Linus Ullmark

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The Buzzer: Rough night for rougher teams

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Three Stars

1. Assorted Buffalo Sabres

Look, when you beat a team 7-1, you’re probably going to have at least a few standouts, and your top Sabres star probably boils down to taste.

Johan Larsson is a good player to start with. His three assists happened during Buffalo’s five-goal opening period, one that really made the Devils’ dire situation extra-glaringly-clear. Jack Eichel did what he does, which is score a lot, extending his point streak to 10 games with one goal and two assists.

To be fair to the Devils, they at least tried to make the score more respectable. They fired 45 shots on goal, including 39 during the second and third period, to try to get in the game. Linus Ullmark wasn’t interested in helping New Jersey save face, however, as he stopped all but one of those 45 SOG.

2. Jake Allen, St. Louis Blues

Could we be seeing a mini-renaissance for a goalie who’s been left in the dust by Jordan Binnington?

Allen was arguably the first star of Monday night, making 38 saves for his first shutout of 2019-20, including 17 in the third period to cement that goose egg.

While it’s a small sample size, Allen has been heating up after two rocky appearances in October. Allen generated a strong .934 save percentage during five appearances in November, and began December with this shutout. Again, it’s not exactly a lengthy run of elite puck-stopping, yet if Allen can maintain a decent level of play, the Blues can at least keep Binnington reasonably rested as they try to defend that first-ever Stanley Cup title.

Semyon Varlamov is a decent option as another goalie as he made 30 out of 31 stops as the Islanders got back on the winning track against the very-much-not-winning Red Wings.

3. Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim Ducks

It’s unclear if Lindholm will find the game that made him an under-the-radar elite defensive presence from 2015-16 to 2017-18, only to drop off significantly in 2018-19. But he at least enjoyed a nice game on Monday.

Lindholm collected three assists against the Kings, ending a seven-game pointless streak. The last time he collected a point? Why, that was … another three-assist night, in that case against the Avalanche on Oct. 26. Lindholm now has 12 points (all assists) in 20 games in 2019-20.

Stephenson is Vegas-bound

The Washington Capitals traded Chandler Stephenson to the Vegas Golden Knights (and George McPhee) for a fifth-round pick in 2021.

Tough to say that Stephenson is a huge loss, judging by both his modest scoring numbers, workmanlike other stats, and his RAPM chart at Evolving Hockey. But he might at least give Vegas a decent option to soak up penalty kill minutes and other unglamorous roles.

Highlight of the Night

Kings forward Nikolai Prokhorkin sliced through the Ducks defense like a hot fork knife through butter.

Lowlight

Ouch, Louis Domingue.

Factoids

  • Jake Allen joins Brian Elliott (25) and Jaroslav Halak (20) as the only three Blues goalies with 20 career shutouts, according to NHL PR. Binnington is at six in his regular season career, in case you were wondering.
  • NHL PR points out that Jack Eichel (four assists on March 21, 2018) is the only Sabres player with more assists in a single period than the three Larsson collected in the opening frame on Monday.
  • The Devils have lost their last two games by a combined score of 11-1. The Sabres scored three goals before New Jersey even registered its first shot on goal in Monday’s 7-1 drubbing.
  • The Red Wings have now lost 10 games in a row, and have allowed the most goals in the league with 118. No one else has reached 100 goals allowed yet this season (Montreal’s second-worst with 95).
  • As rough as the Rangers’ underlying numbers have been, they were putting together some decent stretches. Monday’s 4-1 loss to the Golden Knights ended a five-game point streak where the Rangers went 4-0-1.

Scores

BUF 7 – NJD 1
VGK 4 – NYR 1
NYI 4 – DET 1
STL 4 – CHI 0
ANA 4 – LAK 2

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: Another big night for Eichel; Neal’s bounce-back continues

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Three Stars

1. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres. Having lost nine of their previous 10 games the Buffalo Sabres desperately need to start stacking some wins together. They got a big one on Sunday when they crushed the Florida Panthers, 5-2, to snap what had been a three-game losing streak. Eichel was one of the big stars in this one as he finished with a goal and two assists in the win. He now has 12 points over his past six games.

2. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes. The Carolina Hurricanes’ 2-0 win over the Detroit Red Wings was a one-goal game until the final minute when they added an empty-net goal, but it was never really that close. Carolina was in control from the very beginning and ended up nearly doubling up the Red Wings on the shot chart, holding them to just 19 shots on goal for the game. Aho was the big star for the Hurricanes by scoring the game-winning goal and adding an assist on Teuvo Teravainen‘s empty-net goal. After a slow start that saw him record just one point in his first six games, Aho now has 19 points in the 17 games since.

3. James Neal, Edmonton Oilers. His bounce-back year continues. He scored his 14th goal of the season — and 10th on the power play — in the Oilers’ 4-3 shootout win over the Arizona Coyotes. Keep in mind this is the Oilers’ 26th game of the season. He scored seven goals in 63 games a year ago for the Calgary Flames before they traded him this offseason. No player on the Flames currently has more than 11 goals so far this season. Sunday’s win moved the Oilers into sole possession of first place in the Western Conference, moving them two points ahead of the St. Louis Blues.

Other notable performances from Sunday

  • James Reimer stopped all 19 shots he faced for the Hurricanes on Sunday to record first shutout of the season and his first as a member of the Hurricanes.
  • Zemgus Girgensons scored two goals for the Sabres in their win against Florida, while starting goalie Linus Ullmark stopped 43 out of 45 shots in net.
  • The Coyotes gained another point in the standings and defenseman Alex Goligoski played a big role in that with a three assist night.

Highlights of the Night

Eichel’s goal on Sunday was a great example of how he can make opposing defenders look silly and how quick his shot is.

Factoids

  • Andrei Svechnikov is the second teenager in Hurricanes/Whalers history to have a point streak of at least eight games, joining Ron Francis from the franchise’s Hartford days. [NHL PR]
  • Connor McDavid‘s point streak reaches 11 games, making it the second longest streak of his career. He also scored the game-winning goal for the Oilers in the shootout. [NHL PR]
  • The Sabres’ win snapped a six-game losing streak in Florida against the Panthers. [NHL PR]

Scores

Buffalo Sabres 5, Florida Panthers 2
Carolina Hurricanes 2, Detroit Red Wings 0
Edmonton Oilers 4, Arizona Coyotes 3 (SO)

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.

Lightning flash signs of old swagger in beating Sabres

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One game doesn’t undo weeks of up-and-down play; not in a sport with an 82-game regular season. It doesn’t matter if that win came at home, or in Sweden, where the Tampa Bay Lightning managed a 3-2 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Friday.

Yet, for a Lightning team that had been wobbly in 2019-20 after that shocking first-round sweep against the Blue Jackets, it’s good to see a bit of that dominant burst back.

Here are a few thoughts from the first of two Lightning – Sabres games for the 2019 Global Series (find out more about the 2020 version here).

Striking quick early

In particular, the Lightning started strong.

Most obviously, that quick start could be seen in building a 2-0 lead, with the highlight being great passes from Kevin Shattenkirk to Brayden Point and finally to Nikita Kucherov for a pretty goal:

The Lightning were pretty assertive even beyond the early scoring. They fired 13 shots on goal in each of the first two periods before being knotted up 8-8 with Buffalo in the final frame. There were stretches where the Bolts carried themselves with that swagger we were more used to last season. Linus Ullmark gets the L here, but deserves some credit for some sharp saves when Tampa Bay was pressing to send that game out of control.

Discipline coming?

As you can read about here, Kucherov didn’t just score a nice goal. He also delivered a very-not-nice hit on Vladimir Sobotka, who did not return to Friday’s game.

The Sabres did not receive a power play for that hit, and perhaps there might be some overall grumbling about calls. After all, you could argue that was the difference in a one-goal game, as the Lightning went 1-for-4 on the PP, while Buffalo didn’t score on just two power-play opportunities.

Reinhart the Lionheart

Last season, Sam Reinhart had a breakthrough that mostly slipped under the radar, as the now-24-year-old generated a career-high 65 points.

On a rare quiet night for Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner, Reinhart almost scored enough to grab at least a standings point for Buffalo, as the winger was responsible for both of Buffalo’s goals. Reinhart is developing into a heady, useful two-way player, and maybe on his way to new career-highs, as he now has 13 points in 15 games.

