PHT Morning Skate: Devils should clean house; Could Hall go back to Oilers?

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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.

• The Bruins are the best team in the NHL right now, but their fortunes may change soon enough. (Sportsnet)

• The NHLPA is covering up a theft of over $100,000 union funds. (TSN)

• The Devils should clean house after this season. (All About the Jersey)

Marcus Johansson is frustrated by the struggles he’s been having this season. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• Snoop Dogg is making an appearance in the NHL 20 video game. (Operation Sports)

• How has Sheldon Keefe changed the Maple Leafs? (The Score)

• There’s a few reasons why the Flyers had so much success in November. (Yahoo)

• The Edmonton Oilers are interested in Taylor Hall, but they will probably be outbid. (Edmonton Journal)

• The St. Louis Blues are gaining strength through injury adversity. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

• The Habs have lost nine of their last 10 games. Is it time for them to rebuild? (Spector’s Hockey)

• What is the true value of a fifth-round draft pick? (Japers Rink)

• Gus Katsaros explains how defensemen are evolving with the times. (Rotoworld)

• The Red Wings are looking to have fun during this tough stretch. (MLive)

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.

Winter Classic Memories: The snow storm at The Big House

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Every Tuesday in December we’ll be looking back at some Winter Classic memories as we approach the 2020 game between the Stars and Predators from the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas on Jan. 1.

The Winter Classic between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings should have taken place in 2013, but due to a lockout the outdoor game was delayed a year until Jan. 1, 2014.

It was the first time that the New Year’s Day game was held in a college football stadium, with the NHL eyeing an attendance record inside Michigan Stadium. The previous attendance record for the Winter Classic was set during the first one at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo in 2008 when 71,217 fans saw the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins need a shootout to decide a winner. 

The world record attendance of 104,173, which was set in 2010 at a University of Michigan football game at The Big House, was something the NHL hoped to top with the 2014 Winter Classic.

“You don’t remember everything in life, but you remember moments,” said then Red Wings head coach Babcock. “This should be one of those moments you remember.” 

A winter storm made the trek to Ann Arbor tough for those going to the game, and fans were still entering the stadium deep into the second period. The snowfall was heavy, which was clear between stoppages when shovelers were seen pushing large amounts of the stuff off the ice. In the end, there was no Guinness World Record, but an outdoor game record of 105,491 tickets were sold to see the Maple Leafs top the Red Wings 3-2 after a shootout. 

Due to the weather conditions, ticket-takers stopped scanning stubs and the league could not get a 100% accurate count at the gate.

From Nick Cotsonika’s 2014 story for Yahoo:

The NHL had to agree to a preapproved accounting method with Guinness, and it chose a barcoded ticketing system. Guinness had an official adjudicator on site, Alex Angert, who said he could count only fans whose tickets were scanned, plus media and officials who came only to watch the game.

The league still seemed to have a shot afterward. At the “Big Chill at the Big House” in 2010, Michigan announced a crowd of 113,411 – even though Guinness was on site and certified only 85,451 at the time mainly because ticket scanners froze in the cold. About a month later, after analyzing photos of the stands, Guinness certified the attendance at 104,073. It now lists it at 104,173.

Those who were there, however, withstood the cold, snowy conditions and got to witness a tight game, despite the weather, which saw a 13 degree temperature at puck drop and wind chills around zero.

After a scoreless first period, the teams exchanged goals in the second and third periods to force overtime for the third time in Winter Classic history. In the shootout, it was Tyler Bozak who broke the draw to give the Maple Leafs the victory.

Four outdoor games since that Maple Leafs win have needed overtime to decide a winner. None have reached the shootout.

***

Among the unique sidebars to the game was Red Wings forward Luke Glendening’s experience. He was planning on watching the 2014 Winter Classic on television after being sent down to the team’s AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids three days before the game.

After playing that Monday at Comerica Park as part of the Hockeytown Winter Festival AHL matchup against the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, Glendening, who played 165 games with the Wolverines, was told he would be getting called back up to play with the NHL team at the Big House, his second outdoor game in three days.

***

The snow globe scene, mixed with the red and blue sections of the stadium for each team’s fans made it a picturesque day, despite the ugliness of the weather. For everything it delivered, that Winter Classic was later named 2014 sports event of the year by Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily.

