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Who will win the six 2019 All-Star Skills events?

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The NHL announced the six events for the 2019 SAP NHL All-Star Skills (competition no longer) on Friday, noting that the winner of individual events will receive $25K. The event will air on NBCSN, with things slated to run at Friday, Jan. 25 at 6 p.m. PT/ 9 p.m. ET.

Here’s a quick look at each event, with some speculation regarding who might win:

  • Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater

Last year, Connor McDavid became the first-ever repeat winner of fastest skater, but Dylan Larkin owns the best-ever time from 2016. Larkin isn’t slated to be at the ASG weekend (barring injuries?), but Mathew Barzal could conceivably push McDavid.

It would be cool for McDavid to threepeat, even if it would be way more fun if 97 was instead winning, you know, more actual hockey games.

  • Enterprise NHL Premier Passer

This event has been a “wild card” of sorts in the skills competitions past, right down to the particulars. Usually there are adorable mini-nets, and this year’s will include that too. Here are the three phases of competition, via the NHL:

(1) Breakout Pass, where each player is given 10 pucks to attempt to make a pass to three “players”; (2) Mini Nets, where each player must complete a pass over a barricade and into each of four mini nets; and (3) Target Passing, where each player must complete successful passes to all targets that randomly light up every three seconds. 

It’s tough to say that anyone would really have the “inside track” on this event. Alex Pietrangelo won in 2018.

The randomness is part of the fun, though … especially when trying to hit a tiny net in tough situations also leads to frustrations.

The players might not love it, though.

  • Ticketmaster NHL Save Streak

In 2018, Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 14 shootout attempts in a row, beating Pekka Rinne by one. Fleury and Rinne will get a chance in the 2019 version, while Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s sheer athleticism makes him a great bet to push the two veterans this time around. This shootout-related competition lends itself to some fun and absurd moments, so expect nothing less in 2019.

  • Gatorade NHL Puck Control

In the last edition of this event (which goes through three phases of puck control, with the “gate” portion providing particular zaniness), Johnny Gaudreau absolutely killed it. He figures to be tough to beat in this regard, although the NHL is brimming with talented puckhandlers, so who knows?

  • SAP NHL Hardest Shot

The savage simplicity of all those slap-shots has made the hardest shot one of the most entertaining portions of All-Star weekends for decades now. Reigning champion Alex Ovechkin is sitting this year out, so the field opens up.

Actually, quite a few of the go-to choices for hardest shot aren’t slated to be in the 2019 edition. Frequent threats Zdeno Chara and Shea Weber aren’t on the rosters, and Dustin Byufglien would otherwise present a possible threat. Maybe Brent Burns will take it in 2019 in front of a partisan crowd, even after he wasn’t rifling them like many expected last time?

  • Honda NHL Accuracy Shooting

Last year, Brock Boeser began his magical All-Star weekend by winning the accuracy challenge. It looks like Boeser won’t be around to defend that title (nor his 2018 ASG MVP), though.

This eye-friendly competition often comes down to who has the hot hand, but when you look at who’s shooting a high percentage despite heavy volume this year, some favorites emerge: Elias Pettersson (if healthy), Jeff Skinner, and Auston Matthews rank as just a few of the players who could shoot with the highest level of precision.

It would be pretty fun if the Vancouver Canucks saw one ray of hope (Pettersson) follow another (Boeser the year before) in All-Star Games, especially since Pettersson’s just been so much fun.

Who would you expect to win each competition, though? Which events do you look forward to the most?

The 2019 NHL All-Star Skills Competition will take place on Friday, Jan. 25 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2019 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 26 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

Looking back at the 2018 All-Star Skills

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.

Red Wings push Ducks’ skid to 12 games

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Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray gave head coach Randy Carlyle (the deadly?) vote of confidence and shipped Andrew Cogliano out of town, but playing against the struggling Detroit Red Wings did little to change this team’s path.

Despite Rickard Rakell scoring the opening goal, the Ducks dropped their 12th game in a row, as the Red Wings fired off three unanswered goals to win 3-1 on Tuesday.

Since beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 to improve to 19-11-5 on Dec. 17, the Ducks have gone 0-8-4 to slide down to 19-19-9, leaving them outside of the West’s eight playoff spots, and in a position of significant uncertainty in the conference’s clogged bubble races. So this could be a full month-long losing streak if the Ducks can’t beat the Minnesota Wild in their next game on Thursday, Jan. 17.

This wasn’t exactly the effort of a desperate team trying to save their coach’s job (and avoid further trades), as the Red Wings actually narrowly edged the Ducks in shots on goal at 25-24.

All three of the Red Wings’ goals happened in the third period. Anthony Mantha tied it up a little less than six minutes into the final frame after Rakell’s second-period goal, while Gustav Nyquist collected the game-winner with 4:16 left in the third. Darren Helm then added the insurance goal.

