Milan Lucic

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Stuck on zero: Notable NHL players still searching for first goal

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We are a couple of weeks into the 2019-20 NHL season and there have been some surprising players at the top of the goal-scoring leaderboard, including James Neal, Anthony Mantha, Victor Olofsson, Brayden Schenn, and Erik Haula.

Perhaps just as surprising is the list of players still searching for their first goal, fighting through extended early season slumps.

Every player will go through hot streaks and cold streaks over the course of a season, and when those streaks happen now we tend to pay extra attention to them because there is nothing else around them to hide them. A first line player stuck on zero goals after six or seven games will stick out more than a six-or seven-game drought in the middle of March.

Here are eight notable players still trying to find that first goal. We are limiting this to players that have played in at least six games.

William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights
Games played entering Tuesday:
6
Shots on goal: 16

After scoring 67 goals over the past two seasons Karlsson has gone six games without a goal to open the 2019-20 season. The good news for him: He started each of the past two seasons with zero goals in his first six games before scoring in his seventh game each year.

Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
Games played entering Tuesday: 6
Shots on goal: 14

Barkov has become one of the NHL’s best all-around players over the past couple of years and is one of the reasons for optimism in Florida. He has not scored yet this season but he is doing literally everything else, having already recorded five assists while the Panthers are attempting more than 54 percent of the shot attempts when he is on the ice. Only a matter of time before the puck starts finding the back of the net for him.

Nino Niederreiter, Carolina Hurricanes
Games played entering Tuesday: 6
Shots on goal: 13

Getting a full season of Niederreiter is a big reason to like the Hurricanes this season. He was a significant addition in the middle of the 2018-19 season and is an outstanding two-way winger that can defend, drive possession, and help create offense. He is still helping to drive possession at an elite rate. He is not a big-time goal-scorer, but he is always a lock for at least 20 goals.

Joe Pavelski, Dallas Stars
Games played entering Tuesday: 7
Shots on goal: 10

The Stars have been one of the league’s most disappointing teams so far and Pavelski might be their most disappointing player through the first seven games. Not only as he failed to score a goal, but only generating 10 shots on goal in seven games is a concerning sign. Some regression had to be expected from his 38-goal campaign a year ago (he had a career-high shooting percentage at age 34, which was never going to be repeated) but this has to be discouraging. He also has just one assist.

Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils
Games played entering Tuesday: 6
Shots on goal: 21 (combined)

The two recent No. 1 overall picks are two of the most important players on the Devils’ roster from a big picture outlook, and so far both have struggled. Hughes has failed to record a point in his first six games and can not seem to buy a goal. Just another thing that has gone wrong for the Devils in a season where nothing has gone as expected.

Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues
Games played entering Tuesday: 6
Shots on goal: 6

Schwartz had a bizarre 2018-19 season, struggling through one of the worst regular season performances of his career (mostly due to a terrible shooting percentage) before being unstoppable in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The trouble for Schwartz this season (unlike last season) is he is not yet generating shots.

Milan Lucic, Calgary Flames
Games played entering Tuesday: 6
Shots on goal: 4

The Flames will try to sell you on the idea he is doing exactly what they want, providing physical play and serving as some sort of protection for their stars. But man, zero goals, zero points, only four shots on goal, a lot of penalty minutes, a huge contract, and the guy he was traded for (James Neal) can not stop scoring goals for their biggest rival. There is no way that trade is a win at this point.

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.

James Neal keeps scoring goals as Oilers remain unbeaten

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Not even the most optimistic Edmonton Oilers fan could have drawn up a start this good for the 2019-20 season.

With their 4-3 shootout win over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night, the Oilers remained perfect on the young season and improved to 4-0 for just the fourth time in franchise history, and the first time since the 2008-09 season.

It was their big stars doing the damage on Thursday.

Connor McDavid sent the game to overtime with a late power play goal while Leon Draisaitl (who also scored in regulation) scored the lone goal in the shootout to help the Oilers extend their season-opening winning streak.

