NHL MORNING SKATE – JAN. 9, 2016

NHL MORNING SKATE – JAN. 9, 2016

Welcome to the “NHL Morning Skate,” a daily collection of the latest news and notes from around the League.

2015-16 SEASON REACHES THE HALFWAY POINT

The 2015-16 season reaches the halfway point (615 GP) following the conclusion of today’s pair of matinee games (WSH-NYR and NYI-PHI).

A look at some of the highlights thus far (compiled with the assistance of the Elias Sports Bureau):

COMPETITIVE BALANCE . . .

Twenty-three teams are within five points of a playoff berth:

* In the Atlantic Division, teams Nos. 2-6 are separated by five points.
* In the Metropolitan Division, teams Nos. 2-6 are separated by eight points.
* In the Central Division, teams Nos. 2-6 are separated by 11 points.
* In the Pacific Division, teams Nos. 2-7 are separated by seven points.

Just 22 points currently separate the 16 teams that occupy postseason spots:

* Last season, only 16 points separated the 16 teams that qualified for the playoffs. That was the narrowest gap in the 16-team postseason era. The last time there was a smaller gap (in any playoff format) was in 1964-65, when four of six total teams qualified for the postseason (13 points).

. . . LEADS TO PLAYOFF TURNOVER

Six teams that did not qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season currently hold postseason spots (ARI, BOS, DAL, FLA, LAK and NJD):

* Last season, seven teams made the playoffs after not qualifying in 2013-14 (CGY, NSH, NYI, OTT, VAN, WPG and WSH). The seven-team turnover marked the largest year-to-year change in NHL history.
* Overall, there has been a playoff turnover of at least five clubs in eight of the past 10 seasons.

STANLEY CUP WINNERS AT THE HALFWAY POINT

A look at the eventual Stanley Cup champions’ position in the overall NHL standings through the day of games in which the League reached the midway point of the season (since 2008-09):

2014-15: Chicago Blackhawks, 6th
2013-14: Los Angeles Kings, 8th
2012-13: Chicago Blackhawks, 1st
2011-12: Los Angeles Kings, 11th
2010-11: Boston Bruins, 11th
2009-10: Chicago Blackhawks, 3rd
2008-09: Pittsburgh Penguins, 19th

3-ON-3 OVERTIME DECIDES MORE GAMES

Ninety-two of the 143 games that have required overtime this season have been decided in the extra period (64.3%).

Last season, under the 4-on-4 format, the percentage of overtime periods with goals was 44.4% (136 of 306).

COACH’S CHALLENGE TRACKER

There have been 114 coach’s challenges through the opening 607 games of the 2015-16 season. Of those challenges, 83 calls have been upheld, while 31 have been overturned.

Seventy-five of the coach’s challenges have been for goaltender interference (60 upheld/15 overturned), while 39 have been for offside (23 upheld/16 overturned).

CAPITALS SURGE TO TOP OF NHL STANDINGS

The League-leading Capitals (30-7-3, 63 points) are having their best start to a season – in terms of wins and points – in the franchise’s 41-year history. That includes an 18-2-2 record in their last 22 games dating to Nov. 21.

The Capitals reached the 30-win mark in their 40th game of the season. Only five other teams in NHL history have recorded 30 or more victories through their opening 40 games of a campaign: the 1929-30 Bruins, 1944-45 Canadiens, 2008-09 Sharks, 2012-13 Blackhawks and 2012-13 Penguins.

Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby leads the NHL with 26 wins in 2015-16, including a 18-0-2 record in his last 20 decisions – the longest point streak by a goaltender since 2010-11 (Roberto Luongo: 16-0-5 w/ VAN).

DYNAMIC SCORING DUO POWERS STARS

At 29-10-4 (62 points), the Stars also are off to their best start to a season – in terms of wins and points – in the franchise’s 49-year history. They are tied for the League lead 17 wins (17-4-0) at American Airlines Center – that equals their home win total from all of last season (17-16-8).

Stars teammates Jamie Benn (24-28—52) and Tyler Seguin (24-27—51) share the League lead with 24 goals apiece (with Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko). They also rank second and third, respectively, in points.

Playing in just his second NHL season, Stars defenseman John Klingberg ranks second among blueliners – and tied for ninth overall – with 6-32—38.

PANTHERS HIT MIDPOINT IN RECORD FORM

The Panthers (25-12-4, 54 points) enter the midway point of the season riding a franchise-record 11-game winning streak. They also have won a franchise-record seven straight games at home and have equaled another club record with five consecutive victories on the road.

Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo has won a career-high and franchise-record nine straight games (1.31 GAA, .954 SV%, 2 SO) – the longest such run by any goaltender this season. He also is three victories shy of tying Tony Esposito (423) for seventh place in NHL history.

JAGR PASSES DIONNE, NARROWS IN ON HULL

With his 732nd career goal on Dec. 20 vs. VAN, 43-year-old Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr moved past Marcel Dionne (731) and into sole possession of fourth place on the NHL’s all-time goals list. Jagr, who now sits at 736 career goals, trails Brett Hull (741) by five for a share of third place.

OVECHKIN NEARS 500 GOALS, SETS MARK FOR RUSSIANS

Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin ranks fifth in the League with 22 goals, upping his career total to 497 (in 799 GP). He is seeking to become one of the fastest players in NHL history to reach the 500-goal club (in terms of games played):

Fastest to 500 Goals (In GP), NHL History
1. Wayne Gretzky: 575 GP
2. Mario Lemieux: 605 GP
3. Mike Bossy: 647 GP
4. Brett Hull: 693 GP
5. Phil Esposito: 803 GP

Ovechkin scored his 484th career goal on Nov. 19 vs. DAL (777 GP) to move past Sergei Fedorov (483 G in 1,248 GP) for the most goals by a Russian-born player in NHL history. Earlier this season, Ovechkin (497-433—930) also became the fourth Russian-born player to record 900 NHL points, following Fedorov (483-696—1,179), Alexander Mogilny (473-559—1,032) and Alex Kovalev (430-599—1,029).

POINT STREAK FOR THE AGES

Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane strung together a franchise-record 26-game point streak from Oct. 17 – Dec. 13, totaling 16-24—40 in that span. The streak was the longest such run by any U.S.-born player in NHL history as well as the longest point streak by any NHL player since 1992-93 (Mats Sundin: 21-25—46 in 30 GP). Kane, who has registered at least one point in 37 of his 43 appearances this season, continues to pace the League in assists (37) and points (60).

LEAGUE LEADERS

A look at some of the top individual performances in 2015-16:

Goals
1. Vladimir Tarasenko (STL): 24
2. Tyler Seguin (DAL): 24
3. Jamie Benn (DAL): 24
4. Patrick Kane (CHI): 23
5. Alex Ovechkin (WSH): 22
Assists
1. Patrick Kane (CHI): 37
2. Erik Karlsson (OTT): 34
3. John Klingberg (DAL): 32
4. Blake Wheeler (WPG): 30
5. Jamie Benn (DAL): 28
Points
1. Patrick Kane (CHI): 23-37—60
2. Jamie Benn (DAL): 24-28—52
3. Tyler Seguin (DAL): 24-27—51
4. Vladimir Tarasenko (STL): 24-19—43
5. Erik Karlsson (OTT): 9-34—43
Wins
1. Braden Holtby (WSH): 26
2. Jonathan Quick (LAK): 23
3. Corey Crawford (CHI): 22
4. Roberto Luongo (FLA): 19
t-5. Jake Allen (STL): 18
t-5. Henrik Lundqvist (NYR): 18
Goals-Against Average (Minimum: 14 GP)
1. John Gibson (ANA): 1.82
2. Connor Hellebuyck (WPG): 1.85
3. Braden Holtby (WSH): 1.90
4. James Reimer (TOR): 1.97
5. Roberto Luongo (FLA): 2.06
6. Ben Bishop (TBL): 2.06
Save Percentage (Minimum: 14 GP)
1. James Reimer (TOR): .937
2. Connor Hellebuyck (WPG): .937
3. Michal Neuvirth (PHI): .934
4. Braden Holtby (WSH): .933
5. Roberto Luongo (FLA): .931

UPCOMING KEY DATES

Dates to note for the second half of the 2015-16 season:

Tuesday, Jan. 12: 2016 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game (Ralston Arena, Omaha, Neb.).
Tuesday, Jan. 19: NHL Central Scouting releases its midseason rankings of top prospects for the 2016 NHL Draft.
Thursday, Jan. 28: 2016 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game (Pacific Coliseum, Vancouver).
Thursday, Jan. 28 – Monday, Feb. 1: All-Star break (no games played).
Saturday, Jan. 30: 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Skills Competition (Bridgestone Arena, Nashville).
Sunday, Jan. 31: 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Game (Bridgestone Arena, Nashville).
Monday, Feb. 1: Hockey is for Everyone Month begins (and runs through Monday, Feb. 29).
Tuesday, Feb. 2: The NHL regular season resumes with a 12-game slate.
Saturday, Feb. 6: 2016 Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada (Host: Kamloops, B.C.).
Friday, Feb. 19 – Sunday, Feb. 21: 2016 Hockey Weekend Across America presented by CCM (USA Hockey).
Sunday, Feb. 21: 2016 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series, Chicago Blackhawks at Minnesota Wild (TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis).
Saturday, Feb. 27: 2016 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series, Detroit Red Wings at Colorado Avalanche (Coors Field, Denver).
Monday, Feb. 29: NHL Trade Deadline (3:00 p.m. ET).
Tuesday, March 1: Deadline for each national association to announce at least 16 members (including at least two goaltenders) of its 2016 World Cup of Hockey roster.
Monday, March 14 – Wednesday, March 16: NHL General Managers Meeting (Boca Raton, Fla.).
Saturday, April 9: The 2015-16 regular season concludes with all 30 NHL teams in action, wrapping what promises to be a photo finish for playoff berths and seedings.
Wednesday, April 13: 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin.

FRIDAY’S RESULTS

Home Team in Caps
Boston 4, NEW JERSEY 1
CAROLINA 4, Columbus 1
CHICAGO 3, Buffalo 1
COLORADO 5, Nashville 3
Tampa Bay 3, EDMONTON 2
ANAHEIM 4, St. Louis 3 (SO)

DANAULT LEADS BLACKHAWKS TO SIXTH STRAIGHT WIN

Phillip Danault scored the game-winning goal at 15:01 of the third period – the first goal of his NHL career – to lift the Blackhawks over Buffalo for their sixth consecutive victory.

* Corey Crawford (28 saves) picked up his fourth consecutive victory and improved to 22-10-2 this season (2.19 GAA, .927 SV%, 6 SO). Crawford also improved to 7-0-0 in seven career appearances vs. BUF.

DUCKS RALLY PAST BLUES

The Ducks rallied from a 3-1 deficit in regulation and Ryan Getzlaf (0-1—1) scored the decisive goal in the shootout to help Anaheim improve to 5-1-1 in their last seven outings.

* Ryan Kesler (2-0—2) posted his first multi-goal performance of the season (40 GP) and John Gibson made 25 saves and turned aside three of four shooters in the shootout to pick up his fifth win in his last six outings.

AROUND THE RINKS

* Forward Ryan Johansen (1-1—2) scored at 2:35 of the first period and added an assist in his Predators debut (17:46 TOI). Per Elias, Johansen became the fourth player in franchise history to register multiple points in his debut with the Predators. The others: Denis Grebeshkov (1-1—2) on March 2, 2010 vs. EDM, Steve Sullivan (3-1—4) on Feb. 18, 2004 vs. SJS and Jukka Hentunen (1-1—2) on March 23, 2002 vs. MTL.
* Down 2-0 through 40 minutes, Victor Hedman (1-2—3) factored on all three of the Lightning’s unanswered goals en route to their first win in Edmonton since March 7, 2007. Per Elias, it was the first time in franchise history that the Lightning have won a road game in regulation after trailing by two goals or more in the third period.
* Knotted at 3-3, Tyson Barrie scored the go-ahead goal at 11:00 of the third period and Jack Skille (1-1—2) added an empty-netter to lead the Avalanche to their third straight win. The Avalanche are 9-2-1 against Central Division teams this season.

MILESTONES & BENCHMARKS

* The Bruins earned their 3,000th regular-season win in franchise history, becoming the second team in NHL history to reach the milestone (MTL: 3,283).
* Avalanche forward Jarome Iginla scored the 601st goal of his NHL career and tied Jari Kurri for 18th on the NHL’s all-time goals list.

LOOSE PUCKS

Bruins forward Jimmy Hayes (1-0—1) has scored four times in his last four outings (4-1—5)… Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm (0-2—2) has recorded three multi-point games in his last five outings (2-4—6)… The National Women’s Hockey League issued a statement on Friday updating the condition of Boston Pride forward Denna Laing, who was injured while playing in the inaugural Outdoor Women’s Classic on Dec. 31… Capitals forward Marcus Johansson has been suspended for two games, without pay, for an illegal check to the head of Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey… The Rangers traded right wing Emerson Etem to the Canucks for right wing Nicklas Jensen and a sixth-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft… Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill signed a five-year contract extension that will keep him with the team through the 2022-23 season.

SNEAK PEEK AT SATURDAY’S ACTION

All Times Eastern
Washington @ NY Rangers, 1:00 p.m., SNE, SNO, SNP, CSN-DC, MSG
NY Islanders @ Philadelphia, 1:00 p.m., MSG+, CSN-PH
Pittsburgh @ Montreal, 7:00 p.m., NHLN-US, TVAS, SN, ROOT
Boston @ Ottawa, 7:00 p.m., CITY, TVAS2, NESN
Carolina @ Columbus, 7:00 p.m., FS-CR, FS-O
Toronto @ San Jose, 7:00 p.m., CBC, CSN-CA
Minnesota @ Dallas, 8:00 p.m., FS-N, FS-WI, FS-SW
Nashville @ Arizona, 9:00 p.m., FS-TN, FS-A
Tampa Bay @ Vancouver, 10:00 p.m., CBC, SN, SUN
St. Louis @ Los Angeles, 10:30 p.m., FS-MW, FS-W

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