Pekka Rinne

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The Buzzer: Job of the Hutton

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Players of the Night

  • Carter Hutton has quietly been playing well when used (sparingly) by the St. Louis Blues, but he stepped into the spotlight on Saturday, guiding his team to a 2-0 win against the Winnipeg Jets.

The high-powered Jets fired 48 shots on goal in this one, yet none beat Hutton, who nabbed the ninth shutout of his solid career. The 31-year-old bumped his save percentage up to a whopping .949 so far in 2017-18. He set a Blues record in doing so.

  • On Friday, Jack Eichel collected a hat trick and an assist in a losing effort. Gabriel Landeskog upped the ante one night later – literally – by scoring three goals and two assists in a game his Avalanche managed to lose anyway.

As much attention as Nathan MacKinnon is grabbing (rightfully, as he added two goals to his impressive season so far), this marks the second hat trick of the season for Landeskog. Not bad with it still being 2017, and all.

This was a pretty nasty game between the Avalanche and Lightning, at least at times.

Some key highlights

Technically, you can spell overtime without Alex Ovechkin

(Ovechkin’s already in select GWG company.)

Shayne Gostisbehere scored both of Philly’s goals, but the antics between Wayne Simmonds and Ben Bishop were the real highlight here:

Speaking of Nathan MacKinnon, this is something else:

Mathew Barzal to Jordan Eberle a combination that torments Darcy Kuemper in overtime and Peter Chiarelli, always:

Finally, Jonathan Gibson flashes the glove in defeat:

Factoids

The Lightning keep piling up different milestones and accomplishments, with Mikhail Sergachev ranking among those today (as Tampa Bay won its seventh in a row):

The cold weather didn’t slow Erik Karlsson down (more on that outdoor game here):

Pekka Rinne‘s really been rattling off some milestones lately.

Scores

Oilers 3, Wild 2
Rangers 3, Bruins 2 (OT)
Blues 2, Jets 0
Islanders 4, Kings 3 (OT)
Hurricanes 2, Blue Jackets 1
Flyers 2, Stars 1 (OT)
Senators 3, Canadiens 0
Capitals 3, Ducks 2 (OT)
Penguins 4, Coyotes 2
Lightning 6, Avalanche 5
Predators 2, Flames 0

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.

Waiting on extending GM could be costly for Blues. Literally.

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When you think of strong NHL teams that simply can’t “get over the hump,” your mind goes to teams like the Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks, and the St. Louis Blues.

Perhaps it’s the missing transcendent success that explains why Blues GM Doug Armstrong is currently waiting on a contract extension, then.

The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford goes in-depth on Armstrong’s lack of a deal (sub required), and honestly stole my thunder in vividly describing how Armstrong’s put together a remarkably clean, competitive roster. One of Rutherford’s most salient points is that, while other teams have used buyouts to clean up past mistakes, Armstrong’s avoided doing so, thus saving the Blues both face and money.

Rutherford’s well-written piece notes that the Blues wouldn’t just risk losing Armstrong; they’d also possibly lose some worthwhile management team members who would follow him out the door if another team would come calling. (And why wouldn’t another team do so? Looking at you, Florida Panthers.)

And if the person who has signed the Blues’ contracts for the past eight years comes close enough to free agency himself, the Blues may risk losing not only him but his “Army” as well. Assistant GM Martin Brodeur, vice president of hockey operations Dave Taylor, senior consultant Larry Robinson, director of player development Tim Taylor, director of hockey analytics Thomas Cason were all brought in by Armstrong. And in addition to Bill Armstrong being promoted, Rob DiMaio ascended to director of player personnel under Doug Armstrong.

Allow me to add one consideration, and it comes from the KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid) school of logic: waiting too long might literally be costly to the Blues. As in, it might cost ownership some legitimate cash.

Take a moment and look over the standings.

OK, when it comes to the West, how many teams clearly hold an advantage over the Blues right now?

Yes, the Winnipeg Jets are a dangerous team, but there’s a lot of concern about their possession stats, and if that has your eyes glazing over, their ability to defend. St. Louis might end up being the more well-rounded team (also with top-end skill to hang with the Jets) in a seven-game series.

The Nashville Predators stand as a legitimate contender, and might just be the most “complete” team in the West. Still, virtually any team is vulnerable in the salary cap era; what if Pekka Rinne falters and the Predators lose too much ground to pivot in time?

You could carry this exercise out with plenty of other teams. The Blackhawks are dangerous but deeply flawed. The Kings are revitalized, but are they truly better than the Blues? And so on.

And, out East, there are strong teams, yet the Blues would likely be able to match up reasonably well with just about any team.

Long story short, this as as reasonable a time as any for St. Louis to finally make that deep run. If that happens, imagine the sort of leverage Armstrong would have in contract talks?

Risking either losing Armstrong or having to pay him a severe premium seems silly, especially since the Blues are a well-oiled machine as is, despite the frustrations from postseason letdowns.

Maybe that’s not the sexiest outlook, but that’s part of Armstrong’s charm. The Blues have been patient with plenty of quality players (anyone else remember the agony of waiting for Vladimir Tarasenko to finally come to the NHL?), unearthing gems such as Colton Parayko, bringing Jake Allen along, and seeing the likes of Alex Pietrangelo rise in the ranks.

Pundits and Blues fans alike have been burned by “Is this the Blues’ year?” talk often enough to discourage such talk, but Blues owner Tom Stillman has a lot to lose if he ignores that possibility outright.

At worst, this is an opportunity to acknowledge just how great a job Armstrong’s done over the years. He deserves the reward of a new deal, whether it comes in St. Louis or somewhere else.

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.

Rinne stands tall vs. Blackhawks, Predators stay hot

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Forgive Nashville Predators fans if tonight brought back memories of the team’s run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Really, you could argue that the month of November has also drummed up that nostalgia.

Tuesday marked the Chicago Blackhawks’ first visit to Nashville since the Predators swept them in the first round, and the narrative ended up being familiar. Once again, Pekka Rinne generated strong work against the Blackhawks, this time guiding Nashville to a narrow 3-2 win.

Rinne stopped 37 of 39 shots, edging Anton Forsberg in the process:

This moves the Predators to 10-2-1 in November; Nashville’s probably sad to see the month end with one last game against the Canucks on Thursday. While they’re behind the Blues and Jets at the moment, the Predators are very much in the thick of things in a tight battle for the Central Division crown.

Chicago, meanwhile, is quite a few strides behind, although the Blackhawks had been picking up steam in their own right this month. The top-heavy team has to be happy to see more strong work from Alex DeBrincat, who followed up his first career hat trick with this beautiful setup:

It must have been a frustrating night for Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, perhaps best illustrated by this amusing GIF of Joel Quenneville:

/Files away for future use.

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.

Central Division is once again best in the NHL

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Last season, it was pretty clear that the Metropolitan Division was the class of the NHL.

Such a notion was expressed for reasons beyond the Metro being home to the repeat champion Pittsburgh Penguins, and really going farther than the Washington Capitals repeating as the Presidents’ Trophy winners. This was a deep division, with the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Rangers each over 100 standings points and the New York Islanders nearly making a wild card run of their own.

The 2016-17 season wasn’t as impressive for the Central Division as a whole, but with the first quarter of 2017-18 out of the way, it looks like this is once again the premier group in the league. At least so far.

Let’s consider a few factors, and then also note that a few of the teams might continue down their impressive paths.

  • The Central Division is the only one with three teams at or above 30 standings points.
  • Every team is fairly to quite competitive. At 23 points in 21 games, the Blackhawks are at the bottom of the Central, yet they’re ahead of nine other NHL teams and three other West teams.
  • Expanding upon that previous point, only one Central Division team has a negative goal differential: the Dallas Stars at -2. By comparison: only two teams are in the plus column in the top-heavy Atlantic, four are in the negative in the Metro (the Penguins somehow are at -20), and the Pacific boasts five teams in the minus.
  • Every Central team has at least 10 regulation/overtime wins. There are 11 teams that haven’t reached double digits between the NHL’s remaining three divisions.

Yep, the Central can brag about a lot of quantity-type accomplishments, but there’s also high-end potential.

The Blues lead the Central and the West, and they’re not that far behind the league-leading Lightning. For the most part, whatever holes you’d try to poke in Tampa Bay’s game, you’d do the same for St. Louis (if you want to rain on  the parade of that majestic Brayden SchennJaden SchwartzVladimir Tarasenko line). Even if they slow down, they seem like a contender in the West.

The Predators blanked the Blues last night, and they’re not waiting until late in the year to heat up this time around. They’ve won four in a row and nine of 10, looking deadly with Kyle Turris helping to balance out their scoring. Pekka Rinne‘s been great, and Nashville might end up being the best in the division if Ryan Ellis can come back reasonably healthy at some point this season.

The Jets are a chic pick for a breakthrough, and with good reason, particularly considering the lethal one-two punch of Mark Scheifele + Blake Wheeler and Patrik Laine + Nikolaj Ehlers. They might have some work to do, but their array of young talent is the envy of much of the NHL.

Also: The Avalanche no longer stand as a layup, in part because of the ascension of Nathan MacKinnonThe Blackhawks may be flawed, but deep down, plenty of teams would at least be a little queasy to see them as a first-round opponent. And while it hasn’t always been pretty, the Wild are sneakily heating up; Bruce Boudreau keeps pumping out winners like hockey’s answer to Andy Reid. The Stars remain a work in progress at least considering the hype they generated from another splashy off-season, but they’re another team that could easily go on a big run.

Now, look, the Metro still deserves consideration in this discussion, especially with the Penguins generally having a tendency to hibernate until the games really matter and considering that the Capitals seem like they’re getting things together. When you go beyond current results, the best division argument might come down to personal taste.

At the moment, it’s pretty tough to argue with the Central Division. Maybe the most comforting thought for the rest of the league is that the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs will be structured in a way that they might just wear each other out.

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.

The Buzzer: Special nights for Seguin, Boyle, Rinne

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Player of the Night: Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars.

There some nice three-point nights on Friday, including nights involving Seguin’s opponents (Johnny Gaudreau scored one goal and two assists while Sean Monahan had 2G, 1A) and the guy who got picked ahead of Seguin many moons ago (Taylor Hall had a three-point night and a big hit).

While you might feel the urge to ding Seguin for getting an empty-netter to collect a hat trick, he already covered the cool points portion of this contest earlier in the game with a sweet lacrosse-style goals.

(I can’t get enough of those types of goals. Am I alone in that account?)

Seguin crossed the 200-goal mark tonight, by the way.

Highlight of the Night: Normally, I wouldn’t double-dip on a highlight, but it really cannot be overstated how cool it was that Brian Boyle finished this brilliant assist by Will Butcher on Hockey Fights Cancer night. (Also, the Seguin bit included his lacrosse goal anyway, so due diligence.)

He definitely was emotional on Friday, as his family participated in the ceremonial puck drop. Here’s hoping he can stay healthy enough to score many more going forward.

Streak-breaker: Jack Eichel helps the Sabres beat Connor McDavid and the Oilers. Buffalo had been on a seven-game skid.

This was the best goal from Buffalo’s 3-1 win, though:

Factoids:

On a night when the Stars honored great two-way Finnish forward Jere Lehtinen, Pekka Rinne moved all alone for first all-time among Finnish goalies for shutouts, edging his former backup Carter Hutton in the process:

It almost feels like the Vegas Golden Knights send a new (positive) record every night they play. (More on their win here.)

Bearded wonder Joe Thornton now has his sights set on Super Mario:

Injuries might obscure Nino Niederreiter‘s hot run, but it’s time to take notice if you haven’t already.

Scores

Bruins 4, Penguins 3
Jets 4, Ducks 1
Wild 3, Avalanche 2 (SO)
Islanders 5, Flyers 4
Capitals 3, Lightning 1
Golden Knights 5, Sharks 4 (OT)
Sabres 3, Oilers 1
Devils 3, Canucks 2
Rangers 2, Red Wings 1 (OT)
Blue Jackets 5, Senators 2
Maple Leafs 5, Hurricanes 4
Predators 2, Blues 0
Coyotes 3, Kings 2 (OT)
Stars 6, Flames 4

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.