Patrik Laine

Jack Eichel #9 of the Buffalo Sabres prepares for a faceoff during an NHL game against Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers
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A best on best mythical tournament: 23-and-under team

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold, Pro Hockey Talk will be creating full rosters for an imaginary best on best tournament over the next three Thursdays.

The first team to enter the competition will be a roster comprised of players 23 years of age or younger. Think a Team North America in 2020. In recent years, younger players have made an instant impact at the NHL level and this team is filled with already established superstars.

Line Combinations

First line: Sebastian Aho – Connor McDavid – David Pastrnak

Thoughts: Leon Draisaitl has benefitted greatly from playing alongside McDavid this season and the addition of two dynamic goal scorers (Aho, Pastrnak) should produce an explosive top line. Aho’s ability to light the lamp and create plays should be a perfect fit to round out the group.

Second line: Andrei Svechnikov – Auston Matthews – Patrik Laine

Thoughts: Matthews has the puck-handling skill and on-ice vision to be an elite distributor with Laine alongside him. The size of all three forwards will be tough for most defensive pairings to handle.

Third line: Kyle Connor – Jack Eichel – Mikko Rantanen

Thoughts: Can this line match up with the opposition’s best and still produce offensively? The trio has the skill to be a top line for most NHL teams, but these three will be relied upon to play a smart, efficient, two-way game.

Fourth line: Matthew Tkachuk – Dylan Larkin – Mitchell Marner

Thoughts: The inclusion of Larkin over a Mathew Barzal or Elias Pettersson will raise some questions, but he was the best option to be a fourth line center and contribute on the penalty kill. Matthew Tkachuk will provide some toughness and size to add an important element to the group.

First D pairing: Zach Werenski – Cale Makar
Second D pairing: Thomas Chabot – Charlie McAvoy
Third D pairing: Rasmus Dahlin – Adam Fox

Thoughts: The second pairing will likely match up against the opposition’s best, but each combination has a strong mix of complementary characteristics. I initially thought it would be tough to find a strong group of mature defensemen in this age range, but these players have established themselves as high-end D-men.

Starting Goalie: Carter Hart
Backup Goalie: Ilya Samsonov

Just Missed: Mathew Barzal, Quinn Hughes, Travis Konecny, Elias Pettersson, Ivan Provorov

Captain: Connor McDavid
Alternate captains: Zach Werenski and Charlie McAvoy

Analysis

This team should not struggle to score with a ton of fire power in the offensive unit. With two of the top three and six of the top 10 goal scorers from the current season, it will be hard to contain this prolific group of forwards.

Two areas of weakness for this team are its ability to play a strong two-way game in even strength situations and kill off timely penalties. Players of this ilk have the ability to play any style but the question will be if players like Eichel and Marner could buy in to a defensive oriented role.

Additionally, their goaltenders are unproven but have the talent needed to play against the world’s best.

Nevertheless, the amount of skill on this team should help them overcome any obstacles and be a formidable challenge for any opponent. The roster has several established leaders, but young stars of the NHL are always eager to prove they belong in the conversation with the game’s best. Channeling that emotion in the proper way could be the difference between a successful tournament run or an early exit.

Surprising omissions:

Quinn Hughes: The young blueliner has been sensational for the Canucks. He is currently in a tight race with Makar for the Calder Trophy awarded to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the NHL. But the team will need size on the backend and cannot carry three undersized defensemen.

Elias Pettersson: The Swedish center is an excellent talent but didn’t fill a need when creating the lineup. While his talent is immense, this is a player that received the short end of the stick in order to build the most complete roster.


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

The Buzzer: McDavid injury scare; More Kovalchuk magic

Kovalchuk magic McDavid injury scare The Buzzer
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Three Stars

1. Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets

Consider a handful of Jets as the true recipients of this first star.

To begin, Laine generated a hat trick on Saturday. This marks the eighth hat trick of Laine’s young career, although it’s remarkably his first since Nov. 24, 2018. Laine improved to 51 points (in 54 games) this season, already exceeding last season’s 50. As promising as it is to see Laine become more of a playmaker, it also must be thrilling to see him fill the net like he did against Ottawa:

Other Jets give Laine plenty of competition for the first star of that win, and of Saturday in general. Kyle Connor actually scored more points with four, collecting one goal and three assists. Neal Pionk authored a three-point game of his own (1G, 2A). Laine nabbed a hat trick, including the game-winner, giving him a slight edge.

(Interestingly, Laine scored all three goals on the power play.)

2. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers

Couturier comes out on top in another situation where multiple teammates present an argument. Couturier generated one more goal (2G, 1) than Claude Giroux (1G, 2A) as both managed three-point outputs.

And, really, Couturier deserves all the plaudits one can provide as a perennial Selke candidate. Beyond the three points, Couturier enjoyed a +2 rating, fired five SOG, and went 14-4 on faceoffs. Even casual hockey fans should know Couturier is a star by now.

Coutrier and the Flyers blew the game open during this stretch, pushing Alex Ovechkin‘s pursuit of 700 to Monday.

3. Dillon Dube, Calgary Flames

It was tough to leave Mackenzie Blackwood (37-save shutout) and Jake Gardiner (three assists in Carolina’s comeback) out of the three stars.

Dube factored heavily in Calgary’s win and Vancouver’s fourth loss in a row on Saturday, however. Dube scored the game-winning goal and two assists, not needing an empty-netter to pump up his totals.

If Dube can put together NHL-quality work down the stretch, it would be huge for Calgary. He’s been a productive AHL scorer (at least a point-per-game in 2018-19 and 2019-20). There would be serious value in Dube merely becoming a useful supporting cast member for the depth-challenged Flames.

McDavid gets an injury scare

The Oilers are no strangers to crossing their fingers about Connor McDavid‘s knees. McDavid suffered a scare on Saturday, but the early word is optimistic. Dave Tippett told reporters that McDavid only suffered a bruised knee, and that it’s nothing serious.

Still, it’s a situation to watch, what with McDavid getting the knee iced during the game and also afterward.

Pronger honored

The Blues announced that Chris Pronger’s number 44 will be retired. It’s remarkable to ponder just how much Pronger accomplished with the Blues — including winning a Hart Trophy — and yet just as many people remember him most for impressive playoff runs with the Ducks, Oilers, and Flyers.

(On that note: I still believe Pronger should own at least one Conn Smythe Trophy.)

Saturday’s other best highlight

Honestly, this warrants a mention for Ilya Kovalchuk‘s celebration alone. It’s as if Kovalchuk is a totally new person (or his old self?) with the Montreal Canadiens.

Factoids

  • Kovalchuk moved into third place in NHL history with his 17th overtime goal (Sportsnet Stats).
  • Blackwood became the second Devil to generate shutouts in consecutive appearances. Good luck catching Martin Brodeur, though, being that he’s done so on eight different occasions. (NHL PR)
  • Nikita Kucherov ranks as the fifth player during the last 30 years to generate at least five different point streaks of 10+ games during the span of three seasons. Wayne Gretzky managed six from 1989-90 through 1991-92. (NHL PR)
  • Tanner Pearson continues to quietly produce for the Canucks. He’s tied for the second-highest total of points on the team since Nov. 12 with 34. (Sportsnet Stats)
  • Giroux generated his 800th regular-season point on Saturday. That places him fourth in Flyers history, and only 83 behind Bill Barber for second. Bobby Clarke will be tough to catch at 1,210, though. (NHL PR)

Scores

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

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.

PHT Time Machine: Mario Lemieux’s 5 goals, 5 different ways

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Throughout the season we will be taking an occasional look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look back back to Dec. 31, 1988 when Pittsburgh Penguins center Mario Lemieux became the first — and only — player to score five goals, five different ways in the same game.

It was 31 years ago Tuesday that Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux accomplished what was probably his most incredible single-game achievement: Scoring five goals in every possible way during an 8-6 win over the New Jersey Devils.

His goals: An even-strength goal, a power play goal, a shorthanded goal, a penalty shot goal (which was also while the Penguins were shorthanded), and an empty-net goal.

They are all in the featured video above. Notice the commentary just before the first goal that says the Penguins really need a “big game” from Lemieux. He delivered.

It was the first five-goal game of his career, while he also finished with eight total points, factoring into every single goal the Penguins scored. It was his second eight-point game of the season. He recorded at least five points in a game 12 different times, including three seven-point games. He finished the season with 199 points (while missing four games) but only finished second in the Hart Trophy voting behind Wayne Gretzky who had just finished his first season with the Los Angeles Kings. It remains one of the most controversial MVP votes in league history (read about that here).

Some other random facts from that game

  • His five goals gave him 43 for the season. It was only the Penguins’ 38th game.
  • Not crazy enough? His eight points put him over the 100-point mark for the season. In game 38. It was the third-fastest climb to 100 points in league history, behind only a couple of early 1980s Wayne Gretzky seasons.
  • His first three goals (even-strength, power play, shorthanded) came in the game’s first 10 minutes.
  • His shorthanded goal was already his seventh of the season. He would go on to score an NHL record (that still stands today) 13 shorthanded goals that season. He scored 10 the year before.
  • An underrated and completely overlooked performance in this game is that Kirk Muller, the No. 2 pick in the 1984 draft, just one spot behind Lemieux, had five points. His team lost by two goals. The 1980s were really something.
  • Speaking of, this was a classic 1980s game in the sense that there were 14 total goals and 68 total penalty minutes between the two teams. There were no fighting majors in the game, but New Jersey’s Steve Rooney was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for cross-checking late in the first period.

This just seems to be one of those accomplishments that will be nearly impossible to duplicate in the modern game.

Consider the fact that any five-goal performances is almost unheard of now.

There have only been 11 five-goal games in the NHL since this performance by Lemieux, and two of those games belong to Lemieux himself.

There have only been three since 1996 (Marian Gaborik in 2007, Johan Franzen in 2011, and Patrik Laine in 2018).

Since the start of the 1979-80 season, there have only been 134 instances where a player recorded a hat trick with at least one even-strength goal, one shorthanded goal, and one power play goal. There is also the fact that penalties are down across the league from where they used to be (negating the number of power play and shorthanded chances players get) and penalty shots are now extremely rare.

It is probably the one feat in NHL history that you can say with probably 99.9 percent certainty that it will never be accomplished again.

For more stories from the PHT Time Machine, click here.

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.

The Buzzer: Aho shines again, Fleury’s big return, Red Wings lose 12th in a row

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Three Stars

1. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes. Aho followed up his five-point effort against Minnesota over the weekend by scoring a pair of goals in the Hurricanes’ 6-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night. After recording just one point in his first six games, Aho has been dominant for the Hurricanes and is now up to 28 points in his past 25 games. His assist numbers are still down a little bit this season, but he is now on pace for 48 goals this season. That number would shatter his career high.

2. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights. Fleury made his return to the Golden Knights’ lineup on Tuesday night after being away from the team due to a personal matter. He was outstanding in the Golden Knights’ 5-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, turning aside 28 of the 29 shots he faced. It was his first start since Nov. 23 and he missed a shutout by only 27 seconds. This game quickly turned into a rout as the Blackhawks’ already undermanned defense lost Calvin de Haan during the game (it sounds like a significant injury according to coach Jeremy Colliton), but it still had to be a positive sign for the Golden Knights to see Fleury step right back into the lineup and play the way he did. He is also now just three wins away from tying Curtis Joseph for sixth on the NHL’s all-time wins list.

3. John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs did not play their best game on Tuesday, but they still picked up a much-needed win in Vancouver thanks in large part to huge games Tavares and starting goalie Frederik Andersen. Tavares finished the game with two goals and an assist in the Maple Leafs’ 4-1 win. They have won two games in a row and are now 6-3-0 under new coach Sheldon Keefe. Tavares’ performance on Tuesday snapped what had been a three-game scoreless streak.

Other notable performances from Tuesday

  • There is no stopping Milan Lucic right now! After scoring zero goals in his first 27 games this season he has now scored three goals in the past four games. That includes his latest goal in the Flames 5-2 win over Arizona on Tuesday night. Zac Rinaldo also scored two goals in the win for Calgary. The Flames have now won six games in a row.
  • Ben Bishop stopped all 26 shots he faced for the Dallas Stars to record his first shutout of the season, giving new coach Rick Bowness his first win behind the Stars’ bench.
  • Nick Bonino scored his 12th goal of the season in the Nashville Predators’ 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks.
  • Jonathan Quick played what might have been his best game of the season as he helped the Los Angeles Kings to a 3-1 win over the New York Rangers.
  • The Minnesota Wild picked up another point, but lost in a shootout to the Anaheim Ducks. The big story out of that game for the Wild is the injury to Eric Staal after he was injured in a collision with a linesman. Read all about it here.

Red Wings losing streak reaches 12 games

Times are tough in Hockeytown right now as the Red Wings’ losing streak reached the 12-game mark on Tuesday in a 4-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. The past 10 games are all regulation losses, while the team has been outscored by a 53-23 margin during the streak. The Red Wings also have a minus-62 goal differential for the season in just 32 games. That is the worst goal differential for any team through 32 games since the 1992-93 Ottawa Senators — an expansion team that went on to win just 10 out of 84 games — and the 1992-93 San Jose Sharks, a second-year franchise that won just 11 out of 74 games. The Red Wing are 7-22-3 this season.

Highlights of the Night

Shea Weber is playing some incredible hockey for the Montreal Canadiens right now, and this goal in Pittsburgh late in the second period was a massive momentum swing.

Patrik Laine made this goal look easy. It almost certainly was not as easy as it looked. But wow did he make it look easy.

Jack Eichel extended his current point streak to 14 consecutive games by scoring the game-winning goal (then adding an empty-net goal later in the game) against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night. It was a beautiful play made possible by a baffling defensive breakdown by the Blues. Read more about the Sabres’ win here.

Blooper of the Night

It was a tough night for the Oilers on the blooper front. First, not only did starting goalie Mikko Koskinen get fooled by Dougie Hamilton on a goal from the center red line (read about that one here), but Connor McDavid had this happen to him on a penalty shot attempt.

 

Factoids

  • After posting back-to-back shutouts Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry set a franchise record for longest shutout streak. [NHL PR]
  • Auston Matthews scored his 100th career goal on Tuesday. Alex Ovechkin is the only active player that hit that mark faster than him. [NHL PR]
  • The Jets scored two goals in 11 seconds on Tuesday night, the third-fastest sequence in franchise history and the fastest since the team moved to Winnipeg. [NHL PR]
  • Alex Pietrangelo scored his 100th career goal on Tuesday, joining Al MacInnis as the only Blues defenders to score 100 goals for the team. [NHL PR]
  • Weber’s highlight reel goal was his 10th of the season, making it the 11th time in his career he has hit that number. That is most among active defenders. [NHL PR]

Scores

Tampa Bay Lightning 2, Florida Panthers 1
Montreal Canadiens 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 1
Buffalo Sabres 5, St. Louis Blues 2
Nashville Predators 3, San Jose Sharks 1
Anaheim Ducks 3, Minnesota Wild 2 (SO)
Winnipeg Jets 5, Detroit Red Wings 1
Dallas Stars 2, New Jersey Devils 0
Carolina Hurricanes 6, Edmonton Oilers 3
Calgary Flames 5, Arizona Coyotes 2
Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Vancouver Canucks 1
Vegas Golden Knights 5, Chicago Blackhawks 1
Los Angeles Kings 3, New York Rangers 1

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: GMs talk offside rule; hearing for Hathaway

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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.

• During Tuesday’s general manager meetings in Toronto, the group discussed modifying the current interpretation of offside, something they’ll follow up on when they get together again in March. [NHL.com]

• After the controversial play involving an injured Matt Calvert over the weekend, NHL director of officiating Stephen Walkom said there was no interesting in changing the rule. [ESPN]

• Capitals forward Garnet Hathaway will have a Wednesday hearing after spitting at Ducks defenseman Erik Gudbranson Monday night. [TSN]

• Seattle GM Ron Francis says the expansion team will decide on a name in the first quarter of 2020 and the demand for season tickets is off the charts. [NHL.com]

Kirby Dach has made an immediate impact with the Blackhawks. [NBC Sports Chicago]

• Something has to change with the struggling Flames. [Sportsnet]

Patrik Laine’s complete game has taken a big step this season. [Winnipeg Free Press]

• Does Lias Andersson have a future with the Rangers? [NY Post]

Cale Makar is turning out to be better than many expected for the Avalanche. [Mile High Hockey]

• The Bruins are closing getting closer to full health. [Bruins Daily]

• How Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek and Luke Kunin are helping fix some of the Wild’s problems. [Pioneer Press]

• Another collapse on the horizon for the Sabres? [Spector’s Hockey]

Matt Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier have been stepping up for the Islanders. [Gotham Sports Network]

• At what point should Tristan Jarry start more for the Penguins? [Pensburgh]

• A look at some of the top prospects who will likely go high in June’s entry draft. [Rotoworld]

• What are Paul Henderson’s chances of making the Hockey Hall of Fame? [Featurd]

• Finally, Brandon Hawkins of the Wheeling Nailers pulled off the lacrosse move Tuesday: