Ryan Ellis

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Lundqvist sharp, Rangers scrappy against Predators to end slump

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Is it melodramatic to say that the New York Rangers needed this one?

Whatever weight you put on it, the Rangers finally broke a troubling five-game losing streak, managing a 4-2 win against the Nashville Predators at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. The Predators saw a streak end in their own right, as they had been on a 4-0-1 run.

MORE: Rangers are still in for a steep climb in the Metro

As much as this was a confidence-booster, it was sometimes a sleepy afternoon effort by the Rangers. After generating a 2-0 lead in the first period, New York snoozed at times, only firing six shots on goal on Juuse Saros during the final 40 minutes.

Whether it came down to sitting on a lead or the Predators pressing on the gas, Henrik Lundqvist had to be alert at times in stopping 23 of 25 shots. One of his best efforts came in snubbing Colton Sissons in close:

In winning his 407th career regular-season game, Lundqvist tied Glenn Hall for ninth all-time in NHL history.

The Rangers were opportunistic on Saturday, a positive sign for a team that hasn’t always been getting the bounces early in 2017-18.

Kevin Hayes exerted his will at times, assisting on the Rangers’ opening goal and powering past Matt Irwin for what would stand as the game-winner:

Impressive stuff by Hayes, even if it was almost an equally lousy showing by Irwin.

Ryan Ellis is clearly missed by Nashville, but moments like Irwin’s lapse and Alexei Emelin flailing badly on the opening goal make one wonder why, exactly, Samuel Girard isn’t getting more looks after some promising early showings. With Irwin and Yannick Weber logging less than 11 minutes on Saturday, both P.K. Subban (27:55) and Roman Josi (27:31) flirted with 28-minute workloads despite the contest ending in regulation.

The Predators likely cringed a little extra at the empty-net goal since it came via former Preds prospect Jimmy Vesey:

If the Rangers want to get back on track, they’ll need to win in a number of ways, even if they’re not always pretty ones like this one was.

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.

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Video: Martin Hanzal gets major for hit to head of Yannick Weber

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The Nashville Predators were able to storm back and claim a win in their home opener against the Philadelphia Flyers, but generally speaking, it feels like the 2017 Stanley Cup finalists are sleepwalking early in 2017-18.

Naturally, it doesn’t help that Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi are missing time. Those two defensemen would surely help the Predators in the transition game.

They might have lost another guy with some offensive skill on Thursday, as Yannick Weber was shaken up by a hit to the head by mountainous Dallas Stars center Martin Hanzal. Hanzal was not ejected from the game, however.

You can watch that hit, which drew an interference major, in the video above. Here it is in GIF form, too:

There are number of factors here.

Weber was clearly hit in the head, but was also reaching and there’s a significant size disparity in play. Perhaps those factors helped Hanzal avoid a game misconduct?

Opinions on the hit are divided, with some wanting an ejection:

And others wondering if it was a clean hit:

Plenty fall somewhere in the middle:

Either way, the absence of valuable defensemen was felt on that five-minute power play, as the Predators had trouble getting set on the man advantage. One of the better chances came for Dallas shorthanded.

To turn the knife in a bit, Jamie Benn scored the first period’s only goal on the power play.

Seeing Weber shaken up didn’t provide a wakeup call for the Predators. Maybe Peter Laviolette yelling at them regarding a poor power play might get them back on track?

Update: Maybe another Predators defenseman will emerge in this time of need? Samuel Girard, 19, scored the first NHL goal of his career and added an assist as Nashville turned things around for a 4-1 win.

More on that here.

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.

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PHT’s Central Division preview: Blackhawks, Wild, Predators, and more

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For ages, it felt like the Central Division was the reigning champion as the toughest division in the NHL.

The Metropolitan Division seemed to knock the Central off its perch, right down to the Pittsburgh Penguins beating the Nashville Predators in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Still, much of those stumbles seemed self-imposed, as the Dallas Stars struggled, the Winnipeg Jets disappointed, and the Colorado Avalanche were jaw-droppingly bad.