***

This win pushes the Lightning to 7-5-2. While the Sabres rank ahead of Tampa Bay at 9-5-2, Buffalo’s now lost four straight games, and have dropped five of their last six. Neither team gets much time to ruminate on this result, as they meet again on Saturday.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Rask, Rinne, Fleury are NHL’s hottest goalies so far

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With every team except the New Jersey Devils at 10 games played or more – New Jersey’s played nine – this seems like a good time to check in on the most important (yet also most unpredictable) position in hockey: goalies.

These netminders are off to the hottest starts so far in the young 2019-20 season.

Tuukka Rask

If forced to name a top goalie so far, I’d lean toward the Boston Bruins veteran.

Rask is 6-0-1 so far, with a league-leading .951 save percentage.

The 32-year-old sparkles in deeper categories, too. Rask ranks third in even-strength save percentage at .961. According to Hockey Reference’s Goals Saved Against Average (GSAA) – a metric that attempts to account for the difficulty of shots a goalie faces – Rask leads all goaltenders by a healthy margin with 8.69 GSAA.

Every single one of his starts has been considered a “quality start.”

Pekka Rinne

Big-time Finns are off to great starts.

Rinne is tied with Penguins backup Tristan Jarry for the league’s best even-strength save percentage at .964, and Rinne’s off to a great start in the standings, going 7-0-1. Rask and Rinne are in a four-way tie for first place in shutouts with two alongside Carter Hutton and Petr Mrazek.

Rinne’s 6.53 GSAA ranks third. There was a time when people chalked up some of Rinne’s success to the team in front of him, and a brief period (especially 2015-16) when Rinne struggled by any measure. That’s looking more like a blip in an increasingly brilliant career.

Darcy Kuemper

I must admit, I wondered if the Coyotes were being hasty in extending Kuemper, as great as he was basically since the calendar hit 2019. Instead, GM John Chayka’s proactiveness might pay off big time, as Kuemper’s carried over that great finish from 2018-19 to 2019-20 so far.

If Arizona can give Kuemper more consistent goal support (5-3-0), he might get the sort of wins that Vezina-voting GMs gravitate to. Otherwise, he checks out with a .933 save percentage and 5.62 GSAA.

Marc-Andre Fleury

At some point, it feels like the Golden Knights are going to overwork their workhorse. The 34-year-old remains sturdy and often spectacular right now, though.

His eight wins (8-3-0) lead the NHL at the moment, and his 334 saves top all as well (though John Gibson‘s generally being asked to do even more in Anaheim, which is sadly not much of a surprise). Fleury’s .928 save percentage might not be outright spectacular compared to the best on this list, but his second-ranked 7.14 GSAA helps illustrate just how much Vegas depends upon “The Flower.”

Lightning round

  • Robin Lehner: The Blackhawks have fond memories of Corey Crawford (.888 save percentage), but might want to ride the hot hand in Lehner, who has a .936 save percentage through six games. There are signs that Lehner might be able to bail out a shaky Blackhawks defense, considering a high GSAA.
  • When you consider how well Pittsburgh’s played despite injuries that are finally healing up, give Sidney Crosby a lot of credit. Don’t sleep on Jarry and Matt Murray, though, as they have put together great stats early on.
  • The Canucks renaissance is based on a hot top line, but also Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko, with Demko maybe arguing for a bigger slice of the starts with a .941 save percentage. Both have been lights out, though.
  • Connor Hellebuyck: For all the doom and gloom for Winnipeg, the Jets would be in bigger trouble without a so-far redemptive season for Hellebuyck, who has a .924 save percentage and has generally saved their bacon.
  • Linus Ullmark and Carter Hutton have both been fantastic for the Sabres, ranking alongside each other at seventh and eighth in GSAA, and each have the requisite strong vanilla save percentages.
  • By John Gibson standards, a .920 save percentage is pedestrian, but again, the Ducks are asking him to work miracles. He’s pulling off magic, at minimum.
  • Last season, Thomas Greiss was almost as great as Lehner. So far in 2019-20, Greiss is … almost as great as Lehner (.931 save percentage, 4.02 GSAA).
  • To round out this post, Philipp Grubauer and Mikko Koskinen have had the occasional off start, but have mostly been strong for the Avs and Oilers respectively.

When you consider how many of these goalies are on teams that are mysteriously red-hot, maybe those torrid runs aren’t such a mystery. The bigger mystery is: how many of them can keep at least most of this up?

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

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.