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The Buzzer: McDavid, Crawford should’ve given spoiler alerts

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Three Stars

1. Corey Crawford leads a group of spoiler goalies

Quite a few goalies made life miserable for teams in desperate situations, and Crawford topped the list. He generated an impressive (and, for the Canadiens, deeply annoying) 48-save shutout on Saturday, absolutely stealing a win for the Blackhawks. Even with Chicago now on a five-game winning streak, it would be surprising if we look back at that shutout as anything more than the Blackhawks spoiling a chance for Montreal to improve its playoff chances.

Again, that was in the air on Saturday.

Red Wings fans are likely reading through prospect rankings and wondering who will run the team in the future right now, but getting wins at this time of year? They might be rooting for the opposite, at least those who cross their fingers for higher draft lottery odds.

With that in mind, Jonathan Bernier wasn’t just a spoiler for the Islanders in making 41 out of 42 saves; he was, to an extent, a spoiler for his own team … depending upon how you look at things.

Blues goalie Jordan Binnington is doing the opposite of spoiling the Blues’ season, but he certainly robbed the Penguins often, making 40 of 41 saves. (Also of note: Anders Nilsson generated 35 saves as the Senators upset the Maple Leafs.)

2. Alex Killorn

It’s difficult to differentiate some strong three-point performances from Saturday, except one stands out as pretty tough to deny. Killorn generated a hat trick as the Lightning beat the Capitals in a testy game.

Killorn now has 16 goals in 2018-19, leaving him three behind his career-high of 19.

If you want to bring it back to playing spoiler again: the Lightning have basically everything locked up right now, so they messed up the Capitals’ chances of fattening their lead for the Metropolitan Division title.

3. Connor McDavid

Again, this is tough. Among other candidates, two Panthers (Evgenii Dadonov and Aleksander Barkov) enjoyed three-point games.

Like Dadonov, McDavid generated two goals and one assist for his three points (Barkov had thre assists).

McDavid gets the edge in some ways, and no, it’s not just that he’s Connor McDavid. For one thing, McDavid nabbed a game-winning goal with his overtime-winner. For another, McDavid scored this way for his other goal, generating arguably the highlight of the night:

So, slight advantage: number 97.

(Oh yeah, and the Oilers beat the Coyotes in OT, spoiling Arizona’s efforts to get a full two points.)

Highlight of the Night

Actually, I’m call it: that McDavid goal was the highlight of the night. So, with that, enjoy a bonus: the latest Hurricanes win celebration goes the “curling” route.

Question: does this mean they’re only getting more ingenious with their celes, or are they running out of ideas?

Factoids

  • McDavid now has multiple points in seven-consecutive games. Only two other Oilers have done that: Wayne Gretzky (15 times!) and Mark Messier (once). McDavid’s seven-game streak ties two other players for the longest run in 2018-19: Nikita Kucherov and Auston Matthews.
  • Connor Hellebuyck hits the 30-win mark once again. This makes for a nice feat for him, and quite the indictment on those who came before him, as he’s the only Thrashers/Jets goalie to post consecutive 30-win seasons.
  • Jordan Staal scored his 500th point, allowing him to join his brother Eric Staal on a select list of siblings:

Scores

STL 5 – PIT 1
DET 2 – NYI 1
FLA 4 – LAK 3
WIN 2 – CGY 1
BOS 2 – CBJ 1 (OT)
CHI 2 – MTL 0
OTT 6 – TOR 2
TBL 6 – WSH 3
CAR 4 – BUF 2
MIN 5 – NYR 2
EDM 3 – ARI 2 (OT)
NSH 4 – SJS 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.

Saturday was good for Hurricanes, bad for Penguins, ugly for Habs

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As this PHT post argues, the Montreal Canadiens haven’t been particularly lucky lately, but Saturday pushed such thoughts to the extreme.

The Habs fired a robust 48 shots on goal against Corey Crawford, but couldn’t beat the veteran goalie once. With that, the Blackhawks won 2-0, handing Montreal not just a loss, but a defeat in regulation.

The Canadiens can’t even really look on the one broad bright side of Saturday (that a lot of other East teams struggled), either, as the most crucial ones gained ground while Montreal’s running out of time to get its act together.

(That’s particularly true of that putrid power play, which went 0-for-4 on Saturday.)

The Canadiens are now stalling out at 81 points in 72 games played. Here’s a rundown of the rest of today’s most pertinent East action, in order of teams with the most on the line.

Blue Jackets lose, but they get a point

Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron made the difference for the Boston Bruins in a 2-1 OT win, as the dynamic duo generated a goal and an assist apiece. While Montreal can’t question its overall effort, Columbus might be at least a bit frustrated with the fact that they only forced Jaroslav Halak to face 25 SOG.

The Blue Jackets gain a step on Montreal, finishing the night with 84 points in 72 GP.

Hurricanes have the best Saturday of anyone at or near the bubble

After former Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner scored early into Saturday’s game, Carolina scored four straight goals to eventually win 4-2. Justin Williams‘ 21st goal of 2018-19 was really something:

Carolina is likely more focused on Tuesday’s opponent slightly ahead of them for the Metro third spot (the Penguins), than the Hurricanes are about the bubble teams behind them. Carolina now has 85 points in 71 GP.

Penguins lose badly

Speaking of Pittsburgh, they had a rough afternoon, falling to the Blues 5-1 despite 41-26 SOG advantage. As rocky as his St. Louis start was, moments like these make you wonder if Patrick Maroon might benefit the Blues more when the games get bigger:

(Nice to see those “NHL 19” moves work out in real life every now and then, huh?)

The Penguins failed to gain breathing room ahead of Carolina (and Columbus, to a lesser extent), and also didn’t give themselves a better chance at the Metro’s second seed, as the Penguins sit at 87 points in 72 GP.

Most likely Metro Division winners idle

Both the Capitals (91 points in 72 GP) and Islanders (89 points in 71 GP) lost in regulation in their respective games, falling short of improving their odds at a division title. The Islanders leave themselves at least somewhat vulnerable to losing a round of home-ice advantage, depending upon how things shake out.

***

So, almost everyone lost, with the Blue Jackets at least salvaging a very, very important point. All things considered, you can’t totally blame the Hurricanes if they’re thinking big — as in at least rising above the wild-card ranks.

Looking at the landscape, the Canadiens must be awfully worried. It doesn’t look great for their chances, so they need to turn things around soon. This crisis of confidence is coming at a terrible time for a team that exceeded just about everyone’s expectations this season.

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.

Putrid power play might doom Canadiens’ playoff dreams

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Most times, when an NHL team is struggling, players will try to explain things away with buzzwords.

You’ll hear the sort of phrases that will get a lot of heads nodding – probably that of the head coach, in particular – which Andrew Shaw deployed in pondering the Montreal Canadiens’ struggles in trying to cement a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“We’ve had bad starts, we’ve had bad periods, we’ve had bad shifts,” Shaw said after Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the Islanders, according to NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “That hunger, that bite, it’s not there. It’s not where we need to be. We need to be a playoff team right now, and it looks like we’re just going out there and playing.”

Most signs point toward success

Talking about “that hunger, that bite” works, and probably gets some stomachs rumbling around dinner time. But effort (or a lack thereof) isn’t really a useful explanation for why the Canadiens have gone 6-9-0 in their last 15 games, placing them in what looks to be a really tight battle with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the East’s final playoff spot.

[More: The Push for the Playoffs details where the Habs rank.]

Sure, it’s sometimes difficult to look at numbers and tell the story of effort, but some of the telltale signs are there that Montreal’s still playing hard.

Since Feb. 9, Montreal’s been a high-end possession stat team by Natural Stat Trick’s metrics, just like they have overall the long haul of the season. While they “only” rank 11th since Feb. 9 at controlling the percentage of high-danger chances in a game, generating 52.05 percent is still very healthy.

What’s been going wrong, then?

If you’re wondering about goaltending, it’s not the biggest problem. Carey Price hasn’t been at his peak lately (.911 save percentage since Feb. 9), but he hasn’t been totally letting the Canadiens down.

The glaring problem

Instead, it’s pretty simple: Montreal’s power play has been abysmal.

