Matt Duchene


Why Predators are so hot right now


Last night, the Nashville Predators beat the Winnipeg Jets 3-1, reaching 100 standings points in just 69 games.

(Yes, there were a lot of “nice” responses on Twitter.)

The reigning Western Conference finalists aren’t just having a strong season, they’re also playing their best hockey of 2017-18 right now. Yes, the Jets were tired and banged up last night, yet it was another instance of the Predators sending a message that they’re for real. A 3-2 shootout loss to the Devils on Saturday ended a 10-game winning streak, but at 11-0-1, they’ve now collected points in 12 consecutive games. They have a very real chance to win the Presidents’ Trophy, as the Tampa Bay Lightning are at 100 points but have played in one more game.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

So, which players are really driving this success? Let’s start with the obvious.

Pekka Rinne, Vezina frontrunner?

A week ago, it was noted on PHT that Rinne and other goalies were gaining on Andrei Vasilevskiy in the race for the 2018 Vezina. It’s possible that Rinne has emerged as the new leader as of today, and not solely because of Vasilevskiy seemingly hitting a wall of fatigue.

As of this writing, Pekka Rinne sports an absurd record (38-9-4) with a fabulous .929 save percentage. His backup Juuse Saros is no slouch, either, making it quite likely that Nashville’s goalies will collect the William Jennings Trophy this season, too.

Rinne’s frequently received criticism from the fancy stats community, but this season? He’s been unassailable so far:

The season’s far from over, so Vasilevskiy could regain his lead in this race. Either way, Rinne is the top reason why the Predators are running away with the Central Division crown, the first spot in the West, and possibly the Presidents’ Trophy as well.

The return

Before his 2017-18 debut on Jan. 2, a popular refrain was “Imagine how good the Predators will be when Ryan Ellis is back?”

It felt like a dangerous assumption, however, to believe that Ellis would just bounce back from knee surgery. Plenty of athletes require a year or more to recover from certain procedures, and some are never the same.

As it turns out, the Predators have indeed taken off since the underrated defenseman returned to the lineup, as Ellis has been outstanding. The 27-year-old has generated 23 points in 31 games, and he’s been especially impressive lately. Since Feb. 14, Ellis scored 15 points in 14 games, tying Taylor Hall, Matt Duchene, Anze Kopitar, Artemi Panarin, and Mark Stone during that span

Plenty of options

Ellis is a rising part of such a deep attack that Peter Laviolette is already resting players for the upcoming playoff run.

The 2017-18 season is proving that Viktor Arvidsson is a legitimate top-line forward, as he’s justified the rave reviews the Predators received for locking him down to a long-term, bargain contract that carries just a $4.25 million cap hit. Arvidsson has 16 points during the same month span that Ellis has been on fire for, and he’s on track for another 30+ goal season with 26 goals (not to mention 26 assists).

P.K. Subban is the Predators’ strongest Norris candidate with a brilliant all-around campaign that includes 15 goals and 50 points, but Roman Josi has been as explosive as ever, contributing 46 points in just 62 games.

[Earlier this season, P.K. was an even stronger Norris candidate]

Kyle Turris‘ numbers have dipped a bit since a hot start after being traded to Nashville, yet he’s been a catalyst for two Predators wingers for much of his time there, helping Kevin Fiala (22 goals) and Craig Smith (21) join Arvidsson as 20-goal scorers. Filip Forsberg‘s experienced an up-and-down season, yet he’s not that far behind them with 18 goals.

That’s the thing. The Predators boast the depth that allows for the team to navigate hurdles more comfortably than much of the league. At this current robust level, they’re simply overwhelming opponents.


This is all the masterwork of David Poile, who now boasts the most regular-season wins of any GM. In a way, this renaissance truly stretches back to the hiring of underrated head coach Peter Laviolette, who owns the distinction of bringing three different NHL teams to the Stanley Cup Final after last year’s memorable run.

It remains to be seen if Laviolette can help Poile win his first Stanley Cup, but if that happens, there’s a solid chance that they’ll get it done by one heck of a “committee.”

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

The Buzzer: A night of milestones; Playoff race out West gets interesting


Players of the Night

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals: Not only did he score career goal No. 600, but he was also the best and most dominant player on the ice. He finished with two goals in a 3-2 overtime win and attempted 15 shots, including eight that were on goal. He was everywhere.

Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights: Fleury was great once again for the Golden Knights on Monday stopping 38 of 40 shots in a 3-2 win. That performance helped him earn win No. 400 in his career.

Matt Duchene, Ottawa Senators: Matt Duchene helped the Ottawa Senators try to play spoiler on Monday night by scoring a pair of goals, including the game-winner, their 5-3 win over the Florida Panthers. The trade for Duchene has not really helped the Senators in the standings, and with only one year remaining on his contract who knows how long he will remain with the team, but he has really picked up the production the past couple of months and is up 17 goals in 53 games with the Senators.

