two games and has won six of his past seven appearances.

2. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. Thanks to the Arizona Coyotes’ 2-0 loss in Pittsburgh, the Oilers were able to jump back ahead of them for first place in the Pacific Division with their 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings. Draisaitl was again one of the big impact players for the Oilers by factoring into both of the team’s goals. He opened the scoring in the first period by banking a shot in off of Kings defender Drew Doughty, then set up Alex Chiasson‘s game-winning goal just a few minutes later. With his two points he takes over sole possession of the league lead in the scoring race with 53 points, moving one point ahead of his teammate — and linemate — Connor McDavid, who now has 52 points. No other player in the league has more than 44 points right now.

3. Jakub Vrana, Washington Capitals. Vrana continued his hot streak — and great season — on Friday with a pair of points, including the game-winning goal, in the Capitals’ 3-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks. He now has at least one point in seven of his past nine games, including three multi-point games. His goal on Friday was already his 15th of the season and has him on pace for close to 40 goals this season.

Other notable performances from Friday

  • Shea Weber was great for the Montreal Canadiens in their 2-1 win over the New York Rangers, but he also had a painful night by taking a puck right to the face. Read all about it here.
  • Alex DeBrincat scored for the second game in a row (his seventh goal of the season) as the Blackhawks were able to get a 2-1 shootout win in New Jersey. Corey Crawford was also great in net for the Blackhawks, stopping 29 out of 30 shots throughout regulation and overtime three out of five shots in a five-round shootout.
  • Mikko Koskinen stopped 35 out of 36 shots for the Oilers in their win over the Kings.

Highlights of the Night

Nate Thompson gives the Canadiens the lead with his game-winning goal against the Rangers.

When you record consecutive shutouts you probably have a lot of big saves on your individual highlight reel, and this was probably Jarry’s best of the night on Friday against the Coyotes. This helped protect what was at the time a one-goal lead.

The Blackhawks were 2-1 shootout winners in New Jersey and it was rookie Kirby Dach scoring the winning goal in the fifth round on this slick move.

Blooper of the Night

This could have been a problem for Capitals goalie Braden Holtby as he nearly put the puck in his own net.

Factoids

  • The past two days have seen almost every game across the NHL be decided by just a single goal. The only two that have been decided by more than one goal were only decided by more because of late empty net goals. [NHL PR]
  • Claude Julien moved into a tie for sixth place on the Canadiens’ all-time coaching wins list on Friday night. [NHL PR]
  • The Oilers’ power play is one of the big reasons they are in first place in the Pacific Division so far this season. [NHL PR]

Scores

Pittsburgh Penguins 2, Arizona Coyotes 0
Montreal Canadiens 2, New York Rangers 1
Chicago Blackhawks 2, New Jersey Devils 1 (SO)
Edmonton Oilers 2, Los Angeles Kings 1
Washington Capitals 3, Anaheim Ducks 2

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: Kerfoot to have hearing; elite Vrana

CapsPup / Twitter

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.

• Captain the dog meets Jay Beagle. [CapsPup – Twitter]

• Mike Babcock’s gone so that means it’s time for all the dirty laundry to be aired. “Babcock was alleged to have asked one of the Leafs’ rookies to list the players on the team from hardest-working to those who, in the eyes of the rookie, didn’t have a strong work ethic. The rookie did so, not wanting to upset his coach, but was taken aback when Babcock told the players who had been listed at the bottom.” [Toronto Sun]

• It’s early days but things are going pretty smoothly for the Maple Leafs under Sheldon Keefe. [Toronto Star]

Alex Kerfoot of the Maple Leafs will have a Monday hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety for boarding Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson Saturday night. [NHL.com]

Quinn Hughes has been impressive early on in his rookie season with the Canucks. [Sporting News]

• Why it’s time for Jakub Vrana to be included in the elite winger discussion. [Japers’ Rink]

• The Bruins have released their third jerseys for this season and they’re not bad. They’ll debut them Friday against the Rangers (1 p.m. ET; NBC) during the Thanksgiving Showdown. [NBC Sports Boston]

• The youth movement continues in Detroit as the Red Wings have recalled Filip Zadina from the AHL. [MLive]

• Great read on legendary Getty Images photographer Bruce Bennett. [Sportsnet]

• Grading Artemi Panarin’s first quarter as a New York Ranger. [Blueshirt Banter]

• Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner is looking for advice in the shootout. [NBC Sports Chicago]

Tuukka Rask and Jordan Binnington lead the goalie crop in the fantasy hockey world this week. [RotoWorld]

• Finally, spin-o-rama to the moonwalk. Solid, kid:

————

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.

Surging Vrana might be capable of even bigger things for Capitals

Getty Images

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

From Alex Ovechkin for Washington to Artemi Panarin for New York, you’ll see plenty of firepower during Wednesday Night Hockey’s bout between the Capitals and Rangers. Even with Nicklas Backstrom sidelined for the game, I’m here to argue that you still might not see enough of one potential rising star: Jakub Vrana.

When you give Vrana’s 2019-20 stats a quick glance, they’re already impressive.

Not only does Vrana already have 10 goals scored in 23 games, but all 10 of them have come at even-strength, tying him for third in the NHL in that category alongside players like Auston Matthews, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Vrana’s former Capitals teammate Andre Burakovsky. His eight assists rounds out his numbers to 18 points in 23 games; over an 82-game pace, Vrana would author a 37-goal, 66-point season.

While he’s been riding some hot puck luck since 2018-19 with a 15.1 shooting percentage, the overwhelming message one gets from diving deeper into Vrana’s stats is that the Capitals should strongly consider finding more ways to get him on the ice.

[COVERAGE OF RANGERS-CAPITALS BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Despite Vrana’s 18 points in 23 games, he’s only averaging 14:15 TOI per game, which is a career-high and slight uptick from last season’s average of 14:02. Beyond getting some bounces, Vrana’s breakthrough in simple counting stats can probably be chalked up to an increasingly itchy trigger finger. After peaking with 1.96 shots on goal per game last season, Vrana’s getting almost one extra puck on net per evening, averaging 2.78 SOG per game (64 SOG in 23 GP).

It’s unclear if you can derive that from playing a more confident game, getting decent reps with a tremendous playmaker like Evgeny Kuznetsov, or if perhaps someone in the Capitals organization gave Vrana a directive to shoot more. Either way, it’s working out quite nicely, as he’s a significant part of the Capitals’ early work as the NHL’s most dangerous offense at even-strength.

Again, though, I must ask for more.

Just about every number seems to point a neon flashing arrow at “More Vrana.” His heat map at Micah Blake McCurdy’s Hockey Viz is, well, almost off the charts:

Wow.

Admittedly, it would be tough for Vrana to crack the Capitals’ top power play unit, and he’s getting some reps on the second unit (1:35 per game), but his all-around game makes me wonder if more PK work would be warranted.

It’s not as though Vrana is getting totally buried in the Capitals’ lineup, yet with Washington in a strong position (few teams enjoy the luxury of “Can we win the division again?” being one of their burning questions in November), I’d be tempted to see if Vrana would thrive in an even larger role.

And, hey, if all of that is boring … the skill is pretty obvious, too. Not everyone can pull off a Datsyukian shootout move, right?

Just saying.

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.