Justin Faulk

Jakub Voracek #93 of the Philadelphia Flyers is congratulated by teammates
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Flyers recover in OT after squandering third-period lead

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Like many NHL teams at this juncture of the season, the Philadelphia Flyers are trying to determine if they are playoff contenders or pretenders.

After learning Carter Hart will be sidelined two to three weeks with an abdominal strain, the Flyers put together an impressive 4-3 win against the defending Stanley Cup Champions in St. Louis.

Jakub Voracek scored a crafty goal at 3:33 of overtime as the Flyers captured their third win in the past four games.

Tyler Pitlick, Michael Raffl and Travis Konecny also scored for Philadelphia while Brian Elliott added 30 saves.

Justin Faulk, Ryan O’Reilly and Alexander Steen scored as the Blues fell for the first time at home since December 7th.

Important Road Victory

The Flyers have struggled on the road this season and have only won 10 games in 25 opportunities and went 1-4-1 on their latest six-game road trip.

After surrendering the opening goal, Philadelphia scored three straight only to allow two in the final period to force the extra session. The Flyers proved to themselves that they can skate with the NHL’s best and can now remember this game when looking for confidence during the stretch run of the season.

With Hart sidelined and other obstacles in their path, the Flyers will need to battle adversity to remain in the Stanley Cup Playoff race.

Blues Home Winning Streak

The Blues have been stellar on home ice this season but failed to set a franchise record by extending their winning streak to 10 after falling in overtime against the Flyers. St. Louis showed its resiliency with a rally in the third period to overcome a two-goal deficit but couldn’t finish the job.

During the nine-game home winning streak, the Blues won each game in regulation as they climbed to the top of the standings in the Central Division. For the Blues to be on top of the most competitive division in the League without Vladimir Tarasenko is extraordinary.

Note: Flyers coach Alain Vigneault passed Mike Keenan for sole possession of 11th place on the NHL all-time wins list for coaches with his 673rd victory.

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 Fantasy Hockey: Hintz, Stepan highlight this week’s top adds

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

Samuel Girard, Avalanche – D: Girard has quickly risen in importance with the Avalanche, averaging 17:43 minutes in 2017-18 after being acquired from Nashville, 19:54 minutes in 2018-19, and now 21:42 minutes this season. He set a new personal best last season with 27 points, but the 21-year-old blueliner already has 22 points in 42 contests this season. That total is somewhat misleading though because an incredible eight of those points have come in his last three games. It’s worth noting that he did have four assists in eight games prior to this outburst, so he had been heating up for a bit even before this. At any rate, he’s at least worth a short-term pickup, but the rising defenseman might also have a strong enough second half to justify holding onto him for the rest of the season. If you do pick him up, I’d recommend exercising some patience with him rather than dropping him at the first sign that his hot streak has fizzled out.

Derek Stepan, Coyotes – C: Stepan had between 53-57 points in five straight campaigns from 2013-14 through 2017-18, but he dropped to 35 points last season and has just seven goals and 16 points in 44 contests in 2019-20. So to say that he has largely disappointed over the last year-and-a-half would be accurate, but he is doing a bit better lately with a goal and four points in his last three games. It’s too early to say if this will prove to be anything more than a hot streak, but one bit of good news for him is that after the Coyotes experimented with pairing Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall, the duo has been broken up with Kessel now playing alongside Stepan instead. Stepan is a gamble, but there’s enough upside here to at least make him worth keeping a close eye on right now.

Elvis Merzlikins, Blue Jackets – G: Earlier this season Merzlikins couldn’t seem to buy a win, then Joonas Korpisalo suffered a torn meniscus and suddenly the Blue Jackets needed Merzlikins to step up. Merzlikins has largely answered the call, stopping 36 of 37 shots on Dec. 31 and 25 of 26 shots on Jan. 2 to collect his first two career NHL victories. He fell short against the Sharks on Jan. 4, but he mostly held his own, saving 25 of 28 shots. With Korpisalo likely out for at least another three weeks, Merzlikins will have value for the next little while.

Filip Hronek, Red Wings – D: Hronek is having a really good season with just one glaring exception. He started the season alright with three points in eight games before really taking off with four goals and 10 points in 14 contests from Oct. 22-Nov. 21. That led into the aforementioned exception where he had no points and a horrendous minus-11 rating in six games, but he’s bounced right back with three goals and 10 points in his last 13 contests. Given that he’s been more hit-than-miss this season and consider his recent success, he’s a pretty solid defenseman to own. He’s only taken in 27% of Yahoo leagues so the chances of you being able to claim him are rather good.

Ondrej Palat, Lightning – LW: Palat is having a hot-and-cold season with his latest drought coming from Nov. 27-Dec. 17 when he was limited to a goal and no assists in 11 games. Since then he’s scored three goals and nine points in nine games. Feel free to pick him up while he’s producing, but given how 2019-20 has gone, it wouldn’t be surprising if those who grab him end up dropping him in a couple weeks.

Dominik Kahun, Penguins – LW: The loss of Jake Guentzel for the remainder of the season was a major blow to the Penguins, but they have no choice but to move on and attempt to fill the void. Kahun is one of the players who has an opportunity with Guentzel out. The Penguins have been experimenting with using Kahun on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust, which was Guentzel’s spot prior to the injury. Kahun’s new role hasn’t resulted in any points yet, but he has been a solid contributor this season with 21 points in 41 contests despite being limited to 13:14 minutes per game. With increased responsibilities, he could be a pretty solid fantasy option in the second half of the season.

Sami Vatanen, Devils– D: Vatanen has been a silver lining in what has been a largely disappointing campaign for the Devils. With five goals and 22 points in 37 games, he’s bounced back nicely from his 17-point 2018-19 campaign. He’s hot right now with a goal and nine points in nine games, but he was doing alright even before that. I’ve said before that I see him more short-term pickup and I’d still lean more towards classifying him as that, but I don’t he’d be a bad defenseman to hold onto if you are hurting in that position.

Roope Hintz, Stars – C/LW: The Stars are on a four-game winning streak and Hintz has done his part with two goals and five points in that span. His ice time has been all over the place this season and what’s interesting that he’s averaged just 12:55 minutes over his last four games, but he’s still be used with the man advantage. That power-play ice time has been critical to his recent success. He has three power-play points and one shorthanded assist over his last four games, leaving him with just one even-strength point. The Stars next two games are against Los Angeles and Anaheim, which rank 28th and 21st respectively when it comes to killing penalties, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see Hintz find more success on the power play in the near future.

Patric Hornqvist, Penguins – RW: Hornqvist is a known entity at this point. He’s a not spectacular, but reliable scorer. This season injuries have gotten in the way, but he’s been solid when healthy with nine goals and 15 points in 25 contests. Now that he’s healthy, he’s worth grabbing if you have a hole in RW that needs plugging because while he’s not exciting, he’s fairly safe.

Dominik Kubalik, Blackhawks – LW/RW: Kubalik had six goals and 10 points in 27 contests to start the season, which is solid for a rookie, but nothing particularly special by fantasy standards. Lately he’s stepped up though with six goals and 12 points in his last 14 contests. His increase in production also corresponds with his growing role. He’s averaged 14:28 minutes over his most recent 14 games, up from 12:29 minutes prior to that. Kubalik has routinely played alongside Jonathan Toews lately, which helps matters. Although it’s rarer, occasionally the third player on that line is Patrick Kane. In other words, Kubalik has been handed a pretty good opportunity lately and he’s taken advantage of it.

Players You May Want To Drop

Alex Galchenyuk, Penguins – LW:  I mentioned above that Kahun is filling in for Guentzel on the Malkin line, but Galchenyuk was also tried on that line. That didn’t last long though. Galchenyuk logged just 9:22 minutes on Jan. 4 and 10:29 minutes on Jan. 5 and unsurprisingly had no points over that span. He’s been a big disappointment this season and if you grabbed him after Guentzel’s injury in the hopes that Galchenyuk would play a bigger role, you can drop him again.

James van Riemsdyk, Flyers – LW: van Riemsdyk has been hot-and-cold this season with his latest hot streak being particularly good. He had eight goals and 14 points in 13 contests from Nov. 27-Dec. 23. That the problem that he hasn’t recorded a single point in the five games that have followed. He’s worth keeping an eye on so you can scoop him up when he starts scoring again, but for now you may as well drop him.

Christian Dvorak, Coyotes – C/LW: Dvorak scored three goals and 14 points in 17 contests from Nov. 18-Dec. 22, but he’s otherwise been pretty underwhelming this season. Lately, he’s recorded just a goal and an assist in six games. He’s a pretty borderline player in standard leagues under normal circumstances, having never recorded more than 37 points in a single season. If you picked him up while he was hot, you may want to re-evaluate your options.

Calle Jarnkrok, Predators – LW/RW: Jarnkrok was a great option from Nov. 21-Dec. 17 with six goals and 13 points in 13 contests. He hasn’t done much since then though. Over his last eight games he’s registered just two assists. Given that he’s usually not a great offensive force, it’s reasonable to drop him now that he’s cooled down.

Justin Faulk, Blues – D: Faulk was typically good for at least 30 points per season when he was with the Carolina Hurricanes, but he has just three goals and 12 points in 43 contests in his first season with St. Louis. It doesn’t help that Faulk has averaged a modest 1:21 power-play minutes this season. By contrast, he averaged 2:56 power-play minutes in 2018-19 with Carolina. As a result, Faulk has just two power-play points this season, which is part of the reason for his underwhelming production this season. He did record two goals and five points in seven games from Dec. 12-27, which likely led to an uptick in people picking him up during that span, but he’s cooled down again and probably won’t be a major contributor going forward.

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.

Blackhawks self destruct, blow 3-goal third period lead to Blues

Blackhawks Blues third period rally
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Just when it looked like the Chicago Blackhawks had hit rock bottom they found a way to keep digging.

Their disastrous three-game road trip came to a brutal end on Saturday night in St. Louis when they allowed a three-goal lead with 16 minutes to play turn into a 4-3 regulation loss to the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues.

The meltdown began when St. Louis’ Tyler Bozak scored just 30 seconds after Patrick Kane had given the Blackhawk a 3-0 lead, capitalizing on a terrible turnover by Alex Nylander.

The Blues completed the comeback with three goals in the final six minutes of regulation, including a pair of goals just 12 seconds apart to tie the game.

Just three minutes after that sequence Justin Faulk scored his second goal of the season for the game-winner.

1. The Blackhaws’ problems remain the same

It’s the defensive zone play. It has been the defensive zone play. It continues to be the defensive zone play.

At times the Blackhawks look like a team that has never had to play in the defensive zone before. Turnovers, missed assignments, blown assignments, and just about every possible defensive calamity that can happen to a team in the defensive zone happens to this team on a near nightly basis. All of that was on display in the final 16 minutes on Saturday and it once again left their goalie — in this case Corey Crawford — all by himself on an island.

2. Where they stand now

In last place in the Central Division and next-to-last place in the entire Western Conference, just one point ahead of the Los Angeles Kings. Needless to say, that is a brutal position for a team with one of the league’s largest payrolls to be in.

They are 3-8-2 in their past 13 games (only one of those wins in regulation), are nine points out of the second Wild Card spot and 12 points back of the top-three teams in the Central Division.

They were outscored by a 14-6 margin on their three-game trip that took them through Arizona, Vegas, and St. Louis.

At this point the season is not only getting away from them, it appears to be completely gone.

3. What happens next?

This is the type of stretch, and this is the type of game, that leads to change.

Or at least starts the ball rolling toward change.

Head coach Jeremy Colliton has been on the job for just one year, and firing him that quickly after he replaced a future Hall of Fame, three-time Stanley Cup winning coach would make it seem like the Blackhawks don’t really have much of a plan and don’t really know what they’re doing.

But do you know what? Maybe they don’t know what they’re doing, and maybe they don’t have a plan. General manager Stan Bowman gambled big on his core and that its strong second half a year ago was a sign of what the team was still capable of. That it maybe just needed a few tweaks to compete again. With every passing game this season, and with every defensive meltdown that seems worse than the previous one, it is becoming increasingly clear this team just isn’t very good and the right changes were not made.

In the end something is very wrong with this team and there does not seem to be much light at the end of the tunnel.

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: Rantanen dominates in return; Driedger gets shutout in first start

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Three Stars

1. Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche. After being sidelined for more than a month Rantanen returned to the Avalanche lineup on Saturday and picked right up where he left off, recording four points in a complete destruction of the Chicago Blackhawks. He is now up to 16 points in 10 games this season, and with him back in the lineup the Avalanche dominant duo of Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon is going to start taking over games again. They are still without Gabriel Landeskog but have managed to keep piling up points thanks to the brilliance of MacKinnon and the improved depth throughout the roster. Given all of the salary cap space they still have they are going to have a chance to add a major piece before the trade deadline and be a force in the Western Conference playoffs. Joonas Donskoi also had four points for the Avalanche on Saturday, while MacKinnon added three. This game also featured one of the most random and unexpected fights of the season when Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat squared off against Colorado defenseman Samuel Girard.

2. Chris Driedger, Florida Panthers. With big-money free agent Sergei Bobrovsky off to a terrible start this season, the Panthers turned to the 25-year-old Driedger for his first career start on Saturday against the Nashville Predators. He made quite an impact turning aside all 27 shots he faced as the Panthers began a nine-game homestand. Before Saturday Driedger had only made three relief appearances (all with the Ottawa Senators) in his very brief NHL career.

3. Tanner Pearson, Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks have been waiting for some of their depth players to make an impact offensively this season, and it has finally started to happen over the past couple of games. Pearson had a huge game in their 5-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers, scoring two goals and adding two assists. Unlike Wednesday’s game in Pittsburgh, they were able to hold on to this three-goal third period lead to snap what had been a brief two-game losing streak.

