Pekka Rinne


The Buzzer: Blue Jackets make it 8 in a row; Rinne continues Vezina push

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Players of the Night

Cam Atkinson and Thomas Vanek, Columbus Blue Jackets: The Columbus Blue Jackets are one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now and extended their current winning streak to eight games in a row on Monday night with a thrilling come-from-behind win against the Boston Bruins, overcoming a 3-1 deficit to win 5-4 in overtime. It was Cam Atkinson that scored the winner in overtime to get them the win.

Meanwhile, Thomas Vanek had a big night for the Blue Jackets with a goal and an assist in the win.

Columbus is now just two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second spot in the Metropolitan Division and just four points back of the Washington Capitals for first place.

The Blue Jackets go for their ninth consecutive win on Tuesday night when they visit the New York Rangers.

Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators: For the longest time it seemed like Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy was going to run away with the Vezina Trophy this season, but right now it is looking like it might be becoming Pekka Rinne’s to lose. He recorded his league-leading eighth shutout of the season on Monday night by stopping all 35 shots he faced in a 4-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres. He is now 40-9-4 on the season and has a .931 save percentage that is tops among all goalies that have appeared in at least 40 games.

He has been especially dominant since Jan. 1. Since the start of the new calendar year Rinne is 21-2-1 with a .939 save percentage that is also tops in the league. During that stretch only two goalies that have appeared in at least 20 games since then have a save percentage higher than .930.

Ryan Donato, Boston Bruins: His team ended up losing in overtime, but we have to give him some credit for scoring a goal in his NHL debut and adding two more assists. He also finished with six shots on goal, the second highest total in the game behind only the eight that his teammate, Brad Marchand, recorded. You can watch his first goal here.

Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers: After dropping some recent games to teams out of playoff contention the Florida Panthers needed to come through on Monday night against the Montreal Canadiens to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They did that with a 2-0 win that saw Roberto Luongo record his third shutout of the season by stopping all 28 shots he faced. It was also the 76th shutout of his career.

Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings: Jeff Carter continued his strong play since returning to the lineup with a pair of goals, including the game-winner in overtime, to help lift the Kings to a huge win over the Minnesota Wild. Read about it here.

Max Domi and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes: The Arizona Coyotes are playing much better over the past few weeks and playing spoiler. They picked up another win on Monday night with a 5-2 victory over the Calgary Flames thanks to a pair of goals from teammates Max Domi and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Ekman-Larsson ended up getting the game-winning goal late in the third period. It was also the 100th goal of his career.

The Canadiens are officially eliminated, and the Flames are in trouble

Not that the Montreal Canadiens were going to make the playoffs at this point, but it became official on Monday night with their 2-0 loss to the Florida Panthers that they were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

It was also a brutal night for the Calgary Flames as they lost to the Arizona Coyotes (who continue their improved play late in the season) and continued their late season slide. They remain six points out of a wild card spot with three teams ahead of them. With only eight games remaining on their schedule, while every team ahead of them still has games in hand, it is looking like their playoff hopes are disappearing.

Highlight of the Night

Aaron Ekblad had a big night for the Florida Panthers, getting into a fight in the first period and then scoring this slick goal to give them a 1-0 lead.

That is Ekblad’s 15th goal of the season.

Factoid of the Night

More Pekka Rinne information! His 40th win of the season puts him into some pretty elite company among all-time goaltenders. Yes, he played in the shootout era and certainly benefitted from that but it is still an impressive number, even in the shootout era.


Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Boston Bruins 4

Nashville Predators 4, Buffalo Sabres 0

Florida Panthers 2, Montreal Canadiens 0

Los Angeles Kings 4, Minnesota Wild 3

Arizona Coyotes 5, Calgary Flames 2

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

Caps’ Holtby discusses fatigue before return


Tampa Bay Lightning goalie (and Vezina hopeful) Andrei Vasilevskiy isn’t the only netminder who’s acknowledging being tired, at least to some extent.

Braden Holtby, the Washington Capitals’ frequent workhorse, admitted as much while praising the recent work of upstart backup Philipp Grubauer, as NBC Sports Washington’s JJ Regan reports.

