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Last-place Kings bench struggling left wing Ilya Kovalchuk


LOS ANGELES — Left winger Ilya Kovalchuk was a healthy scratch for the Los Angeles Kings in a 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night, and general manager Rob Blake refused to say how long the veteran will be out of the lineup.

Sportsnet Canada reported the team informed Kovalchuk that he was being benched for an extended period. The 36-year-old Russian had two goals and four assists in Los Angeles’ first four games, but he had only one goal and two assists in his next 13.

Tuesday’s win snapped a three-game losing streak for Los Angeles, but the Kings are still at the bottom of the Pacific Division with 13 points. Before Tuesday, Los Angeles had only three points in the past eight games (1-6-1).

Blake said he met with Kovalchuk before the game but that the decision to bench him was made by coach Todd McLellan.

“We’re in last place, right? We changed a lot of lineups,” Blake said. “We’re trying to find combinations that work, try to score some goals.”

Kovalchuk is in his second season with the Kings after leaving the New Jersey Devils, and the NHL overall, in 2013 to play in the KHL. He had 16 goals in 64 games with Los Angeles last season in his NHL return.

A three-time All-Star, Kovalchuk scored 37 goals in 2012, helping the Devils to the Stanley Cup Final.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.



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Alexander Steen sprains ankle in collision, out at least four weeks


St. Louis Blues forward Alexander Steen will miss at least four weeks after suffering a high ankle sprain during Wednesday’s game, general manager Doug Armstrong announced Thursday.

Steen left the Blues’ 5-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday after an awkward collision with Alex Chiasson late in the second period.

He returned to St. Louis, was placed on injured reserve and will be reevaluated in four weeks, the team said. The Blues have one game remaining on a four-game road trip.

Steen has zero goals and five assists in 17 games this season for the 11-3-3 Blues.

The Blues are already without top-line winger Vladimir Tarasenko for the rest of the regular season following right shoulder surgery. Earlier this week, they traded 2014 first-round pick Robby Fabbri to the Detroit Red Wings for Jacob de la Rose.

St. Louis has won six in a row and is tied with the Washington Capitals for the most points in the NHL.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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Dallas Stars veteran John Klingberg hit by puck, out at least two weeks


Dallas Stars defenseman John Klingberg will miss at least two weeks after being injured while being hit by a puck during Tuesday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche, according to coach Jim Montgomery.

Klingberg, 27, did not play in the third period of the Stars’ 4-1 win. Montgomery said the sixth-year veteran suffered a lower-body injury on the same play in which a puck struck him in the face. Klingberg stayed in the game at first but was ultimately ruled out for the final period.

He is expected to undergo further evaluation Wednesday.

Klingberg has played in all 17 Stars games this season, with one goal and three assists while averaging 23:36 in ice time per game.

The Stars were already without defenseman Andrej Sekera, who missed his fourth straight game Tuesday. Montgomery said Sekera hurt his chest, back, both hips and a knee when he crashed into the boards on Oct. 26. Defenseman Roman Polak also has not played since fracturing his sternum in the team’s season opener.



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The NHL’s best and worst this week


This offseason, two New York-area teams dominated the headlines. After the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers landed the Nos. 1 and 2 picks in the draft, respectively, both teams upgraded with flashy veterans (2013 Norris winner P.K. Subban, 2016 Calder winner Artemi Panarin) and appeared poised to make earlier-than-expected runs this season. The media fawned all summer.

Then there were the New York Islanders, the only of the New York-area teams to make the playoffs last spring. The Isles were the best defensive team in hockey. They brought back nearly the exact same roster for this season. And nobody was talking about them.

“Obviously, we notice it,” captain Anders Lee said in a phone interview this week. “But there probably wasn’t much to talk about with us.”

That’s fine for the Islanders, who, after losing three of four to start the season, have won nine straight and sit five points behind the Capitals for first place in the Metropolitan Division standings. They like flying under the radar.

“At times, absolutely we consider ourselves an underdog,” Lee said. “Last year, that was a big part of our identity. This year, we’re coming back with a very similar team but still have a lot to prove. It’s hard to really come in and demand that attention. You demand respect by the way you play — if you win, how your season goes — but we haven’t accomplished our goals just yet. And until we do that, we’re going to have to keep proving everyone wrong.”

Lee was an unrestricted free agent this summer, and though the contract took a bit longer to work out than expected, he stayed with the only team he has played for on a seven-year, $49 million deal. “It felt maybe a little more up in the air outside our circle than it really was,” Lee said. “It was never really in question. This is where I want to be.”

Brock Nelson also re-signed in May, meaning the top five scorers from last season were back. The team improved in the middle six with the addition of veteran Derick Brassard, who is officially a journeyman after suiting up for his seventh NHL team.

The biggest change was in net. The Islanders let Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner leave in free agency and, in turn, signed veteran Semyon Varlamov, with the belief that because of their stingy defensive system, there wouldn’t be much of a drop-off. Varlamov, in a timeshare with Thomas Greiss (similar to what Lehner saw last season) has been solid: In seven starts, the former Av is 5-2 with a .929 save percentage and 2.14 goals-against average. (In six starts, Greiss has nearly identical numbers.)

