Jonathan Toews

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The Buzzer: First place Coyotes; Zuccarello leads Wild to another win

Three Stars

1. Mats Zuccarello, Minnesota Wild. After a pretty miserable start to the season the Wild are starting to get back on track and picked up their fifth win in a row on Thursday by beating the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-4. Zuccarello was the big star for the Wild with three points (his first three-point game of the season) including the game-winner in the third period. His goal came just eight seconds after Tampa Bay’s Alex Killorn had tied the game. Things looked bleak for the Wild’s playoff chances in the first month of the season, but their win on Thursday moved them — at least temporarily — into the second wild card spot in the Western Conference.

2. Phil Kessel, Arizona Coyotes. And which team sits on top of the Pacific Division after Thursday’s action? It is none other than the Arizona Coyotes thanks to their 3-1 win in Philadelphia. They have been road warriors this season and now own a 10-3-3 record over their first 16 away games. They used a two-goal effort from Kessel — as well as another great goaltending performance — on Thursday to get their latest win. Kessel has yet to make the big offensive impact the Coyotes were hoping for this season, but he tends to score goals in bunches and maybe this is the start of one of those runs. Arizona is back in action on Friday when Kessel makes his first return to Pittsburgh since the Penguins traded him over the summer.

3. Alexandar Georgiev, New York Rangers. Artemi Panarin scored the game-winning goal in his return to Columbus, but the biggest difference maker for the Rangers in their 3-2 win was their goalie. Georgiev was sensational, stopping 45 out of 47 shots in helping to steal one for the blue shirts. Read all about that game here.

Other notable performances from Thursday

  • Petr Mrazek had an eventful night for the Carolina Hurricanes in their 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks. He stopped a lot of shots, picked up a shootout win, and got punched in the face. Read all about it here.
  • Joe Pavelski scored the overtime winner for the Dallas Stars in their 3-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets.
  • The Chicago Blackhawks let a 3-0 third period lead slip away in Boston against the Bruins, but Jonathan Toews bailed them out in overtime with the game-winning goal.
  • Milan Lucic was finally able to get his first goal of the season for the Calgary Flames. It turned out to be the game-winning goal in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
  • Matt Calvert had a goal and an assist for the Colorado Avalanche in their 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens.

Highlights of the Night

The Wild looked like the Harlem Globetrotters and the Lightning looked like the Washington Generals on this Jason Zucker goal.

The Colorado Avalanche have their top line back together, and Gabriel Landeskog wasted no time in making an impact in his return to the lineup.

Maybe this is the shot that gets Johnny Gaudreau rolling for the Calgary Flames.

Blooper of the Night

Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk accidentally hip-checked a referee in their 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres.

Factoids

  • It was a highly competitive night around the league with eight of the nine games being decided by a single goal, including four overtime games. The only game decided by more than one goal was Arizona’s 3-1 win over Philadelphia, and even that was a one-goal game until a late empty-net goal from Kessel. [NHL PR]
  • Thanks to Ryan Pulock‘s overtime goal the New York Islanders extended their point streak on home ice to 12 games. [NHL PR]
  • Jonathan Toews’ overtime goal in Boston was the 14th of his career in the regular season, moving him into a tie for 10th place on the NHL’s all-time list. [NHL PR]

Scores

Chicago Blackhawks 4, Boston Bruins 3 (OT)
Colorado Avalanche 3, Montreal Canadiens 2
Minnesota Wild 5, Tampa Bay Lightning 4
New York Islanders 3, Vegas Golden Knights 2 (OT)
Arizona Coyotes 3, Philadelphia Flyers 1
Carolina Hurricanes 3, San Jose Sharks 2 (SO)
New York Rangers 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2
Dallas Stars 3, Winnipeg Jets 2 (OT)
Calgary Flames 4, Buffalo Sabres 3

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.

Bortuzzo on suspension: ‘I’m not a malicious player’

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When the St. Louis Blues visit the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night they will be getting veteran defenseman Robert Bortuzzo back in the lineup following his four-game suspension for repeatedly cross-checking Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson in the back a little more than a week ago.

