Oliver Ekman-Larsson

NHL Scores
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The Buzzer: Lightning score 9 goals; Predators lose big in Hynes debut

Three Stars

1. Carter Verhaeghe, Tampa Bay Lightning. They are back. The Lightning won their eighth game in a row on Tuesday night by running the Vancouver Canucks out of the building in a 9-2 win. There were a lot of players that could have been a star in this one, including Brayden Point (four points) and Steven Stamkos (two goals). But top star honors go to Verhaeghe for his first career hat trick. Entering play on Tuesday the 24-year-old rookie had just two goals and four assists this season in 28 games. He topped that goal total against the Canucks. The nine goals tied a franchise record for the Lightning.

2. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes were able to inch back ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights for first place in the Pacific Division (tied in points, but Arizona has played one fewer game) thanks to their 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers. Ekman-Larsson was a beast in this game with a goal, two assists, four shots on goal, and finishing as a plus-two while playing a game-high 24 minutes. Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall also had big games for the Coyotes were able to get two points while playing with their third-string goalie (Adin Hill).

3. Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets. As if the free agent departures were not enough to deal with, the Blue Jackets have also been dealing with a seemingly never-ending list of injuries. Despite all of that they are still right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, and this guy is one of the biggest reasons why. He scored two third period goals on Tuesday to help lead the Blue Jackets to a 4-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks. They are now tied with the Philadelphia Flyers for the second Wild Card spot in the East with 50 points. Werenski now has 15 goals for the season, tops among all NHL defenseman. That puts him on pace for 30 goals this season.

Other notable performances from Tuesday

  • Artemi Panarin had three points for the New York Rangers as they were 5-3 winners over the Colorado Avalanche. Read more about their win here.
  • New coach, same result for the Nashville Predators. They lost John Hynes’ coaching debut in the music city by a 6-2 margin to the Boston Bruins. They have now lost five out of their past six games.
  • Alex Ovechkin scored two goals for the Washington Capitals as they were big winners over the Ottawa Senators.
  • Anders Lee scored the overtime winner for the New York Islanders as they were winners over the New Jersey Devils.
  • The Montreal Canadiens lost their seventh game in a row, this time losing to the Detroit Red Wings. Frans Nielsen scored two goals for the Red Wings while Filip Zadina continued his strong play with another goal.
  • Another game-winning goal for David Perron as the St. Louis Blues snapped their three-game losing streak with a win against the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks lost Logan Couture to injury in that game. Read more about it here.
  • On the same day they were added to the NHL All-Star Game (read more about that here) Kris Letang and Tristan Jarry played great games for the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 4-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights.
  • Elias Lindholm provided all the offense for the Calgary Flames in a 2-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. For Lindholm, it was the 500th game of his NHL career.

Highlights of the Night

Dougie Hamilton might be the best defenseman in the NHL right now (read about it here), and he scored a beauty in overtime for the Carolina Hurricanes. They also signed Justin Williams to a one-year contract on a big Tuesday night for them. Read more about that here.

What an incredible individual effort here by New Jersey Devils young star Nico Hischier.

The Lightning scored six goals in the second period, including these three in under a minute.

 

Blooper of the Night

It takes a lot of confidence to try this move in a game, especially when you are losing at the time. It will probably make your coach pretty unhappy if you end up losing the game. Fortunately for Andrei Svechnikov, the Hurricanes won.

Factoids

  • Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan gets his 200th win with the team. [NHL PR]
  • Alex Ovechkin’s two goals move him into a tie with Teemu Selanne for 11th place on the NHL’s all-time list. [NHL PR]
  • Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak now has an 11-game point streak, the longest active point streak in the NHL. [NHL PR]

Scores

Tampa Bay Lightning 9, Vancouver Canucks 2
Arizona Coyote 5, Florida Panthers 2
New York Islanders 4, New Jersey Devils 3 (OT)
Washington Capitals 6, Ottawa Senators 1
Carolina Hurricanes 5, Philadelphia Flyers 4 (OT)
New York Rangers 5, Colorado Avalanche 3
Detroit Red Wings 4, Montreal Canadiens 3
St. Louis Blues 3, San Jose Sharks 2
Boston Bruins 6, Nashville Predators 2
Calgary Flames 2, Chicago Blackhawks 1
Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Vegas Golden Knights 3
Columbus Blue Jackets 4, Anaheim Ducks 3

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.

Taylor Hall’s early impact on Arizona Coyotes

Hall Coyotes
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In mere hours, Taylor Hall will suit up for his fifth game as a member of the Arizona Coyotes. Hall’s new team has a chance to fatten its Pacific Division lead against the (mostly) rising Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday.

Don’t blame Hall if he’s still trying to find his rhythm, and footing.

Consider that the New Jersey Devils sat Hall as they ramped up their efforts to trade him, ultimately finding a deal with Arizona. Hall waited a week between games, needing to catch a “red eye” flight to debut for the Coyotes in a win against the Sharks on Dec. 17.

Other factors likely messed with Hall’s equilibrium.

So far, the Coyotes only played one home game (against the Wild on Dec. 19), not that “home” is home yet for Hall, anyway.

While the holiday break provided a crucial opportunity for rest, Hall probably feels like he’s still trying to dance to a strange, unfamiliar beat. Really, these factors only strengthen the logic behind trading for a player sooner rather than later. Ideally, the Coyotes will get Hall fully up to speed long before most other teams make their late “rentals.”

Factoring in all of those caveats underscores how impressive Hall’s first four games have been. Let’s break down his start, going deeper than one goal and two primary assists.

Dec. 17: Coyotes beat Sharks 3-2 (Hall gets first assist)

Using Natural Stat Trick’s handy game logs, you can see that this was the only game so far where Hall was really under water from a shot-share perspective.

Even then, Hall showed why the Coyotes acquired him by combining power and skill to set up Oliver Ekman-Larsson‘s game-winning goal:

“He had maybe four hours of sleep, travels cross country, and he hasn’t played in about a week. Not bad for that situation,” Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet after that game, via NHL.com. “If he plays like that for not having much sleep, imagine what he can do with some real rest.”

Dec. 19: Wild beat Coyotes 8-5 (Another assist)

Hall has avoided the line blender so far, spending the majority of his even-strength time with Christian Dvorak and Phil Kessel. If that alignment boosts Kessel and opens up easier matchups for the likes of Clayton Keller, it could be quite the boon for Arizona.

While this marked Hall’s first loss with the Coyotes, he made an impact, firing five SOG and finishing this nice takeaway by Dvorak by setting up Kessel:

 

The Coyotes lost Darcy Kuemper to injury, so it was clearly not a great overall night for Arizona.

Dec. 22: Coyotes beat Red Wings 5-2 (First Hall goal with Arizona)

Despite limited ice time (14:16 TOI), Hall made an impact. He fired four SOG, with his first Coyotes goal coming on a booming shot:

Goodness.

Dec. 23: Predators win against Coyotes 3-2 (First time Hall hasn’t scored a point for Arizona)

Looking at only the simplest stats, this seems like a rough night for Hall specifically. He failed to score a point, and finished with a -2 rating.

Delve deeper and Hall comes across as a positive influence. The Predators dominated possession, but Hall broke even. Hall also showed signs that he could click with Derek Stepan and Vinnie Hinostroza if need be.

***

After Hall’s debut, Tocchet told NHL Now that he didn’t want Hall to get “system’d to death” upon arriving with the Coyotes. If Arizona leans toward a slow trickle instead of a deluge, maybe we’ll see more of the benefits of that osmosis starting with Saturday’s game against the Golden Knights?

Ultimately, it’s already been a pretty strong start for Hall in Arizona.

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 Power Rankings: Metropolitan Division dominance

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In this week’s PHT Power Rankings it is all about the Metropolitan Division which is proving itself to be the best, most competitive, and top-heavy division in the league.

It is so good right now that as of Monday five of the league’s top-11 teams in points percentage (Washington, New York Islanders, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Carolina) all play in it, and four of those teams (Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh) are in the top-seven.

All five are also in the top-10 in goal-differential.

The Capitals look like they have a shot to win another Presidents’ Trophy and maybe a Stanley Cup, the Islanders are still locking things down defensively, the Penguins are playing like a legit contender even though they they have been the most injured team in the league, the Flyers are one of the hottest teams in the league, and the Hurricanes are quietly surging along with a blossoming superstar on their roster.

Those teams also dominate the top of this week’s Power Rankings.

Where do they — and the rest of the league — currently sit?

To the rankings!

1. Washington Capitals. John Carlson is on pace to be the first defenseman since the 1991-92 season to hit the 100-point mark and the Capitals are on pace to win their fourth Presidents’ Trophy since the 2009-10 season.

2. Colorado Avalanche. If they can get Taylor Hall they would be the clear favorite to win the Western Conference, and maybe the Stanley Cup. They might be the favorite for both even if they do not get Taylor Hall.

3. Boston Bruins. Imagine how good they can be when they get Patrice Bergeron back.

4. Philadelphia Flyers. In any given week it feels like they could be a top-five team or a bottom-five team. Right now? Top-five. Losing Travis Konecny for now is going to be tough.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins. The way they are playing through significant injuries should make the rest of the Eastern Conference worried about what they are capable of when they start getting people back — including Sidney Crosby.

6. New York Islanders. They have come back to earth a little bit since that 17-game point streak came to an end, which is to be expected. Should not be a cause for concern yet.

7. St. Louis Blues. They could still use a little more offense, but the goaltending has been good enough to mask their flaws.

