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NHL on NBCSN: Sabres look to extend win streak against Flyers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Flyers always seem to have the same problem, and that’s goaltending. With Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth both on the shelf, the Flyers will have to roll with Alex Lyon and Calvin Pickard. No disrespect to those players, but that’s not an ideal duo to have between the pipes.

The Flyers overcame a 5-1 deficit against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night, but Pickard allowed six goals on 26 shots in the overtime defeat. As for Lyon, he’s still waiting to make his first appearance for Philadelphia this season.

“We’ll roll with the best that’s out there, whether it’s what we have or something else,” said Flyers GM Ron Hextall. “Same as always. We’re always looking to upgrade our team if we can. We picked Calvin up because we believe in him and we also believe that Alex is pretty close. They’re gonna have a chance here and we’ll see how it goes.”

Hextall’s team has gone through some good and bad stretches already this season. They went 5-0-1 at the start of the month, but they’ve now dropped three home games in a row to Florida, New Jersey and Tampa. Now, they’re heading back on the road to take on a red-hot Sabres team. The one thing the Flyers have going for them, is that they’ve been better on the road (5-3-1) than at home (4-6-1).

Speaking of the Sabres, they’ll look to extend their winning streak to seven games tonight. There’s no denying that Buffalo has turned a corner. The additions of Jeff Skinner (trade) Carter Hutton (free agency) and Rasmus Dahlin (draft) have paid immediate dividends.

Skinner, who is a pending unrestricted free agent, already has 14 goals and 22 points in 21 games in his first season with the Sabres. Hutton has been between the pipes for five of the six consecutive wins. He has a 9-6-1 record with a 2.61 goals-against-average and a .917 save percentage. The numbers don’t jump off the page, but he’s brought stability between the pipes. And Dahlin has averaged 18:27 this season while putting up 10 points in 21 games.

The Sabres’ winning streak was on the ropes earlier this week, but overcame a 4-1 deficit to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-4 in overtime on Monday night.

“There’s a bit of confidence now because we’ve (come back) a few times,” said captain Jack Eichel. “I think it’s a trust and a belief in each other; you look around the room, the guys are believing that next line’s going to get the job done and set you up for your shift. We’re a pretty tight bunch right now for how many new guys came to this team, and we’re getting really close right now and we’re doing it for each other and that’s the biggest thing. Everyone goes out there and doesn’t want to let the guy next to them down. … we’re playing for each other right now, and that’s one of the most important things.”

The Sabres are currently sitting in third place in the Atlantic Division. They’re one point behind Tampa for second and two points behind the first-place Maple Leafs.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Blues GM on team’s core group: ‘They have to get us out of this’

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Craig Berube has been through this before. Three games into the 2013-14 NHL season he replaced Peter Laviolette in Philadelphia. He may have been fired 18 months later, but immediately he helped turn around the Flyers’ season and led them to a playoff berth.

The mandate is the same now in St. Louis where Berube, who had been an associate coach with the Blues since last season, takes over a team that’s once again underachieving and in next-to-last place in the Western Conference with a 7-9-3 record. A look at the various statistical categories and you’ll see that they’re middle of the road. Nothing great, nothing terrible — they just… are. And that’s why Yeo is out of a job. He couldn’t take a roster that was upgraded over the summer and bring them to a level beyond mediocre.

Four months after being fired by the Minnesota Wild in 2016, Yeo was hired as the successor to Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis. That plan was sped up after Hitchcock’s firing in Feb., 2017 and the Blues went 22-8-2 down the stretch and eventually were dumped out of the playoffs by the conference champion Nashville Predators in the second round.

What helped that revival was balanced scoring and Jake Allen posting a .941 even strength save percentage in his final 24 starts that regular season. But that number wasn’t sustainable and since the end of the 2016-17 season Allen has a .914 ESSV% in 73 appearances. 

[Blues fire Yeo, name Berube interim head coach]

This season it’s not just on Allen. The possession numbers could be better. Vladimir Tarasenko is shooting 4.26 percent at 5-on-5. David Perron is goalless in November. Patrick Maroon is goalless all season. We’re still waiting on rookies Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas to make an impact.

Ryan O’Reilly’s back must be hurting from carrying the team through 19 games.

Good goaltending can mask many things, and it will also make you wonder if allowing Carter Hutton to walk was the best idea. It should also up the pressure on GM Doug Armstrong, who’s now hired another coach to try and fix a mess. (At least he top-10 protected that 2019 first that went to the Sabres in the O’Reilly trade.)

When Armstrong met the media on Tuesday, he honed in on his team’s core group, and was fed up with how their output.

“We’re not good enough,” he said. “As a general manager, the wins and losses fall on hockey operations and as the president of hockey operations and the general manager of the team there’s things that need to be addressed. We’ve stayed patient with the core group of players and that patience now is at its thinnest point.”

The head coach is gone. The boss, for now, remains. There won’t be a handful of trades coming to re-shape the roster. Armstrong is putting this season directly on his top players.

“The core group’s equity that built up is gone,” he said. “We transferred into a different group. That group isn’t three people; that group’s eight or nine people in my opinion. They have to get us out of this.”

***

If Berube’s not the answer long-term, then who do the Blues turn to? The obvious candidate is Joel Quenneville, who’s clearly been enjoying his unemployment.

But Quenneville won’t come cheap and is still under contract to the Blackhawks through the end of the 2019-20 season. The Blues would need to seek permission from Chicago to go about hiring him and then they’d have to work out a big money contract. Would owner Tom Stillman be open to ponying up the cash for a fix?

Hey, Todd McLellan’s available now and comes with a cheaper price tag.

***

Here’s a fun fact: Since Armstrong took over from Larry Pleau in 2010 the Blues are tied with the Boston Bruins for the third-most regular season wins (365). That’s pretty good considering the Central Division can tout two Stanley Cup champions, two Presidents’ Trophy winning teams and three Western Conference playoff titles over that span.

Of course, during that same period the Blues have only advanced out of the second round once.

Digging deeper into the NHL’s records and you’ll find that Armstrong’s Dallas Stars teams had the fourth-most regular season wins during his 2,118 days as the team’s GM. The end result? One second round appearance, 2002, during the year he took over the gig midseason.

Davis Payne, Hitchcock and now Yeo have taken the fall for their underperforming teams. How much longer does the architect get to keep building them?

————

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.

The Buzzer: Hat trick Laine returns; Juho who?

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Headlines from a hectic NHL night:

Three Stars

1. Matthew Tkachuk

Let’s consider this a dual top star pick with Johnny Gaudreau (1G, 3A), as both players collected four points as the Flames raced out to a 7-0 lead and an eventual 7-2 win against the Golden Knights.

Giving Tkachuk the slight edge over “Johnny Hockey” because he got an extra goal (2G, 2A) and both of his assists were primary points.

Gaudreau earned the rare distinction of grabbing his four points in one period, matching an Olli Jokinen achievement, but Tkachuk only needed 24 seconds into the second period to hit four points in the contest. Perhaps the Flames’ big guns could have poured it on even more against a Golden Knights team that might have been a little fatigued in closing out a back-to-back? Either way, impressive stuff.

2. Kyle Connor

Patrik Laine got the glory in collecting yet another hat trick as the Jets held off the Canucks on Monday, but Connor could have selfishly bagged his second goal of the night by aiming at an empty net instead of sending the puck to Laine.

Connor generated an extra point for Winnipeg, scoring one goal and three assists.

The sophomore winger was part of the Jets’ barrage of Vancouver, as Connor fired seven of Winnipeg’s 49 shots on goal, a team-high mark for Monday.

3. Juho Lammikko

Raise your hand if you weren’t super-familiar with this Finnish Florida Panthers forward before Monday. (C’mon, put it up.)

The third-rounder from 2014 (65th overall) came into the night with zero goals and six assists in 16 NHL games. Lammikko generated four assists in Florida’s wild win vs. Ottawa. Lammikko gets dinged a bit for being in a losing effort.

In case you’re wondering, here’s how to pronounce his name, via Hockey Reference: YOO-hoh lah-MIH-koh.

Highlights of the Night

  • Check this post for that memorable Carey Price save.
  • One can debate how much of a distraction Mike Hoffman was for a “broken” Senators locker room. Maybe some will grumble that he received a friendly ovation during his return to Ottawa. What you can’t deny is that he scored against his old team, and you might not even be able to argue against the notion that he did so with serious style:

(More on Hoffman in a moment.)

  • Tyler Ennis might need to turn up the difficulty level:

Factoids

Yes, Patrik Laine is earning “Hat Trick Laine” references for good reason.

