Get your game notes: Penguins at Sabres

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This evening on NBCSN, it’s the Buffalo Sabres hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins starting at 7:30 p.m. ET. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

• Tonight’s matchup features the No. 1 team in the East against the conference’s basement dweller. Pittsburgh has gone 24-6-1 since Nov. 27 and has led the conference since taking over the top spot on Dec. 14. The Sabres, meanwhile, fell to 1-9-1 back on Oct. 23 and have brought up the rear in the standings ever since. Pittsburgh has more than double Buffalo’s point total (80-38).

• The game also pits the conference’s highest-scoring team (Penguins, 3.11 GPG) against the league’s lowest- scorers (Sabres, 1.84 GPG). Five Penguins have higher point totals that Buffalo’s leading scorer, Matt Moulson (33 points this season, 24 with Sabres).

• In spite of the low numbers, the Sabres’ output has been on an uptick recently. Buffalo has scored 3 or more goals 8 times over the last 11 games – something they’d done 10 times over their first 45 games. In this most recent 11-game stretch, C Cody Hodgson has scored 6 goals and D Christian Ehrhoff 9 points, while captain Steve Ott has 4 goals in his last 8 games.

• The Penguins lead the NHL in both power plays (24.9%) and penalty kill (87.7%). No team has finished a season atop the league in both categories since the 1984-85 Islanders.

• Sidney Crosby has registered at least 1 point in 16 consecutive games against the Sabres, the longest active streak for any player against an NHL team. Crosby has 9 goals and 17 assists during the streak; he also has points in all 13 career games he has played in Buffalo. (Elias Sports Bureau)

Player | Opponent | Streak

Sidney Crosby, PIT Sabres 16

Steven Stamkos, TB WPG/ATL 13

Patrick Kane, CHI Oilers 12

Joe Thornton, SJ Avalanche 12

• Crosby, however, has been held without a point in each of the last two games. It has been more than 4 years since the Pittsburgh captain went 3 straight games without a point, since he had a 5-game drought from Oct. 31-Nov. 10, 2009. Crosby hasn’t scored a goal in 5 games and shares the team lead (27) with Chris Kunitz.

• Buffalo’s Ryan Miller (.925 save %, T-6th in NHL) will have one final “audition” tonight before coach Dan Bylsma, who will run the American bench in Sochi beginning next week. Since Bylsma took over in Pittsburgh during the 2008-09 season, Miller is 4-5-0 with a 3.65 GAA and .883 save% against his Pens.

• James Neal’s overtime winner vs. Ottawa on Monday was his 18th goal and first in 9 games. Despite the dry spell, Neal remains among the league leaders in goals per game. (min. 20 games)

 Alex Ovechkin, Capitals 0.75

 Alex Steen, Blues 0.61

 Phil Kessel, Maple Leafs 0.52

 Jeff Skinner, Hurricanes 0.52

 James Neal, Penguins 0.51

 Joe Pavelski, Sharks 0.51

 • The last NHL games before the Olympic break will be played on Saturday, Feb. 8. The NHL’s Olympic roster freeze takes effect Friday and runs until Feb. 23, before the schedule resumes with Buffalo hosting Carolina on Feb. 25.

Poll: Is Henrik Lundqvist still an elite goalie?

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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

The 2016-17 season was an interesting one for New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. There were moments when he looked brilliant and other moments where he was clearly fighting the puck.

The 35-year-old opened the season with victories in seven of his first 10 games which is actually pretty good. He allowed two goals or less in six of those contests, and everything seemed to be fine.

In November and early December, he hit a significant rough patch. After dropping five of eight games between Nov. 18 and Dec. 6, the Rangers goalie sat for four consecutive games, as Antti Raanta took over between the pipes.

When he got back in goal, Lundqvist responded by winning three consecutive starts over Dallas, Nashville and New Jersey (he gave up just three goals in those three games). But the inconsistency was far from over at that point. A couple of weeks later, he dropped three straight decisions to Toronto (four goals allowed), Montreal (five goals allowed) and Dallas (seven goals allowed).

He then followed that poor stretch up with another three-game winning streak (I think you guys get the point).

He finished the season with a 31-20-4 record, a 2.74 goals-against-average and a .910 save percentage. Those are a far cry from the numbers we’re used to seeing him put up.

The Rangers finished the season in the first Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. They ended up getting a first-round date with the Montreal Canadiens, who seemed to have Lundqvist’s number (especially at the Bell Center).

No one knew what to expect from Lundqvist going into the series, but he ended up being fantastic. He picked up a shut out on the road in Game 1. In Game 2, his team was leading 3-2 with less than a minute remaining when Montreal scored late and won in overtime.

The Habs took Game 3 at MSG by a score of 3-1, but that’s when Lundqivst got back into a groove. He allowed one goal in Game 4, two goals in Game 5 and one more goal in Game 6. The Rangers won all three games, and they were off to the second round to face Ottawa.

Despite losing to the Senators in six games, the Rangers netminder turned in another solid effort during the series. There were some blips on the radar (six goals allowed in Game 2 and five goals in Game 5), but he was still one of New York’s best players in the series.

He finished the playoffs with a 6-6 record, a 2.25 goals-against-average and a .927 save percentage.

So, he had a very inconsistent regular season. Whenever he struggled, Raanta was there to step in and hold the fort while Lundqvist got back on track. This season, with Raanta off to Arizona, the Rangers signed Ondrej Pavelec to be their backup goalie. Anyone who’s followed his career knows that he’s as inconsistent as they come. If the starter falters this year, will the Rangers be able to count on Pavelec to bailed them out for a few games?

Of course, they won’t need him to bail them out if Lundqvist stays healthy and plays like he did during the playoffs. Is he still capable of playing at a high level over an 82-game season? Is he still up there with Carey Price, Braden Holtby, Sergei Bobrovsky and others as an elite goalie in the NHL?

Alright, it’s your turn to vote in our Rangers poll question. Feel free to also leave your opinion in the comments section below.

It’s New York Rangers day at PHT

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After plodding their way to a frustrating series loss against the Penguins in 2015-16, Alain Vigneault changed the New York Rangers’ style, and it worked in 2016-17.

Sort of.

The Rangers’ experience ranks up there as maybe the most indicative of just how ridiculously stacked the Metropolitan Division was.

The Rangers were one of nine teams in the NHL to generate at least 100 standings poitns (in their case, 102), finishing just one behind the Montreal Canadiens, who won the Atlantic Division. Even so, they faced said Canadiens in the first round as a wild card.

After dispatching the Habs, the Rangers fell to the Senators, and now they prepare for what’s likely to be an even bigger set of changes in 2017-18.

The Rangers traded away Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta for Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh pick of the 2017 NHL Draft. The Dan Girardi era ended with a buyout. Ondrej Pavelec now serves as Henrik Lundqvist‘s backup, while the Rangers landed the biggest fish of free agency in Kevin Shattenkirk.

Mika Zibanejad got a new deal as he takes over the No. 1 center spot, while David Desharnais was added to try to limit some of the losses down the middle.

So, the Rangers continued their move toward a more modern system, as their transition game should be much stronger. On the other hand, last season’s deep offense looks quite a bit thinner.

The Rangers are quite the puzzle heading into next season, so enjoy as PHT tries to put the pieces together today.

Duchene trade talks quiet, but Avs will ‘listen to offers’

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To little surprise, not much is going on in the trade market. Just ask Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic.

The Denver Post’s Mike Chambers did just that, and Sakic revealed that he would still consider trading the likes of Matt Duchene … although he didn’t mention him by name.

“I will be listening to offers. Right now it’s quiet on all fronts,” Sakic said. “But I’ll listen to offers on how we can get better. I’ll never name names but I’ll sit there and if something makes sense for the way we want to go, with our team, we’ll really look at that.”

Considering that it’s mid-August, it’s not too surprising that little is happening. One can imagine that several GMs are more interested in finding drinks with umbrellas in them than trying to land Duchene, at least since the Avalanche don’t seem interested in giving him up without some serious haggling.

(And, really, the Avs would be wise to pump up Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog‘s respective trade values, anyway.)

That Denver Post story features a semi-update on Nikita Zadorov. Sakic told Chambers that the two sides agreed that a two-year deal would be best, but the “numbers” aren’t there yet. He didn’t tip his hand about how big the gap was. For what it’s worth, Sakic didn’t sound too worried about the lure of the 2018 Winter Olympics swaying Zadorov to head overseas.

While a lot of the activity circles around what hasn’t happened, the Avalanche did realize that Will Butcher officially won’t sign with them, while Colorado added a college free agent (and former Maple Leafs prospect) Dominic Toninato to their own mix.

At the moment, it doesn’t seem like something big is brewing regarding Duchene and other prominent Avs, but at least Sakic isn’t slamming the door shut on such a possibility.

Logan Couture’s teeth are still sore from horrifying mouth injury

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Still jarring and gross: the image of Logan Couture‘s mouth after taking a puck to the mouth about five months ago.

Still sore: Couture’s mouth.

Yep, the San Jose Sharks star hasn’t totally gotten over that injury, which forced him to have false teeth up top and some painfully sore ones on his bottom row. NBC Sports California’s Kevin Kurz transcribed the unfortunate details Couture shared with NHL Network this week:

“There’s good days and bad days,” Couture said. “My bottom teeth are still my real teeth. They’ve tried to keep them so I don’t lose them. I don’t know if I’ll be able to, they’re still pretty sore. My top teeth are all fake now – my front six, I think. So, it’s different. It just feels different in my mouth.

“But everything else with my face and all that is healed. I’m lucky that it’s an injury that didn’t affect my training, and hopefully won’t affect me going forward.”

As someone who’s endured more than a few unpleasant trips to the dentist, stories like these always lead to queasiness. This classic PHT post about Keith Tkachuk’s agony always comes to mind in situations like these.

Speaking of queasy, this is footage of when things were really bad for Couture. That link is provided because some will inevitably want to look, but treat this like the other gross things on the Internet that you wish you never saw and just move on.

(Seriously, the healing process continues on this end.)

Anyway, about the only bit of good news is that Couture can still train more or less as usual. He endured that injury late in the regular season (March 25), and while he suited up for the Sharks’ first-round series, it sure seemed like both Couture and Joe Thornton were limited in those six games against the Edmonton Oilers.

As much as dental agony seems like a uniquely “hockey” problem, this situation sounds especially rough for Couture.