But the big story to come out of this game, again, is the continued resurgence of offseason acquisition James Neal as he scored in his third consecutive game and has already matched his goal output (seven) from the entire 2018-19 season. It has taken him just four games to do it.

His seven goals are also the most for any Oilers player through the first four games in franchise history.

After signing a huge contract with the Calgary Flames in free agency, Neal was a massive flop in his first year with the team scoring just seven goals in 63 games, quickly falling out of favor with the organization and the fanbase. Looking for a change — and some added toughness — the Flames dumped his contract on the Oilers in exchange for their biggest albatross contract (Milan Lucic). Given the construction of the two contracts it was a financial win for the Oilers, and it also had a great chance to be a win on the ice since Neal always seemed like the more likely player to have a bounce-back year.

So far, that gamble is paying off.

Neal has now scored in three consecutive games for the Oilers and is giving them exactly what they needed — a forward not named McDavid or Draisaitl that could put the puck in the back of the net on occasion.

Is he going to keep scoring at such a ridiculous pace all year? Of course not. But if he can at least get back to being a 25-30 goal player that is going to be a huge upgrade to the Oilers’ lineup. He has already been a major difference-maker in three of the team’s first four wins this season with two goals in a one-goal win against the Kings, four goals in a 5-2 win against the Islanders, and a goal in a shootout win on Thursday.

As for the Devils, Thursday’s defeat drops them to 0-2-2 on the season for what has to be a bitterly disappointing start after such a huge offseason.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Lucic gets in fierce fight on Neal’s big night; Doughty taunts Flames

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Upon learning about James Neal‘s four-goal game in Edmonton’s win on Tuesday, it was only natural to think of Milan Lucic, the player Neal was traded for this past summer.

Conveniently enough, Lucic’s Calgary Flames were in action as well on Tuesday. While Neal’s Oilers beat the Islanders 5-2, Lucic’s Flames fell 4-3 in overtime to the Los Angeles Kings.

James Neal after three games with Oilers: six goals, including four on Tuesday.
Milan Lucic after three games with Flames: zero points, but plenty of violence.

Indeed, it seems like Lucic is embracing the idea of being the Flames’ big bad/enforcer. He already came into Tuesday’s game with 21 penalty minutes, and added five PIM thanks to quite the rumble with Kurtis MacDermid of the Kings, as you can see in the video above this post’s headline. Lucic also delivered six hits during his 13:07 TOI.

If you want to strain the limits of credulity, you could argue that Lucic’s fight “fired up” the Flames. After all, the Kings were up 3-0 when that fight happened, and Calgary stormed back to tie things up 3-3 and send the action to overtime.

But don’t kid yourself; the Flames squeezed a point out of another contentious Calgary – Los Angeles clash because of Matthew Tkachuk.

That actually brings us to the other storyline of that overtime squabble: the boiling blood feud between Tkachuk and Drew Doughty.

While the two get nasty at times, both on the ice and off of it, there have also been moments where you can argue that they’re mutual disgust is driving them to even higher levels than normal. Tkachuk was splendid during Tuesday’s game, scoring two goals and an assist while being a menace with seven hits.

I’m still not totally sure Tkachuk wasn’t guilty of a high-stick while he was securing the puck for that goal, but either way, it was a stupendous display of hand-eye coordination (and also an obnoxious display of mouthpiece-dangling, a Tkachuk trademark):

This time around, Doughty got the last laugh, however.

Along with generating two assists, Doughty scored the power-play game-winner in overtime, and then cupped his hand to his ear to the audience as if he were Hulk Hogan during one of his more heelish runs:

So, the Lucic – Neal feud (that neither explicitly asked for) feels a little one-sided so far, while the very personal Tkachuk – Doughty rivalry could go back and forth. At this rate, they might need a cage match to settle things.

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.

James Neal’s big night brings up unthinkable: Did Oilers win a trade?

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When the Edmonton Oilers landed James Neal in a fascinating, unlikely trade with the Calgary Flames involving Milan Lucic, many thought that Neal’s (once?)-deadly shot could be revived by Connor McDavid, a superstar who happens to make almost everyone look good.