8. Winnipeg Jets. Forget the Vezina Trophy, Connor Hellebuyck is building himself an MVP case right now. Not saying he will win it, but he is building an argument.

9. Carolina Hurricanes. Andrei Svechnikov is starting to become a monster, leading the team in goals, points, and averaging more than a point-per-game. He is only 19 years old.

10. Arizona Coyotes. They are off to one of the best starts in franchise history while getting minimal goal-scoring from three of their top players (Phil Kessel, Clayton Keller, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson). If they can get going they might be on to something here, especially with that goaltending duo.

11. Dallas Stars. With this goaltending they can make a lot of noise, assuming the goaltending keeps playing the way it has.

12. Minnesota Wild. A season that looked lost a little more than a month ago is now on the verge of being salvaged. The Wild have earned a point in 14 out of their 17 games (10-3-4) since the start of November and are climbing back up the standings.

13. Edmonton Oilers. There are a lot of cracks in the foundation. Still no depth, and since their 7-1 start they have managed to win just 11 out of 24 games. They are going in the wrong direction.

14. Vancouver Canucks. I don’t think even they expected J.T. Miller to be as impactful as he has been since they acquired him.

15. Calgary Flames. They have started to turn things around the past couple of weeks, and even Milan Lucic is on a two-game goal-scoring streak.

16. Tampa Bay Lightning. Two things have hurt their spot in the standings. The first is they have played a league-low 27 games. The second is they have been wildly inconsistent in the 27 games they have played.

17. Florida Panthers. Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau are incredible. The goaltending is still incredibly bad.

18. Toronto Maple Leafs. Every team in the Atlantic Division behind Boston is a jumbled mess of mediocrity, and I don’t think the Maple Leafs expected to find themselves in that pile. They have shown signs of going on a run since the coaching change, but it has not all come together yet.

19. Buffalo Sabres. Jack Eichel is having a dominant, breakout season. Hopefully the Sabres can do enough around him so it does not go to waste.

20. New York Rangers. They are hanging in there and have given a lot of teams headaches lately. I don’t know if they are as good as their record, but having a superstar like Artemi Panarin and two outstanding goalies playing the way they are it is going to give a team a chance.

21. Vegas Golden Knights. Something is just off here. This team should be better than it currently is.

22. Nashville Predators. The usually dependable goaltending duo of Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros is sinking their season at the moment.

23. San Jose Sharks. Speaking of teams that should be better than they currently are, the Sharks are in a lot of trouble after a miserable road trip through Florida. Teams that get blown out as often as this team does do not typically do very well.

24. Montreal Canadiens. They simply do not have enough depth to overcome the injuries to Jonathan Drouin, Paul Byron, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

25. Chicago Blackhawks. Robin Lehner has been a great addition and helped give an otherwise awful defensive team a chance to win. He just can not stop anything in the shootout.

26. Columbus Blue Jackets. We knew the goaltending would be a question mark, but the offense has dropped off even more than it was expected to.

27. Ottawa Senators. After a brief surge in the middle of November the Senators are back to their struggles. The biggest thing to watch here is where Jean-Gabriel Pageau ends up.

28. Anaheim Ducks. They have three wins in their past 15 games. Somehow two of those wins have been against the Blues and Islanders.

29. New Jersey Devils. John Hynes may not have been the right coach for the Devils, but he also wasn’t the biggest problem.

30. Los Angeles Kings. What do you do with Jonathan Quick? Trading him does not seem to be an option given his play. A buyout will be a significant salary cap hit for a long time. He also has shown no sign that his career is on the verge of turning back around.

31. Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings are trending toward “historically bad” territory this season.

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.

What’s driving Coyotes’ fast start, and how can they maintain it?

PITTSBURGH — The Arizona Coyotes probably deserved a better result Friday night in Pittsburgh.

A lost face-off followed by a fluke bounce, Phil Kessel missing a wide open net, and a couple of jaw-dropping saves by Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry were just enough to turn yet another solid road effort into a tough-luck 2-0 loss, dropping them one point back of the Edmonton Oilers for first place in the Pacific Division. Even with that result the Coyotes are still off to one of the best starts in franchise history (even dating back to the Winnipeg days) and have at least put themselves on solid ground in the Western Conference playoff race.

Here’s how good their start has been:

  • Their .613 points percentage as of Friday is fourth best in the Western Conference, while they have a six-point cushion between them and the group of teams outside the playoff picture. That may not seem like a huge gap in early December with still three quarters of the season remaining, but history suggests not many teams (less than 20 percent) are able to make up that sort of deficit. The odds are in their favor.
  • Their 38 points through 31 games are tied for the fourth most in the franchise’s 40-year history, and are the most since they had 41 points during the 2013-14 season (that team ended up missing the playoffs by just two points following a second-half collapse. The Western Conference was also far more competitive and top-heavy that season than it is this season).
  • They allowing just 2.26 goals per game, the second lowest total in the league.

