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Islanders’ Boychuk personifies commitment, blocks shot with face

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The New York Islanders are fighting for a playoff spot and Johnny Boychuk appears ready to put his face on the line to make the promised land come April.

With the score 0-0 late in the first period in Saturday’s matinee between the Isles and the New York Rangers, Boychuk used his cheek to block what appeared to be a sure goal off the stick of Rangers forward Chris Kreider.

Here’s what commitment looks like:

The Isles ended up losing the game 2-1. They are still in the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, level with the Buffalo Sabres in the second spot on 52 points. The Sabres play later on Saturday.

The Montreal Canadiens, meanwhile, sit one point adrift of both the Isles and the Sabres. The Canadiens also play on Saturday night.

The Isles may have not won the battle on Saturday, but the war for a playoff spot is still to be had. That’s the kind of block that fans will love, especially in early January.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Penguins’ Murray out ‘longer-term’ with lower-body injury

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Matt Murray is down for the count once again.

The Pittsburgh Penguins placed their starting goalie on injured reserve on Thursday, and it appears he could miss a lengthy period of time with a lower-body injury.

Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan told reporters that Murray will be sidelined “longer-term.” No official timeline was provided.

According to Sullivan, Murray has been dealing with the injury for the past couple of weeks, which could account for his poor run of form.

Murray was pulled on Saturday after giving up three goals on 10 shots to the Ottawa Senators.

He owns a 4-5-1 record with an abysmal .877 save percentage and a 4.08 goals-against average.

“This was not something that we expected,” Sullivan said.

The Penguins have recalled Tristan Jarry on an emergency basis. He will back up Casey DeSmith going forward.

Murray already missed time earlier this season with his third concussion in the past four years (and second in an eight-month span), so the silver lining here is that it wasn’t his fourth.

Murray has dealt with numerous injuries since becoming the starter in Pittsburgh in 2016-17.

A broken hand, a litany of lower-body injuries and his concussions have all limited him at one point or another, so this latest ailment just adds to the pile of frustration for Murray, the team and Pens fans.

Even with his struggles, Murray’s absence is an obvious blow for the struggling Penguins.

DeSmith will be called upon to shoulder much of the load. He has played well at times in relief, with a 4-3-3 record and a .924 save percentage.

Pittsburgh is 2-6-2 in their past 10 games.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Crosby continues goal-scoring resurgence with another backhand beauty

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Halloween is fast approaching and Sidney Crosby is reminding the NHL that he’s still the wizard.

Crosby’s latest sorcery? His backhand shot.

The victims? The Edmonton Oilers and now the Calgary Flames. Crosby is casting spells on Alberta and there’s not a darn thing they can do about it.

The proof? Here’s Flames forward Sam Bennett. He’s draped himself all over Crosby, presumably to try and stop any sort of shenanigans. Crosby, unfazed, decides to score anyway as he forces his backhand shot (which appeared to be a one-handed effort) past Mike Smith.

It’s sort of unfair.

Crosby’s latest goal — his third of the season and third in his past two games after a slow start — comes after making particularly nasty work of Oilers forward Ryan Strome on Monday.

You can only feel bad for Strome here. There wasn’t a thing he could have done as Crosby did Crosby and scored an incredible backhand goal to steal back the best-player-in-the-league title.

Crosby’s slow start had people wondering if, finally, the man would start to slow down. It seems now that he was just lying in wait.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

What’s behind Hurricanes’ early-season success?

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The Carolina Hurricanes are off to a mighty fine start, eh?

A 4-1-1 record, with their lone regulation loss coming against the Winnipeg Jets in a game they thoroughly dominated but lost on a late third-period hiccup. The Hurricanes have been a pleasant surprise in the NHL in the infancy of the 2018-19 season.

As PHT’s Adam Gretz pointed out last week, the team is young, fun and worth watching.

They are all three of those things, and they’re doing so in such dominant fashion thus far. Case and point: Over the past two games, Carolina has logged a whopping 100 shots on goal. They peppered Devan Dubnyk and the Minnesota Wild into submission on Saturday night, finally winning the game in overtime on sheer volume alone on their 57th shot.