That incident has received plenty of attention not only because Bortuzzo is a repeat offender, but also because Arvidsson was injured as a result of the play and will remain out of the Nashville lineup for several more weeks.

Bortuzzo spoke on Monday ahead of his return to the lineup and said that while the cross-check was “maybe a little excessive,” his intent is never to injure an opponent. He was also asked if multiple offenses has caused him to develop the wrong kind of reputation around the league.

“I’m going to play the game hard,” Bortuzzo said, via The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford. “I feel like I do a good job of walking the line. I’m not going to go through all my instances. I’m sure it’s easy to dissect things for other people.

“The temperature of the game is high at times. Again, I’m not a malicious player. I’m not out here trying to injure people and I stand by that. It’s a game I have to play, on that edge, and I’m proud of the way. I play hard without being malicious.”

The problem for Bortuzzo here is that it is very easy for other people dissect things because he keeps giving other people things to dissect. He has an extensive track record of cross-checking incidents, including one on New York Islanders forward Brock Nelson that was virtually identical to the one that earned him his most recent suspension.

Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was asked about the Avridsson play on Monday ahead of their game, and on top of calling it a “horse [expletive] play,” he added this, via the Daily Herald:

“Nothing against guys that play hard,” Toews said. “That’s why I love playing this team (the Blues) because they play us hard all the time. But to me (the NHL is) doing everything to get rid of head shots and get rid of head injuries, but that to me seems like an intent to injure.

“Just because it’s not contact on a guy’s head doesn’t mean it’s not just as severe. So I thought it was pretty bad.”

On top of these two incidents there was a cross-check away from the play last year that injured Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin, a cross-check against Boston’s Jordan Szwarz that resulted in a fine, and that incident with Dallas’ Esa Lindell in last year’s playoffs where Bortuzzo became frustrated with his opponent flopping.  The bottom line here is this is now three times he has been disciplined for cross-checking incidents (two fines and a suspension) on top suspensions for two different kinds of infractions.

The tape does not lie, and he is very much a repeat offender which is going to put a pretty big target on his back in the eyes of the league. If he steps over the line again the next suspension could be significant. 

Related: Blackhawks will be shorthanded for game on Monday

Adam Gretz is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Morning Skate: Pavelski showing worth to Stars; Can Pens land Taylor Hall?

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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.

• ESPN asked 50 anonymous NHL players questions like: “Would you feel comfortable appearing in a national ad campaign?” Some answers may surprise you. (ESPN)

• Here’s why the Wild are in really big trouble. (Hockey Wilderness)

• How important is leadership in hockey? (Defending Big D)

• Things haven’t gone smoothly in Dallas for Joe Pavelski, but he’s finally starting to show his worth. (Dallas Morning News)

• Who is a better option for the Oilers between the pipes, Mike Smith or Mikko Koskinen? (Oilers Nation)

• The story of how a pick and a stick pushed LA Kings legend Dave Taylor. (Frozen Royalty)

• The Golden Knights have had their struggles with overtime. (Sinbin.Vegas)

Ryan Getzlaf is adjusting to life with new head coach Dallas Eakins. (Anaheim Calling)

Jonathan Toews is starting to get back on track after a rocky start to the season. (Chicago Tribune)

• Swedish goalie Linus Ullmark wants to make sure the Buffalo Sabres’ weekend trip through Stockholm is a memorable one. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• Should the Penguins be dreaming about landing Taylor Hall? (Pensburgh)

• Lightning fans have been frustrated by an under-achieving team so far this season. (Raw Charge)

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.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Getzlaf, Tanev lead this week’s top adds

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Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks – C: The Ducks captain is one of the best known players out there, but he’s owned in a relatively modest 35% of Yahoo leagues. That’s understandable after he was limited to 14 goals and 48 points in 67 games last season, but he’s worth taking a look at now, at least in the short-term. He’s found the back of the net in back-to-back games and has four goals and five points in his last seven contests. Getzlaf has traditionally been more of a playmaker than a scorer, but he’s focused more on shooting the puck himself this season. Through 13 games, he’s averaging 2.38 shots per game, which is his highest rate since 2014-15 when he finished with 25 goals. His long-term value is still questionable, especially given his center-only eligibility, but at the least he’s worth taking a chance on while he’s hot.