In a lot of ways this team has been a Western Conference version of the New York Islanders. They don’t really have an offense that is going to break games open, and they don’t rate very highly in a lot of analytical areas when it comes to shot attempts or shot rates, all of which can lead to some skepticism. But like the Islanders they help make up for the lack of quantity in a couple of other key areas. Their “expected goals against” rate (via Natural Stat Trick) is in the top-10 in the league, indicating that while they give up a lot of attempts they don’t give up the type of attempts that typically turn into goals. They are one of the most disciplined and least penalized teams in the league, almost entirely eliminating the special teams battle. And the most important element? They have one of the best goaltending duos in the league in Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta.

Those two many not be household names around the league, but since being united in Arizona the list of goalies that have outperformed them can be counted on one hand. Since the start of the 2017-18 season both Raanta and Kuemper are in the top-five (among the 56 goalies with at least 50 games played) in all situations save percentage and even-strength save percentage, while both are in the top-10 in penalty kill save percentage. When a team gets that sort of goaltending a lot of flaws that might otherwise exist suddenly go away, and given that both have been able to play at such a high level for an extended period of time it’s easy to buy into it being sustainable. Even before arriving in Arizona both goalies had shown an ability to be above average goalies but were simply in positions where they were unable to get real playing time.

So how do the Coyotes build on this start and turn it into something that can extend their season into the spring?

1. Resist the urge to trade a goalie. Don’t try to to “trade from a strength to fill a weakness,” or even try to suggest it. The strength is what is literally driving the team right now. Not only that, it is almost a necessity to have two good goalies to win in the NHL these days because of how important it is to limit the starter’s workload and keep them fresh. Having two highly productive goalies signed to cap-friendly contracts through next season is a massive advantage. Take advantage of it. Keep them both and keep each them fresh by playing them each regularly. Their success isn’t a fluke.

2. Hope for a rebound from the top players. One of the most surprising aspects of their start is the trio of Phil Kessel, Clayton Keller, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson has combined for just 13 goals this season, putting them on a pace for only 34 goals over 82 games. A year ago that trio scored 55 goals. All three are currently being crushed on the shooting percentage front, and while Keller has never really been a high percentage scorer, the other two have been. Kessel has shown signs the past few games that he could be on the verge of one of his goal-scoring binges, while Ekman-Larsson has scored at least 12 goals in each of the past six seasons, at least 14 goals in five of those seasons. He is due. If those two can get their puck luck to change the offense will suddenly look a lot different (and better).

3. Get Niklas Hjalmarsson back. The other surprising element of their success has been that they have played almost the entire season without Hjalmarsson after he was injured back in October when he was hit by a shot. He is back on the ice skating, and given his original time frame is probably a couple of weeks away from returning to the lineup. It would be a significant add because Hjalmarsson is one of the team’s best defensive players. If he can return to that level it would be a significant addition to a lineup that is already one of the best teams in the league at preventing goals.

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.

 

PHT Morning Skate: Babcock betting on himself; impact of Fabbri trade

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Mike Babcock on the pressures he’s currently facing with the Maple Leafs struggling: “I’m going to do (the job) as hard as I can for as long as I can. I’ve always bet on Mike Babcock. I’m going to continue to bet on him.” [Toronto Star]

• It’s not been a fun season if you’re employed as a Maple Leafs backup goaltender. [One Puck Short]

• Brady and Matthew Tkachuk have turned into phenomenal NHLers. [TSN]

• It’s been a pretty good first 20 games for the Panthers under Joel Quenneville. [Miami Herald]

• ‘Scrappy’ Jets gaining an identity at season’s quarter-mark. [Winnipeg Free Press]

• Morgan Frost, one of the Flyers’ top prospects, has been recalled. [NBC Sports Philadelphia]

• How Barry Trotz went from 50/50 sales to winning the Stanley Cup. [Sportsnet]

• What’s bugging the Predators of late? [A to Z Sports Nashville]

• The Bruins are eager to see Charlie McAvoy reached another level. [Boston Herald]

• Fun story from the NCAA over the weekend: Nine minutes before pregame warmups started, North Dakota’s Josh Rieger was eating a pound of buffalo wings. He got the call, rushed to the rink and scored his first goal. [Grand Forks Herald]

• How Robby Fabbri trade impacts Detroit Red Wings, Andreas Athanasiou. [Detroit Free Press]

• Five women who should be inducted next into the Hockey Hall of Fame. [Sporting News]

• Kris Versteeg asked to be released from his contract with the AHL’s Rockford Ice Hogs. [NBC Sports Chicago]

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Coyotes are benefitting from the addition of assistant coach Phil Housley. [NHL.com]

• Looking at the best and worst in the history of Flyers jerseys. [Hockey by Design]

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.