Jimmy Vesey and Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers: The New York Rangers are not going to the playoffs but they did their part to make sure the Carolina Hurricanes will not be going either. The Rangers’ 6-3 win over the Hurricanes on Monday night was highlighted by Jimmy Vesey’s first career hat trick.

It was also a big night for Vesey’s teammate, Mats Zuccarello, who recorded his 100th career goal in the NHL by scoring a pair in the win.

The Blues are hanging around

Even though they had won just two of their past 11 games, traded one of their top forwards, and recently lost two more key players to injury the St. Louis Blues are still, somehow, hanging around in the Western Conference playoff race. They picked up a huge two points on Monday night with a 4-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks to win their second game in a row on their west coast road trip. They have now scored 11 goals in their past two games after scoring just 14 goals in the 10 games prior to that.

So here is where things stand in the Western Conference playoff race after Monday:

  • The Kings win over the Vancouver Canucks moves them into third place in the Pacific Division, moving them one point ahead of the Ducks after their loss to the Blues.
  • The Ducks, for the time being, fall out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference. They are tied with the Colorado Avalanche with 80 points in the standings, but with the Avalanche having played in two fewer games (as well as having five more regulation and overtime wins) they maintain the second wild card spot. For now.
  • The Blues sit one point behind both the Avalanche and Ducks. The Blues still have a game in hand on the Ducks.

For a look at how things are shaping up in the Eastern Conference playoff race after Monday’s games, click here.

Laine scores again

It came in a losing effort, but Patrik Laine score another goal for the Jets to continue on what has been a ridiculous hot streak. He has now scored at least one goal in 11 of his past 12 games (16 total goals) and is just one goal behind Ovechkin for the league lead. Remember, he is still only 19 years old.

Zetterberg moving up the Red Wings’ rankings

We said it was a night for milestones and accomplishments, so what is one more to add to the list? Henrik Zetterberg scored for the Detroit Red Wings to move into sole possession of fifth place on the team’s all-time goal scoring list, moving ahead of Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay. Zetterberg’s 336 goals trail only Gordie Howe (786), Steve Yzerman (692), Alex Delvecchio (456) and Sergei Fedorov (400) in franchise history.

Highlight of the Night 

It has been a brutal season for the Montreal Canadiens and a disappointing one for Jonathan Drouin, but he still has a ton of talent. Check out this move on the breakaway on Monday night.

The Canadiens were still three goals short but that is a nice move.

Factoid of the Night

Seth Jones did not play in the third period of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens but he still ended up scoring the game-winning goal. For the third game in a row.


New York Rangers 6, Carolina Hurricanes 3

Vegas Golden Knights 3, Philadelphia Flyers 2

Washington Capitals 3, Winnipeg Jets 2

Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Montreal Canadiens 2

Ottawa Senators 5, Florida Panthers 3

St. Louis Blues 4, Anaheim Ducks 2

San Jose Sharks 5, Detroit Red Wings 3

Los Angeles Kings 3, Vancouver Canucks 0


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

NHL Playoff Race: Blue Jackets get big win, Panthers miss big chance

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It was a big night in the Eastern Conference playoff race with a couple of the teams fighting for a Wild Card spot all in action.

Let’s take a look at how things managed to shake out.

Columbus keeps winning when it needs to: The Blue Jackets extended their current winning streak to five games with a 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens. It was a bit of a costly win, however, as defenseman Seth Jones did not play in the third period due to an upper body injury. Jones was initially injured over the weekend when he was hit by Colorado’s Carl Soderberg while celebrating a goal. Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said on Monday after the win that Jones aggravated something during the game and was held out of the third period for precautionary reasons.

The win helps Columbus get a little bit of cushion in the Wild Card race and also brings them two points closer to the Philadelphia Flyers for the third spot in the Metropolitan Division due to their loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Panthers might regret this one: If Florida ends up missing the playoffs by two points this is probably going to be a night that look back on with some frustration. Playing at home, against one of the worst teams in the league, the Panthers were on the wrong end of a 5-3 decision against the Ottawa Senators.

The Panthers trailed by two goals after the first period and rallied to tie the game, only to lose when Matt Duchene scored the eventual game-winner with just three minutes to play in regulation.

The loss leaves them three points out of a wild card spot, trailing the New Jersey Devils. The Panthers still have two games in hand, which helps, but they still have to win those games. Tonight was one of those games in hand on New Jersey and they missed an opportunity to take advantage of it.

The Hurricanes are done: Truthfully they were probably already done before this, but losing to the New York Rangers, 6-3, on Monday night has to be it for them. It was another tough night for Scott Darling as his nightmare season continued. He stopped only  17 of the 21 shots he faced, with the fourth goal, a game-winner to Jimmy Vesey, coming from a bad angle late in the third period.