To be more specific, Holtby admits to some mental fatigue, rather than being tired physically:

“Physically, I actually feel way better this year than last,” Holtby said. “If you’re fatigued physically, that’s on you. That’s not on anything else. But mentally, it does catch up.”

Since 2014-15, Holtby leads the NHL in wins (160), games played (250), and saves (6,442) during the regular season. Only Pekka Rinne (42) has played in more postseason games than Holtby (38) during that same stretch of time.

Considering that workload – not to mention how mentally draining it must have been to win two straight Presidents’ Trophies with the Capitals, only to fall in the second round against the Penguins two years in a row – the hockey world probably should have seen all of this coming.

If you want a convenient view of Holtby’s slippage, consider his numbers before and after the All-Star break, via Hockey Reference:

Before: 25-9-2, 2.66 GAA, .917 save percentage
After: 4-6-2, 4.31 GAA, .875 save percentage

On March 7, PHT recommended that the Capitals really give Grubauer a chance, at least for much of the playoff push (and maybe even the playoffs). The suggestion wasn’t meant to degrade Holtby; instead, the goal would be to rejuvenate the workhorse goalie while also seeing how far Grubauer might take them, considering that the young netminder is hoping to earn a new contract as an RFA.

A day later, former NHL goalie Brent Johnson put up a detailed analysis of Holtby’s fatigue, and how goalies handle and hide fatigue in general, in a thread on Twitter. Johnson began with a salient point: now, more than ever, the game of hockey is played at an incredible pace. Such a speedy game makes things more taxing for a goalie, who must keep track of the puck at all times. Asking a goalie to be a workhorse now is maybe an unrealistic demand.

Johnson added that goalies will rarely share that they’re tired with the media or coaches. Some of that might come down to the culture of the sport – “hockey tough” – and other factors, possibly in some cases related to job security. Such a sentiment makes it so refreshing to see Vasilevskiy and Holtby acknowledge the obvious.

Johnson also stated that Grubauer carrying more of a workload would actually help Holtby, and that seems to be a sentiment that the Capitals goalie also shares. As Regan reports, Holtby said that Grubauer’s “held our team together” and “that takes a lot of pressure off the rest of us.”

The nice thing for the Capitals is that they’ve been able to monitor this issue in March, rather than when the playoffs kick off in April.

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

This doesn’t just serve as a warning and a lesson for Barry Trotz and the rest of the Capitals organization. It should also serve notice to the rest of the NHL that it’s foolish to ignore the warnings that come from sports science, sports psychologists, and others who warn against wearing out athletes.

Honestly, it should really be common sense.

You can be a “tough team” and still take measures to keep your most important players rested. After all, it’s easier to get over the hump/go the extra mile/run through that brick wall if you have more energy, right?

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

Lightning, Predators should take advantage of opportunity to rest players

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The Nashville Predators announced on Thursday afternoon that forward Calle Jarnkrok will be sidelined for the remainder of the regular season due to an upper-body injury.

Given that Jarnkrok has 16 goals and 35 total points in 68 games this season it is not an insignificant injury for the Predators. But as long as he is back for the start of the playoffs it really is not going to be all that damaging of a blow because of their current place in the standings.

As of Thursday they are in first place in the Central Division (eight points ahead of the second-place Jets)  and five points ahead of Vegas for the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference. Barring a major collapse down the stretch they should be in a pretty good position to wrap up both spots.

All of that brings us to something teams like the Predators — who have been doing this already — and Tampa Bay Lightning should consider down the stretch run of the regular season: Giving some of their key players an occasional night off.

This is taking a page out of the NBA playbook, but NHL teams that are pretty secure in their playoff spot should do it a lot more often. The NHL season (including regular season and playoffs) is an intense physical and mental grind, and lot of times the playoffs don’t just come down to the best team, they come down to the healthiest team.

Nashville is a team that has already played a ton of hockey the past two seasons given its run to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago and it doesn’t exactly have a light schedule coming up down the stretch.

Eight of their remaining 13 games are on the road.

They have two sets of back-to-back remaining.

Along with that, they have a couple of stretches where they play four games in six nights.

