PHT Morning Skate: Three teams face elimination in Game 6s

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Sunday’s Game 6 action wound up being suddenly dramatic with the Blues and Stars sent packing, the latter in stunning fashion. Tonight could wind up being similar with three Game 6s involving three teams on the brink of elimination.

While the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets seem to be more up against the wall, the Los Angeles Kings seem to be sitting prettier after convincing wins in the past two games. There may not be any panic with the Pittsburgh Penguins or Colorado Avalanche, but the San Jose Sharks might be feeling the heat. Having to try and settle down on the road might prove tricky.

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Game 6: Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Pittsburgh Penguins [Pittsburgh leads series 3-2] (7:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

The Penguins sure looked a bit more like the team we thought they’d be in winning Game 5. It wasn’t a blowout win, but their 3-1 victory saw them dominate the Blue Jackets in shots and scoring chances. Game 6 sets up to be a bit trickier at Nationwide Arena and perhaps the question is how Marc-Andre Fleury will handle being back at the scene of a tremendous letdown in Game 4.

Fleury will need to be sharp if how Sergei Bobrovsky’s play in Game 5 is any indication. Bobrovsky stopped 48 shots in the loss and looked every bit the guy who won the Vezina Trophy last season. While Bob has been able to keep Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby from scoring goals, it’ll be up to his team to figure out their own offensive attack in Game 6. If Columbus can’t figure that out, a handshake line may appear later tonight.

Game 6: Minnesota Wild vs. Colorado Avalanche [Colorado leads series 3-2] (9:00 p.m. ET — CNBC)

Minnesota’s Game 5 loss had to be an especially bitter pill to swallow. Giving up the lead late and then losing in overtime, albeit in controversial fashion, would stick in the craw of a lot of teams. Expect that to be the case for the Wild back home as they’ll use that as motivation to force a Game 7.

The Avs continue to get stellar play from Semyon Varlamov in goal and Nathan MacKinnon up front. MacKinnon is up to 10 points in this series and has been a full-blown menace to the Wild. Add in that there’s a chance Matt Duchene comes back, and suddenly Minnesota’s situation looks more dire.

After Zach Parise found the net in Game 5, it’s time for Jason Pominville and Mikko Koivu to do the same. Crazy to think after Ilya Bryzgalov’s rocky start in the series, Darcy Kuemper has been the rock they can lean on. They’ll need him to outduel Varlamov the rest of the way.

Game 6: Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks [San Jose leads series 3-2] (10:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

After being up 3-0 in the series, the Sharks suddenly don’t look quite like the powerhouse they were. The Kings have taken it to the Sharks in the past two games and suddenly this series has all the markings of one destine to go seven games and provide for either a massive sigh of relief in San Jose or an incredible collapse.

If the Sharks are to avoid the latter, it may be on Alex Stalock to steady things in Game 6. Starting San Jose’s backup goalie may be coach Todd McLellan’s one play to make to get his team to focus. Antti Niemi didn’t look very good in Game 5 and Stalock settled things down.

McLellan might have other problems if Marc-Edouard Vlasic is unable to play. The Sharks top defenseman left Game 5 and the Kings were able to take full advantage of his absence. Jeff Carter’s highlight reel power play goal was evidence enough of that.

With how the Kings are clicking and how Jonathan Quick has settled down after a terrible start to the series, it feels like a must-win game for both teams.

The Buzzer: Kopitar keeps Kings rolling; O’Reilly gives Sabres OT win

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Player of the night: Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings. The Los Angeles Kings continued their impressive start on Saturday night with a 6-4 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, improving their record to a league-best 6-0-1 through their first seven games.

Anze Kopitar was the star of the night as he finished with two goals, an assist, three shots on goal, a plus-five rating while also winning 68 percent of his faceoffs.

His second goal of the game, which came with less than three minutes to play in regulation, proved to be the game-winner for the Kings.

Dustin Brown added an empty net goal (he finished with four points in the win) a minute later.

Kopitar is coming off of a down year offensively in 2016-17 but already has 11 points (six goals, five assists) so far this season for a Kings team that looks to be vastly improved under new coach John Stevens.

Highlight of the night. 

For most of Saturday night it looked like the Buffalo Sabres were on their way to another ugly loss, continuing what has been a miserable start to the season. At one point in the second period they found themselves trailing by a 4-1 margin. But they slowly started to chip away then after Evander Kane scored a late third period goal to tie the game, Ryan O'Reilly ended up winning it in overtime on this beauty of a play to give the Sabres their second win of the season.

Factoid of the Night.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have two superstars at forward. They are playing like it. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are the first pair of teammates in more than 15 years to start a season with matching nine-game point streaks. [NHL]

Misc.

— Three more assists for Erik Karlsson on Saturday night giving him six on the season. He has played in two games. After major ankle surgery. He is not human.

Clayton Keller added to his rookie leading goal total with his sixth of the season. He is the one bright spot for the Arizona Coyotes this season as they remain winless after their 4-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

— With the first two-goal game of his NHL career Tyler Pitlick was the difference for the Dallas Stars in their 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are both off to tremendous starts for the Boston Bruins. Both players scored a pair of goals for the Bruins on Saturday night in their 5-4 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres. Both players already have six goals on the season.

