TGIF: Five NHL games to watch this weekend

4 Comments

Saturday: Chicago at St. Louis (8 p.m. ET)

We can all agree that these are two very good teams. A possible Western Conference Final preview even. That said, it’s interesting that neither has received very good goaltending this season. The Blackhawks have a team save percentage of .902, the sixth lowest in the NHL. The Blues are a bit better at .911, but Jaroslav Halak has been downright pedestrian in December, registering a .893 save percentage in seven appearances. If Halak doesn’t show a marked improvement by the March 5 trade deadline, we’d be surprised if general manager Doug Armstrong doesn’t do something about it. What’s the price to get Ryan Miller out of Buffalo? That’s the question everyone should be asking. (We already asked it in TGIF all the way back on Nov. 1.)

Saturday: Los Angeles at Nashville (8 p.m. ET)

Interesting that Elliotte Friedman was feeding the Shea Weber-to-Edmonton speculation in his latest 30 Thoughts column. Wrote Friedman: “The Predators had no choice but to match the Philadelphia Flyers’ offer sheet for Shea Weber. They needed control of the asset and credibility among the fan base after losing Ryan Suter. But things are changing in Tennessee.” Quite a few PHT commenters thought we were crazy to be banging that drum over a month ago, but we stand by what we wrote then. We’re not saying Weber-to-Edmonton is definitely going to happen, but it would make a lot of sense if it did.

Saturday: Phoenix at Anaheim (8 p.m. ET)

The Ducks have won nine straight. In terms of points in the standings, they were the NHL’s best team heading into the Christmas break. Yet there remain skeptics that they’re an elite squad. That’s because, in terms of a possession stat like Corsi, they’re middle of the pack. One key to their success this season? Timely sharp-shooting. With the score close five on five, Anaheim is converting on a league-high 11.1 percent of its shots. The Ducks do have their share of snipers — which probably accounts for part of that particular statistic — but in a game like hockey, as hard as it can be to maintain an attitude of equanimity, you have to wonder about the role of good luck. (And yes, we just used the word equanimity.)

Sunday: Pittsburgh at Columbus (6 p.m. ET)

In case you hadn’t noticed, the Blue Jackets are 6-3-1 in December despite missing their Vezina Trophy-winning goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, and sniper Marian Gaborik. They’ve also been without winger Nathan Horton all season. Lately, a couple of youngsters, 21-year-old forward Ryan Johansen and 20-year-old d-man Ryan Murray, have really raised their games, and that bodes well for the present and future in Columbus. We wrote about Johansen here. As for Murray, the second overall pick in the 2012 draft has played in the neighborhood of 23 minutes in recent outings — not bad for a rookie.

Sunday: NY Rangers at Tampa Bay (7 p.m. ET)

Thumbs up for the job Jon Cooper has done coaching the Lightning, winners of five straight, in the absence of Steven Stamkos. Sure, it helps Tampa Bay has received good goaltending from Ben Bishop, and Cooper fully admits that. But it’s not like the Lightning are just sitting back and letting Bishop lock it down for them. Take Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win versus Carolina in which the Lightning outshot the Hurricanes, 50-27. In that case, it was Justin Peters who “stole a point,” according to ‘Canes coach Kirk Muller. If the Lightning are healthy for the playoffs, they could do some serious damage.

Bergeron bombastic in return, but Bruins lose Krejci to injury

Getty
Leave a comment

The roller coaster isn’t slowing down for the Boston Bruins.

With Tuukka Rask‘s concussion looming over the proceedings, the Bruins gave fans some reason to celebrate; Patrice Bergeron scored a goal and three assists in an impressive 6-3 output by the B’s top guns against the overmatched Vancouver Canucks.

Even Anders Bjork enjoyed some measure of redemption after bowling over Rask in practice, as the young player scored two goals and an assist despite being limited to 12:29 TOI.

Other big guns like Brad Marchand did their increasingly reliable damage, with David Pastrnak probably providing the most exhilarating goal of the contest:

Yeah, that might get some attention from Canucks coach Travis Green in film sessions, assuming he doesn’t just burn the tape.

Bergeron broke down his night to Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy after the game:

The Bruins really made Erik Gudbranson and the Canucks pay for boarding Frank Vatrano, as they scored three power-play goals on the major penalty. Vatrano’s another health situation to watch, although it’s heartening that he returned during the game.

(That doesn’t mean he won’t have a setback … but all things considered, the Bruins will take it.)

So … solid stuff overall, as the Bruins provided ample evidence that they might have the weapons to scrap through all this bad luck.

Then again, if opponents can slow the top-end guys, you wonder what kind of supporting cast the Bruins will have left through this run of attrition. David Krejci is the latest name to land on Boston’s troubling list of walking wounded.

Here’s hoping that it isn’t a big issue for a veteran center who’s dealt with nagging injuries in recent years.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

Kucherov’s goal run ends, but he helped Sergachev make history, Bolts win

Getty
Leave a comment

Gosh, that Nikita Kucherov is such a slacker.

The underrated, rising star saw his historic, season-opening seven-game goal streak end with eight in seven games. This leaves him just one game short of tying Wayne Gretzky.

