Top pick Dahlin’s been strong for Sabres, who should unleash him

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Conventional wisdom argues that a slow approach might be a wise one with Rasmus Dahlin.

Consider that the top pick of the 2018 NHL Draft is just 18, and won’t turn 19 until April. Dahlin isn’t just adjusting to life in the NHL; the slick Swede also must deal with being in a new country, with all the culture shocks and different ice surface headaches that come with that.

So, yes, on paper, it makes sense that the Buffalo Sabres are handing Dahlin a solid-but-unspectacular ice time average of 18:07 per game.

That said, this is a young man’s game, and Phil Housley would be wise to wonder if we’re soon approaching the time when he should really extend Dahlin’s leash.

For one thing, more NHL teams are just letting their youngest, most talented players loose, and are reaping some nice rewards. The Senators could have spun their wheels with porous defensemen because experience; instead Thomas Chabot has been fantastic, helping the team avoid total embarassment. The Stars have acknowledged the writing on the wall – not to mention John Klingberg‘s injury – by handing big minutes to 19-year-old Miro Heiskanen. For all of the Blackhawks’ missteps, rolling with Henri Jokiharju (also 19) has been both bold and shrewd.

Those teams are leaning on young defensemen in bigger roles for two reasons: 1) they’re really good and 2) those guys are just about unanimously better options than other blueliners on their flawed rosters.

Such logic could absolutely apply to Dahlin and the Sabres.

To start, Dahlin’s been strong.

OK, you won’t be blown away by Dahlin’s offense. So far, he’s generated his first NHL goal and six assists for seven points in 17 games, not quite a point every other night. If that’s your only measure for a blueliner, Dahlin falls into “acceptable shoulder shrug” territory.

For a player who’s brand new and fresh from the draft, Dahlin’s deeper numbers are quite impressive, however. As you can see from places like Hockey Reference, Dahlin’s possession numbers are impressive, whether you look at the stats without context or if you consider them relative to his Sabres teammates.

While Dahlin’s getting more offensive zone starts (51.7-percent versus 48.3-percent), it’s not like he’s getting babied like Mikhail Sergachev was by the Lightning last season. That’s a pretty even workload.

There’s a solid chance that, while Dahlin is enjoying decent power play reps (2:36 per game), he might be worthy of more opportunities there. Housley might at least want to experiment with Dahlin on the penalty kill more often as the season goes along, as Dahlin’s logging just seven seconds per night shorthanded.

His smarts, skating, and skills could be quite useful in … just about every situation, particularly when you consider the alternatives.

Stop trying to make Rasmus Ristolainen, workhorse No. 1 defenseman, happen

One of the hopeful side effects of landing Dahlin was that, ideally, Ristolainen would slot into a more comfortable spot. By more comfortable spot, people mean “not as the guy far and away the most ice time on your team.” Instead, he’s averaging 25:15 per night, more than five minutes above any other Sabres skater.

If you’ve followed Ristolainen’s career, you know that his possession stats have been bad, and often slipped to “full-on disaster” territory. That’s continued by just about every metric this season.

Ristolainen hasn’t really been a spectacular scorer considering his opportunities, and it’s plausible that Dahlin may already be a slightly more useful asset on the power play.

But it’s in the other areas where the Sabres should think long and hard about taking opportunities/burdens away from Ristolainen and giving them to Dahlin and perhaps others. Maybe it would sting to see Ristolainen transition into being an offensive specialist and second-pairing defenseman at $5.4 million, but sometimes winning means acknowledging reality, even if it’s painful.

Others aren’t knocking down the door

This isn’t just about Ristolainen.

Zach Bogosian (19:53 per game) isn’t at the point in his career where he’s likely to be worth trotting out for two more minutes per contest than Dahlin, and his shaky numbers bolster that thought. Jake McCabe (18:54 TOI average) has been solid enough at times, but I’m not so sure I’d trot him out more often than Dahlin, even at this early point. Maybe you’d want Marco Scandella (19:44) to absorb some of the tougher assignments merely to protect Dahlin’s confidence, but the Swede’s possession stats are vastly superior to the four other defensemen mentioned in this post.