Things might not get much easier for Anaheim in the near future, as this loss represented the second game of a five-game road trip, and after one home date, they must endure another road run:

Thu., Jan. 17: at Minnesota
Sat., Jan. 19: at New Jersey
Sun., Jan. 20: at Islanders
Wed., Jan. 23: vs St. Louis
Sat., Feb. 2: at Winnipeg
Mon., Feb. 4: at Toronto
Tue., Feb. 5: at Montreal
Thu., Feb. 7: at Ottawa
Sat., Feb. 9: at Philadelphia

Ouch.

We’ll find out soon enough if something else gives with the Ducks, whether that means yet another trade, or even a coaching change. It’s fair to wonder if there’s much anyone can do, as even all-world goalie John Gibson has no longer been able to stop the bleeding.

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: Blue Jackets mock Kuznetsov; A bloody good goal

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Three Stars

1. Tyler Bertuzzi

For the first time in his NHL career, Bertuzzi generated a hat trick, playing a role in a very frustrating night for Bruce Boudreau and the Wild.

Overall, Bertuzzi ended up with five shots on goal and a +3 rating in that win. Todd’s nephew now has 13 goals and 25 points in 45 games this season.

Consider this also an honorary spot for Dylan Larkin, who continued a quietly strong 2018-19 with three assists.

2. Nikita Kucherov

Things get funky after Bertuzzi, whose three points being three goals makes for an easy tiebreaker. The rest are judgment calls, really.

It doesn’t help that there’s a little club of one-goal, two-assists nights where both assists are primary helpers. That was the case with Kucherov, Sean Kuraly, and Jeff Carter.

Kucherov gets one of the nods because, honestly, we really need to step back and behold his amazing run whenever we can. And the same should be said for the absolutely ridiculous Lightning, who are now on an 18-1-1 run.

Kucherov’s now at 75 points in just 45 games. Goodness.

3. Sean Kuraly

From a guy on top of the hockey world to someone who might not make these lists very often, Kuraly also enjoyed an aforementioned one-goal, two-assist night.

Considering his recent efforts, it seems well-earned. Kuraly had been suffering through a four-game pointless streak, yet he fired a healthy 14 SOG during that drought. The Bruins would end up needing all three of his points, too, as they won 3-2 against the Maple Leafs on Saturday.

Again, there’s a strong case for Carter to be in the top three, too. Goalies also had some arguments, including Carey Price, who pitched a 28-save shutout against the Avalanche.

Highlights of the Night

Conor Garland has been quietly building up a nice season between the AHL and NHL, but Saturday might just boost him up to the level of semi-mainstream consciousness among hockey fans.

It’s not just that he scored two goals in Arizona’s win against Edmonton. It’s that the first one went off of his face, and then he came back and scored another one that had to be reviewed. Garland is now on a four-game goal streak (six goals).

This continues what’s been a tough couple of days for faces, even by the gritty standards of hockey players. Braden Holtby took a stick to the eye. Johnny Boychuk blocked a shot with his face. At least Garland got a goal for his efforts, then, eh?

Watch Garland’s two goals, stitches and all, in the video above this post’s headline.

In that same game, Connor McDavid scored a very business-as-usual goal, which of course means it was really impressive:

The magical ride isn’t over yet for Blues goalie Jordan Binnington, as he helped St. Louis suppress Dallas. This was a great sequence. Also, great call on the nickname/Twitter handle “Binn Nasty.”

Trash talk moment of the night

In response to Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s bird/eagle celebration, Artemi Panarin and the Blue Jackets laid it on pretty thick in mocking his cele after winning things 2-1 in OT.

Maybe these teams will get to hash things out in a playoff series? Kuznetsov got a pretty nice burn in that regard, via Ian Oland of Russian Machine Never Breaks:

“That’s fine, you know. It’s nice to get some people to think about me,” Kuznetsov said. “Same as like in April last series.”

Ouch. Also: that Panarin shot was nasty, though.

More on a tough night for the Capitals here, which also includes a breakout pass that ranks as an honorable mention for highlights of the night.

Factoids

  • Brent Burns played in his 1,000th game, collecting two points, and also being distinctly Brent Burns (read: weird).

Scores

NJD 3 – PHI 2
NYR 2 – NYI 1
TBL 5 – BUF 3
BOS 3 – TOR 2
MTL 3 – COL 0
CBJ 2 – WSH 1 (OT)
DET 5 – MIN 2
VGK 4 – CHI 3 (OT)
STL 3 – DAL 1
ARI 3 – EDM 2
SJS 4 – OTT 1
LAK 5 – PIT 2

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.

Boudreau calls out Wild’s top players after tough loss

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These are the types of nights that will make Bruce Boudreau’s skin turn extra-red.

As scrappy as the Detroit Red Wings can be, there’s no denying their low spot in the NHL this season. If that wasn’t enough to set the table for a Wild win, consider that the game was taking place in Minnesota, and the more-rested Wild were taking on a Detroit team that lost to the Jets the night before.

A back-to-back against a cellar dweller should be easy points – on paper – but instead, the Red Wings beat the Wild 5-2 on Saturday, with Tyler Bertuzzi registering his first NHL hat trick.

