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PHT Morning Skate: A winning day for Hockey Canada; reaction to Benning extension

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Now that the Canadian women have taken top spot in their group, they await the winner of O.A.R./Switzerland, while the U.S. will play the winner of Finland/Sweden in the Olympic semifinals. [NBC Olympics]

• Canada’s men’s side won their opening game with a 5-1 victory over Switzerland. [Hockey Canada]

• Matt Dalton and the Jim Paek’s South Korean squad played inspiring hockey, but ultimately fell 2-1 to the Czech Republic. [IIHF]

• The first goal scored by the unified Korean women’s team was by North Carolina native Randi Griffin. [NBC Olympics]

• Likely top pick in June’s NHL draft, Rasmus Dahlin, was a healthy scratch for Sweden’s opening game win over Norway. [NBC Olympics]

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

• The 17-year-old Dahlin could change the way we look at defensemen going forward. [Sporting News]

• A demotion to the third line doesn’t mean David Pastrnak is in Bruce Cassidy’s doghouse. It’s just a simple reminder. [Bruins Daily]

• It’s now Jim Benning’s job to see through to the finish of the Vancouver Canucks’ rebuild. [Sportsnet]

• Now that he has a contract extension, the next move for Benning to make it to re-sign the Sedins. [Canucks Army]

• A look back at Dion Phaneuf‘s time with the Ottawa Senators. [TSN]

• It’s time for the Calgary Flames to hand Matthew Tkachuk an extension. [Flames Nation]

• Wednesday was a pretty fun day for the Vegas Golden Knights. They spent the afternoon training with Cirque du Soleil. [Review-Journal]

• One player helping to power the Pittsburgh Penguins of late? That would be Jake Guentzel. [Tribune-Review]

Justin Williams a.k.a. ‘team grandpa,’ has eyes on bringing the Carolina Hurricanes back to the playoffs. [Sports Illustrated]

• A look at quite an “atrocious” season for Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik. [Japers’ Rink]

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Sean Leahy is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

GANGNEUNG, Korea, Republic Of — The Canadian women’s hockey team kept its perfect record intact at the Pyeongchang Olympics on Thursday with a hard-fought 2-1 win over the rival United States.

Meghan Agosta of Ruthven, Ont., and Hamilton’s Sara Nurse scored for Canada in the second period, while Kendall Coyne countered for the U.S. in the third.

Genevieve Lacasse of Kingston, Ont., made 44 saves in Canada’s net and stopped Jocelyne Lamoreux-Davidson on a penalty shot in the second period.

American goaltender Maddie Rooney turned away 21 of 23 shots.

Both countries had already booked berths in Monday’s semifinals having won their first two games in Pool A.

Finland and the Russian team will play quarter-final games Saturday against Switzerland and Sweden.

With her 16th goal in her fourth Olympics, Agosta moved into second all-time behind Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser (18).

One of the most storied rivalries in sport has only heated up in recent years. Canada may have won four straight Olympic gold medals, but the United States has claimed seven of the last eight world championships.

After a scoreless first period, Canada struck twice in the second and Lacasse stoned Lamoureux-Davidson late in the period.

But Coyne beat Lacasse between the pads 23 seconds into the third to halve Canada’s lead.

After a review, officials decided Haley Irwin kicked in the puck and ruled no goal midway through the period.

Irwin was also called for closing her hand on the puck in a goal-mouth scramble at 16:08 of the second. Lacasse deflected Lamoureux-Davidson’s penalty-shot attempt wide.

Agosta elbowed a U.S. defender in the face less than a minute later, but the Canadians killed off the penalty.

Nurse’s wrist shot off Rooney’s right shoulder deflected into the top of the net at 14:56 of the second.

Agosta scored a power-play goal at 7:18 on a backhand feed from Natalie Spooner at the corner of the U.S. net. Rooney got a piece of Agosta’s shot, but not enough to prevent the goal.

Canada spent most of the opening five minutes of the game in their own end as the Americans pressed. Lacasse stoned an all-alone Hilary Knight four minutes after faceoff.

Canadian defender Brigette Lacquette roofed a backhand over Rooney late in the period, but the whistle was already sounding for players in the crease and it was quickly waived off.

Canada went 5-1 against the Americans in a six-game exhibition series this winter, although the U.S. beat Canada twice to win November’s Four Nations Cup tournament in Florida.

Thursday’s game was their first meeting since Canada edged the U.S. 2-1 in overtime Dec. 17 in Edmonton.

Both teams were clearly fatigued in that game as players on both sides were in full-fledged training mode. They hadn’t yet started their taper to peak for the Games.

Canadian head coach Laura Schuler played all three goaltenders in the preliminary round.

Ann-Renee Desbiens posted an 18-save shutout against Russia in her Olympic debut Sunday. Veteran netminder Shannon Szabados had 22 saves in Canada’s 4-1 win over Finland on Tuesday.