Right now the final Wild Card team in the East is on pace for 93 points. For Carolina to top that it would need 23 points in its final 13 games. That would be an 11-1-1 run the rest of the way. They have only won three of their past 12 games. It is over.


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

The Buzzer: Lucic snaps 29-game goal drought; Playmaking Phil


Player of the Night: Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators

Erik Karlsson hasn’t had his best season for the Ottawa Senators, but he is still one of the NHL’s best and most impactful players.

He had a big night for the Senators on Monday night in their 3-2 overtime win over the Dallas Stars.

After setting up a Matt Duchene goal in the third period to give the Senators a 2-1 lead, he went on to score the game-winning goal in overtime to help give his team just its second win in the past eight games.

For Karlsson, it was his third multi-point game in the past four.

Leipsic leads Canucks over Islanders

Brendan Leipsic had quite a game for the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night, scoring a pair of goals — including the overtime winner — and assisting on another in a 4-3 win over the New York Islanders. Since being acquired from Vegas before the NHL trade deadline Leipsic now has two goals and three assists in three games with the Canucks.

As for the Islanders … well … there is a reason we placed them at No. 31 in this week’s power rankings. They had a 2-0 lead on Monday night and then proceeded to get outscored 4-1 the rest of the night to lose their seventh game in a row.

They have won just four of their past 17 games.

Lucic finds the back of the net

Milan Lucic has had an absolutely miserable season for the Edmonton Oilers and it’s only been getting worse over the past couple of months.

Entering Monday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes he had recorded just one point (an assist) in his past 17 games and had not scored a goal in 29 consecutive games. It was still 2017 when he found the back of the net most recently. He had only five assists during that drought.

He finally put one on the board for the Oilers on Monday night. Here it is.

The Oilers let a two-goal third period lead slip away but were able to still get the win in overtime thanks to an Oscar Klefbom goal.

Highlight of the Night

Most of the attention directed toward Pittsburgh Penguins forward Phil Kessel is because of his shot and ability to score goals. What does not get enough attention is his ability as a playmaker. Since arriving in Pittsburgh his 128 assists are the 18th most in the NHL during that stretch, and he always seems to have a way to find the open man. He did it again in overtime on Monday night to set up Justin Schultz for the game-winning goal. He faked everybody.

Factoid of the Night

What a rookie season for Mathew Barzal. Hit a milestone on Monday night with his 50th assist of the season.

That was the only bright spot for the New York Islanders on Monday night.


Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Calgary Flames 3

Buffalo Sabres 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 3

Ottawa Senators 3, Dallas Stars 2

Edmonton Oilers 4, Arizona Coyotes 3

Vancouver Canucks 4, New York Islanders 3


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

PHT Morning Skate: Why Mike Green wasn’t traded; A deeper look at Triple Gold Club

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

• Check out the highlights from last night’s game between the Canadiens and Flyers. (Top)

Mike Green‘s injury is the reason he wasn’t traded on Monday. (

Ryan McDonagh wasn’t surprised about being traded to the Lightning. (Tampa Times)

• Even though there’s a lot going on in Ottawa right now, Matt Duchene insists he wants to be part of it. (Ottawa Citizen)

• Marc Bergervin made a couple of small deals at the deadline, but he didn’t make a splash to get fans excited about the team’s future. (Sportsnet)

• The Vancouver Canucks should have added some draft picks on deadline day, but they didn’t. (Vancourier)

• Did the Blues do the right thing by trading away Paul Stastny when they still have a chance to make the playoffs? (St. Louis Game Time)

• The San Jose Sharks stepped outside their comfort zone when they acquired Evander Kane. (NBC Sports Bay Area)

• Speaking of Kane, he’s pretty excited for this opportunity to play for the Sharks. (Buffalo News)

• There’s been a lot of mystery surrounding Corey Crawford‘s injury, but GM Stan Bowman says there’s no doubt he’ll play hockey again. (Chicago Tribune)

• Even if you don’t like the moves Vegas made, it’s hard not to give GM George McPhee the benefit of the doubt. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• Bruins general manager Don Sweeney was pretty active leading up the trade deadline. (Bruins Daily)

John Tavares admits he isn’t opposed to re-signing with the Islanders during the season. (Newsday)

• The Islanders didn’t really do much on deadline day. (The Sports Daily)

• It made plenty of sense for the Devils to extend head coach John Hynes. (Fan Rag Sports)

• The trade between Toronto and Montreal involving Tomas Plekanec benefits both teams. (

• After playing for Canada at the Olympics, Chris Kelly signed a one-year deal with Anaheim. (

• Puck Junk takes an in-depth look at the triple gold club. (Puck Junk)

• Did the Anaheim Ducks approach the trade deadline the right way? (Anaheim Calling)

Dion Phaneuf has adapted to his new surrounding in Los Angeles really quickly. (LA Kings Insider)

Kyle Clifford has been an underrated asset for the Kings throughout his career. (Mayor’s Manor)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.