The Wild dropped what Boudreau called a clunker, even as they looked up at the out-of-town scoreboard and realized that other bubble teams were losing. Minnesota failed to add a little playoff cushion on Saturday, and Boudreau was clearly unhappy after that loss.

“That was the worst game we’ve played since I’ve been here as coach,” Boudreau said early in his presser. ” … I’m really disappointed in tonight’s effort.”

As The Athletic’s Michael Russo notes, Boudreau called out top players such as Eric Staal and Mikael Granlund, while giving Joel Eriksson-Ek such a backhanded compliment, you’d think it was delivered by Vincent Damphousse.

“If your best players aren’t your best players, you’re not going to win a game,” Boudreau said. “It’s as simple as that. When I look down and Ek’s line is the best line that we have out there, then we’re in trouble.”

Slamming your best players while sort of insulting lesser first-rounders? Is Boudreau hanging out with Jim Lites, waiting for Lites to throw barbs at Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin?

The Wild really fell apart in the second period of this game, with an especially painful surge happening considering that Detroit got two goals from former Wild rental Thomas Vanek; via Natural Stat Trick, Detroit controlled the game to the tune of a ridiculous 88 Corsi For Percentage.

via Natural Stat Trick

Were Staal and Granlund that bad? Staal’s possession numbers were indeed abysmal in this one, so it’s not shocking that he admitted that he was “fighting it” all night, according to Russo. Staal ended the night with a minor penalty, zero points, and one shot on goal, while Granlund was a -1 with two SOG.

It’s been tough sledding for Staal and others overall, though. After being remarkable since signing with the Wild (including a surprising 42[!] goals and 76 points last season), Staal’s been limited to 27 points in 43 games. In all honesty, expecting a point-per-game from Staal – now 34 – might be asking a bit much, but the Wild need him to move the needle.

Wild players owned up to their tough outings, at least.

Either way, the Wild find themselves in a grinding mode. Consider that they’ve averaged the exact same 2.82 goals for and against per game, and you can see how slim the margin of error can be.

That tightrope-walking style will probably lend itself to frustrating nights like these.

Minnesota’s still in a decent position to squeeze out a berth in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it probably won’t be easy. Don’t be surprised if you see Boudreau bare that strain throughout the rest of 2018-19, even if he’s unlikely to provide such pointed criticisms all that often.

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: Guentzel’s hat trick leads rally; Hurricanes go bowling

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Three Stars

1. Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pittsburgh Penguins trailed by three goals after one period on Friday night, and then stormed back for a 7-4 win to hand the Anaheim Ducks their 10th loss in a row. There were a lot of stars in the win for the Penguins (Sidney Crosby was dominant even if he only recorded one point, Tanner Pearson scored two goals, Evgeni Malkin had four points) but it was Jake Guentzel that played a huge role, recording his second hat trick of the season. He scored two goals early in the second period to help the Penguins tie the game, and then added an empty netter later in the game to help put it away. He is now just one goal away from matching his season total from a year ago (22 goals).

2. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes. Jeff Skinner was back in Carolina on Friday night as a visiting player for the first time (and he scored his 30th goal of the season) but it was Sebastian Aho that ended up stealing the show with a pair of goals in the Hurricanes’ 4-3 win. They were both kind of fluky goals that went in the net off of Sabres defenders, but the Hurricanes will take them as they try to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Aho is now up to 18 goals on the season and continues to be one of the Hurricanes’ best players.

3. Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets. The Jets haven’t been playing their best lately, but they have still found a way to win three of their past four games thanks to their 4-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night. Blake Wheeler scored a goal and recorded his 49th assist, but Kyle Connor was the big contributor for the team with a three point night, scoring a goal and adding a pair of assists in the win. He is now up to 16 goals and 34 points on the season and remains one of the Jets’ most underrated players.

Highlights

The Carolina Hurricanes continued their season of fun victory celebrations by allowing team captain Justin Williams to go … bowling. Williams also scored a goal on the night.

Phil Kessel gets credit for the game-winning goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins and he absolutely refused to be denied.

How bad were the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night? John Gibson gave up six goals and was by far their best player. In the first period he was making saves like this.

Factoids

  • Jeff Skinner’s goal was his 30th of the season, and the fourth time he has scored 30 goals in his career. He is the first Sabres player to score at least 30 goals in a season since Jason Pominville did it during the 2011-12 season [Sabres PR]
  • Bryan Little recorded his 500th career point on Friday night and is the third player in the history of the franchise to record 500 points with it. [NHL PR]
  • No player in the NHL has ore points than Johnny Gaudreau‘s 38 since the start of December [Sportsnet Stats]

Scores

Carolina Hurricanes 4, Buffalo Sabres 3

Winnipeg Jets 4, Detroit Red Wings 2

Calgary Flames 4, Florida Panthers 2

Pittsburgh Penguins 7, Anaheim Ducks 4

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.