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It’s not like giving Dahlin more opportunities would be a mistake Housley couldn’t walk back.

Dahlin likely deserves more ice time in all three scenarios, but particularly at even-strength and on the power play. Instead, Left Wing Lock lists him on Buffalo’s third pairing and second PP unit.

On the bright side, Dahlin seems like he’s acing his early tests as the top pick of the 2018 NHL Draft, even if his work has been more subtle, rather than providing eye-popping early stats. He’s not inspiring ridiculous comparisons yet, like fellow Swede Elias Pettersson.

The thing is, Dahlin might be capable of much more, despite being wet-behind-the-ears. The Sabres would be wise to find out what he can handle, as moving Dahlin up the chain could make a big difference in moving up the ladder as a team.

At minimum, they might need to realize that he’s already the superior Rasmus.

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.

The Buzzer: Pastrnak dominates, Couturier breaks out, Senators rally

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Three Stars

1. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins. The Boston Bruins’ top trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak dominated once again on Saturday night in a 5-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. That trio was on the ice for four of the Bruins’ five goals, with Pastrnak having a hand in all four of them, scoring three for his second hat trick of the season. The four-point night is already Pastrnak’s third of the season, more than any other player in the league. Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars and Mikko Rantanen of the Colorado Avalanche are the only other players with two.

2. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers. After a breakout season offensively in 2017-18, Sean Couturier got off to a bit of a slow start for the Philadelphia Flyers. He has been starting to get back on track over the past couple of games and had a huge breakout performance on Saturday afternoon in a 4-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks where he recorded three points (two goals, an assist) and was a plus-four. He is now up to 11 points in 16 games this season, with eight of those points coming in the past six games. The Flyers are 5-0-1 in those games, having earned 11 out of a possible 12 points.

3. Matt Duchene, Ottawa Senators. Matt Duchene and the Ottawa Senators have been in the news quite a bit lately, but it is probably not the kind of attention they want. They should get some of that attention on Saturday night after rallying with four consecutive third period goals against one of the best teams in the league to pick up a 6-4 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Duchene had a huge night for Ottawa by recording three points, including a pair of assists in the third period. One of those assists set up Ryan Dzingel‘s game-winning goal.

The Hurricanes lost in the most Hurricanes way possible

Carolina is on a record-setting pace this season in terms of their ability to register shots on goal. This is not always leading to victories. Take Saturday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings as an example. Even though they recorded 52 shots on goal (and only allowed 32) they were still unable to come away with a win, losing in a shootout by a 4-3 margin after allowing a 3-1 third period lead to slip away. This game was already Carolina’s 10th game this season with at least 40 shots on goal. No other team in the NHL has more than five. During the entire 2017-18 season there were 14 teams that did not record 40 shots on goal in a game for the entire season. The Hurricanes have dominated the shot chart for several years now but keep getting the same mediocre results in the standings.

Highlights of the Night

The Pittsburgh Penguins entered Saturday’s game against Arizona riding a five-game losing streak and trying to avoid their first six-game losing streak in 12 years. They were able to accomplish that with a 4-0 win over the Coyotes. The first goal of the game belonged to captain Sidney Crosby as he scored on another absolutely ridiculous backhand shot. There might not be a better backhand shot anywhere in the league.

The Buffalo Sabres rallied for a 4-3 shootout win over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday afternoon, erasing what had been a 3-1 third period deficit. That makes this first period glove save by Carter Hutton to rob Bo Horvat of what looked like a sure goal that much more important. This is one of 36 saves Hutton made during the game.

Factoids

Remember when the Montreal Canadiens traded P.K. Subban for Shea Weber? Of course you do. Since that trade P.K. Subban has recorded 111 points with the Predators, including his assist on Saturday’s game-winning goal against the Dallas Stars. That point total is more than the number of games that Weber has played in for Montreal. Safe to say, that trade has worked out spectacularly for the Predators (stick-tap to @JJFromKansas for that statistic).

Mike Hoffman helped the Florida Panthers beat the New York Islanders on Saturday night, and in the process extended his current point streak to 11 games. That is the second-longest streak in Panthers history behind only Pavel Bure.

The Detroit Red Wings picked up another come-from-behind win.

The Calgary Flames were 1-0 winners over the Los Angeles Kings thanks in large part to a 22-save shutout from David Rittich, the first shutout of his career.

 

Scores

Buffalo Sabres 4, Vancouver Canucks 3 (SO)

Philadelphia Flyers 4, Chicago Blackhawks 0

Nashville Predators 5, Dallas Stars 4 (OT)

Boston Bruins 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 1

Florida Panthers 4, New York Islanders 2

Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Arizona Coyotes 0

Ottawa Senators 6, Tampa Bay Lightning 4

Montreal Canadiens 5, Vegas Golden Knights 4

New York Rangers 5, Columbus Blue Jackets 4 (SO)

Detroit Red Wings 4, Carolina Hurricanes 3 (SO)

Calgary Flames 1, Los Angeles Kings 0

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.

Klingberg surgery wraps up tough week for NHL injuries

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An injury to one of the NHL’s best defenders on Thursday night wraps up what has been a pretty costly week on the injury front.

Let’s take a quick look.

First, the Dallas Stars announced on Friday that defenseman John Klingberg, currently the team’s second-leading point producer, is going to be sidelined for the next four weeks after undergoing hand surgery.

He was injured in the Stars’ 4-3 win over the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night when he was hit by a puck.

It is a pretty significant blow to a Stars team that is starting to get on a bit of a roll (6-2-1 in its past nine games) after a slow start.

The 26-year-old Klingberg is coming off of a career-year in 2017-18 that saw him finish with 67 total points and a sixth-place finish in the Norris Trophy voting. Given the way he was playing at the start of this season he was once again going to be in that Norris Trophy discussion this season. This injury is certainly going to be an obstacle in that quest.

In his absence rookie standout Miro Heiskanen will take on an even bigger role (and he is already playing more than 22 minutes) and work the point on the top power play unit.

Klingberg’s injury was not the only big one this week.

In Tampa Bay, the Lightning learned they will be without forward Ondrej Palat will be out for an additional four weeks due to a lower-body injury.

Palat had already been sidelined for the past six games after blocking a shot all the way back on Oct. 26. He has only played in nine games this season, recording five assists, but when healthy he is a great complementary piece to the Lightning’s star forwards. Unfortunately for him injuries have forced him to miss at least 20 games in two of the past three seasons. He has played more than 75 games in a season just once in six years.

Meanwhile, the Canucks have not had one of their best young players — winger Brock Boeser — on their current six-game road trip as he continues to deal with a groin strain. Not only has he not played since the team’s 7-6 overtime win against the Colorado Avalanche on Nov. 2 (a game where Boeser recorded two goals and two assists), but the team sent him back to Vancouver this week to see a specialist in an effort to recover from the injury he has been dealing with since the middle of October.

The Canucks are one of the NHL’s biggest surprises this season with a 10-6-1 record through 17 games and are one of the highest scoring teams in the league. They have done that even though their two best young players (Elias Pettersson and Boeser) have combined to miss 10 man games due to injury.

Without Boeser on this current road trip the Canucks have collected three out of a possible four points and are coming off of a huge 8-5 win in Boston on Thursday night. The Canucks have four more games on this current road trip which continues on Saturday night in Buffalo, before wrapping up with games at the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, and Minnesota Wild.

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.

The Buzzer: Horvat erupts; Luongo spectacular

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Three Stars

1. Bo Horvat, Vancouver Canucks

Horvat was one of 11 Canucks to record a point on Thursday, and he topped the heap with two goals and two assists as the Canucks doubled up the Boston Bruins 8-4. The game featured no goaltending. Horvat took three minor penalties in the game, too, so he could have likely done even more damage against unenthused Boston club.

2. Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers

He stopped 26-of-27 saves. It’s not a 50-save performance by any means, but when you watch the highlights, Luongo will be sprinkled all over them. ‘Lu’ made two incredible glove-hand saves in the game, one of which you will see below. Luongo has now won both starts since returning from an injury sustained in the first game of the regular season. Florida struggled mightily with Luongo out of the lineup but have now beaten the Winnipeg Jets and the Oilers since his return as he tries to turn around Florida’s terrible start.

3. Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres

He might have been the acquisition of the summer. Skinner scored two more goals on Thursday as the Sabres edged the Montreal Canadiens 6-5 in overtime. Skinner has 11 goals on the season, including six in his past six games. His career high is 37 and he’s on pace to flirt with 40 this season.

Other notable performances

  • Jake DeBrusk did his best to help the Bruins win with two goals and an assist. He didn’t get much help from his goaltenders in a walloping to the Canucks though.
  • Skinner wasn’t the only one scoring in multiples on Thursday. Vladimir Sobotka notched two of his own in the Sabres win.
  • Like DeBrusk above, New York Islanders forward Josh Bailey was a victim of lackluster goaltending after putting up a brace of his own.
  • Mikko Koivu assisted on all three Wild goals in a 3-1 win against the Kings.

Highlights of the Night

Not so fast, Rattie:

This kind of thing should be banned:

A powerful message from Los Angeles and Minnesota:

Factoids

Scores

Canucks 8, Bruins 5

Panthers 4, Oilers 1

Flyers 5, Coyotes 4 (OT)

Golden Knights 5, Senators 3

Lightning 4, Islanders 2

Sabres 6, Canadiens 5 (OT)

Hurricanes 4, Blackhawks 3

Starts 4, Sharks 3

Wild 3, Kings 1


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

PHT Morning Skate: O’Ree’s Hall call; landing spots for Quenneville

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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 Remembrance Day jerseys that the ECHL’s Brampton Beast will wear this Sunday are phenomenal.

• The Washington Capitals held a 50/50 raffle during Wednesday night’s game and raised over $19,000 for Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. [RMNB]

• It’s been 60 years since Willie O’Ree broke the NHL’s color barrier. Now he’s finally getting the call to the Hockey Hall of Fame. [SI.com]

Jakub Voracek is no fan of the Uber driver who released that video of Ottawa Senators players ripping their coach: “Who gives a s—? He’s a f—ing idiot. Do your job. You’re an Uber driver, drive cars. Don’t try to sell copies to make some money. Get the f— out of here. You know what I mean, he’s a loser.” [NBC Philadelphia]

• Meanwhile, the Senators are demanding that the Ottawa Citizen take the video down. The paper will not do that. [CBC]

• “Following a report that the Coyotes would soon change ownership, the team has said that it is open to opportunities to improve its organization but would not say that any changes are imminent.” [Arizona Sports]

• The New York Islanders are off to a great start, but will it last? [The Hockey News]

• Five possible landing spots for Joel Quenneville. [Featurd]

• Jimmy Howard is playing well for the Detroit Red Wings, which might just earn him an extension. [MLive]

Marcus Sorensen is really coming on for the San Jose Sharks. [NBC Bay Area]

• Brody Roybal, a two-time Paralympic gold medalist and the PyeongChang hockey tournament MVP, climbed Willis Tower’s 2,149 stairs using his upper body, arms and hands on Sunday. [Olympic Talk]

Elias Pettersson has some around the NHL believing he’s a young Pavel Datsyuk. [NHL.com]

James Neal’s tough start with the Calgary Flames boils down to a lack of opportunities. [Sportsnet]

• Jussi Jokinen has joined Swiss side EHC Kloten until Dec. 5. [Swiss Hockey News]

• “Mika Zibanejad and the case of being a true 1C” [Blue Seat Blogs]

• Shorter video reviews and other changes the NHL should make. [Jets Nation]

Nate Schmidt joined his Vegas Golden Knights teammates for practice on Wednesday. He’s eligible to return on Nov. 18. [Review-Journal]

• The update on Erik Haula is that he’ll travel with the Golden Knights on their current road trip and not play in their next three games. More information will be available soon, according to Gerard Gallant. [TSN]

• Finally, what’s Mike Fisher been up to in his second retirement? Well…

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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.