During this slump, the Canadiens have gone 3-for-41 on the power play, which ends up being a putrid 7.3 percent success rate. That’s the worst mark in the NHL during that span since Feb. 9, with the Vancouver Canucks (8.3 percent) ranking as the only other team below double digits.

While Shaw can bring up elbow grease and sticktoitiveness, Claude Julien should be exploring answers to the power play question. To be specific, what’s been going wrong?

  • To some extent, this is just bad luck. Even the league’s most predictable, skill-low power plays should operate at much higher than 7.3 percent over the long haul.
  • That said, maybe there’s something systemic.

Personally, when I see that a team’s power play is ice cold, I usually check to see who’s shooting. Chances are, a power play might struggle because too many shots are coming from defensemen firing on low-quality opportunities.

That seems to be the case with Montreal, leading to a hypothesis: Shea Weber‘s booming shot is probably a curse disguised as a blessing.

During the 16 games since Feb. 9, Weber has 16 PP SOG, double that of the second-highest total (Jonathan Drouin‘s eight in 15 GP).

In the 54 games before this slump, Drouin leads with 33 SOG on the power play, followed by Tomas Tatar‘s 31. Weber’s numbers are more limited because of his lengthy bout with injuries, yet it’s interesting see that he generated 14 in 31 games. That’s less than one every two games, versus the one-per-night Weber has averaged during these tough 16 games.

None of this is to say that the Canadiens should stop Weber from shooting on the power play altogether. He really does boast a pretty unique weapon. Despite missing all of those games, he still has 11 goals in 2018-19, and actually just scored the 200th of his fantastic career.

But maybe the Canadiens are telegraphing their attempts to Weber too much.

Things were more effective when shots were dispersed more communally, with the highest-end scorers like Drouin, Tatar, Brendan Gallagher, and Max Domi leading the way. Maybe the Canadiens would be best served pretending that Weber is just another PP QB, and use him a lot like they did with Jeff Petry?

***

Since Feb. 9, the Canadiens’ 43 goals ranks 12th-worst in the NHL, but if you zero in to even-strength, Montreal’s 39 goals comes in at 13th-best.

So, the comforting part of all of this is that the Canadiens have generally been playing well, only that their power play’s been a disaster. The less-comforting part is that, if they don’t figure things out soon, that man advantage might be enough of a disadvantage to derail their playoff hopes.

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: Big night for Coyotes — and Kucherov

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Three Stars

1. Nikita Kucherov

Let’s keep this one pretty simple, because we went deep on where Kucherov’s 115 points ranks in recent history here.

Narrowing the focus to Kucherov scoring two goals and two assists for four points in Thursday’s game is impressive enough. Kucherov grabbed the game-winning goal in this one, his second GWG in his last three games (both of those decisive goals came against Detroit, by the way).

Kucherov had a +1 rating in that tight win against the Red Wings, firing five shots on goal and ending up with just under 21 minutes (20:58) in that game. Masterful work by the clear frontrunner for the Hart Trophy.

2. Vinnie Hinostroza

While he’s been streaky in 2018-19, nights like these provide useful reminders of why a lot of stats-minded people were excited about Hinostroza’s potential after he was traded from Chicago.

For the first time in his career, the 24-year-old generated a hat trick, and Hinostroza added the flourish of making it a natural hat trick. Despite a modest 13:43 in ice time in Arizona’s win against Anaheim, Hinostroza fired eight SOG on his way to that hat trick.

Hinostroza now has 15 goals and 34 points in 61 games this season, and four goals in his last two contests. With the Wild losing in regulation and the Coyotes winning big, the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs suddenly look remarkably likely for Arizona.

They’re also only four points behind Vegas for third place in the Pacific, although that’s a big hurdle to leap with the Golden Knights also holding a game in hand.

3. Anders Nilsson

There were some very strong goalie performances beyond Nilsson on Thursday, with Darcy Kuemper stopping 37 out of 38 shots, Thomas Greiss making 33 out of 34 saves, and Casey DeSmith managing a 26-save shutout. There were also other worthy scoring performances, particularly by Brett Connolly (two goals, one assist) and Mark Scheifele (one goal, two assists).

But Nilsson managed an impressive 35-save shutout, boosting his 2018-19 save percentage from .908 to .915. He did so against a strong Blues team, too.

It doesn’t really do the lowly Senators a whole lot of good, but it might improve Nilsson’s chances of staying in the NHL in 2019-20, whether he remains with Ottawa or lands somewhere else.

Highlight of the Night

This got its own post, but it’s tough to top Zdeno Chara being strong enough to send Scheifele’s stick soaring, only for Scheifele to score a goal. Good times.

By the way, the lowlight was really a highlight, too, as Tyler Seguin was a good sport in absorbing grief for missing on an empty net. That got its own post as well.

Factoids

Scores

PIT 5 – BUF 0
NYI 2 – MTL 1
WAS 5 – PHI 2
OTT 2 – STL 0
TBL 5 – DET 4
DAL 4 – MIN 1
WIN 4 – BOS 3
ARI 6 – ANA 1
NSH 3 – LAK 1
FLA 4 – SJS 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: Price passes Plante; hats off for Jenner, Gaudreau

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Three Stars

1. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames. The Calgary Flames kept pace with the San Jose Sharks in the Pacific Division race with a 9-4 win over the New Jersey Devils, featuring the NHL’s first six-point game since the 2013-14 season from Johnny Gaudreau. Read all about it here.

2. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens. The list of Hall of Famers and legendary goalies to play for the Montreal Canadiens organization is a lengthy and impressive one. It is a who’s who list of some of the greatest goalies in the history of the league, and Carey Price now officially has more wins than all of them. By stopping 20 of the 21 shots he faced in a 3-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night, Price earned the 315th win of his career and moved him ahead of Hall of Famer Jacques Plante for sole possession of first place on the team’s all-time wins list.

3. Boone Jenner, Columbus Blue Jackets. The Columbus Blue Jackets’ offense has gone cold in the games after the trade deadline and it has put them in a tough spot when it comes to making the playoffs, especially with a tough schedule still remaining down the stretch. The offense finally clicked on Tuesday night in a 7-4 win over the Boston Bruins — who have now lost two regulation games in a row after going 19 consecutive games without one — that was highlighted by a hat trick from Boone Jenner to give him 15 goals on the season.

Highlights of the Night

Joe Pavelski scored the game-winning goal for the San Jose Sharks with just 3.6 seconds remaining in their 5-4 win over the Winnipeg Jets.

The Pittsburgh Penguins stormed back for a 5-3 win over the Washington Capitals thanks in part to a pair of goals from Sidney Crosby. The first of those two goals was a beauty.

Some highlights from Carey Price’s milestone night for the Montreal Canadiens.

This is not really a “highlight” in the traditional sense, but it is still worth watching as MacKenzie Blackwood’s water bottle did not cooperate.

Daniel Sprong has not always put it all together at the NHL level, but there is no denying his talent when he does. His goal on Tuesday was the game-winner for the Anaheim Ducks in their 3-2 win over the Nashville Predators.

Factoids

  • Believe it, the Arizona Coyotes are in a playoff spot thanks to their 3-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night, and Oliver-Ekman Larsson scored his 10th goal of the season. He is one of just four defenders, joining a list that includes Brent Burns, Roman Josi, and Mark Giordano, to score at least 10 goals in each of the past six seasons. [NHL PR]
  • Ben Bishop is on an incredible run for the Dallas Stars and quietly putting together a Vezina Trophy caliber season. He recorded his third consecutive shutout on Tuesday night, helping the Stars top the Buffalo Sabres. [NHL PR]
  • Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin are the fourth pair of players to each record 1,000 points after being selected No. 1 and 2 overall in an NHL draft year. Malking recorded his 1,000th point on Tuesday night, while Ovechkin recorded his 1,200th point in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 5-3 win. [NHL PR]

Scores

Dallas Stars 2, Buffalo Sabres 0

Pittsburgh Penguins 5, Washington Capitals 3

Columbus Blue Jackets 7, Boston Bruins 4

Montreal Canadiens 3, Detroit Red Wings 1

Arizona Coyotes 3, St. Louis Blues 1

San Jose Sharks 5, Winnipeg Jets 4

Calgary Flames 9, New Jersey Devils 4

Anaheim Ducks 3, Nashville Predators 2

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.