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

That is a lot of hockey down where they don’t really have a ton to gain. What would it hurt to sit a different key player or two each game during those stretches? Just to keep their legs fresh, maybe reduce even a little bit of the wear and tear that goes along with the grind of playing in the NHL. It is a given that starting goalie Pekka Rinne will sit on those back-to-back nights and probably a few more games here and there.

But it does not have to stop there. Pick one night, give P.K. Subban the night off. Do the same for Filip Forsberg on the next night. Will it make a huge difference in the end? Probably not, but it can’t hurt, either, especially when there is very little to gain in the standings.

Meanwhile, in Tampa Bay, there’s already been talk about fatigue setting in for starting goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, going through his first full season as a No. 1 goalie and the Lightning have tried to schedule some spots where he can get some additional rest. As good as the rest of the Lightning roster is it is going to need a healthy and productive Vasilevskiy in the playoffs if it is going to go on a deep postseason run.

Tampa Bay’s schedule isn’t quite as grueling as Nashville’s down the stretch in terms of travel, but it still has a four-game-in-seven-night stretch at the end of the month and three more sets of back-to-backs. There is no reason that a player like Victor Hedman, for example, should be playing 26 minutes a night in all of those back-to-backs.

When it comes to the subject of rest there is always a bit of controversy that goes with it because fans pay a ton of money for tickets and expect to see star players in action. If you buy a ticket to a Lightning game you want to see Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman and Vasilevskiy on the ice playing at their best. But the team’s biggest obligation to the fan base is to put itself in the best possible position to win a championship. Hockey is probably the last sport this sort of strategy would be widely implemented (“resting” players seems to run counter to the grind it out, we’re tougher than you mindset the sport likes to sell), but it’s probably the sport where it would make the most sense given the length of the season and the physical nature of the games.

If giving a couple of star players an occasional night off down the stretch for a regular season game that probably does not have a ton of importance in the standings helps improve those chances even a little bit, it is something that is worth considering.


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

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: Red-hot Rinne; Night of hat tricks


Night of Hat Tricks

For apparently the first time since March 14, 2016, the NHL saw three hat tricks in one night. Go ahead, get it out of your system; call it a “hat trick of hat tricks.”

If you want one player of the night to rule them all, then roll with Brad Marchand, who combined three goals and two assists for a five-point night. As you can learn more about here, the Bruins needed all of those points in a 6-5 overtime win against the Red Wings. Here’s the hat trick:

Patrik Laine scored all three of the goals in Winnipeg’s 3-0 win against the Rangers:

It inspired this highly specific factoid:

Finally, Nick Bjugstad‘s hat trick helped the Panthers push the Lightning to overtime, but Tampa Bay ultimately won 4-3 in OT via Brayden Point‘s beautiful, beautiful goal. Scroll some more for Point’s latest point, but here’s Bjugstad scoring three:

All things considered, it was a strong night for hat salespeople.


To read about how John Gibson helped the Ducks beat the Capitals thanks to his 36-save shutout, click here.

The most noteworthy shutout was Pekka Rinne‘s, as his 50th-career shutout helped the Predators carve out a 2-0 win against the Dallas Stars. Rinne tied Andrei Vasilevskiy for the NHL lead with seven shutouts this season, which also matches his career-high.

He’s also on a ridiculous 17-1-1 run.

Oh yeah, and the Predators are now winners of nine straight games, setting a new franchise record.

Highlight of the Night

Seriously, Brayden Point, this goal borders on scandalous.

With that, Point tied Steven Stamkos for a Lightning record with his 10th game-winning goal of the season. The Lightning just keep churning out great players, don’t they?

Yes, Taylor Hall scored again

More on that in this post. He collected two assists, pushing his scoring streak to 26 straight “appearances.”


Bruins 6, Red Wings 5 (OT)
Devils 6, Canadiens 4
Jets 3, Rangers 0
Blue Jackets 4, Golden Knights 1
Lightning 5, Panthers 4 (OT)
Predators 2, Stars 0
Wild 6, Hurricanes 2
Blackhawks 2, Avalanche 1 (OT)
Ducks 4, Capitals 0

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