Maurice Richard Trophy

Marchand move assist to Pastrnak Bruins Habs
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Marchand baffles Habs, sets up Bruins goal with absurd move

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David Pastrnak moved into the goals lead by reaching 41 on Wednesday, with time for more. It will take something special for someone to top the move and assist from Brad Marchand for highlight of the night.

Marchand displayed much of what makes him such a superstar to put Boston up 1-0.

To start, he spotlighted his smarts by jumping on a puck for a turnover. Marchand then made an absurd move to get around Montreal’s defense, particularly (but really not just) Jeff Petry. Marchand proceeded to somehow find Pastrnak with a beautiful pass for one of the most primary primary assists you’ll see.

Watch that spectacle in the video above, because it needs to be seen.

Pastrnak then took over the show from there.

That second tally pushes Pastrnak to 40 on the season. With that, Pastrnak became the first Bruin to hit 40 goals since Glen Murray in 2002-03. Murray reached 44 that year, with Joe Thornton playing the role of a slightly taller Marchand in that case.

Pastrnak then completed a hat trick during the second period. With 41 goals (and counting?) Pastrnak now leads the Maurice Richard Trophy race.

There’s still time for Marchand and Pastrnak to make more magic. Watch the game on NBCSN and/or stream it live here.

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.

Matthews, Pastrnak set up thrilling Maurice Richard race

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

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

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

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

Before we burrow, consider the simplest facts:

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

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

Matthews on fire, Pastrnak seemingly shakes slight cold streak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Considering the rest of the field

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

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

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

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

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

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

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Ovechkin’s Richard reign continues, and more early NHL Awards

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The NHL announced the winners of three regular season trophies following the conclusion of the 2018-19 season. Interestingly, all of these announcements could be paired with additional trophies when the full 2019 NHL Awards roll around following the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Art Ross Trophy: Nikita Kucherov won the scoring title, generating 128 points, a new single-season record for a Russian-born player. There are a bunch of great facts about Kucherov’s season in this post.

There’s a strong chance Kucherov will eventually bring home the Hart Trophy as league MVP, too. In addition to that, Kucherov’s teammate Andrei Vasilevskiy is a strong candidate to win the Vezina Trophy, and his coach Jon Cooper could very well land the Jack Adams. (I mean, probably not, but there’s a sizeable number of people who believe that he’s deserving.)

Of course, the Lightning also locked up the Presidents’ Trophy as the top team in the NHL back in March.

Maurice Richard Trophy: Alex Ovechkin scored 51 goals to become the first player to win this award as the top goal scorer on eight different occasions. It wasn’t easy, though, as Leon Draisaitl pushed it to the limit by finishing with 50 goals himself.

This infographic tells a nice story about how 2018-19 was a strong season for scorers

In case you’re wondering, 18 of Ovechkin’s 51 goals came on the power play.

William Jennings Trophy: Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner helped the Islanders allow an NHL-low 196 goals this season, putting together similarly splendid stats to win this trophy for fewest goals against.

The league’s blurb captures just how remarkable this turnaround was for Isles goalies:

Lehner and Greiss both finished the season among the top five netminders in goals-against average and save percentage. That helped the Islanders, who gave up 296 goals in 2017-18, become the second team in NHL history to allow the fewest goals immediately following the season in which it yielded the most. The original Ottawa Senators first accomplished that feat in 1918-19, the second season in League history (when there were only three teams).

Of course, the fascinating chicken-and-the-egg discussion revolves around: “How much was this turnaround about those goalies, and how much was it about the work of Barry Trotz and Mitch Korn?” Trotz is a virtual lock for the Jack Adams this year (sorry, Cooper and others), so chances are, both the goalies and their coach will come away with hardware for their work during the 2018-19 campaign.

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: Spectacular debut to end season; Many records broken

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(UPDATE: Here’s the full Round 1 schedule with dates and TV info.)

Round 1 matchups are set

The Predators winning the Central Division was the biggest tournament-altering moment of the last night of the regular season. You can now see all eight series matchups here, with additional information.

Those who didn’t make it …

Get to cross their fingers and hope that their team wins the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery. Get the lowdown in this post.

Kucherov, Lightning hit 128

In a remarkable moment of symmetry, both the Lightning and Nikita Kucherov will end 2018-19 with 128 points. On the way, the Bolts tied the NHL record with 62 wins. This post is basically the factoids on those specific accomplishments, and they’re really something.

