NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
It’s pretty unusual to see the Penguins near the bottom of the NHL in power play efficiency, but here we are.
Sitting with the fourth-worst success rate (12.5%) in the league, the Penguins are hoping to snap out of their funk Tuesday night against the Rangers. New York’s penalty kill has been okay so far, killing off 80.3% of man advantage opportunities. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has not scored a power play goal since Oct. 13 and have failed in their last 26 chances.
During Monday’s practice, there were times when head coach Mike Sullivan had his power play units work 5-on-0 against goaltender Matt Murray. There was success in beating the netminder, but Sullivan’s goal was to make his players realize they just have to follow the K.I.S.S. method: keep it simple and execute and their fortunes will change.
“We scored some goals,” Sullivan said afterward. “So that’s progress, you know?”
The Penguins will be without Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist and Kris Letang against the Rangers. Those are three huge pieces of their power play setup gone. In their place, the top setup at Monday’s practice featured Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Alex Galchenyuk, Nick Bjugstad and Justin Schultz.
Hornqvist’s absence means there is a need for another havoc-creator in front of opposing goalies, someone to set screens and cash in on those greasy goals right in front of the net. That will be Bjugstad’s role for now.
“That’s one thing that [Hornqvist] brings to our power play that’s important,” Sullivan said. “You have to make it tough on the goalie. You’ve got to take sight lines away. You have to limit his ability by being in and around the crease. I just don’t think we’ve gone there enough.”
Sullivan feels that the length of the current man advantage drought is playing into his players getting away from keeping it simple.
“It’s only been most recently that the power play has struggled in the sense that there hasn’t been execution,” he said. “There was a long time there that we felt the power play was doing everything except put the puck in the net, and so as that starts to evolve, if you don’t start to score, I think it’s a natural inclination to start to squeeze your stick and press a little bit, and that’s a whole different challenge, and so these are some of the dynamics that we are trying to work through as a group.
“But I do believe that part of the solution has to be just simplifying everything we do, and it starts with just shooting the puck more and getting more pucks and people to the net.”
Brendan Burke and Joe Micheletti will call the Penguins-Rangers showdown from Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y. Paul Burmeister will anchor studio coverage with analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp.
When we last checked in with the St. Louis Blues a few weeks ago the defending champs were off to a sluggishly inconsistent start and then got the one piece of news they absolutely did not need — Vladimir Tarasenko, their most impactful player and biggest star, was going to be sidelined for the next five months. It was a disappointing start to their title defense, and it seemed like it could have at least had the potential to put them in another early hole in the Western Conference they would have to dig out of.
Instead, the opposite has happened. They enter Tuesday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes riding a seven-game winning streak and have climbed back to the top of the West standings, owning what is by far the best points percentage (.750) in the conference.
Considering the injury situation it is an impressive run and quick turnaround. How have they managed to stay so hot, and can they keep it rolling? It is a nice run of success, but there are definitely some red flags that come along with it.
The power play and overtime domination has carried the offense
Two things stand out about the Blues’ current winning streak. The first is that five of those wins have come in overtime, with two of those overtime goals being scored on power play opportunities.
Somewhat related to that is the fact the power play itself is clicking at a 29.6% rate over the past eight games, the second best success rate in the NHL during that stretch. All of that is making up for the fact that the Blues have scored just 12 goals during 5-on-5 play and have one of the worst scoring rates in the league at even-strength (more on this below).
This should be a concern because you can only rely on your power play to carry you for so long, and you’re not always going to get that sort of opportunity in overtime. Overtime itself can be a huge coin flip due to the unpredictable nature of the 3-on-3 situation. Sometimes you will get the bear, and sometimes the bear will get you (this five-game OT winning streak came after losing three OT/SO games in a row earlier in the year).
Jordan Binnington has gone on a roll
This is probably the biggest part of the Blues’ recent run. Binnington has won each of his past five starts and has a .930 save percentage in the six games since Tarasenko went out of the lineup. He was one of the players off to a slow start at the beginning of the year and his recent turnaround has resulted in him putting the team on his back and carrying it.
(We should also acknowledge that Jake Allen has also contributed, winning two games during the winning streak with a very respectable .914 save percentage).
