Tom Renney, Kelly Buchberger

Tom Renney has Ryan Nugent-Hopkins penciled in on his line sheet… For now

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We’re not really expecting the Edmonton Oilers to be a threat in the Western Conference this year but we are expecting them to be a team worth keeping an eye on. After all with young and dynamic scorers like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Linus Omark, Magnus Paajarvi, and Sam Gagner there’s a lot to be excited about.

Of course, with Nikolai Khabibulin being another year older and Devan Dubnyk being a potentially solid goalie along with a defensive unit that doesn’t stand out as a pack of stoppers, things will again be rough in keeping opponents off the board.

The one guy who might find a way onto the team this year is the top pick from the 2011 NHL Draft in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. A lot of number one picks find their way into the NHL right away and Oilers coach Tom Renney has to be prepared for anything when it comes to his latest top pick. That means he’s even got some ideas for line combinations featuring Nugent-Hopkins worked out in his mind already as David Staples of the Edmonton Journal shares.

The other day on CHED, both Dan Tencer and Bob Stauffer asked questions of Oilers coach Tom Renney about RNH.

Renney said that he has many post-it notes with line combinations in his office and RNH’s name is in the mix.

Asked if he was able to put his own opinions on hold and simply evaluate the kid at training camp, Renney said, “I’m trying to do the latter. Those post-it notes, though, certainly a lot of them have his name on them with different combinations of people. I want to give him a fair opportunity to do what he wants to do badly, and that’s to make our hockey team. More important than anything else though, I have to put the stongest team on the ice as I possibly can.”

For Renney, putting the strongest team on the ice might mean having to include Nugent-Hopkins. Nugent-Hopkins is a guy who could slot in on the first or second line at center and while he’s just 18 years-old, the Oilers other options at center may not live up to the amount offensive potential that Nugent-Hopkins has. Sam Gagner figures to be one guy to get in the mix there but with older depth guys like Shawn Horcoff and Eric Belanger, their experience is good but their offensive production isn’t quite up to par.

Of course, the question is pertinent as to whether or not Nugent-Hopkins should even play in the NHL right away. Some, like Staples says in his piece, believe he should go back for one more year of junior hockey with the Red Deer Rebels. The same questions came up last year for Taylor Hall and he was able to eventually find his way winding up with a 22-goal season in an injury-shortened 65 game season. Whether a guy grows better in the NHL or through another year in junior hockey is up for debate.

For guys at the talent level of Hall and Nugent-Hopkins, having them head back to junior hockey would show how dominant they can be there against guys their own age while they grow up a bit more themselves. For teams like the Oilers, getting all the help they can from within can override that wont to have guys develop at an easier pace.

That said, the question for Renney is simple: If Nugent-Hopkins is ready and can handle the NHL load right away, then go for it. If there’s any questions, give him a look for up to nine games and then decide whether or not to send him back to Red Deer or keep him in Edmonton. Having that option to send him back to junior hockey is there for that purpose and if the Oilers are unsure, they’ll put it to use.

Predators smash Sharks to get back in series

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After a dispiriting 1-0 goal allowed by Pekka Rinne, things were looking bleak for the Nashville Predators for a moment there.

Nashville’s developed into a resilient group, however, and they stormed back for a commanding 4-1 win to shrink San Jose’s series advantage to 2-1.

The Predators saw some of their big names come up huge as the series shifted from San Jose to Nashville.

Pekka Rinne looked sharp following that first goal (and didn’t allow another). Their goals came from James Neal, Colin Wilson, Filip Forsberg and captain Shea Weber.

Weber’s tally was the game-winner, and it was downright thunderous:

Another promising sign: after a struggling to a 2-for-31 clip in previous playoff games, the Predators’ power play went 2-for-5 in Game 3.

Overall, the Predators really couldn’t ask for much more from this win, especially if Colton Sissons is indeed OK after a scary crash into the Sharks’ net.

Things could get really interesting if Nashville manages to “hold serve” with another home win on Thursday.

Stars’ goalie carousel goes around again: Lehtonen replaces Niemi

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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It’s pretty tough not to make jokes about the Dallas Stars spending $10.4 million on their goalies at times like these, even if Dallas’ defense should shoulder plenty of blame.

After Kari Lehtonen was pulled from a Game 2 loss, the St. Louis Blues chased Antti Niemi early in the second period of Game 3 after Niemi allowed three goals on 12 shots.

Troy Brouwer‘s 3-1 goal was enough for Lindy Ruff to give Niemi the hook:

Unfortunately for the Stars, Lehtonen got off to a slow start as well, allowing an immediate Vladimir Tarasenko goal.

The Blues are now 4-1 and the Stars are searching for answers … and probably wishing Tyler Seguin was around to help them out-score their problems.

Islanders believe Boyle should be suspended for hit before OT goal

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Thomas Hickey is involved in a controversial hit, yet the greater debate may revolve around the one he received rather than the one he delivered.

In the second period, the New York Islanders defenseman connected for a thunderous hit on Tampa Bay Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin, which sidelined Drouin for a chunk of Game 3.

Many believe that hit was legal:

The Islanders are upset about the Brian Boyle hit on Hickey in overtime, which came moments before Boyle scored the game-winning goal. You can see the full sequence here, with the hit happening around the 50-second mark:

Islanders head coach Jack Capuano believes that it was a suspension-worthy hit.

You’re not going to believe this, but the Lightning disagree.

Boyle clearly didn’t receive a penalty on that sequence, yet one would imagine that the league will at least take a look at that hit.

Lightning take dramatic OT win vs. Islanders, go up 2-1 in series

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Brian Boyle was part of the fight before Game 3 even started … and then he ended it in overtime.

In a Tampa Bay Lightning win in which they just kept rolling with the New York Islanders’ punches, it only seems fitting that Boyle battled to land a big hit and then score the clinching goal for a 5-4 overtime victory.

This gives the Lightning a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4.

Also fitting? Boyle landed a big hit on Thomas Hickey, the guy who sidelined Jonathan Drouin for a chunk of this contest.

That sequence prompted a brief goal review, but it ultimately stood:

(Was that Boyle hit on Hickey dirty, by the way?)

Drama was in the air from the beginning, yet Drouin really stole the show when he came back from what some believe was a concussion to assist on Nikita Kucherov‘s last-minute goal, which sent the game to overtime.

In some ways, this win feels like a microcosm of the Lightning’s season. They keep getting hit in the mouth with injuries and near-injuries, yet they just won’t stay down.

The Islanders saw three leads disappear in this contest, but one would think that they won’t roll over, either.