The only other noticeable difference with the Islanders is the inclusion of the kids. New York has a vaunted prospect system, thanks to recent strong drafting. Nineteen-year-old winger Oliver Wahlstrom has appeared in seven games. Although Wahlstrom is without a point, he has shown glimpses of his offensive promise. Meanwhile, defenseman Noah Dobson, 20, has cracked the lineup for only four games but appears to be sticking around the big club for the foreseeable future as he continues to earn coach Barry Trotz’s trust.

“It’s amazing how not only good at hockey they are but how well-rounded they are at this age. To step in at 19, 20 and play in this league,” Lee said. “They’re really good kids and mesh well with our group, which is pretty tight-knit. They’ve shown a lot of growth even in the short time I’ve been with them.”

Also on the youth front: Lee noted that the three defensemen playing the most minutes are all 27 or under (Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield and Ryan Pulock). Those are workloads that Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy used to shoulder. Devon Toews, 25, has also taken on a bigger role.

Other than that, the Islanders are picking up right where they left off last season. They’re allowing 2.23 goals per game, third-fewest in the league. Last season, a lot of was made of the Islanders’ needing more scoring. Their offense is pedestrian again, averaging three goals per game and hovering around the league average.

“I don’t think we get enough credit for our offense,” Lee said. “We don’t have trouble scoring goals. I just think that the way we do it is a little bit different than some other teams. We do such a good job defensively that we get a lot of credit, well deserved, in that regard, but our goal scoring isn’t one of our weak spots. At the end of the day, you just have to score one more than the other team.”

The transition into captaincy has been smooth for Lee. He took a few management courses while he was a student at Notre Dame. “I remember the big takeaways from a lot of the textbooks were that there’s so many different ways to be a leader. There’s not one specific way,” Lee said. “There are leaders who lead by example, vocal leaders, et cetera. But the big thing is just to be yourself and not trying to be something that you’re not. You want to be as authentic as possible.”

Authenticity for the Islanders in 2019-20 plays into their identity. The team has embraced the ability to fly under the radar.

“It’s been that way pretty much my entire time here,” Lee said. “We go out there and do our best. We’re used to having people doubt us, used to not having people pick us to make the playoffs and all those things — maybe because of the rough patch we had. But we’ve been a pretty good team for a little while now. But until you’ve earned it and have done it over and over again, you’re going to have to go through these things. “


Jump ahead:
Emptying the notebook | What we liked this week
Three stars of the week | Biggest games coming up


Emptying the notebook

Lee said last summer that he had a hard time not thinking about how the season ended, getting swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round. “It’s always going to weigh on you, obviously,” Lee said. “You need to move on, but you should never forget how you feel when you lost.” Asked what he thought was his team’s ultimate demise, Lee said: “We really just weren’t, unfortunately, able to catch the momentum. Games 1 and 2 were extremely close. Give credit to Carolina for coming in and stealing those games from us. From then on out, we just couldn’t grasp a bounce. We seemed to have a great response every time Pittsburgh scored a goal in the first round. We were fortunate sometimes, and we earned them other times. We couldn’t get either to go against Carolina.”

I returned to my alma mater, Penn State, for a visit this week. Side note: It was awesome to meet so many hockey-loving students there. I also had a chance to meet Penn State hockey coach Guy Gadowsky ahead of the team’s big weekend series against Wisconsin (which, I must add, the Nittany Lions swept). I asked Gadowsky the biggest trends he has noticed in college hockey. “The trend is that it’s just getting more and more competitive. There’s more and more players coming from Europe. There’s more players being grown, for lack of a better word, in nontraditional areas of the United States. With the exposure of television right now, I think it’s becoming more attractive to Canadians. There’s more and more better players and more college hockey players getting to the NHL.” (The Nittany Lions have two Russians, two Finns and six Canadians on the roster).

When it comes to the on-ice trend he notices, Gadowsky says college hockey is a copycat league — to the NHL. “Quite honestly, we do follow the NHL. We did in the past, but now it’s just so easy because there is such great data now. We can get video of whatever you want, the analytics with it. So the trends pretty much follow them. We’re a little behind because we copy them.”

I had an interesting discussion with Gadowsky about whether there would ever be puck-tracking in college hockey (the NHL is expected to debut its system, developed by SMT, some this season). “Someday there probably would be puck tracking in college hockey, too,” Gadowsky said before noting that there would be some hurdles to clear regarding getting (and distributing) data from student-athletes. However, it’s not totally out of the realm. “For instance, in college we’re able to put heart rate monitors on the players and get all that information, and in the NHL you can’t,” Gadowsky said. “Because of the professional hockey players’ association. They want to own that stuff. If it’s going to be something detrimental to their renegotiations, they want to hold it. Whereas in college, we can do it.”

I wrote a story, out today, on Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoreoux-Morando making comebacks as new mothers. What interested me most: When the women’s hockey team battled with USA Hockey in the 2017 contract negotiations, one of the things the players fought for was maternity benefits. They got them, and the twins were the first to use them.

The U.S. senior women’s national team is in Pittsburgh this week for a joint training camp with Canada in place of the canceled Four Nations Cup, which was supposed to go this week. The Swedish players’ standoff with their federation caused the cancellation. It feels like we just got through it, but the U.S. players’ contract with USA hockey comes up again in 2021. I asked Lamoureux-Davidson what she hoped to achieve with the next contract. “What we’re trying to create is a cultural shift in how women’s hockey is supported, from the ground up. That doesn’t happen overnight, and that doesn’t happen just because you sign a contract. We’ve seen great positive strides with where the program is going. There’s been some structural changes with how the women’s program is staffed, and we’re hoping to see the benefits of. But the big things we fought for — equal marketing, sustainable livable wage, support — we’re still working on that.”

She also mentioned institutional support. “For example, the boys U18 team is funded with millions of dollars through U.S. Hockey,” Lamoureux-Davidson said. “There isn’t an equivalent girls program there. There might not need to be from a developmental standpoint, but how else can we support girls hockey?”


Coming this week to ESPN.com: Player Confidential!

A project I’ve worked on for a few months is coming to life this week on ESPN.com, and I couldn’t be more excited. Since the summer, I’ve been polling NHL players on a variety of questions, including the NHL’s drug policy, whether there is a cocaine problem in the league, the best and worst visiting locker rooms, dreaded road trips, burner Twitter accounts and, perhaps most importantly, whether there is Gritty fatigue.

The art team did a terrific job illustrating the story, and they couldn’t help but add one of my favorite anecdotes of the summer. I asked players (on the record) what impulse purchases they made over the past year. Here were my favorite responses. Some are more relatable than others.

Oskar Sundqvist, F, St. Louis Blues: “A dog. It’s a Corgi. I got it two weeks ago [before the start of the NHL season]. My girlfriend told me, ‘Let’s go look at dogs. We’re not buying any.’ I said, ‘OK, sure.’ Then I fall in love. At first, I was like, ‘No, no, no, I’m not going to buy one today.’ I drove out there, and then I brought home a dog. Her name is Luna.”

Haydn Fleury, D, Carolina Hurricanes: “I actually ordered three Cleveland Brown jerseys, midsummer, at like 2 in the morning. You could probably guess what I was doing. Odell, Baker and Jarvis. That was very impulsive. I ordered them when I was back home but ordered them [to Carolina]. Then when I got here, I kind of forgot I ordered them, and there were just three jerseys in my mailbox. I was like, ‘F—‘s sake.’ I blame PayPal. It’s too easy. You just click, and it’s at your door.”

Taylor Hall, F, New Jersey Devils: “A Fendi backpack. Bought it like a week ago.”

Henrik Lundqvist, G, New York Rangers: “I bought a jacket when I went to London this summer. Didn’t plan on doing on it, but it just happened. Nothing special, but I was there for a few days, walked around, and it caught my eye.”

Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche: “Umm … the other day I was driving, and I stopped to buy myself a Slurpee. I wouldn’t usually do that, but I did.”


What we liked this past week

  • Colleague Greg Wyshynski had a spicy preseason take: The Canucks are a playoff team. I can’t believe it, but Wysh might be right on this one. Vancouver looks legit — or at least, the offense is. At 9-3-2, the Canucks have the second-best record in the Pacific Division. In half of their 14 games, they’ve scored five or more goals. And they have a great, young playmaking duo in Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson.

  • Positive attendance signs from the desert:


What we didn’t like this past week


Three stars

He’s shaking off signs of a sophomore slump. The Swede posted three goals and six assists in four games this week. His 20 points this season are the most by a Canucks player through the team’s first 14 games since Trevor Linden in 1995-96 (21).

The Oilers might just keep it up if Smith keeps playing like this. He was sensational, stopping 51 of 52 shots against the Penguins. In two games this week (both wins), the 37-year-old has a .974 save percentage and a 0.98 goals-against average.

With the (perhaps a little tipsy) World Series champion Washington Nationals in the crowd, the 21-year-old Vrana gave them something to cheer for, scoring his first career hat trick in the Caps’ victory on Sunday. And yeah, they cheered all right:


Games of the week

Pittsburgh’s early rash of injuries has been relentless. Right when the Pens get Evgeni Malkin back, they put Patric Hornqvist on IR. They’ve managed to stay competitive but get a big test in the East’s most dangerous team on Monday.

Nearly a month into the season, the Hurricanes and Flyers are still trying to establish consistency. Both are hovering around the middle of the pack in the Metropolitan Division, making this a big game for both clubs.

The Ducks are, confusingly, better than expected this season. They get a chance to make up ground in the Pacific Division by facing Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl … and OK, the rest of the Oilers, too.


Quote of the week

“If I tried that, I’d pull my groin.”

Keith Tkachuk (via Sportsnet’s Ryan Leslie) commenting on his son’s ridiculous goal.