As Babcock said, it was a moment to remember for everyone involved.

“It was great,” said Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader of the fan support. “All of the fans, I don’t know how they did it, how they stayed warm. We had heat on the benches, but I know it was cold up there and it was windy. They battled the conditions and just made it an unbelievable atmosphere. Of all the outdoor games like this, I don’t know if there’s been an atmosphere like this.”

NBC will air the 2020 NHL Winter Classic between the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators at the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas, Texas, at 2 p.m. ET.

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: Francis faces criticism; Franzen criticizes Babcock

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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.

• Seattle general manager Ron Francis comes under heavy criticism for his handling of the Carolina Hurricanes player abuse situation. [Seattle Times]

• Former Detroit Red Wings forward Johan Franzen opens up about his time playing for Mike Babcock, telling a Swedish newspaper outlet that Babcock is the worst person he has ever met. [Detroit Free Press]

Kyle Okposo considered retirement following his latest concussion. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

• Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom is representing himself in his next round of contract negotiations. He is eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season.[ESPN]

• The case of two different Tyler Ennis‘ and a near mistaken diagnosis. [TSN]

• Vancouver Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom has been granted a leave of absence from the team so he can attend his father’s memorial service. [Vancouver Canucks]

• Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak continues to make the case he is the NHL’s best bargain player. [The Hockey News]

• The Montreal Canadiens placed backup goalie Keith Kinkaid on waivers. [Montreal Gazette]

• Who (and what) the Pittsburgh Penguins need to lean on to get through this tough injury stretch. [Pensburgh]

• A new app allows players to rate coaches, agents. [USA Today]

• The Philadelphia Flyers capped off a special November and entered December with their most points since the 1995-96 Eric Lindros season. [NBC Philadelphia]

• The Arizona Coyotes’ tumultuous November still produces a lot of positives. [AZ Central]

Adam Gretz is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Rough night for rougher teams

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Three Stars

1. Assorted Buffalo Sabres

Look, when you beat a team 7-1, you’re probably going to have at least a few standouts, and your top Sabres star probably boils down to taste.

Johan Larsson is a good player to start with. His three assists happened during Buffalo’s five-goal opening period, one that really made the Devils’ dire situation extra-glaringly-clear. Jack Eichel did what he does, which is score a lot, extending his point streak to 10 games with one goal and two assists.

To be fair to the Devils, they at least tried to make the score more respectable. They fired 45 shots on goal, including 39 during the second and third period, to try to get in the game. Linus Ullmark wasn’t interested in helping New Jersey save face, however, as he stopped all but one of those 45 SOG.

2. Jake Allen, St. Louis Blues

Could we be seeing a mini-renaissance for a goalie who’s been left in the dust by Jordan Binnington?

Allen was arguably the first star of Monday night, making 38 saves for his first shutout of 2019-20, including 17 in the third period to cement that goose egg.

While it’s a small sample size, Allen has been heating up after two rocky appearances in October. Allen generated a strong .934 save percentage during five appearances in November, and began December with this shutout. Again, it’s not exactly a lengthy run of elite puck-stopping, yet if Allen can maintain a decent level of play, the Blues can at least keep Binnington reasonably rested as they try to defend that first-ever Stanley Cup title.

Semyon Varlamov is a decent option as another goalie as he made 30 out of 31 stops as the Islanders got back on the winning track against the very-much-not-winning Red Wings.

3. Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim Ducks

It’s unclear if Lindholm will find the game that made him an under-the-radar elite defensive presence from 2015-16 to 2017-18, only to drop off significantly in 2018-19. But he at least enjoyed a nice game on Monday.

Lindholm collected three assists against the Kings, ending a seven-game pointless streak. The last time he collected a point? Why, that was … another three-assist night, in that case against the Avalanche on Oct. 26. Lindholm now has 12 points (all assists) in 20 games in 2019-20.

Stephenson is Vegas-bound

The Washington Capitals traded Chandler Stephenson to the Vegas Golden Knights (and George McPhee) for a fifth-round pick in 2021.

Tough to say that Stephenson is a huge loss, judging by both his modest scoring numbers, workmanlike other stats, and his RAPM chart at Evolving Hockey. But he might at least give Vegas a decent option to soak up penalty kill minutes and other unglamorous roles.