Binnington’s play has been so important because the Blues are not controlling shot attempts and scoring chances like they did a year ago. Even during this recent winning streak (since Oct. 25) the Blues are among the worst teams in total shot attempt differential (28th), scoring chance differential (28th), high-danger scoring chance differential (30th), and expected goal differential (30th). It is a small sampling, yes, but it is also a dramatic fall from where they were a year ago after the coaching change when they were one of the best teams in all of those categories. (All via Natural Stat Trick)
Something to keep in mind: Even though their defensive play isn’t quite as good as it was in the second half and in the playoffs, a lot of their struggles in these differentials have to do with what they are not creating offensively as opposed to what they are giving up. Across the board they have been the worst 5-on-5 team in the league when it comes to generating shots, chances, high-danger chances, and yes, even goals. This is an example of where they are really missing an impact player like Tarasenko, and it really puts a ton of pressure on the goalies to have no margin for error because one or two goals could be too much to overcome.
The results are good, the process is concerning
This is really what it comes down to.
The Blues are winning games right now, yes, but the process behind those wins is concerning when it comes to their long-term outlook. These points they have collected over the past two weeks are important, and they have definitely built themselves a nice cushion in the playoff race, but if they keep playing this way the wins may not be as frequent as they currently are.
At times last year the Blues looked like a team that was doing everything right with the way it played and just needed to fix its goaltending to get on the right track. They do not have that same feel right now.
If they want to keep getting the same results this year something is going to have to change in their process to generate more offense at even-strength, and that might require a trade to help replace what they are missing with Tarasenko.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
• No Dallas Star will ever wear No. 56 again as the team announced they will retire Sergei Zubov’s number sometime next season. [Stars]
• The Blues have signed Jamie McGinn and Troy Brouwer to tryout contracts to see if they can wait on calling up prospects. [Post-Dispatch]
• Looking for reasons why the Lightning offense is off to a slow start? Start with their stars. [Raw Charge]
• Interesting look at the various hydration techniques of NHL players. [Boston Herald]
• It doesn’t look promising for the Blue Jackets’ chances of turning around their slow start. [Yahoo]
• Rico Phillips’ life has changed since he was named winner of the 2019 Willie O’Ree Award. [NHL.com]
• Finally, there were a trio of beautiful goals over the last few days outside of the NHL. First up, Jayden Davis of the SJHL’s Estevan Bruins with some magic:
Next, Adrian College’s Dean Balsamo spins and spins and scores:
Finally, Mike Sgarbossa of the Hershey Bears gets elected as Mayor of Dangle City:
1. Joel Edmundson, Carolina Hurricanes
Let’s be honest, Edmundson’s start in Carolina has been forgettable at best. He hasn’t been all that effective by any measure, having a negative impact on defense, and failing to score a single point through his first 17 games with the Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes have a big edge against the Senators on paper, and that translated to the on-ice product on Monday, and Edmundson took advantage. He scored a goal and two assists for three points, had a +3 rating, fired three shots on goal, and blocked a shot.
As you’d expect Edmundson’s three-point night wasn’t the only strong part of Carolina’s 8-2 win …
2. Sebastian Aho, also Hurricanes
Aho arguably played a bigger role in Carolina ending its four-game losing streak than Edmundson did.
The still-a-bit-underrated star scored the game-winning goal shorthanded (and unassisted), finishing Monday with two goals overall. Aho generated a +4 rating and went 9-6 on faceoffs.
Aho now has eight goals and 13 points in 18 games in 2019-20. This has been a slightly slow start for Aho so far, judging by a low on-ice save percentage (81.9 at even strength versus career average of 90.2 before Monday’s game) and so-so offensive numbers by his high standards. Maybe a hot game will get the ball/puck rolling in the right direction?
3. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals
While the Hurricanes’ losing streak ended, the Capitals’ winning streak closed off at six on Monday.
Kuznetsov is the main reason Washington was able to continue Arizona’s run of blown leads, even though the Coyotes eventually won in a shootout. He showed plenty of speed and skill, collecting two goals and coming one attentive T.J. Oshie swipe from having three.
That two-goal output extended Kuznetsov’s point streak to four games, giving him three goals and six assists for nine points during that span, and 18 points in 16 games overall. Kuznetsov also logged 23:28 TOI. While that total was inflated by the two teams getting through a full overtime period, that’s still quite a strong night of work — but not good enough for another Capitals win.
Highlights from both games
With there only being two games, why not enjoy the best of both?