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Adam Boqvist practices with Blackhawks ahead of likely debut


EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The sputtering Chicago Blackhawks could take a look at another one of their top prospects when they face the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.

Adam Boqvist practiced alongside Duncan Keith on Friday and worked with the team’s second power-play unit. The 19-year-old defenseman was selected by Chicago with the No. 8 pick in the 2018 draft and was recalled from the minors Thursday.

Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton would not guarantee Boqvist would make his NHL debut against the Kings, but added: “The lineup today is probably pretty close to what you were going to see tomorrow, but I just hate to commit to that.”

“He’s a dynamic player, great skater,” Colliton said of Boqvist. “That mobility can be a benefit to us, and we just want to see where he’s at. He’s got the potential to be on the power play and provide an element there, and our power play hasn’t been good.”

Boqvist could become the second top prospect to debut for the Blackhawks in the past two weeks. Kirby Dach, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 draft, has one goal and one assist in six games after making his NHL debut on Oct. 20.

“Of course it was a dream come true to get the call,” Boqvist said. “I didn’t expect it, but it’s nice to be here now.”

Boqvist played with Keith, a 15-year veteran, each of the past two preseasons. Colliton says he believes Keith will be able to help the 5-foot-11 Boqvist, a native of Falun, Sweden, get up to speed quickly.

“It’s not necessarily set in stone, but it’s one way to get some familiarity right away, some comfort for Boqvist because they have played together in the past,” Colliton said.

The Blackhawks are 1-4-1 in their past six games. Their only win in that span was against the Kings, 5-1 on Sunday.



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USA Hockey increases penalty for on-ice slurs


USA Hockey announced Wednesday that it is increasing penalties for racial and derogatory slurs of any kind by way of a directive from the governing body’s president.

Anyone penalized under the rule that covers racial and derogatory slurs will now receive a match penalty, which comes with an automatic five-minute major and disqualification from the game. Additionally, offenders will be suspended until an investigation and hearing can be held by a governing USA Hockey affiliate or junior league. The governing affiliates and leagues will have 30 days to complete the investigation and hearing, and further discipline can be doled out at the discretion of those entities.

Previously, such incidents would come with an automatic game misconduct and additional one-game suspension, but member affiliates and leagues could issue further discipline at their discretion.

Jim Smith, president of USA Hockey, said in a press release that he made the decision to elevate the previous penalty as an increased deterrent.

“We continue to get reports of disturbing incidents of racial and other derogatory slurs, behavior which is reprehensible and has absolutely no place in our game, especially around our children,” he said. “For reasons I cannot explain or understand, the current penalty in place does not seem to be enough of a deterrent to stop this type of conduct.”

A USA Hockey spokesperson said that the move was not the result of a specific incident or increased reports of incidents. The spokesperson said that the organization does receive a number of reports of such incidents each year and this directive is aimed at getting those numbers “closer to zero.” A presidential directive as opposed to a board-reviewed rule change is rare, but has been used in the past, according to the spokesperson.

“The use of hateful language is a hurdle to creating a welcoming environment for families that want to be involved in our sport,” said USA Hockey executive director Pat Kelleher in a statement. “Eradicating this kind of behavior from our game is critical as we continue to make a positive impact on society through hockey.”



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Avs’ Gabriel Landeskog out indefinitely with injury


Nathan MacKinnon has now lost all his linemates. The Colorado Avalanche announced Tuesday that forward Gabriel Landeskog is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury.

The news comes after star winger Mikko Rantanen was ruled week-to-week with a lower-body injury last week.

It’s not clear when Landeskog, the Avs’ captain, was injured.

The 27-year-old Landeskog has three goals and four assists in 11 games.

The Avalanche lead the Central Division with 17 points. They are an early favorite to go deep into the playoffs, in large part based on what some consider the best top line in hockey.



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Hockey Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk fighting stomach cancer


BARRIE, Ontario — Hockey Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk is fighting stomach cancer.

The 56-year-old former Winnipeg Jets star is getting chemotherapy treatment after taking a leave of absence as coach of the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League in September.

“The chemo has hit me pretty hard,” Hawerchuk told NHL.com. “I do it one week and it breaks the body down and then the next week I take a break and build my body up so I can do it again. I have to do that for two months. I really struggle to eat and have a feeding tube, but the last few days I’ve been able to eat a little bit, too. You’ve got to keep your nutrition up.

“For some reason the Lord put me in this kind of fight and I’m ready to fight it. I want to live to tell the story.”

Hawerchuk has coached Barrie since the 2010-11 season. He had 518 goals and 891 assists in 1,888 regular-season games with Winnipeg, Buffalo, St. Louis and Philadelphia. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.



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Fantasy hockey overachievers – Can James Neal keep scoring?


After last week’s poking and prodding of the current crop of underachievers, let’s check in with those on the opposite end of the fantasy spectrum: assets presently exceeding our preseason expectations. And, more pressingly, whether managers can count on them for much of the same moving forward. Included alongside each perceived overachiever is the percentage of ESPN.com leagues in which he’s rostered, current Player Rating, and Average Draft Position, according to fantasypros.com.


Anthony Mantha, RW/LW, Detroit Red Wings (Rostered in 91.4 percent of ESPN.com leagues, 8.86 Player Rating, #112 Average Draft Position): The overall numbers hold less appeal after noticing the singular goal and two assists in his past six games. As a solid winger, who skates with a gifted center (Dylan Larkin), on a not-so-great team, Mantha’s ceiling is only so high. In retrospect, I might have tried to trade him after the five-goal/two-assist flurry of the season’s first two games. Something to think about, if/when he goes on another mini-tear. Otherwise, invested fantasy managers better hope the 25-year-old forward doesn’t fall of Larkin’s top line for any significant period. If he avoids that fate, there’s 60-point potential here.

James Neal, RW, Edmonton Oilers (88.0 percent, 10.0 PR, #259 ADP ): No, he isn’t going to score 70-plus goals. As zoned-in as he is, there’s no sustaining anything near Neal’s current 31% shooting percentage. If he sticks on a scoring line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the Oilers’ top power play, the veteran sniper probably pots 40 for the first time since 2011-12 (Pittsburgh Penguins), but you can also bank on a few cold, dreary stretches before we get there. From my view, this is someone you move when the trading’s good. As long as the return is worthwhile.

Travis Konecny, RW, Philadelphia Flyers (87.7 percent, 5.93 PR, #233 ADP): They’re 22 and 23 years old, respectively, and just getting going. When competing together, the Konecny/Oskar Lindblom forward duo, flanking center Sean Couturier, has been Philly’s best story this fall – emphasized by the former’s eruption for four goals and six assists in only seven contests. Failing to dent the scorecard only once, Konecny is poised for a breakout season in showing zero signs of letting up. If nonetheless eager to throw him on the trade block, demand a ton in return for the 2015 first-round draft pick.

J.T. Miller, RW/LW, Vancouver Canucks (72.5 percent, 8.20 PR, #203 ADP ): While the 10 points in nine games (plus-six) strikes as impressive enough, even more promising is his recent promotion to a Canucks’ top line with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser. The average of near 19 minutes per game and 63.3 percent Corsi For only adds that little extra shine. If Miller continues to hold his own alongside Pettersen and Boeser – so far, so good – he’ll collect 65-plus points this season, a good number of them goals. In fairness, the ESPN.com NHL fantasy department was reasonably optimistic about the 26-year-old’s potential productivity in joining the Canucks, so it’s nice to see him flourish as hoped. I’d hang on to him on my roster.

Jakob Silfverberg, RW/LW, Anaheim Ducks (41.5 percent, 5.8 PR, #264 ADP ): So far, the 29-year-old forward is keeping his implied preseason promise of producing more under new coach Dallas Eakins. Altogether, the Ducks are moving the puck much better, resulting in increased quality scoring opportunities. Leading the way is Silfverberg, with five goals and three assists (plus-nine) in his past eight games, skating big minutes on a top scoring line with Rickard Rakell and Adam Henrique. He’s in for a career year and should be picked up wherever available.

Dougie Hamilton, D, Carolina Hurricanes (95.9 percent, 10.29 PR, #259 ADP): Don’t ever underestimate the value in Hamilton skating on a Hurricanes’ top pair with Jaccob Slavin. That union allows the shoot-happy blueliner a freedom not afforded most other offensive-defenseman. Which will likely result in Hamilton breaking the 60-point barrier for the first time. Truly comfortable in Carolina, the 26-year-old already sports five goals and five assists (plus-eight) on 29 shots through nine games. And he’s seeing more minutes all the time. Unless saddled with an exceptional crop of elite fantasy D, there’s no justification in moving the ‘Canes’ No. 1. Even then, look to deal someone else. Only Washington’s John Carlson is ranked higher on ESPN’s Player Rater.

Ryan Ellis, D, Nashville Predators (87.7 percent, 8.96 PR, #168 ADP): So far, he’s proved more than adequate in filling the void left by a departed P.K. Subban. Coupled with Roman Josi on the top pair, and quarterbacking the Predators’ secondary power play, Ellis has one goal and 11 assists (plus-eight) through nine games, while averaging more than 23 minutes. Even more encouragingly, and unlike in 2018-19, the 29-year-old offensive-defenseman is said to finally feel fit after enduring knee surgery two seasons ago. Ellis has never accrued 50 points in one NHL regular season. That changes this year.

Kevin Shattenkirk, D, Tampa Bay Lightning (61.9 percent, 3.71 PR, #139 ADP ): Active fan of his or not, you can’t help but feel happy for the veteran defenseman. After last season’s desultory showing of only two goals and 26 assists for the Rangers, Shattenkirk is already four goals, three helpers and 27 shots on goal with his new club. As member of the Lightning’s secondary power play, he should be rostered for in more than 62% ESPN.com leagues.