Three Stars

1. Ryan Poehling

For Poehling, this wasn’t just the last game of the season, it was also his first NHL game. So what did he do? He celebrated it with a hat trick and a shootout-winner, that’s how. Yes, it is indeed worth a post of its own.

In what was one of the other highlights of the night, legendary announcer Bob Cole ended his broadcasting career while Poehling began his in a memorable way:

2. Robin Lehner

Lehner put a bow on a remarkable regular season, making 29 saves for his sixth shutout of 2018-19. He did so in just 46 games played (43 of those being starts), going 25-13-5 with a tremendous .930 save percentage.

With Thomas Greiss being almost as good in 2018-19, it’s unlikely that Lehner built up the volume of games (and to some voters, most importantly wins) to be a serious Vezina threat. Nights like these should stand as a reminder of just how special his season has been.

Then again, Lehner and Greiss combined to win the William Jennings Trophy for the lowest GAA, so they get fitting recognition as a tandem.

Now, the question is: can he back it up during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs? For all of the Penguins’ flaws, they have a knack for making even the hottest goalies look cold.

3. Oliver Bjorkstrand

If the Blue Jackets hope to upset the mighty Lightning, they’ll probably need more than just a strong series from Artemi Panarin and for Sergei Bobrovsky to finally overcome the ghosts of playoffs past.

Someone like Bjorkstrand pitching in would really help. He’s been absolutely on fire during the last 10 games, firing in an impressive nine goals and two assists for 11 points. Bjorkstrand managed all of his assists in one game: Saturday’s 6-2 thumping of the Senators, where the winger also scored a goal.

Bjorkstrand’s shown signs of being a dangerous player in the past, including at lower levels than the NHL. He could be an X-factor in the first round … if Columbus manages to keep things close, at least.

Highlight of the Night

Scratch that, let’s call this what it is:

One more Gritty video

Gritty vs. goalies? The Flyers are embracing their history, right?

Factoids

Scores
TBL 6 – BOS 3
STL 3 – VAN 2 (SO)
MTL 6 – TOR 5 (SO)
CBJ 6 – OTT 2
BUF 7 – DET 1
NJD 4 – FLA 3 (OT)
CAR 4 – PHI 3
NYR 4 – PIT 3 (OT)
NYI 3 – WSH 0
NSH 5 – CHI 2
DAL 3 – MIN 0
EDM 3 – CGY 1
WPG 4 – ARI 2
LAK 5 – VGK 2
SJS 5 – COL 2

For the third consecutive postseason, NBC Sports’ coverage of Stanley Cup Playoff first-round games on NBCUniversal cable networks (NBCSN, USA Network and CNBC), as well as NHL Network, will air side-by-side and will be available for streaming on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app in local markets alongside regional sports network game telecasts. (Local blackouts apply in Las Vegas and Pittsburgh in the first round).

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.

Video: Stamkos breaks Lightning season record with 53 goals

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With 172 goals in his first 318 career regular season games, 22-year-old star Steven Stamkos seems primed to finish his career among the NHL’s greatest goal scorers. He already grabbed a piece of Tampa Bay Lightning franchise history in the process.

After fanning on a shot, Stamkos made no mistake about his second attempt, beating a hopeless Ilya Bryzgalov with just .6 seconds left in the second period of tonight’s 5-3 win to earn his league-leading 53rd goal of 2011-12. Stamkos isn’t just beefing up his Maurice Richard Trophy lead, though, as that tally gave him the Lightning’s single season goal-scoring record.

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It seems fitting that Stamkos broke Vincent Lecavalier’s record (52 goals set in 2006-07) because in many ways, the 22-year-old has been the kind of player worthy of the hype that Lecavalier carried into the NHL.

That’s not to take away from Lecavalier’s own work, but Stamkos is shaping up to be the best center the club’s ever employed. (Beating out Martin St. Louis as the best overall forward would be an even bigger challenge, however, as the small winger has put up fantastic seasons even when Vinny and the rest of the team has been disappointing.)

Stamkos’ 53rd tally came on the power play, yet he’s made it clear that he can score more than just the faceoff circle one-timer that admittedly remains a fearsome play. Only 11 of his tallies have come on the man advantage this season, which provides evidence that Stamkos’ offensive game has plenty of dimensions.

That’s great news for a Bolts franchise that needs it and a scary thought for all the teams who must fathom the thought of dealing with 10 or more years of dangerous Stamkos snipes.

Here are overall highlights of the Lightning win:

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