Highlight of the Night

Kings forward Nikolai Prokhorkin sliced through the Ducks defense like a hot fork knife through butter.

Lowlight

Ouch, Louis Domingue.

Factoids

  • Jake Allen joins Brian Elliott (25) and Jaroslav Halak (20) as the only three Blues goalies with 20 career shutouts, according to NHL PR. Binnington is at six in his regular season career, in case you were wondering.
  • NHL PR points out that Jack Eichel (four assists on March 21, 2018) is the only Sabres player with more assists in a single period than the three Larsson collected in the opening frame on Monday.
  • The Devils have lost their last two games by a combined score of 11-1. The Sabres scored three goals before New Jersey even registered its first shot on goal in Monday’s 7-1 drubbing.
  • The Red Wings have now lost 10 games in a row, and have allowed the most goals in the league with 118. No one else has reached 100 goals allowed yet this season (Montreal’s second-worst with 95).
  • As rough as the Rangers’ underlying numbers have been, they were putting together some decent stretches. Monday’s 4-1 loss to the Golden Knights ended a five-game point streak where the Rangers went 4-0-1.

Scores

BUF 7 – NJD 1
VGK 4 – NYR 1
NYI 4 – DET 1
STL 4 – CHI 0
ANA 4 – LAK 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.

The Buzzer: Rantanen dominates in return; Driedger gets shutout in first start

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Three Stars

1. Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche. After being sidelined for more than a month Rantanen returned to the Avalanche lineup on Saturday and picked right up where he left off, recording four points in a complete destruction of the Chicago Blackhawks. He is now up to 16 points in 10 games this season, and with him back in the lineup the Avalanche dominant duo of Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon is going to start taking over games again. They are still without Gabriel Landeskog but have managed to keep piling up points thanks to the brilliance of MacKinnon and the improved depth throughout the roster. Given all of the salary cap space they still have they are going to have a chance to add a major piece before the trade deadline and be a force in the Western Conference playoffs. Joonas Donskoi also had four points for the Avalanche on Saturday, while MacKinnon added three. This game also featured one of the most random and unexpected fights of the season when Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat squared off against Colorado defenseman Samuel Girard.

2. Chris Driedger, Florida Panthers. With big-money free agent Sergei Bobrovsky off to a terrible start this season, the Panthers turned to the 25-year-old Driedger for his first career start on Saturday against the Nashville Predators. He made quite an impact turning aside all 27 shots he faced as the Panthers began a nine-game homestand. Before Saturday Driedger had only made three relief appearances (all with the Ottawa Senators) in his very brief NHL career.

3. Tanner Pearson, Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks have been waiting for some of their depth players to make an impact offensively this season, and it has finally started to happen over the past couple of games. Pearson had a huge game in their 5-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers, scoring two goals and adding two assists. Unlike Wednesday’s game in Pittsburgh, they were able to hold on to this three-goal third period lead to snap what had been a brief two-game losing streak.

Other notable performances from Saturday

  • Alex Ovechkin became just the fifth player in NHL history to record 15 consecutive 20-goal seasons to begin a career. He also moved into 10th place all-time with his 24th career hat trick. Read all about it here.
  • Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov teamed up for a shutout for the New York Islanders as they beat the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets were one of four teams to lose a defenseman to injury on Saturday.
  • The Toronto Maple Leafs won for the fourth time in five games under new coach Sheldon Keefe thanks to a John Tavares overtime winner against the Buffalo Sabres.
  • Alexandar Georgiev stopped all 33 shots he faced for the New York Rangers in a 4-0 win over their arch-rivals, the New Jersey Devils.
  • Big night for Calgary Flames forward Elias Lindholm as he scored two goals, giving him 14 on the season, in a 3-1 win over the Ottawa Senators.
  • Defenseman Justin Faulk scored his first goal as a member of the St. Louis Blues in a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
  • Logan Couture scored two goals for the San Jose Sharks as they erased an early two-goal deficit to beat the Arizona Coyotes by a 4-2 margin.
  • Jack Campbell was outstanding for the Los Angeles Kings, stopping 32 out of 33 shots in a 2-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets.

Highlights of the Night

Ivan Provorov lifted the Philadelphia Flyers to a 4-3 overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday with this incredible goal in the extra period.