Another astounding tidbit:

Yes, Monday’s goal was special to Hoffman, but it was also part of an outstanding run:

Hot take: as impressed as you might be by Pekka Rinne tying Miikka Kiprusoff, it probably means way more to Rinne.

Scores

TOR 4, CBJ 2
NYR 2, DAL 1
BUF 5, PIT 4 (OT)
WSH 5, MTL 4 (OT)
FLA 7, OTT 5
LAK 2, STL 0
NSH 3, TBL 2
CGY 7, VGK 2
WIN 6, VAN 3

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.

Sabres storm back to extend Penguins’ early season misery

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PITTSBURGH — These aren’t the Buffalo Sabres you have come to know over the past seven years.

These also are not the Pittsburgh Penguins you have come to know, either.

The two teams continued on their early season paths — which are going in completely opposite directions — on Monday night as the Sabres stormed back and erased a three-goal second period deficit to pick up a 5-4 overtime win on a Jack Eichel goal, leaving the Penguins stunned and still searching for answers.

For the Sabres, it continues what has been the team’s best start in close to a decade, extending their current winning streak to six games and giving them a 10-2-2 record in their past 14 games. Everything is clicking for them right now, from new acquisitions like Jeff Skinner stepping in and making a massive impact on the top line, to new starting goalie Carter Hutton giving the team capable goaltending every night.

[Related: The Sabres are good]

Hutton did not have a spectacular game on Monday overall, but he still made some huge saves early in the game to keep his team in it. He also played a huge factor on the penalty kill to help kill off a two-man advantage in the second period when the team was already trailing by three goals.

Once they killed off that penalty, Zach Bogosian scored to cut the deficit in half.

From that point on the Sabres completely took over the game and absolutely manhandled the Penguins in their own zone for the final 25 minutes.

“I think obviously there is that desperation in our game there in the third,” said Eichel. “We’ve been in that spot before. We’ve been a resilient bunch. There is that belief in the room every time we go out there we can make a push and find a way to get a point or two. We definitely want to work on our starts, but it’s great to see the way the team sticks together. It’s a credit to all the guys in the room to stick with it even when things don’t go our way.”

“There is a bit of confidence now because we’ve done it a few times,” Eichel continued. “I think it’s a trust and a belief in each other that the next guy is going to get the job done and set you up for your next shift. We’re a pretty tight bunch for how many new guys have come into this team and we’re doing it for each other. Everyone goes out there and doesn’t want to let the guy next to you down.”

While things are going wonderfully for the Sabres right now things for the Penguins are … well …  bad.

How bad? Look at it this way: They are left trying to find silver linings after their past two games. Those games — a 6-4 loss in Ottawa where they mounted a late — and ultimately futile — third period rally, and an overtime loss to Buffalo on home ice in which they had a 4-1 lead (while getting a 29-second two-man advantage) with 15 minutes to play in the second period.

For a team that was winning Stanley Cups just a couple of years ago and entered the season with a roster it thought was capable of winning another one, that is an astonishing and sudden slide.

Coach Mike Sullivan is trying to remain positive.

“On a couple of the goals they score, we make a couple of mistakes and they end up in the back of our net,” said Sullivan.  “Just seems like the way it is going right now. There was a lot to like about our game and our effort. We certainly have to clean up some areas defensively but there was certainly a lot to like in this game as well.

There definitely was a lot to like about the first 25 minutes, especially when it came to the team finding some even-strength scoring from players they need to get it from.

Derick Brassard, who has battled injuries and inconsistent play since arriving before last season’s trade deadline, opened the scoring with a much-needed goal, while recent acquisition Tanner Pearson scored a goal and recorded an assist. Those two points exceeded his total for the season between the Kings and Penguins entering the game.

From there, everything went south.

Defensive breakdowns, an inability to smoothly and efficiently exit the zone, no sustained offensive zone pressure, and more sub-par goaltending (this time from Casey DeSmith) turned what looked to be a much-needed win into yet another loss.

That is now nine losses in their past 10 games as the Penguins are tied with the New Jersey Devils for the lowest point total in the Eastern Conference.

Sullivan was asked if it is too early for things to be getting “desperate.”

[Related: NHL’s most impactful offseason additions]

“I don’t think it’s ever too early,”said Sullivan. “Every game is important, every point is important, and we’re scratching and clawing through it anyway we can. We are well aware of the position we are in. None of us are happy about it. We have a proud group. I do think we are getting better in a lot of areas. We’re not getting the results. We very well could have in a number of games, tonight being one of them. We have to clean up some areas I know we are capable of being better, we have to make sure we do not get down ourselves, and we keep the right attitude and the right energy around the rink so we can pull together.”

How they are able to start getting the results and how they can pull it together still seems like a mystery, but they better start figuring it out.

Captain Sidney Crosby is getting closer to a return, but there is only so much he can do. He also does not fix the issues on the blue line, in the goal crease, or in the bottom-six (though his return does push Brassard back down to the third-line role he was acquired to play in).

With Monday’s loss they now find themselves five points behind the Washington Capitals for the third playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division and seven points behind the second wild card team in the Eastern Conference. That is not an insignificant gap, even if it is still November. No team five or more points out of a playoff spot in 2017-18 on Nov. 20 (which is where the Penguins will sit on Tuesday) managed to make the playoffs.

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.

PHT Power Rankings: NHL’s most impactful offseason additions so far

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In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we take a look at how your team’s biggest offseason acquisition has performed through the first quarter of the season.

Who has been an impact player? Who has exceeded expectations? Who has failed to meet expectations?

This is by no means a final grade or a definitive statement on the move itself; it is more of an initial progress report to see what the early returns are. Things can still change the rest of this season and in future seasons.

We also tried to limit this to the *big* signings/trades. Players that were involved in bigger, multi-player trades and free agents that were signed to multi-year, long-term contracts since those are the moves that carry the most risk for teams.

So let us get to the rankings.

The impact additions

1. Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres — The Sabres desperately needed a player like Skinner, and they didn’t really have to give up a ton to get him. He has given Jack Eichel a legitimate front-line running mate on his wing, while Eichel has given him an All-Star playmaking center. Neither player has ever had a linemate like the other in their careers, and the early results have been stellar for a Sabres team that is starting to look … kind of good.

2. John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — When you sign a seven-year, $77 million contract to join the Toronto Maple Leafs and be what they hope is the missing piece for a championship team, there is going to be a ton of pressure to go with sky-high expectations. So far, Tavares has been just what the Maple Leafs hoped he would be. Entering play on Monday he is better than a point-per-game player and has given them the luxury of still having a No. 1 center even while Auston Matthews is sidelined.

[Related: Tavares living up to hype with Matthews out]

3. Ryan O'Reilly, St. Louis Blues — A shutdown center that is, as of Monday, on a 104-point pace this season offensively. Will he maintain that pace over 82 games? No way, but he has still been the Blues’ best player this season by a mile. They gave up a lot of assets to get him, but it was a definite quantity over quality trade. It is not his fault the team has failed to meet expectations.

Better than expected so far … will it last?

4-5. Max Domi and Tomas Tatar, Montreal Canadiens — I admit it, I thought the Canadiens’ offseason was a disaster and was going to be another step backwards for the organization. Maybe in time it will still play out that way. So far, though, everything general manager Marc Bergevin touched over the summer has somehow turned to gold. A lot of Domi’s early success is tied to a 24 percent shooting percentage that is going to come down, but he has at least rebounded from back-to-back down years in Arizona.

Speaking of rebounds, Tomas Tatar is showing that he is still a really good player and that his post-trade deadline struggles with the Vegas Golden Knights were a fluke. Do not expect him to maintain this current scoring pace, but he is a proven 20-25 goal scorer in the NHL and should once again be at that level this season, even if his production regresses a bit the rest of the way.

6. Mike Hoffman, Florida Panthers — His production has been remarkably consistent through the first quarter of the season with a 15-game point streak entering the week. He has not had a truly dominant game (two points is his season high) but entering Monday he has had at least one point in all but two games this season (the first two games of the season).

[Related: Can Max Domi continue current pace?]

7. Elias Lindholm, Calgary Flames — During his time in Carolina Lindholm was a top-five pick that was just simply good, but nothing really special. His career high in goals? 17. His career high in points? 45. Certainly not a bust, but also not really an impact player. Through his first 20 games in Calgary he has erupted offensively and is a point-per-game performer and on pace to shatter all of his previous career highs. On one hand, he is still only 23 years old and should be, in theory, entering his peak years in the NHL. On the other hand, that 21.6 shooting percentage is set for a big fall in the second half.

8. Jaroslav Halak, Boston Bruins — I still think if the Bruins are going to win the Stanley Cup — or at least seriously compete for it — they are going to have Tuukka Rask in net for it. Right now, though, Halak has been the best goalie in Boston and has been a huge surprise with a .935 save percentage and a 7-2-2 record entering play on Monday. After a disastrous season with the Islanders in 2017-18, and in his age 33 season, this is a pretty stunning performance.

Not quite what we expected (yet), but still pretty good

9. Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks — The offensive production has not been what we have come to expect from Karlsson, but that does not mean he has been bad. When he is on the ice the Sharks are controlling more than 59 percent of the total shot attempts and more than 55 percent of the scoring chances that take place. Those are dominant numbers. The offense will eventually come and like many of the players on the Sharks at the moment he is getting crushed by lackluster goaltending. I would be willing to wager that by the end of the season he would be near the top of such a ranking.

10. Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes — Pretty much the same story as Karlsson. Probably been a lot better than his traditional box score numbers would indicate and getting hurt by bad goaltending.

11. Ilya Kovalchuk, Los Angeles Kings — He has shown flashes of still being able to be a dominant top-line player, and also flashes of being a 35-year-old that had not played in the NHL in more than five years. He alone was never going to be enough to fix what ailed this team, but he is still on pace for 20 goals and 60 points this season. That pretty much makes him an offensive powerhouse in relation to the rest of the players in Los Angeles.

What should have been expected

12-13. Michael Grabner and Alex Galchenyuk, Arizona Coyotes — They have been nice additions for a Coyotes team that should be able to threaten for a playoff spot in a weak Pacific Division. Galchenyuk missed some time at the start of the year but now that he is healthy is on track for another season around 20 goals and 50 points, while Grabner has been a tremendous addition to the team’s lethal penalty kill unit that has helped drive their early start.

14. Carter Hutton, Buffalo Sabres — He was never going to repeat his performance from a year ago when he finished with the league’s best save percentage. While it would have been great for the Sabres if he somehow managed that, they mainly just needed him to be competent and give them a chance to win on most nights. He has done that.

[Related: The Sabres are good]

14-15. David PerronTyler Bozak, St. Louis Blues — The Blues needed scoring depth and spent big money this summer to try and find it. O’Reilly has played at an All-Star level, while their two big free agent acquisitions — Perron and Bozak — are producing at about the level you would expect David Perron and Tyler Bozak to perform at. Are they game-changers? No. But if the Blues’ goaltending situation was not the total dumpster fire it has been so far the team would would probably have a few more wins and all of their offseason additions would look a lot better.

The disappointments

16. Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights —  Pacioretty has simply not produced the way anyone expected him to. He had a down year in Montreal in 2017-18, and so far this season has seen his production fall off even more. It has to be even more frustrating at the moment for Vegas when you look at Tomas Tatar — traded for Pacioretty, along with top prospect Nick Suzuki — scoring for the Canadiens the way Vegas hoped he would score for them when they gave up a boatload of draft picks for him at the trade deadline.

17. James Neal, Calgary Flames — Just a total non-factor in every area for the Flames so far. Hopefully for the Flames it is just a poorly time slump at the start of a new contract because they are paying too much money over too many years for this level of production.

18. Jack Johnson, Pittsburgh Penguins — This was a questionable signing — at best — from the very beginning, and so far the results are everything critics of the deal thought they would be. Not good.

Jury is still out/Incomplete

James van Riemsdyk, Philadelphia FLyers — He has only played in four games this season due to injury, but he looked really good in those games and seemed to be just what they needed to improve their scoring depth. When healthy he has been one of the top goal scorers in the league for a couple of years now, and he probably still has a couple years of that remaining when he is healthy. He just has not been healthy for the Flyers yet.

Paul Stastny, Vegas Golden Knights — Along with Pacioretty he was supposed to help give the Golden Knights a second dominant scoring line to go along with their top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith. Pacioretty has struggled mightily so far and Stastny has appeared in just three games due to injury. He also does not appear to be close to returning. Too soon to call him (or Pacioretty, for that matter) a total bust, but the early results are not what Vegas was hoping for. Both due to bad luck (Stastny’s injury) and just all-around disappointing play (Pacioretty).

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.