It’s fitting, though, that Kucherov made a little history even as his historic run ended. He earned two primary assists on the first two goals of Mikhail Sergachev‘s NHL career, factoring into the Tampa Bay Lightning’s surprisingly low-scoring 2-0 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

(C’mon, you pictured some fireworks there too, didn’t you?)

Here’s the first-ever goal for Sergachev, who matched trade mate Jonathan Drouin‘s two goals with tonight’s outburst.

And here’s the second:

Yeah, you can’t give Sergachev that kind of space and time; then again, maybe the Blue Jackets were a little preoccupied with stopping Kucherov and his red-hot partner-in-crime, Steven Stamkos?

The real star of tonight’s game/reason why it was so low-scoring was probably Andrei Vasilevskiy. Another key Russian for the Lightning, Vasilevskiy stopped all 43 shots for an impressive shutout. This marks his first of the season and only the fifth of what’s been a promising young career.

After falling just short against the New Jersey Devils via a shootout, the Bolts improve to 6-1-1 while winning another early temperature check against Columbus, who are still off to a strong start at 5-2-0.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

McDavid dazzles again, Oilers break slump with OT win vs. Blackhawks

Getty
1 Comment

Update: The Edmonton Oilers ended up needing every bit of Connor McDavid‘s brilliance, as goals weren’t coming easily against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night.

(Even though, as you can see with that highlight-reel assist, McDavid often makes it look easy.)

McDavid also managed a secondary assist on Mark Letestu‘s overtime-winner, ending the Edmonton Oilers’ losing streak at four games. The Blackhawks continue to be resourceful in getting standings points, in this case falling 2-1 in OT.

Anton Forsberg made 40 of 42 saves, but it wasn’t enough against a driven group led by number 97.

Here’s the OT goal.

If you haven’t seen the more amazing of McDavid’s two helpers, do yourself a favor and check it out. You won’t regret it.

***

Connor McDavid’s speed and skill are glorious, but the thing that makes him extra-sensational is just how unstoppable he seems. Even against some of the NHL’s best.

To start the season, McDavid made very-solid Calgary Flames defenseman T.J. Brodie look downright permeable during the most impressive goal in his opening-night hat trick.

If that wasn’t impressive enough, the superstar tore through the Chicago Blackhawks – including certain future Hall of Famer Duncan Keith – and then sent absolutely obscene pass to Patrick Maroon for an easy goal.

You know how people used to say that a fire hydrant could score 50 goals with Mario Lemieux? We might need to bump that down to 30 for modern hockey, but either way, Maroon might laugh uncomfortably at such jokes.

If you prefer your jaw-droppers in GIF form, drop away:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

Schneider injury puts damper on Devils win, Hischier’s big night

Getty
Leave a comment

Update: Nico Hishier was one of the biggest stories as the game went along, but a lot happened in an eventual 5-4 OT win for the Devils.

Tonight served as an “I’m back” moment for Erik Karlsson, who served up three assists as the Senators turned a 2-1 deficit to a 4-2 edge after a dominant second period. Ottawa wasn’t able to sit on that lead, however, as the Devils rallied to send the game to overtime.

Hischier didn’t get his hat trick, but he did manage a third point, assisting on John Moore‘s overtime-winner.

Karlsson and the Senators fell short of spoiling this big night for Hischier, yet the Devils have something to worry about, as Cory Schneider suffered an injury that ended his evening early.

***

One remarkable thing about the New Jersey Devils’ hot start is that Nico Hischier, the top pick of this past draft, had yet to score his first NHL goal.

Of course, there’s a danger to looking at only goals. After all, the 18-year-old had four assists in six games, with three coming in his last two contests. The Devils were justified in all of those comments about it being just a matter of time …

… As it turns out, it didn’t take Hischier much time against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.

Not only did the Swiss scorer find the net for his first goal by roofing a nice setup from Taylor Hall and Drew Stafford.

He also showed some savvy in scoring his second goal less than two minutes later.

Hischier now has two periods and change to collect his first-ever hat trick in that same game.

A quick look at how he’s been doing, overall

Even when other Devils stole some of his thunder in what might have been an opening statement of a first win for New Jersey, Hischier showed some dynamic moves.

Nice.

As NJ.com’s Chris Ryan reported, Devils coach John Hynes was left raving about Hischier after he collected two assists in the Devils’ shootout win against the Tampa Bay Lightning earlier this week.

“He was very good in all aspects,” John Hynes said on Wednesday. “Defensively he was excellent, going back to the video this morning, some of the chances he had that he didn’t score on were excellent. When you look at the chances he created, the assists he had, the assist on the game-tying goal, he set up (Taylor Hall) very well in the offensive zone. I’d say that was his most complete game to date.”

Hischier began the season being used sparingly, but he logged more legitimate top-six minutes the past couple games. He sure seems like a quick study so far. Hischier’s getting some protected zone starts and other situations, but there’s also sense that Hynes is going to take off the training wheels very quickly.

Thursday seems like the reward, or the flashing light, for all that good early work. This post will be updated as we wait to see if Hischier can manage that hat trick.

***

Look, it’s very, very early.

All we can judge Hischier and the Devils on, right now, is how they’ve played so far … and with each game, this team looks more and more legit. And so does their prized prospect.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS: