Thoughts Are My Own: Night of Statement Wins

Thoughts after a rare Monday night of games and big wins.

*Start with the New York Rangers. Going into Pittsburgh’s building and coming out with a 5-2 win. Coming off a second loss in a row, losing Mika Zibanejad, it was all Blueshirts after a sluggish first period. We’ll see if they can keep it up.

*Who had Edmonton beating Chicago, 5-0? I’m sure even fewer had the Blackhawks being held to just three shots in the third period.

*Nice win by Nashville, topping Tampa Bay at home. The Predators are 6-2-2 in their last 10.

*Matt Tkachuk with a goal and assist while playing 15:52 in the Flames 4-2 loss to Buffalo. That’s his second multi-point game in the NHL and now has five goals and eight points in 17 games. He’s been one of Calgary’s few bright spots.

*Jake Guentzel the latest kid to splash on the scene in what has been the Year of the Kids so far in 2016. The young Penguin scored on his first career shot 1:02 into Monday’s game against the Rangers in Pittsburgh, the first of two first period goals for Guentzel in the 5-2 loss. A third round pick by the Pens in 2013, the 22-year-old forward had been a force at AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, with 17 points in 16 games this season. He had 14 points in 10 playoff games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season after he went pro following his junior season at Nebraska-Omaha, where he led the Mavericks to a Frozen Four appearance in 2015 as a sophomore.

*Latest on the Craig Cunningham front. Nothing new but Bob McKenzie had a great piece on Cunningham, his journey to the NHL, and the relationship he holds with his mother, his lifelong friends, and his current peers. McKenzie writes Cunningham is ‘literally battling for his life.’

Game to Watch Tuesday Night

St. Louis at Boston: David Backes faces the team he captained for five years before leaving the Blues for a five-year, $30 million deal with the Bruins in free agency this past summer.

Hat Trick Pick

Victor Rask: The Hurricanes leading scorer has four goals in his last five games, and eight overall this season.

Stat of the Day: Rangers on Pace to Shatter Team Offense Record

The New York Rangers score a lot. Have you heard?

The Rangers offense is out to a blistering start, scoring an NHL-high 72 goals through 17 games, holding a more than comfortable 10-score lead over its Metropolitan Division rival Philadelphia, whose 62 goals are second-best.

The Blueshirts 4.23 goals per game puts them on pace for 347 over the 82-game season, which would shatter the team record of 321, which was set in the 1991-92 season. That year, New York won the Patrick Division with 105 points, winning 50 games for the first time in team history. Mark Messier led the team with 107 points in his first season on Broadway while Brian Leetch became the 14th defenseman in NHL history to record 100 points in a season, finishing with 102, something no defenseman has done since.

While not having a player the caliber of Messier or Leetch, the Rangers have received scoring from 13 different players, led by J.T. Miller’s seven goals and 17 points in 17 games. Kevin Hayes, coming off a disappointing sophomore season, has eight and 16 over 17 in his third year.

Back on the blue line, the emphasis has been placed upon moving pucks quickly and being a part of the rush. Ryan McDonagh and Brady Skjei have 11 and 10 assists, respectively, despite neither having a goal. Nick Holden has two goals and nine points while his plus-14 rating leads all defensemen.

The 347 goals the Rangers are on pace is a total matched by no team since the 1995-96 Penguins, which lit up opponents for 362 goals that season. The closest any team has come to that mark since was Washington in 2009-10, with 313 goals.

There’s plenty of signs pointing towards a regression for the Rangers. New York is just 19th in the league with 29.1 shots on goal while leading the league shooting 14.57 percent. They’re also a negative possession team with a score and venue-adjusted five-on-five corsi-for of 49.01.

The Rangers are the second-best five-on-five team in the league behind Chicago, and have scored 68 percent of their goals at even strength. Thirteen goals have come on the powerplay, which is clicking at 24.1 percent.

The pace looks unsustainable – and it probably is. Many are expecting a big-trees-fall-hard scenario with this group, bore out by the numbers and what the law of averages suggest, as well as the fact the scoring numbers that are on pace with teams from the 1980s and 1990s, akin to a pitcher in Major League Baseball being on pace for 33 wins.

But we’ll see how long it lasts.

Thoughts Are My Own: Lots of Highlight-Reel Stuff

Thoughts as we sit exactly one week away from Black Friday:

*He didn’t get much help, but James Reimer turned in what will likely be one of the more putrid goaltending performances of the year. Sometimes it’s just about making that save. He made none of them.

*On the other hand, great night for Steve Mason in the Flyers 5-2 win over Winnipeg. Thirty-save effort, his stoning of Nikolaj Ehlers midway through the second period was game-changing.

*A nice goal by Sean Couturier got things going for the Flyers, as Couturier walked right in after puck-carrying Mark Scheifele lost his feet, leading to the turnover. It looked like Jakub Voracek got away with a trip on the play.

*The Flyers have won six straight against the Jets. Winnipeg hasn’t won in Philly since January 2012, a 2-1 shootout win.

*A play you missed gazing over Mitch Marner’s highlight-reel goal: Matt Read’s diving pass to set up a Michael Raffl goal. Read, in a puck battle with Winnipeg defenseman Josh Morrissey, makes a great read (no pun intended) on the play, seeing Raffl streaking down the middle of the ice, left alone after Morrissey gave chase to the puck after Dustin Byfuglien made a bad pinch that led to the two-on-one. Read’s dive shuffled the pass over to Raffl, who went in and beat Connor Hellebuyck for the easy score.

*Nice gesture by the Senators to acknowledge Mike Fisher’s 1,000th career game (which he did this past March, to clarify). The Predators captain played 675 of those games in Ottawa, from 1999 to 2011. Fisher was a key piece in those great Senators teams of the 2000s, and was integral in Ottawa’s run to the Stanley Cup in 2007.

*Nashville is 5-1-2 in its last eight. Pierre LeBrun wrote earlier this week the Preds appear to be hitting their stride. It would seem that way.

*Devan Dubnyk might be the best player in the NHL nobody talks about. Dubnyk’s league-leading fourth shutout of the season in Minnesota’s 1-0 win over Boston was his 14th since joining the Wild. He has a .952 save percentage and 1.47 GAA this season.

*Another play you missed gazing over Mitch Marner’s highlight-reel goal: Ben Bishop makes a diving save on a Kyle Okposo shot that looked like a no-doubter goal. That said, it was Bishop who threw the puck out into the big ice from behind the net, which met the tape of Okposo. It’s like he wanted the Sabre to score.

*Predators top goaltending prospect Juuse Saros made 35 saves in Milwaukee’s 1-0 win over Cleveland on Thursday night. Saros had a 1.74 GAA in eight games for the Admirals, which trails only Michael Leighton (1.62) in the AHL. His .940 save percentage is bested only Wilkes-Barre/Scranton netminder Casey DeSmith, who has a .963 save percentage but has played only four games.

*A big win for No. 6 UMass-Lowell, who went out to visit ninth-ranked Notre Dame and came out with a 4-1 win. The River Hawks are on the back end of a two-weekend stretch that includes trips to Orono and Indiana.

Mitch Marner’s Goal

As nice a goal as you’ll see. He does a good job getting a step on Panthers defenseman Michael Matheson as he gets the pass from James van Reimsdyk breaking out of the zone. From there, he’s able to create space for himself while outmuscling the big, strong Matheson as broke for the net, dancing around James Reimer and burying the puck.

Game to watch Friday night

N.Y. Rangers at Columbus: A pair of teams that account for two of the three-highest goal differentials so far this season; the Rangers leading at plus-34 while the Blue Jackets are third at plus-14. The Blueshirts do it by scoring (league-high 72 goals) while the Jackets play good defense (Eastern Conference-low 33 goals allowed).

Hat Trick Pick

Sidney Crosby: Sid has 96 points in 55 games against the Islanders, the Penguins opponent on Friday night. Crosby’s 30 goals against the Isles are second only to the Flyers (35). He has 10 goals through 10 games, the closest he’s ever come to a goal-per-game in his NHL career was in 2010-11, when he had 32 goals in 41 games.