Anders Nilsson, G, Ottawa Senators (2.5 percent, 1.59PR): We’ve got goalie drama brewing in Canada’s capital! Following just one, early ugly showing against the Blues, Nilsson has allowed only six goals on 133 shots through three games, all in the past week. That works out to an eye-widening .957 SV%, but only one win. So whether or not Nilsson continues to wrestle starts away from perceived No. 1 Craig Anderson, as he appears to be doing right now, there’s still great risk in relying on whoever’s in the crease for a Senators team that allows 40-plus shots per game. Only engage Nilsson as a bargain asset in Daily Fantasy competition when the match-up appears favorable and leave it at that.

The Buffalo Sabres: Have you yet enjoyed the opportunity to catch Jack Eichel in action this season, perhaps during Tuesday’s statement OT win over the Sharks? If so, you already realize Eichel is cranking it up a notch, dominating in every situation like a player possessed, and making all those around him better. Not that his entourage isn’t due its own credit, clearly buying into whatever new coach Ralph Krueger is selling. Never mind last year’s letdown, these aren’t your 2018-19 Sabres. As such, there’s reason to feel optimism about all those fantasy-relevant, from goalie Carter Hutton on out.


While I have your attention, some additional fantasy notes: Still no word on who will temporarily replace Mikko Rantanen on Colorado’s top line, aside Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. J.T. Compher may earn first go, if coach Jared Bednar prefers to leave Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi on a second unit with center Nazem Kadri. Expect a clearer look Friday. …. Veteran Brian Boyle is again tapped to fill in for Vincent Trocheck Thursday on a Panthers’ scoring line between Mike Hoffman and Brett Connelly. Trocheck is listed day-to-day with a lower-body injury. … A shuffling in the Big Apple sees center Mika Zibanejad moved away from Artemi Panarin to a unit with Kaapo Kakko and Chris Kreider. Zibanejad got off to a smoldering start with the Rangers and still leads the team with four goals and seven assists. New York hosts the Sabres Thursday.



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NHL temperature check – which teams will continue their hot starts?


We’re reaching an interesting point in the NHL season. Now that we’re three weeks into the schedule, most teams have either already played double-digit games or will be doing so shortly. While the start of a new season theoretically represents a clean slate for all players and teams alike, as analysts and fans, it’s tough to completely shake the baggage we had heading in.

It’s tough to know the precise right time to let go of our preseason expectations and embrace the possibility that we were wrong about certain situations, particularly because the early days of each season are filled with all sorts of wonky results. Although 10 good or bad games in the middle of a campaign wouldn’t really register in most cases, it’s all we really have to work with at this point. With that said, there are so many different variables to consider, and we’d be foolish not to account for all of the new information that’s available, given the effects of all the offseason player movement, coaching changes and players who got better or worse for a variety of reasons.

So with that in mind, let’s take the temperature of some notable teams that have gotten off to hot starts to assess whether they will continue.

All data cited in this piece is courtesy of either Natural Stat Trick or Corsica and is current through Tuesday evening’s slate of games.


After the inspiring playoff run they went on last season, the Avalanche entered the 2019-20 season as arguably the most hyped team in the league. The only two primary reservations we had about them realizing those sky-high expectations were their ability to produce enough secondary scoring behind the Nathan MacKinnonGabriel LandeskogMikko Rantanen line, and how their unproven goaltending would be able to hold up behind that high-octane offense. So far, so good on both fronts.

The “New Guy” line of Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi has been terrific in the early going, outscoring the opposition 6-3 at 5-on-5 and providing the Avalanche with the second forward unit they can confidently throw out there when their stars require a breather. They’ve already squeezed 10 combined goalies out of those three, and there should be plenty more to come. The third line hasn’t really gotten going yet because of J.T. Compher‘s brief absence, but Tyson Jost‘s hat trick on the road against the Lightning was an encouraging sign that better days are ahead for that group as well. After what appeared to be a gruesome looking lower-body injury for Rantanen, the Avalanche will need that supporting cast to step up even more than was initially expected.

The goaltending wasn’t necessarily a concern as much as it was a question mark. Philipp Grubauer was terrific down the stretch last season and has performed well whenever he’s gotten the opportunity, but this is also uncharted waters for him because he’s never entered a season as the goalie who would start the majority of his team’s games. After starting seven of Colorado’s first nine games, he’s on pace for 64 starts, which would nearly double his previous high of 33 (last season). If he does sputter at any point, his backup looks awfully interesting as a candidate for more action.

Pavel Francouz is a relative unknown in NHL circles considering that he’s a 29-year-old who just started his first NHL game this month, but his track record suggests that was because of opportunity and not his ability. You never really know how to translate success in other leagues to the NHL because of the talent gap, but for goalies, the ability to stop the puck at every stop along the way is typically a good sign of future results. And Francouz has done just that regardless of where he’s played:

  • .924 save percentage in 164 Czech League games

  • .945 save percentage in 83 KHL games

  • .918 save percentage in 46 AHL games

He’s continued to show off those skills in his limited action thus far, posting a .949 save percentage in his four NHL appearances. His most recent performance against the high-powered Lightning was littered with jaw-dropping saves, as he stopped 44 of the 46 shots he faced. He looked every bit the part of an experienced goalie who’s traveled the world and performed at a high level wherever he’s landed, looking completely unfazed as the league’s most devastating offense peppered him with high-danger shots from all over the ice. The team will still rely on Grubauer to do most of the heavy lifting, but it’s quite a luxury to have a second option like Francouz on whom to fall back.