(Except, erp, maybe Lucic?)

Even the most optimistic of Oilers fans and Neal stans probably didn’t see this coming, though.

Neal put on a show against the New York Islanders on Tuesday, scoring four goals, including a natural hat trick from late in the first period to early in the second. This gives Neal an impressive six goals in his first three games as a member of the Edmonton Oilers, with all of those tallies happening in the past two games.

No doubt about it, McDavid is making life easier for Neal, who couldn’t quite beat out Elias Lindholm for a spot with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan last season, eventually losing a spot altogether at times for the Flames.

You can’t totally dismiss Neal’s part of the sniping equation, though. The 32-year-old’s first of four goals on Tuesday was unassisted, and Neal’s fourth goal was assisted by Tomas Jurco and Oscar Klefbom. Ultimately, McDavid and Neal helped the Oilers earn a decisive 5-2 win against the Islanders.

Check out Neal’s four-goal outburst in the video above this post’s headline.

To give you some quick perspective: Neal only scored seven goals and 19 points during all of his disastrous 63-game regular season with Calgary in 2018-19. To add even more perspective, Lucic, 31, only managed six goals in 79 contests during his final year with Edmonton in 2018-19.

Plenty of people felt a little restless regarding Ken Holland’s first offseason as a GM, particularly since the former Red Wings executive seems to be getting paid big bucks. The Neal – Lucic trade could be something Holland could hang his hat on, especially with Neal’s hot start.

So far, the story for Lucic’s start with the Flames hasn’t been very pretty.

While Lucic could break through on Tuesday (Calgary is facing Los Angeles on Tuesday), he went through his first two Flames games without a goal or an assist. He’s instead been racking up trips to the penalty box, generating 21 PIM through those first two games, including a moment where he, uh, “stuck up for his teammate” by punching Nikita Zadorov.

Through those two games, Lucic logged 13:46 and 8:38 time on ice, which was not much more than what Neal logged in his second game with Edmonton alone (19:28).

One would think that Neal might empathize with Lucic a bit there. While the Oilers are, on paper, a pitiful team on the wings — a big reason why people believed that the big forward would get plenty of reps on McDavid’s line – the Flames have superior options, which means Lucic will need to battle for meaningful minutes. So far, it doesn’t seem like Lucic is having much better luck than Neal did last year.

Of course, it’s early.

That time-related point is key, actually, because there’s one way we might look at this more positively for Calgary over the long haul. As you can see from Cap Friendly, Lucic’s salary goes below his $6M cap hit starting in 2019-20, and is quite low after salary bonuses get paid out. Maybe that would open the door for the Flames to get rid of that cap hit over the next few years, which could be crucial in adding the extra oomph that perhaps Lucic won’t provide?

It’s a thought … but even then, it’s a bit of a stretch, especially since Lucic has certain clauses that allow him to decide his future.

In the present, this is looking like a big win so far for the Oilers, even if Neal is almost certain to cool off. Considering the rivalry between Edmonton and Calgary, chances are, Flames fans are going to hear about this disparity. Like, a lot.

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.

Lucic punches Avs’ Zadorov in Flames debut

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The James NealMilan Lucic trade is still a little hard to believe, but it did in fact happen. While Neal had a quiet debut in the Edmonton Oilers’ narrow win on Wednesday, Lucic made an impact in the Calgary Flames’ season-opener against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday.

You won’t find a consensus about Lucic having a positive impact, though.

After Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov delivered a hard hit on Austin Czarnik, Lucic confronted Zadorov. During the exchange, Lucic punched Zadorov, who didn’t seem to see it coming.

Was it a “sucker punch?” Was Lucic merely sticking up for his teammate? Maybe it was something in between?

Either way, Lucic was whistled with a fighting major, instigator penalty, and a misconduct. Zadorov was somewhat strangely given a fighting major and a boarding penalty.

One can debate the “deterrent” factor of a player like Lucic all day, but ultimately it really is that: a subjective discussion.

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.