James Reimer was great for the Florida Panthers, stopping 41 shots in their 4-1 win over the Washington Capitals. With Roberto Luongo on injured reserve the Panthers are going to need a couple of big games from Reimer over the next week.

Mikhail Sergachev looks fantastic for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is now up to eight points on the season.

Wayne Simmonds was the hero for the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday with a late goal to help lift them to a 2-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers. He is now up to six goals on the season. Claude Giroux scored his fifth goal in the win.

Logan Couture‘s hat trick was not enough to help the San Jose Sharks in New York on Saturday night against the Islanders. John Tavares had a goal, two assists in the win.

Scores and recaps

New York Rangers 4, Nashville Predators 2

Philadelphia Flyers 2, Edmonton Oilers 1

Buffalo Sabres 5, Boston Bruins 4

Tampa Bay Lightning 7, Pittsburgh Penguins 1

Ottawa Senators 6, Toronto Maple Leafs 3

New York Islanders 5, San Jose Sharks 3

Los Angeles Kings 6, Columbus Blue Jackest 4

Florida Panthers 4, Washington Capitals 1

Dallas Stars 4, Carolina Hurricanes 3

Chicago Blackhawks 4, Arizona Coyotes 2

Minnesota Wild 4, Calgary Flames 2

Vegas Golden Knights 3, St. Louis Blues 2

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Jaromir Jagr leaves game with lower body injury

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Calgary Flames forward Jaromir Jagr played just four shifts on Saturday night before exiting their game against the Minnesota Wild in the first period.

The Flames later announced that Jagr would not return with what the team is calling a lower body injury.

They had no other update.

After going through the entire summer unsigned as a free agent, Jagr finally landed a one-year deal with the Flames just before the start of the season. So far he has appeared in five games for the team recording a pair of assists.

He recorded 46 points (16 goals, 30 assists) while playing in all 82 games for the Florida Panthers a year ago.

Even though he appeared in every game a year ago he still showed some signs of finally starting to slow down, and you have to assume that there is going to be some sort of an injury concern for a player that is turning 46 years old in February.

Senators top Maple Leafs but lose Bobby Ryan for a month

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The Ottawa Senators’ 6-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night came with a price.

After the game coach Guy Boucher confirmed that veteran forward Bobby Ryan broke his right index finger during the game and is expected to miss at least the next month.

Ryan has yet to score a goal for the Senators in eight games this season but has recorded five assists.

He fought through an injury plagued season in 2016-17 that ended with one of the worst individual stat lines of his career. He was able to salvage the season however with a tremendous postseason performance that saw him finish with 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 19 games as the Senators went all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals where they would lose in double overtime.

The Senators are off to a great start this season earning at least a point in seven of their first eight games (4-1-3).

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Penguins seem to have a backup goalie problem

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The Penguins worked to address one area of concern on Saturday when they acquired forward Riley Sheahan from the Detroit Red Wings.

Now they need to start working on another major area of concern — their backup goalie.

The Penguins had to know Antti Niemi was never going to step into Pittsburgh and replace what Marc-Andre Fleury gave them on the ice, but they had to be expecting a little more than what they have received thus far.

After giving up seven goals in the Penguins’ 7-1 loss in Tampa Bay on Saturday night, Niemi has now given up 16 goals in 128 minutes of hockey this season. His save percentage is a brutal .797.

In games Niemi starts the Penguins are 0-3 and have been outscored 22-6, losing games by margins of 10-1 and 7-1.

In the games he hasn’t started they are 5-0-1 and have outscored their opponents 24-17.

It would be unfair to put all of the blame on Niemi, because even with regular starter Matt Murray in net they have also had stretches where they have struggled defensively and not quite played at the level they showed the past two seasons.

Niemi has also made all of his starts in the second half of back-to-back situations against teams that were not only rested the night before, but also teams that should be among the best in the league this season (the Chicago Blackhawks, two games against the Tampa Bay Lightning).

But none of that can excuse the way Niemi himself has played thus far, either. At some point you  need your goalie to make a save no matter who your team is playing or what is happening around him. His rebound control has been shaky, he looks uncomfortable when he is making saves and it is not like he is coming off of a great performance a year ago. In 42 appearances with the Dallas Stars he finished with an .892 save percentage, one of the worst marks in the league, and was at .905 the year before. He is 34 years old and has not performed at a better than league average level (or even at a league average level) in several years.

It has to be an area of concern for the Penguins because if Murray has a flaw early in his young career it is that he has missed some time due to injury. In the past they have had Fleury there to step in. They do not have that luxury now.

Niemi is only signed for one year at $700,000 so it is not like they have a huge investment in him.

If they decide to go in another direction already (they will probably give Niemi a little bit of a longer leash, I am sure) they have Tristan Jarry in the American Hockey League, or perhaps explore a trade if they are uncomfortable with such a young duo and inexperienced backup behind Murray.

Either way, it is really difficult to see them sticking around with this sort of performance from their backup for much longer.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.