Other notable performances from Saturday

  • Alex Ovechkin became just the fifth player in NHL history to record 15 consecutive 20-goal seasons to begin a career. He also moved into 10th place all-time with his 24th career hat trick. Read all about it here.
  • Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov teamed up for a shutout for the New York Islanders as they beat the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets were one of four teams to lose a defenseman to injury on Saturday.
  • The Toronto Maple Leafs won for the fourth time in five games under new coach Sheldon Keefe thanks to a John Tavares overtime winner against the Buffalo Sabres.
  • Alexandar Georgiev stopped all 33 shots he faced for the New York Rangers in a 4-0 win over their arch-rivals, the New Jersey Devils.
  • Big night for Calgary Flames forward Elias Lindholm as he scored two goals, giving him 14 on the season, in a 3-1 win over the Ottawa Senators.
  • Defenseman Justin Faulk scored his first goal as a member of the St. Louis Blues in a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
  • Logan Couture scored two goals for the San Jose Sharks as they erased an early two-goal deficit to beat the Arizona Coyotes by a 4-2 margin.
  • Jack Campbell was outstanding for the Los Angeles Kings, stopping 32 out of 33 shots in a 2-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets.

Highlights of the Night

Ivan Provorov lifted the Philadelphia Flyers to a 4-3 overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday with this incredible goal in the extra period.

Three observations on the Blues’ inconsistent start

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One of the fascinating things about the St. Louis Blues’ worst-to-first turnaround during the 2018-19 season was always going to be the lessons other teams in the league tried to take away from it. For example, how many teams off to sluggish starts this season would wrongly assume they could repeat what the Blues did while ignoring that the Blues were always built to win last season, and even during their dreadful start were always just one key player (a goalie) away from turning it around.

The Blues’ inability to get saves early in the season was the single biggest downfall for the team and was submarining an otherwise strong contender with a great defense. Once Jordan Binnington got his mid-season call-up and steadied the position everything came together and resulted in their first ever championship.

The biggest question after that was always going to be whether or not Binnington’s second half and postseason performance were something he could duplicate over a full season. As the Blues prepare to play their 10th game of the season on Thursday night against the Los Angeles Kings the early results have been a little mixed, and the team is once again off to an inconsistent start having won just four of their first nine games.

So what’s going on with the defending champs?

The goaltending hasn’t been there yet

Defensively the Blues are right about where you would expect them to be, sitting among the league’s best teams in preventing shots attempts and shots on goal. Despite that, they still find themselves in the bottom half of the league in goals against and just like early last season the goaltending has been the biggest issue.

So far the duo of Binnington and Jake Allen has an overall save percentage of just .893, a mark that places them 23rd in the NHL. And while that is better than what they were getting early last season it is still not good enough. Most of that is due to Allen’s two appearances (eight goals allowed on just 53 shots), but Binnington hasn’t really been all that consistent yet, either.

For as great as he played late in the regular season, there was nothing in his professional track record to suggest he was ever going to maintain that level of performance every year. To be fair, the Blues don’t really need that sort of performance to win. They are so good defensively and do such a great job preventing shots that even above average goaltending would make them an incredibly difficult team to score against. When Binnington has given them that level of play this year, the Blues have won. When he hasn’t — as has been in the case in three of his past four starts — the Blues have lost.

They’ve surrendered a lot of leads

A somewhat surprising development given their strong defensive structure, but it’s come down to big keys — the goaltending issue mentioned above with a little bit of bad luck added in.

  • In their season-opener on banner raising night they let an early 2-0 lead slip away against the Washington Capitals and turned it into a 3-2 loss.
  • One week later they had a 3-2 lead against Montreal with 28 minutes to play and surrendered four consecutive goals on their way to a 6-3 loss.
  • In their very next game after that they had a 2-0 lead in New York against the Islanders with five minutes to play and allowed three consecutive goals to lose in overtime.
  • In the game after that they had a 3-1 lead against Vancouver with 27 minutes to play, allowed two consecutive goals, and then lost a marathon six-round shootout where only one goal was scored.

There is an element of bad luck to losing three consecutive overtime/shootout games within the first nine games of a season, especially when one of those games comes down to an extended shootout. You’re basically flipping a coin at that point and hoping it comes up heads, while the game-tying goal against the Islanders came on a rather fluky redirection in front (the first and third goals in that game, though, were not good ones for Binnington).

It is way too early to be overly concerned

The big picture outlook is simple: the Blues have received some of the worst goaltending in the league so far, while the quartet of Ryan O'Reilly, Jaden Schwartz, Colton Parayko, and Justin Faulk have combined to score two total goals — a trend that almost certainly will not continue — and the team has still managed to play at a .611 points pace (a 100-point pace over 82 games). We are also talking about a team that is probably one or two bounces away from having one of the best records in the league despite having not yet played their best hockey yet. The defense is still there, the defense is still playing well, and there is still room for some of their top contributors to produce more. As long as the goaltending doesn’t completely fall into a crater this is still a team that has all the necessary ingredients to get back on track.

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.