On Sunday night in Winnipeg, a team playing the second game of a back-to-back put up 43 more against a team that’s touted as a Stanley Cup contender. The Hurricanes enjoyed 61 percent of the possession in the game, producing 34 scoring chances, with 14 of those being of the high-danger variety.

Their loss on vs. the Jets was bad luck more than anything. Winnipeg didn’t deserve to win the game. The Hurricanes didn’t deserve to lose.

And while the ‘L’ might be a sobering reminder that life isn’t always fair in the NHL, Carolina’s play as a whole has put the league on watch.

The Hurricanes roll four lines that control the game’s shot share. Here’s a handy-dandy chart to explain:

Source: Natural Stat Trick

Carolina has been overwhelming teams thus far and it’s coming from everywhere. There’s little drop off no matter who’s on the ice.

There’s a disclaimer here and that is that the season is young. These are far from concrete numbers over the course of an 82-game season, but what they do show is how well the Hurricanes are clicking together amongst their four lines and how it’s having a direct effect on their results, even with the small sample size.

Are these numbers likely to regress? Yes.

But while they may fall closer to the earth going forward, they could get covered off if Carolina’s goaltending improves. Petr Mrazek was sensational against the Jets, and Curtis McElhinney has allowed eight goals in three starts. That’s good. But with the Hurricanes controlling so much of the offense, they’re giving up just 25 shots per game. Their team save percentage is sitting at .886 through six games, which is hardly world-beating.

The return of Scott Darling at some point could help that if he’s the re-invigorated man he claimed to be over the summer. And while regression will set it at some point, league-average goaltending would go a long way into mitigating its effects.

For now, the Hurricanes sit atop the NHL in possession, tied with the San Jose Sharks. They’re sixth in goals-for percentage, which is simply the percentage of goals-for vs. goals-against, third in scoring chances for, second in high-danger chances for, which is shots that occur in the slot in front of the net, and first in high-danger goals for, meaning goals scored from those high-danger areas.

In layman’s terms: The NHL’s most exciting team is also one of its most dangerous.

And the plan is for that to continue.

“We’re going to continue to try to play like that,” said forward Jordan Staal Sunday night. “It’s been our aggressive style. Obviously, we’re a quick team and we’re trying to play that way and create turnovers. Our [defense] has been really good with good gaps and creating a lot of shots, too, to kind of create seconds. We’re going to continue to try and pepper goalies and try to get some more goals.”

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Hurricanes’ Darling set to miss ‘a couple weeks’ with lower-body injury

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The Carolina Hurricanes are expected to be without their No. 1 netminder to start the season.

Scott Darling, who left Carolina’s final preseason game against the Nashville Predators with a lower-body injury on Sunday, will be out for at least a couple of weeks, according to head coach Rod Brind’Amour.

Darling has been enjoying a solid preseason before giving up three goals on 20 shots and then picking up the knock over the weekend.

After Sunday’s game, Brind’Amour said there was “concern” over Darling’s injury. This comes after the netminder entered the summer with a different focus following a dismal first season with the Hurricanes.

Darling was brought in on a four-year deal paying him north of $4 million per season but poor preparation for the season saw him splitting time with the now-departed Cam Ward — the man Darling was supposed to replace. 

Petr Mrazek, who was signed on July 1 to promote some healthy competition for the starter’s crease, will take over as the No. 1.

“It’s a setback, no doubt. But that’s why we got Petr in here, too,” said Brind’Amour via the News and Observer, who added Darling’s MRI showed nothing major. “It makes my decision a lot easier on who we’re going to throw out there to start on opening night. That part is done and hopefully he gets healthy and back to where he was.”

A good run from Mrazek could see him keep the job, even when Darling is healthy enough to return.

The Hurricanes wasted no time trying to solidify Mrazek’s backup, claiming Curtis McElhinney off waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“Curtis is a proven NHL goaltender,” said Canes general manager Don Waddell. “Scott Darling is dealing with an injury and we see this as an opportunity to solidify our depth at the position.”

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck