Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Connor McDavid makes it look easy to go coast-to-coast

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Oliver Ekman-Larsson is an $8.25 million defenseman. Darcy Kuemper ranks as one of the hottest goalies of this calendar year. Neither of them had a prayer of stopping Connor McDavid during his latest highlight-reel goal on Monday night.

While Leon Draisaitl did help to transport the puck through the neutral zone, McDavid did all of the rest, and basically as only he can do it — or at least as only he can do it with this sort of frequency, and seemingly with such ease.

McDavid grabbed the puck from Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen, then blazed up the ice, exchanging with Draisaitl before blowing past OEL and scoring another goal you shouldn’t even be able to score in video games.

The Oilers ended up falling to the Coyotes 3-2 in OT.

MORE:
• Oilers, Coyotes off to fast starts
• 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.

The Buzzer: Kuznetsov, Kempny lead improbable comeback for Capitals

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Three Stars

1. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Michal Kempny, Washington Capitals. With 10 seconds to play in the second period on Friday night the Washington Capitals trailed the Vancouver Canucks 5-1. They did not get a single point all night from Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, or John Carlson. And they still won, 6-5. They won thanks to a pair of two-goal efforts from forward Evgeny Kuznetsov and defender Michal Kempny to erase that four-goal deficit and send the game to overtime. Kuznetsov’s second goal came just before the buzzer in the second period to bring the Capitals to within three, setting the stage for their huge third period comeback that featured both goals from Kempny. Because of that they get to share first star honors for the night.

2. Linus Ullmark, Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres have only lost two games all season and they followed up both of them with a shutout win. On Friday it was Ullmark stealing the show as he stopped all 41 shots he faced in a 2-0 win over the Detroit Red Wings, handing them their seventh consecutive defeat. It is Ullmark’s first shutout of the season and already the third for the Sabres as a team (Carter Hutton already has two shutouts). You can read more about the Sabres’ win here.

3. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes continued their strong start with an impressive come-from-behind win on the road in New Jersey, erasing an early 2-0 deficit. There were a lot of stars for the Coyotes in this one, but their best player was probably star defender Oliver Ekman-Larsson with his second goal of the season, an assist, and some spectacular defensive plays to help secure the win. The Coyotes are now 6-3-1 through their first 10 games.

Other notable performances from Friday

  • Nick Leddy had a huge night for the Islanders, scoring two goals — including one on a penalty shot — to lead the Islanders to their sixth win in a row, so far the longest winning streak in the NHL this season. He thought he had a hat trick for a while until his third goal was taken away on a scoring chances and awarded to forward Matt Martin. Read all about the game here.
  • The Devils wasted a great performance from No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes. Hughes had three points (one goal, two assists) in what would become yet another blown multi-goal lead for a team that has already had entirely too many of them this season.
  • Nathan MacKinnon extended his points streak to 10 games as the Colorado Avalanche crushed the Vegas Golden Knights. Read more about the game here.
  • Patrick Marleau received a nice welcome back in Toronto on Friday night, but once the game began it was all Maple Leafs as they picked up a 4-1 win over the San Jose Sharks.

Highlights of the Night

Coyotes forward Michael Grabner is FAST and it helps him create a ton of chances on the penalty kill. Here he is scoring yet another shorthanded goal.

The first of what will probably be many goals for Avalanche defender Cale Makar.

They may have let a four-goal lead slip away, but the Canucks made a lot of highlights on Friday night. This is one of the better ones as Tim Schaller scores by batting the puck out of mid-air.

Blooper of the Night

Do not anger New York Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss!

 

Factoids

  • The Capitals’ win on Friday was the fifth time in franchise history they have won a game after trailing by four goals. It is the first time they have done it since the 2008 season. [NHL PR]
  • Nick Leddy’s penalty shot goal on Friday was the first time an Islanders defender has ever scored on a penalty shot in franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • Grabner’s shorthanded goal for the Coyotes was the 22nd of his career, the second-most among active players. He trails only Brad Marchand (26 goals) of the Boston Bruins. [NHL PR]

Scores

Colorado Avalanche 6, Vegas Golden Knights 1
Toronto Maple Leafs 4, San Jose Sharks 1
Arizona Coyotes 5, New Jersey Devils 3
New York Islanders 4, Ottawa Senators 2
Buffalo Sabres 2, Detroit Red Wings 0
Washington Capitals 6, Vancouver Canucks 5 (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.

Coyotes betting big on questionable core

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The Arizona Coyotes are the NHL’s strange beasts.

For years, they suffered through shoestring budgets as their ownership and arena woes continued into infinity. While there still seems to be some turmoil in that area – their majority owner once again changed this summer – they’re now becoming a team that raises your eyebrows for seemingly spending more than expected.

Wednesday’s announcement of Clayton Keller‘s eight-year, $57.2 million extension serves as the exclamation point on that sentence.

Consider the players who are now under long-term deals in Arizona:

Keller ($7.15M cap hit starting in 2020-21; runs through 2027-28): Many are pointing out that Keller’s contract now makes William Nylander‘s often-criticized deal look quite reasonable, while others groan that with Keller set to carry a $7.15M cap hit, it sets a higher floor for other RFAs, from Kyle Connor this summer to Nico Hischier entering his contract year.

As PHT’s writeup notes, the Coyotes are betting that the 21-year-old has a high ceiling, thus making this a signing with foresight.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson ($8.25M starting this season, goes through 2026-27): For quite some time, there was angst about OEL leaving the lowly Coyotes for greener pastures. Then the Coyotes sent all of that green his way, really setting the table for this run of early extensions, as they signed Ekman-Larsson at basically the first possible moment in July 2018.

So, the good news is that they kept the Swede in Arizona for the long-term future. The bad news is that it’s possible OEL might not be quite the difference-maker they’re paying for. The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn listed Ekman-Larsson as an honorable mention for one of the worst contracts in the NHL (sub required).

None of this is to say that OEL is a bad player. Instead, it keeps with the theme that it seems like the Coyotes are paying premiums for players who haven’t yet produced truly premium all-around results.

Nick Schmaltz ($5.85M through 2025-26), Jakob Chychrun ($4.6M through 2024-25), Christian Dvorak ($4.45M through 2024-25): Again, these players aren’t necessarily “bad,” it’s just surprising to see so many of them get so much term without overly obvious savings right off the bat. It’s the sort of hastiness you’d expect from a team that’s been contending, not one that’s had money troubles for ages and has missed the playoffs for seven seasons in a row.

Beyond that questionable core, the Coyotes are also spending a considerable chunk of change on veteran players like Phil Kessel, Derek Stepan, Alex Goligoski, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Antti Raanta, and Jason Demers.

Even if you give the Coyotes some leeway for absorbing Marian Hossa‘s dead contract, it’s honestly jarring that they technically are out of cap space heading into 2019-20, according to Cap Friendly.

Now, sure, this is a team that nearly made the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs despite a plague of injuries, and with all of this youth and the potential boost of Kessel’s sniping, could very well make it in 2019-20 — particularly in a Pacific Division that seems weak on paper.

Still, it remains a bit baffling that the Coyotes are spending this much for a team that doesn’t necessarily wow you with its overall talent.

That said, the Coyotes seem like they’re approaching RFAs as a market inefficiency, and if any players will prove your risks right, it’s young ones. While OEL is already 28, Keller is 21, Chychrun’s run of injuries make him a mystery of sorts at 21, and so on. As we’ve seen with Leon Draisaitl at $8.5M per year, seemingly shaky contracts can end up looking like steals, at least when it comes to players entering their primes.

The Coyotes have to hope this all works out as planned, as they’re gambling big on all of this term for young players, and some pretty big bucks for veterans.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• 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.

Bruins’ David Backes takes skate to face, returns

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BOSTON (AP) Boston Bruins forward David Backes rushed himself off the ice Tuesday night after taking a skate blade to the face late in the first period but returned at the start of the second and finished the game.

Backes pushed Oliver Ekman-Larsson near the side of the net and the Arizona defenseman went to the ice, kicking up his left skate on the way down. It caught Backes in the face, and he went down before skating on his own quickly to the bench and out the tunnel.

Backes returned and won the faceoff to start the second period. He did not speak to reporters during the open locker room period but told The Boston Globe as he left the building he had a cut on the side of his nose that required a few stitches and some ointment.

“It’s always scary when your teammate takes a skate to the face, or really anywhere,” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said after scoring twice and adding an assist in the 4-3 victory. “He’s a little prettier now and no worse for wear.”

Backes required 18 stitches to close a cut on his leg after a game against Tampa Bay in March.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Arizona Coyotes ’15-16 Outlook

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We’ve often seen that teams committed to suppressing offense can often survive even with a lack of traditional talent.

The Arizona Coyotes know that well, as their better days with Dave Tippett included a three-year postseason run that culminated with a loss in the 2012 Western Conference Final.

Of course, that feels like quite a while ago now, as the Coyotes have missed three straight postseasons.

As mentioned in an earlier post, GM Don Maloney believes they can “compete every night” thanks to Tippett’s game plan and subtle (perceived?) improvements to their roster.

Let’s not kid ourselves, either: the Coyotes conveniently shed some key players in what certainly seemed like a tanking attempt to outside observers. It might not always be pretty, but Tippett teams can at least grind their way to competence.

Heck, Mike Smith even managed a .934 save percentage in 12 games during the month of March, so a mild turnaround isn’t a totally outrageous thought.

Light at the end of the tunnel

That said, the real reason to look on the bright side comes in the team’s youth movement, a trend powered in part by the spoils of tanking.

While fans can bask in the glory of blossoming star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson right now, things could really ramp up in a few years. ESPN’s Corey Pronman forecasts a very different stylistic future for the franchise while ranking the farm system fourth overall.

The Coyotes have long been an organization known for its emphasis on defense and goaltending, but the Coyotes have built a truly elite foundation of young forwards coming up the pipeline. Dylan Strome, Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Brendan Perlini, Nick Merkley, and Christian Dvorak, among others, give the Coyotes a ton of projected firepower. Today, the team is known as a boring, trap-and-defend-style club. In five years, the Coyotes could be a run-and-gun team.

Co-owner Anthony LeBlanc backed up Pronman’s sentiment to Yahoo, saying that other league executives are “so envious” of the group they’ve amassed.

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Long story short, Arizona might be a little pluckier than its 2014-15 record may suggest.

There’s a bright side even if they flop again, though: that would allow them to beef up their already-impressive prospect pool. It’s as close to a win-win situation as this embattled franchise has seen in some time.