The Olympic hockey schedule has all teams, men’s and women’s, starting games at varied hours.

The Canadian women have had puck drops at 9:10 p.m. and 4:40 p.m. and Thursday’s game started just after noon local time.

“Throughout the year, we actually have made sure with our game times and our practice times that we varied them,” Schuler said.

The women played their final exhibition game before the games — against a university men’s team in Incheon, South Korea — at 10 p.m.

Players of the Night:

Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs: Kadri continued his torrid pace as of late, scoring a hat trick and recording five points in a 6-3 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Kadri has seven goals in his past 10 games.

Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs: The Blue Jackets put 57 shots on Anderson. He stopped 54 of them. Yes, 54 saves – a career-high. Unreal.

Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche: Varlamov turned aside 43 shots, including five on the power play, to help the Avalanche to a 2-0 win against the Montreal Canadiens. It was Varlamov’s first win since Dec. 29.

Highlights of the Night: 

Andersen doing his thing:

Korpisalo, the Maple Leafs killer (not quite on Wednesday) but my goodness this save:

Sticking with the nice save theme:

Kadri’s hat trick goal, and quite the pass from Marner:

Factoids of the Night:

Scores:

Maple Leafs 6, Blue Jackets 3

Avalanche 2, Canadiens 0

Panthers 4, Canucks 3


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

The Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers, along with a full house at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, paid their respects to the victims of a school shooting in Florida on Wednesday.

At least 17 people died when a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida around 3 p.m.

The Panthers, who play 10 miles south of Parkland at BB&T Center in Sunrise, FL, are in the midst of a five-game road trip.

The Panthers recorded messages of support prior to the game.

Defenseman Aaron Ekbladtweeted out: “Heavy hearts for the victims, families and first responders in Parkland today. #unthinkable”

Fellow defenseman Mike Mathesonalso took to Twitter: “Praying for everyone affected by the shooting back home in South Florida. Stay safe 🙏”


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

It’s kind of crazy how a little tinkering can completely change the complexion of an offense.

On Jan. 23, the Toronto Maple Leafs were stuck in a rut. For the better part of the past month-and-a-half, dating back to Dec. 12, they’d essentially spun their tires.

With a 6-7-3 record during that 16-game span, something needed to change, even if they were still sitting comfortably in third place in the Atlantic Division.

Still, limping into the playoffs wouldn’t be ideal for Mike Babcock, so he did what he’s done best over his long tenure as an NHL bench boss: he adjusted.

Gone were the lines that weren’t working and in came something to experiment with.

Mitch Marner moved up to the second line. Leo Komarov dropped down to the fourth. Gone was Frederik Gauthier, who went from the fourth line to the minors. Matt Martin took a seat in the press box. And the Leafs brought up 21-year-old prospect Kasperi Kapanen, who put up good numbers in the American Hockey League.

The result looked like this:

Zach HymanAuston MatthewsWilliam Nylander

Patrick MarleauNazem Kadri – Mitchell Marner

James van RiemsdykTyler BozakConnor Brown

Leo Komarov – Dominic Moore – Kasperi Kapanen

Babcock must be quite the alchemist. His concoction has proven effective. Really effective.

Kadri and Marner have benefitted most. The former had two points in his previous 20 games before welcoming Marner on his right wing. Kadri, during the team’s 9-1-0 run as of late, now has seven goals and 15 points (including a hat trick and a five-point night on Wednesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 6-3 win).

Marner had just one goal in his previous 11 games before linking up with Kadri and Marleau. Since then, he has seven goals and 13 points.

Even Kapanen is getting in on the fun. He’s got two goals and three assists in that span playing a less offensive role on the team’s fourth line.

Babcock wanted balance, and he got it.

The Leafs, for all their offensive successes during this stretch — they’ve scored 43 goals during their past 10 games — could give Frederik Andersen a bit of a break.

Andersen is seeing a lot of rubber. In Wednesday’s win, Andersen saw 19 shots come his way in the first period and another 22 in the second. The barrage continued in the third with a further 16. Yes, the quick math says 57 total shots. The man made 54 saves.

Wednesday’s result could have been much different if not for Andersen’s heroics.

In four of the past 10 games, the Leafs have surrendered 40 or more shots.

As good as Andersen has been for the Leafs, that isn’t sustainable.

The good news for the Leafs and their fans is that Andersen is in the top-five among starters (minimum 1,500 minutes played) when it comes to goals saved above average, one of the better goalie metrics to judge how good a puck-stopper is.

Andersen is also sixth in adjusted save percentage, which takes into account shot location when determining a goalie’s save percentage, taking the traditional metric one step further.

It’s all working right now for Toronto. And within their reach is the top spot in the Atlantic Division. The Leafs are just four points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning.


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

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