Sean Walker, Kings D: Walker might end up being one of the bright spots in a difficult campaign for the Kings. He already has three goals and six points in 12 games. He finished 2018-19 with 10 points in 39 contests, but he was only averaging 15:26 minutes. This time around, he’s up to 18:36 minutes and it wouldn’t be surprising to see his role trend upwards as the season continues. One long-term thing to keep in mind is that Ben Hutton can become a UFA this summer while Alec Martinez is 32-years-old with a contract that runs through 2020-21. Both Hutton and Martinez are averaging over 20 minutes and it’s entirely possible that one or both of them will be dealt before the trade deadline, which might give Walker a late season boost.

Lars Eller, Capitals – C: Eller isn’t a great long-term pickup, but he’s hot right now if you’re looking for a short-term boost. He has two goals and five points in his last four games, which has pushed him up to four goals and 10 points in 13 contests. That’s quite the start for the 30-year-old who has never recorded more than 38 points in a single season. It’s certainly nice to benefit from while it lasts, just don’t expect him to maintain this pace.

Radko Gudas, Capitals – D: This is a bit of a different one. He has just four assists in 13 games and he can’t be expected to be a significant offensive contributor this season. However, he can potentially help you in some other ways. Gudas is tied for seventh among defensemen with 32 hits and is tied for sixth overall with a plus-nine plus/minus rating. He’s only owned in 28% of Yahoo leagues, so if you need help those categories, then he might be the solution. If you’re in a custom league that uses blocked shots, then Gudas has some utility there too. So far he’s gotten in front of 24 shots.

Joel Armia, Canadiens – RW: Armia is red hot right now with three goals and four points in his last three games, along with six goals and eight points in his most recent seven contests. He’s never recorded more than 29 points in a single season, but the 26-year-old has seen his role grow rapidly in recent years. He’s averaging a career-high 17:03 minutes in 2019-20 and it’s been climbing with him logging an average of 18:33 minutes over his last four contests. He’s regularly played alongside Jonathan Drouin and Max Domi is sometimes the third member of that line. We could be seeing the start of a breakout season for Armia.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld]

Alex Goligoski, Coyotes – D: Goligoski has traditionally been good for around 35-40 points, but he dipped to 27 points in 76 contests last season. Arizona had a bottom barrel offensive team in 2018-19 though, so that played a role. This time around, the Coyotes’ offense is pretty solid and Goligoski has been able to rebound with a goal and seven points through 11 contests. It helps that the Coyotes are a much better team overall too, which translates to Goligoski not being the plus/minus burden he used to be. Back in 2017-18 he had a career-low minus-31 rating and even last season he finished at minus-seven. By contrast he’s plus-five this season. His improved worth hasn’t been noticed by all fantasy owners though, as evident by the fact that he’s only owned in 17% of Yahoo leagues.

Brandon Tanev, Penguins – LW/RW: I’m a little hesitant about this one, but Pittsburgh seems to be agreeing with Tanev. He set career-highs with 14 goals and 29 points in 80 games with Winnipeg last season and it on his way to top that in 2019-20. So far he has three goals and six points in 12 contests. Like I said, I’m hesitant about Tanev. I’m just not fully convinced he’s going to be a particularly valuable secondary scorer in the long run this season and his role with the Penguins hasn’t changed much from what it was with Washington. However, he is a great source of hits (49 already), so if you need help in that category to begin with, it’d make some sense to take a chance on him in the hopes that he keeps up this offensive pace.

Ilya Mikheyev, Maple Leafs – LW: Mikheyev has just adjusted remarkably well from the KHL to NHL. He already has four goals and 10 points in 13 games this season. He’s averaging 15:55 minutes per game and his role has been ticking upwards with him getting an average of 16:48 minutes over his last five contests. He’s still only owned in 23% of Yahoo leagues despite his hot start, so for a lot of owners, the opportunity to scoop him up remains.