David Pastrnak Suspension Latest Instance of Zero-Tolerance Approach Taken Toward Hits to Head

When it comes to predatory and dangerous plays in the NHL, Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak is so close to the bottom of the watch list he might not even crack it.

But you wouldn’t be able to tell that based upon how the league ruled on the player for his high hit on Dan Girardi in the Bruins 5-2 loss to the Rangers on Wednesday night.

Pastrnak was suspended by the league two games for the hit, in which came streaking across the neutral zone on a 50-50 loose puck situation in the open ice, laying the hit on the Rangers defenseman in which he came up high, making contact with the head of Girardi. One of Pastrnak’s skates left the ice as he made contact.

That Girardi returned to the game after he was slow getting up and had to leave the game didn’t matter. That Pastrnak was a skill guy with no prior history – not even a parking ticket – on his record, didn’t matter.

What mattered was the hit was avoidable in the eyes of the league, and there was contact made to the head. The NHL will not stand for such incidents. The line has been drawn, multiple times. Pastrnak is the latest to learn the hard way.

The approach to head injuries are one of the major issues on the sports landscape (did you hear?). The best approach, of course, to head injuries is to prevent them. Real easy stuff until to realize the nature of sports like hockey, football, and soccer – just to name three sports – much of the play is conducive to head injuries and concussions.

So you have to change the culture. The league is doing that. USA Hockey is doing that. The NCAA and CHL are doing that. It’s a sport-wide effort, from the grassroots to the top of the sport.

The staggering spike in concussions reached a head about five years ago, a problem highlighted by Sidney Crosby having nearly three years of what will be a Hall of Fame career derailed by a concussion. In the summer of 2011, former NHLers Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak, and Rick Rypien died – Boogaard a drug overdose, the latter two suicide – concussions believed to be the root cause of the premature deaths of the three.

It was clear something needed to be done. The game’s fast pace, the size of the players, and oversized pads can make the game a magnet for head injuries. And of course it’s impossible to completely wipe the sport clean of concussions. They will happen. But they can be reduced. And that’s what the league has worked to do, and unlike some other leagues, has been open, honest, and transparent that it’s a problem, that it needs to be addressed, and it will be their crusade.

According to the supplementary discipline tracker Sportsnet puts out, there were 39 suspensions and 26 fines handed down from the NHL last season, costing players an aggregate 176 games and $2.74 million. That was up from the 27 suspensions, 81 games lost, and $1.388 taken out of the pockets of players a year earlier.

Already this season there have been five suspensions that have cost players 14 games, according to Spotrac.

Two years ago, Mark Spector wrote an interesting piece examining the changes made in player safety in past years. The piece put the new emphasis put on changing the game – not so much taking out the physical play, just the unnecessary ones. The game has flourished as a result.

Is David Pastrnak a dirty player? No. Was it a dirty, dangerous, predatory hit? No. Was David Pastrnak targeting the head of Dan Girardi? Not likely. Was Girardi seriously hurt? No.

What matters is the result. Contact was made to the head, the hit could’ve been avoided. That’s what matters to the league.

And when it comes to hits targeting the head, the NHL has no tolerance for it.

Jakob Chychrun Drops Gloves With Brayden Schenn

It was a pretty bizarre sequence. The Coyotes driving to the net on and odd-man rush – which resulted in a Martin Hanzal goal – when the whistles blew.

The reason for the stoppage was rookie Jakob Chychrun taking on Philadelphia forward Brayden Schenn, who had laid a big hit on Michael Stone. The 18-year-old made what he felt was a needed response, and took on the 25-year-old veteran of seven NHL seasons.

The one argument you make against Chychrun was the fact he nearly took a goal off the board by dropping the gloves as Arizona was rushing to the house on a two-on-one. But you can’t fault the fact he was willing to step in that situation.

It was another instance of the young Chychrun – whose father, Jeff, played eight seasons in the NHL – playing beyond his years. One of many young guys in the league currently doing so.

Originally projected to be a top-10 pick in this past June’s NHL Draft, Chychrun ended up falling to Arizona at No. 17. As a result, he’s now part of a young, highly-talented, promising core that will carry the torch in the desert for years to come.

Thoughts Are Mine Only: Never Too Early to Start Comparing Laine to Selanne

Here’s what I’m thinking as we watch these kids have all the fun.

*First career goal for Kyle Connor in Winnipeg’s 4-1 win over Dallas. He put up 71 points in 38 games last season in his lone campaign at Michigan. The same point total Jack Eichel put up in 40 games a year prior.

*The two previous NCAA scoring champions prior to Connor last year: Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau.

*Patrik Laine now has six points in seven games, for those of you keeping score at home. His shot is absolutely lethal.

*Teemu Selanne had six goals through seven games for Winnipeg during his historic rookie season of 1992-93, when he scored 76 goals, which remains a freshman record to this day. It’s never too early to start dropping the Selanne comparisons.

*The Canadiens win over Tampa Bay on Thursday was Carey Price’s first win over the Lightning since December 2013. He’d been 0-5-2 in seven previous regular season starts. However, he was 6-4 in the playoffs in that span; backstopping the Habs to a sweep in the first round in 2014 before the Bolts returned the favor in 2015, dispatching Montreal in six games en route to the Stanley Cup final.

*Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard have combined for a .960 save percentage while allowing just eight goals during the Red Wings winning streak, which moved to six with a shootout win over St. Louis on Thursday.

*Jakob Chychrun going after Brayden Schenn after Schenn laid a big hit on Michael Stone in the neutral ice. That’s a big boy play by an 18-year-old rookie, who continues to impress.

*Devan Dubnyk with 34 saves in the 4-0 Minnesota win over the Buffalo on Thursday to make it back-to-back shutouts for the 30-year-old netminder. His save percentage is up to .943, allowing just 10 goals in six games. Looks like he’s back to his 2014-15 form.

*Funny to think the consensus was Erie would take a step back this year in the OHL. Only 8-0-1 in their last nine, with the best offensive duo in the league in Taylor Raddysh and Alex DeBrincat.

*Raddysh (10-17–27) and DeBrincat (12-11–23), are one-two atop the OHL in scoring, and account of 50 of the 154 points Erie has recorded this season.

*A big win for UConn over No. 7 Notre Dame in Thursday night Hockey East action. Don’t undersell the Huskies. The main attractions, of course, are Maxim Letunov and Tage Thompson, but there’s plenty more around those guys. Robbie Nichols, who didn’t play Thursday night but is UConn’s ace, might be one of the most overlooked players in the country. Mike Cavanaugh has been a bulldog on the recruiting trail.

Links

The Ducks and Hampus Lindholm finally come to terms, agree to a six-year, $31.5 million pact.

Of course, a mention of Lindholm must prompt a Jacob Trouba story. It’s a rule

Ray Ferraro believes the Predators are missing the bite that Shea Weber brought to the ice in Nashville – and now does in Montreal.

A great piece by Alex Prewitt of SI on Kerry Bubolz, the president-to-be of the Las Vegas franchise.

Pierre LeBrun reports in his rumblings column that the Las Vegas franchise will have a 48-hour window prior to the expansion draft to negotiate with pending free agents – restricted or not – left unprotected by teams.

Greg Wyshynski: The Chicago penalty killing unit ‘worst thing in the NHL right now‘. Hard to disagree.

ESPN’s Hockey Today podcast, the unexpected goaltending issues across the league are discussed.

NHL Power Rankings: Tampa Bay is Still the Best

Toronto was flying so high.

That, of course, was before Tampa Bay came to town. Led by Steven Stamkos who ‘spurned’ Toronto as an unrestricted free agent over the summer (actually, he decided to re-sign with the team that drafted him), the Bolts came into Air Canada Centre and ravaged the Maple Leafs, 7-3.

Stamkos, who finished with two goals and four points, was booed every time he touched the puck (or so it seemed that way). He also scored or set up a goal every time he touched the puck (or so it seemed that way). The 26-year-old now has nine points on the season and 571 for his career. He’s staring at the likelihood of recording his 600th career point before his 27th birthday.

It couldn’t have happened any better.

Stamkos had been primed to sign with Toronto, and Tampa was playing in a window as a result. Then Steve Yzerman worked his magic and kept the star in Tampa Bay. Suddenly the Lightning remained a team primed to compete for years to come. The Maple Leafs remained a team of the future.

Toronto will be a good team in short time; with Auston Matthews, Morgan Reilly, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner already playing big NHL minutes. Kasperi Kapanen and Brendan Leipsic await in the wings.

Tampa Bay is a great team right now. Out to a 5-1 start, the Bolts show no signs of slowing down. Goaltender Ben Bishop is a likely candidate to be traded at some point this season, which would garner a return that could make the Lightning an embarrassment of riches.

And it all began with Stamkos choosing to stay and not go sign with his hometown team.

2- Montreal: The Canadiens have allowed just nine goals in six games. Carey Price played in three of them.

3- Washington: The Capitals are tied for 23rd on the powerplay, connecting at a 12.5 percent clip. Conventional wisdom suggests that will rise rapidly at some point.

4- Pittsburgh: The Penguins will benefit from the return of Sidney Crosby, who is playing the best hockey of what will be a Hall of Fame career.

5- San Jose: Sharks allow the lowest shots on goal per game in the Western Conference (24.9).

6- St. Louis: Jay Bouwmeester is sitting on 997 career games.

7- Florida: The Panthers are third in the league with 4.73 penalties drawn per 60 minutes

8- Chicago: Blackhawks goaltending has stopped pucks at a .898 clip with a 3.13 GAA.

9- Edmonton: The Oilers are 5-1 for the first time in 30 years.

10- Minnesota: The Wild have 16 different goal scorers this season. Last year, they had 22 all season.

11- Dallas: Devin Shore tied with Tyler Seguin for the team lead with six points, which ranks third among rookies.

12- N.Y. Rangers: Rangers check in at third in the league with a 53.4 percent faceoff percentage.

13- Detroit: In the Red Wings two losses to begin the season: 10 goals allowed; in five games since, al wins: seven goals allowed.

14- N.Y. Islanders: The Isles are the class of the league on the penalty kill, they’ve killed off 22 of 23 man-advantages.

15- Nashville: Predators are tied for last with New Jersey and Columbus in five-on-five goals, with six.

16- Anaheim: The Ducks have dished out a league-high 200 hits.

17- Philadelphia: Matt Read has five goals on 19 shots.

18- Colorado: A 3-2 start through a brutal five-game stretch to begin the season. Not bad.

19- Boston: Another stinker for Malcolm Subban. He’s allowed six goals on 22 shots in two NHL games.

20- Ottawa: The Senators are off to a very quiet 4-2 start. This was a team nobody seem to know what to expect at the start of the season. In fact, we still may not particularly know.

21- Calgary: The last two games, wins over St. Louis and Chicago, is what kept the Flames from flirting with No. 30.

22- New Jersey: Taylor Hall accounts for five of the 13 goals the Devils have scored this year.

23- Los Angeles: Only defensemen Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, and Alec Martinez have played more minutes than Anze Kopitar, who is averaging 22:04 per night.

24- Columbus: Since the Jackets’ 6-3 loss to Boston in its first game – one-goal loss to San Jose, wins over Chicago and Dallas, an overtime loss to Los Angeles.

25- Toronto: The Maple Leafs offense has generated 56 points. Auston Matthews and William Nylander account for 19.

26- Winnipeg: The Jets have yet to win a game in regulation.

27- Buffalo: Rasmus Ristolainen 12th in the NHL with 24:57 ice time per game.

28- Vancouver: The Canucks are 0-2-1 since beginning 4-0.

29- Carolina: Eddie Lack and Cam Ward have combined for a 4.01 GAA.

30- Arizona: The Coyotes allow the most shots on net per game.