The Ducks are a classic example of a team that has to really convince people that it might be good — or at least not as bad as it was expected to be.

Anaheim finished 24th overall last season and was a punching bag for much of it. Its roster was ravaged by injuries, and its chances of competing on a nightly basis were decimated by questionable coaching. Both of those issues appear to have been addressed — with Dallas Eakins taking over behind the bench — and it’s time to start embracing the possibility that the fundamental change in process could lead to legitimately improved results.

Unlike last season, when the Ducks similarly started off with a 5-1-1 record before the wheels came off, this appears to be an entirely different set of circumstances that are driving their early success. In those first seven games last season, the Ducks controlled a league-worst 41.5% of the shot attempts and 42.1% of the shots on goal, which indicated that there was no real substance to that team beyond goaltender John Gibson. He put up an admirable fight, doing everything humanly possible to steal games they had no business winning as he was barraged by shots. But once he got banged up and came back down to Earth, everything around him crumpled. Here are the underlying numbers for the 2018-19 campaign:

  • 5-on-5 shot attempt share: 46.9% (27th in the NHL)

  • 5-on-5 shot on goal share: 46.9% (28th)

  • 5-on-5 expected goal share: 45.4% (29th)

  • 5-on-5 high-danger chances against per hour: 12.3 (28th)

  • All situations shot attempts against: 58.5 (30th)

  • All situations shots against: 29.0 (21st)

  • All situations expected goals against: 2.56 (29th)

  • All situations high-danger chances against: 13.5 (30th)

Here’s how they compare in each of those categories under Eakins thus far:

  • 5-on-5 shot attempt share: 50.4% (15th)

  • 5-on-5 shot on goal share: 50.3% (14th)

  • 5-on-5 expected goal share: 49.2% (17th)

  • 5-on-5 high-danger chances against per hour: 8.35 (9th)

  • All situations shot attempts against: 53.8 (8th)

  • All situations shots against: 29.5 (7th)

  • All situations expected goals against: 2.34 (9th)

  • All situations high-danger chances against: 8.2 (3rd)

Despite the improvements, there are still legitimate concerns about whether this team has enough offensive firepower to keep up with the best teams in the league. That’s one of the main reasons we shouldn’t expect them to keep winning six of every 10 games and staying ahead of teams like the Golden Knights, Sharks and Flames in the Pacific Division standings.

But it’s all relative. At the very least, there appears to be a certain baseline level of competence with the Ducks this season, and that shouldn’t be discounted. When you have a goalie as good as Gibson is, the threshold you need to clear to give yourself a chance to be competitive is quite low.

He’s never finished in the top five of Vezina Trophy voting, but Gibson is a rock star in net, with his play unquestionably warranting recognition ever since he entered the league. What he needs in front of him to not only give the team a fighting chance but also finally start get himself some credit in the discussion for best goalies in the league is quite reasonable — keep the shots and chances against him to a manageable level, and provide the bare minimum for offensive support.

The Ducks weren’t able to clear that low bar last season, but it appears they now have a chance under a new coach and a collection of young players who should only continue to get better as the season progresses.

There were two big stories involving the Coyotes last season: their almost comically anemic offense, and how good Darcy Kuemper was in carrying them nearly to the playoffs despite it. Both of those trends are once again in the spotlight, but they appear to be aligning in the same direction, making Arizona a dangerous team.

The team’s ability to generate goals this season has been in stark contrast to last season, when no player reached either the 20-goal or 50-point threshold. It’s still too early to project individual paces because one strong game here or there can change the entire outlook, but it’s worth noting that the Coyotes have scored four or more goals in four of their past six games, a benchmark they hit only 27 times in 82 games last season. They’ve also scored five goals twice already, which they did only five times all last season.

In the first few games it looked like it was going to be the same story again after they were shut down by Gibson and the Bruins’ Jaroslav Halak, but since then, they’ve feasted against less stingy competition. Here’s a look at that improvement across the board, sorting their league rank offensively by game state:

  • Last season: 31st at 5-on-5 scoring, 26th on the power play, 27th overall

  • This season: 18th at 5-on-5 scoring, 10th on the power play, 14th overall

The two biggest driving forces have been the addition of Phil Kessel and the fact that the group is finally healthy and intact. The Coyotes haven’t really started turning their looks into goals quite yet at 5-on-5, but the top line of Kessel, Derek Stepan and Clayton Keller will if it keeps dominating like it has thus far. They have just two goals to show for their work, but they’re controlling 61.5% of the shot attempts, 65.1% of the shots on goal and 70.0% of the high-danger chances. That’s a recipe for success, and it appears that Arizona is getting the shot in the arm it hoped for when it traded for Kessel.

Kuemper’s ascension as he approaches 30 is quite the development, becoming the latest example of how seemingly random the goaltending position can be. While everyone salivated at the idea of Antti Raanta finally being healthy enough to soak up a full workload, Kuemper has quietly sneaked into the Coyotes’ crease and taken the job for himself based on his play. It’s fair to say that it’s been a surprising turn of events at this stage of his career, considering that he’d never really shown himself to be anything more than a league-average backup before last season:

  • From 2012-2018: 114 starts, .912 save percentage, minus-22.7 goals saved above average

  • Since the start of last season: 61 starts, .927 save percentage, plus-15.4 goals saved above average

We’re ultimately going to need to see more of these trends continuing before we can say with any real confidence that the Coyotes should be considered a threat at the top of the Pacific Division. But if they can prove to be simply competent offensively, that should be enough to win plenty of games when paired with this kind of goaltending.

These two franchises seem to always be inextricably linked. They’ve been the dregs of the league for the better part of the past decade — which peaked in the epic tank battle for the Connor McDavid sweepstakes — and they’re now each sitting atop their respective conferences in a stunning turn of events to start the season.

In a way, they’ve also followed a similar formula for their early success: strong goaltending, a lethal power play and their best players doing a lot of the heavy lifting. The Oilers are fifth in save percentage, their power play has generated the third-most goals per hour, while Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are second and fourth in league scoring while north of 1.5 points per game. The Sabres are fourth in save percentage and fourth in goals per hour on the power play, and Jack Eichel has been playing like a man possessed this season, with 14 points in 10 games.

If we have to pick between the two, the Sabres’ success appears to be more sustainable. They’ve been the superior 5-on-5 team, hovering around the 50% mark in all of the shot-based metrics. (They’re at 50.0% in shot attempts, 50.2% in shots on goal, 54.8% in high-danger chances and 51.1% in expected goals.) That represents a marked improvement from where they were last season, even when they were on their big 10-game winning streak. The various renovations they made to the lineup this summer have paid immediate dividends, significantly increasing their floor by removing many of the black holes, and turning their blue line from a liability into a net positive.

The case for the Oilers’ continuing this level of success seems flimsier. They haven’t been nearly as good as a group at 5-on-5, relying more heavily on those other aforementioned strengths. They’re currently squeezing every remaining ounce of juice out of their goaltending, which doesn’t seem very likely to continue for much longer based on the players involved. The duo of Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith have stopped north of 92.5% of the total shots they’ve faced to this point, which is a figure that’s going to inevitably dip down to something around 91% (if not lower) if the past is any indication. We saw this kind of a strong start for Koskinen last season before he crumpled, while Smith has been on the wrong side of the hill for long enough now that we should know better than to buy into a couple of strong games strung together.

Dave Tippett’s system has historically gotten the most out of its goalies (including Smith himself once upon a time in Arizona), and it wouldn’t be the first time that a team’s goalies got hot and stayed hot. But it’s important to maintain some perspective and evaluate situations like this based on the larger sample size, because save percentages over a short period of time can mask a lot of underlying deeper rooted flaws. It’s truly remarkable what a hot goalie will do for changing the overall perception of a team as a whole. I’m skeptical.

While James Neal‘s goal scoring has been a pleasant surprise, the degree to which this team relies on their top two players is really pushing the boundaries of what’s humanly possible. It’s currently leaning on Draisaitl to play the minutes of a No. 1 workhorse defenseman, and Connor McDavid isn’t too far behind. Here are the leaders in average ice time for the season among all forwards:

The good news for the Oilers is that these two did this last season, and they did it well. In a way, there’s something admirable about going to battle with your two best players, leaving it all out there, and going down swinging. Everyone knows all about McDavid’s singular greatness, but Draisaitl appears to have taken his game to another level, shedding any lingering concerns that his production is just a byproduct of playing with the best player in the world. He’s been dominant for large stretches this season, and he’s either scored or directly set up half of the team’s total goals.

The bad news is that it still doesn’t seem like an ideal management of your best resources, especially when we’re in the load-management era of optimizing player performance by closely monitoring workload. While they’re going the way they have been early this season, Edmonton will be just fine; but, the margin for error is incredibly thin — if either of McDavid or Draisaitl slows down or gets injured, everything could crumple around them like a deck of cards. That’s a scary place to be in when talking about such a physical and dangerous sport like hockey.

Coming into the season, the Pacific was widely considered to be the weakest division in the league, largely because of its perceived lack of depth beyond the top three teams. But it’s been surprisingly frisky in the early going, with no real obvious bottom feeders presenting themselves. We’ve already highlighted the Ducks and Oilers here, but even the Canucks and Kings are putting together nice little résumés of their own in the first couple of weeks.

No one has been more critical of the Canucks and their seeming lack of a forward-thinking plan when it’s come to constructing their roster than I have, but I’m willing to admit that they already look a lot better than I thought they would following their series of offseason acquisitions. They’ve had the benefit of an awfully light schedule in the early going, but they also just finished off a largely successful four-game road trip and have won six of their past seven games.



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