Linus Ullmark, Sabres – G: The Sabres have gotten off to a superb 9-2-2 start and part of the reason for that has been some solid goaltending. Carter Hutton has been the leader in that regard with a 6-1-1 record, 2.21 GAA, and .926 save percentage in eight starts, but he’s also owned in 81% of Yahoo leagues, so odds are if you don’t have him yet, you can’t get him now. Ullmark isn’t a bad consolation prize though. For a backup, he’s played a fair amount, and he’s done well with a 3-1-1 record, 2.56 GAA, and .932 save percentage. The Sabres also have back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday followed by sets on Nov. 8-9, Nov. 16-17, Nov. 24-25, and Nov. 29-30. So even if they weren’t already using their backup regularly, they would need to in order to accommodate their November schedule.

Colton Sissons, Predators – C/LW: Sissons has gotten off to a terrific start with four goals and eight points in 11 games this season. He’s averaged a relatively modest 15:19 minutes per game, but it is trending upwards. He’s averaged 16:13 minutes over his last three games and has logged over 17 minutes in three of those contests. He’s still only owned in 7% of Yahoo leagues and at this point, he seems worthy of the gamble.

Players You May Want To Drop

Kaapo Kakko, Rangers – RW: Taken with the second overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, there was understandably a lot of optimism surrounding Kakko going into the season. He had an amazing season in the Finnish league and we’ve seen previous first and second overall picks enter the league with a bang. That hasn’t been the case for Kakko though, who has just a goal and an assist through nine games. He’s been quick to put the blame on himself too, saying recently that he’s been “playing bad hockey,” per the New York Post. If you’re in a keeper league, then you definitely want to hold onto him because in the long run Kakko will be an excellent player, but if you’re in a single season league then you may want to drop him while he continues to adjust to North American hockey in general and the NHL in particular.

Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks – C: The Blackhawks captain had 35 goals and 81 points in 82 games last season, but that’s something of an anomaly given his history. Prior to that, he had three straight campaigns in the 52-58 point range. It seems he’s dipping back into that kind of offensive play this season. He’s scored just a goal and two points in 10 games so far and has gone five straight games without a point. If he had eligibility beyond center then there’d be more reason to be patient with him, but as it is, there are a lot of alternatives out there up the middle.

Devan Dubnyk, Wild – G: Dubnyk is ready to return from an upper-body injury, but it remains to be seen if he can turn his season around. He’s off to a terrible start with a 3.92 GAA and .880 save percentage in seven contests. With the exception of Oct. 22nd, when he left the game early in the second period due to the injury, he has surrendered at least three goals in each of his starts. Meanwhile, the Wild have found some success with Alex Stalock this season and you have to wonder if that will lead to the Wild leaning more on him going forward. Part of the selling point for Dubnyk was that he was likely to start in 60-plus games, but if Stalock keeps this up, then that won’t happen.

Joe Pavelski, Stars – C/RW: Let’s close out with a pair of big name Stars players that you maybe should hang onto for now, but at least need to be under the microscope at this point. Pavelski had 38 goals last season and obviously has a long history of success, but his stint so far in Dallas has to give everyone pause. He has just two goals and three points in 13 contests. What’s even more concerning is that he’s only even managed 18 shots on goal this season. To put that in perspective, he averaged 2.51 shots per game in 2018-19 and now he’s down to just 1.38. If something doesn’t change, this will be by far his lowest shots per game rate of his career. I have to wonder if the 35-year-old is simply in for a bad season, but if you’re determined to stay patient with him, then there are some silver linings. Dallas as a whole has struggled, so maybe he’ll start to turn things around once the rest of the team does. Additionally, his IPP is extremely low, which might be an indication of some pretty bad puck luck on his part. So it’s not quite all doom-and-gloom even if it’s certainly looked that way so far. 

Alexander Radulov, Stars – RW: I mentioned the Stars’ early season struggles and Radulov has been another factor in that. After his back-to-back 72-point campaigns, he has just a goal and four points in 13 games this season. Like Pavelski, he might rebound along with the rest of the Stars, but one thing I’m particularly worried about with Radulov is his declining role. He averaged 20:08 minutes in 2017-18 and 19:47 minutes in 2018-19. So far this season he’s dipped to an average of 17:25 minutes, which is still good, but not nearly as impressive. As his struggles have mounted, he’s also seen his role decline further. He’s logged less than 17 minutes in each of his last four games and on Oct. 24th he got just 12:23 minutes. As is the case with Pavelski, all hope isn’t lost, but there are some concerning signs here beyond just a slow start.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

Blackhawks have plenty of problems right now

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Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman took a big gamble this offseason that after consecutive non-playoff seasons his core was still good enough to compete and was only in need of a couple of tweaks.

He brought in Robin Lehner to give them some insurance in goal behind Corey Crawford, he traded for defenders Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta to try and fix what had become a terrible blue line, and brought back two-time Stanley Cup winner Andrew Shaw because, well, he has never been able to let go of the people that he won with.

So far, there is not much to suggest that gamble is paying off.

At least not yet.

After dropping a 4-0 decision to the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday afternoon the Blackhawks are now riding a four-game losing streak and remain near the bottom of the league standings with just two wins in their first nine games. (Remember, they were 5-2-2 after nine games in each of the past two non-playoff series — they have two wins now.) It is their worst start through nine games since 2000-01, and if franchise history is any indicator it has already made a return to the playoffs a real long shot. The only times they have really been able to overcome a start like this were in the Original Six days or the old Norris Trophy days when they could sneak in with a losing record. Neither one of those days are coming back to the NHL anytime soon.

The other problem right now is there isn’t any one particular problem holding them back. It is everything.

The offense has gone cold

The one thing the Blackhawks had going in their favor last season was that the offense went through a bit of a resurgence and was once again among the best in the league. Jonathan Toews bounced back, Patrick Kane was still elite, and Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome looked like they were on the verge of becoming cornerstone players. There were still serious depth concerns, but the top players were still making an impact. Right now, nobody is scoring goals. The Blackhawks have just two goals in their past three games and for the season are 26th in goals per game. They needed Toews to show his rebound wasn’t a fluke (he has been invisible so far), Kane to remain elite (he has only been okay), and DeBrincat and Strome to take big steps forward (they have three goals between them in nine games) while also finding secondary scoring somewhere. None of it is happening.

The defense doesn’t look any better

Maatta and de Haan were intriguing additions, but the biggest problem with this group as constructed is the complete lack of mobility. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are franchise icons, but they are 36 and 34 years old respectively and have absolutely lost a step (or more) from where they were when they were foundation players for a dynasty. Maatta is a solid defender, but is also probably one of the slowest defenders in the league. After being one of the worst teams in the league in preventing shots the past few years they have again opened this season near the bottom of the league. They are a bottom-10 team in shot attempts, shots on goal, and scoring chances against during 5-on-5 play, and are also giving up more than 32 shots per game in all situations. None of that is close to good enough. Especially when…

Corey Crawford still doesn’t look right

The big wild card for the Blackhawks this season was going to be the goalie duo of Lehner and Crawford because there was always the possibility they could mask a lot of flaws on defense and steal some games. They have split the starts so far this season, and Lehner has mostly done his part. He has a .922 save percentage in his four starts and has probably stolen points for the team in two of them (he stopped 37 of 39 shots in a 3-2 win against Columbus; then stopped 33 out of 34 shots in a 2-1 shootout loss against Vegas). Crawford has been a different story, posting a sub-.895 save percentage in four of his five starts and now carrying around an .887 mark for the season. He has struggled to stay healthy the past two years, he was not particularly good a year ago when he was on the ice, and he has been even worse so far this season and is turning 35 in a couple of months. Not a promising start.

Put it all together, and you have what is now looking like a bad hockey team.

It is also a team that has missed the playoffs two years in a row and has not won a playoff series in four years. With the three-time Stanley Cup winning coach already gone all of the focus for that is going to start going in the direction of the general manager.

MORE: Brent Seabrook to be healthy scratch Sunday for second time in NHL career

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.