First, the Coyotes beat the Capitals in a shootout:
Meanwhile, there weren’t many twists and turns to the Hurricanes blowing out the Senators:
Bobby Ryan delivered a big hit, and then seemed to win his fight with Brock McGinn. Maybe not the greatest idea for a player who’s been doomed by hand injuries, but then again, Ryan didn’t have much of a choice:
- Rod Brind’Amour has had quite the start to his coaching career. NHL PR notes that his 56 wins is the most for any coach through their first 100 games. If “Rod the Bod” is as good as “Rod the Coach” as he was at winning faceoffs, then watch out.
- John Carlson generated an assist, so his 29 points ties Brad Marchand for fourth in league scoring. The Caps are 10-0-2 in their last 12 games.
- Dougie Hamilton has 26 goals through his first 100 games with the Hurricanes. That’s the second-best start for a defenseman in franchise history, according to NHL PR.
ARI 4 – WSH 3 (SO)
CAR 8 – OTT 2
The Arizona Coyotes can’t feel happy about giving up yet another lead (this time a 3-0 advantage), but they were able to salvage a 4-3 shootout win against the Washington Capitals on Monday — albeit barely.
Upon further review
When the Capitals made it 3-3, it was awkwardly funny, as Evgeny Kuznetsov appeared a breath away from scoring a hat trick goal to tie things up. Instead, T.J. Oshie got to the puck first. Would it have been the same difference if Kuznetsov was shooting rather than Oshie? Probably, yet when a standings point (or two) end up on the line, it’s better not to leave anything to doubt. All the laughing on the bench underscored the mixed feelings, and served up a reminder of the “passing to a teammate so they can score the empty-netter” culture of the sport.
It looked like Oshie would then match Kuznetsov with two goals on the night when Oshie scored in overtime — only he didn’t.
The NHL’s review determined that the play was offside, as wires got crossed between Oshie and Lars Eller when Eller lost his footing close to the Coyotes’ blueline. This was the second review that didn’t go Washington’s way on Monday, as an Ilya Samsonov save instead turned out to be a Christian Fischer goal.
That’s how close it really was for Washington. They almost extended their winning streak to seven games, even though the Coyotes generated that 3-0 lead.
On the bright side, there were moments where the bounces did go the Capitals’ way. When the Coyotes were really pouring things on, they fired another breakout pass behind Washington’s defense to Clayton Keller, a soon-to-be $7.15 million player who already scored the game’s first goal. Keller might be “elite in every sense of the word,” but Samsonov showed the agility and patience to wait Keller out, and Keller didn’t even end up with a shot attempt on that breakaway opportunity.
So, it stings for the Capitals to lose in such an anticlimactic fashion, but the “what if?” game could go both ways. Finishing the night at 13-2-4 isn’t really so bad for this quietly dominant team.
Playing with fire when you play with leads
There’s an almost inevitable question when a team squanders a lead, or even comes close to squandering a lead: was this about the Capitals turning it up a notch, or are the Coyotes guilty of sitting on a lead?
It’s a point that’s relevant to the Coyotes, in particular. For one thing, they sometimes lean heavily on goalies, especially when it’s red-hot Darcy Kuemper. (In Monday’s case, Antti Raanta was mostly sharp even as he seems to settle into a backup role.)
The question is also especially pertinent right now, as the Coyotes have given up leads in five consecutive games. Winning the shootout bailed Arizona out on Monday, but they might not always be so lucky, especially when the leads are slimmer than three goals. Perhaps they need to do some soul searching about finding a better balance between avoiding back-breaking mistakes and getting to passive in “turtle mode.”
To be fair, the Capitals have been a tough team to keep down. They’re now 4-1-2 in games where they’ve trailed after the first period.
Kuznetsov on fire
Evgeny Kuznetsov didn’t get that hat trick, despite hats mucking up the ice in DC. He’s still on quite the roll lately. With two goals on Monday, Kuznetsov has a four-game multipoint streak going (three goals, six assists for nine points). That also gives him 18 points in 16 games so far in 2019-20, as he’s clearly shaken off that suspension.
The Capitals became the first team in the NHL to hit 30 points this season, sliding to 13-2-4. The Coyotes ended a three-game losing streak and are now 10-6-2. Both teams showed flashes of brilliance while also waving a few red flags of warning about blemishes they need to clean up.