Let’s take a look at PHT’s material on the Central Division with the 2017-18 season set to begin.

Click here for the Atlantic Division preview.

Click here for PHT’s staff predictions.

Chicago Blackhawks

Poll/looking to make the leap

Colorado Avalanche

Poll/looking to make the leap

Dallas Stars

Poll/looking to make the leap

Minnesota Wild

Poll/looking to make the leap

Speaking of signings, the Wild inked a deal with Daniel Winnik today:

Nashville Predators

Poll/Looking to make the leap

St. Louis Blues

Poll/looking to make the leap

One other Blues note:

Winnipeg Jets

Poll/looking to make the leap

PHT predictions for 2017-18: Stanley Cup picks, McDavid love, and more

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Expert take: Connor McDavid is really something.

OK, such a thought is evident to virtually every sentient hockey fan/person even vaguely interested in the NHL. The PHT staff covers that base in the predictions and picks below, but there are also spicier topics at hand. You be the judge if anything warms up to the level of a hot take.

So, rejoice, and bookmark this page in case you want to vengefully point out how your team was totally robbed of the things people grow up dreaming about: approval from hockey writers.

Of course, if these predictions end up looking good in hindsight, never mention them again. That’s how it works, right?

Also, NHL.com provides this handy guide to opening-night rosters.

Anyway, here are our picks, with staff members listed in alphabetical order:

Joey Alfieri

Art Ross: Connor McDavid. It’s the “boring” answer, but this kid is too good and too fast. I can’t go against him after what I saw last year.

Rocket Richard: Steven Stamkos. I’m not going out on a limb with my Art Ross pick, but I think this one will surprise some people. Obviously, we all know that Stamkos can put the puck in the net. The question with him is whether or not he can stay healthy. I think he’ll play enough games to score a lot of goals in 2017-18.

Hart: I think it’s McDavid again.

Vezina: Braden Holtby. A lot of people seem to think that the Capitals will take a step back this year (maybe they will), but I think they’ll be able to lean on Holtby.

Norris: Victor Hedman. He didn’t get as much spotlight as Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns last year, but he somehow managed to quietly put up over 70 points.

Calder trophy: Nico Hischier. He really impressed me during the preseason. I didn’t know if he’d be NHL-ready right out of the gate, but he answered all those questions for me. We’ll see if he can translate his preseason success into regular season success.

Division winners:
Metropolitan: Washington
Atlantic: Tampa Bay
Central: Minnesota
Pacific: Edmonton

SCF matchup: The Eastern Conference is still very wide open in my mind, so I’m not ruling out the Pittsburgh Penguins going back to the final for a third straight year. I’ll make it a Sidney Crosby vs. McDavid final, as I think the Oilers will make it out of the West.

Champ: Give me the Edmonton Oilers.

Worst team: The Vancouver Canucks will be worse than Vegas. Book it.

Wild card (team that could go very wrong or very right): Winnipeg Jets. They’re loaded with talent up front (see Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Bryan Little, Nikolaj Ehlers) and on defense (Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Josh Morrissey), but the goaltending duo of Steve Mason and Connor Hellebuyck might hold them back.

One 2017 playoff team that won’t make it in 2018: The New York Rangers. I don’t like their situation down the middle. Also, if Henrik Lundqvist struggles during the regular season, Antti Raanta is no longer there to hold down the fort.

Team that missed last year that will make it in 2017-18: The Tampa Bay Lightning. They dealt with a lot of injuries last year and barely missed the postseason. I think they’ll get there in 2017-18.

Adam Gretz

Art Ross: Connor McDavid

Rocket Richard: Nikita Kucherov

Hart: Connor McDavid

Vezina: Carey Price

Norris: Erik Karlsson

Calder Trophy: Nico Hischier

Division winners:
Metropolitan: Columbus
Atlantic: Tampa Bay
Central: Nashville
Pacific: Anaheim

SFC Matchup: Columbus vs. Nashville
Champ: Nashville

Worst team: Colorado
Wild card: Carolina
Playoff team that won’t make it: St. Louis
Team that missed that will make it: Tampa Bay

James O’Brien

Art Ross: Connor McDavid

Rocket Richard: Alex Ovechkin. Don’t underestimate all the goals he’ll get from “his office.” Also, the Capitals need more from him this season. Maybe that will goose his shot attempts and numbers?

Hart: Connor McDavid

Vezina: Braden Holtby. He’s quietly wrestling the “most consistently great” torch from Henrik Lundqvist.

Norris: Victor Hedman. Erik Karlsson is a treasure, but his health is very worrisome.

Calder trophy: Nico Hischier

Division winners:
Metropolitan: Pittsburgh Penguins
Atlantic: Montreal Canadiens
Central: Minnesota Wild
Pacific: Edmonton Oilers

SCF matchup: Nashville Predators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins. Ryan Ellis‘ injury situation leads me to believe that Nashville will, once again, struggle a bit in the regular season. (Even at 100 percent, they might just be better suited for the playoffs.)

Champ: The Predators get revenge. It’s not foolish to assume that they get Matt Duchene, right? (Gulp.)

Worst team: The Vegas Golden Knights. Don’t despair, though, budding fans: this franchise is off to a strong start.

Wild card (team that could go very wrong or very right): The Dallas Stars. They’ve once again “won the offseason,” yet with every great move like adding Alex Radulov, there are troubling signs that this franchise is still behind the curve. What if Ben Bishop is another goaltending blunder? Did the game finally pass Ken Hitchcock by? Many sins will be forgiven if the Jamie BennTyler Seguin show rebounds after a rough 2016-17.

One 2017 playoff team that won’t make it in 2018: Ottawa Senators. The Boston Bruins also worry me.

One 2017 team that did not make the playoffs, but will in 2018: I’ll give you one for each conference: the Tampa Bay Lightning and Winnipeg Jets.

Cam Tucker

Art Ross: Connor McDavid

Rocket Richard: Nikita Kucherov

Hart: Connor McDavid

Vezina: Carey Price

Norris: Victor Hedman

Calder trophy: Charlie McAvoy. Off the board, perhaps?

Division winners:
Metropolitan: Columbus Blue Jackets
Atlantic: Toronto Maple Leafs
Central: Nashville Predators
Pacific: Edmonton Oilers

SCF matchup: Edmonton Oilers versus Toronto Maple Leafs. All of Canada can rejoice!

Champ: Well, I guess I have to pick one of those two teams, so I’m going to say…….the Edmonton Oilers. Sorry, Toronto.

Worst team: Colorado Avalanche. Again.

Wild card (team that could go very wrong or very right): The L.A. Kings. Fascinated to see the difference in style after an offseason coaching change. Still believe they’re a playoff team but last year was a massive disappointment.

One 2017 playoff team that won’t make it in 2018: Ottawa Senators.

One 2017 team that did not make the playoffs, but will in 2018: Tampa Bay Lightning. If Steven Stamkos can stay healthy, this offence — and by extension this entire team — should be a force. The Carolina Hurricanes are, to me, an honorable mention in this category.

Housley focused on making Sabres ‘an aggressive team’

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The Buffalo Sabres haven’t been a playoff team in quite some time, but the organization is hoping that their major offseason changes will help them take a few steps in the right direction.

One of those major changes came behind the bench, as the team hired Predators assistant Phil Housley to be their head coach.

Housley did some terrific work with defensemen like Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and P.K. Subban last season. A big part of Nashville’s attack came from defenders pushing the pace from the back.

“We want to be an aggressive team,” Housley said, per NHL.com. “I think everybody we’ve talked about playing aggressive offensively but we need to play aggressive defensively. I think defense gives you a chance to win every night and they’ll understand that we want to be fast and aggressive. The days are gone when a guy wants to make a breakout pass and the [defense] just watched the rush go up and play; they have to get up in the play not only to maybe join the rush and add to the attack, but to be in the offensive zone, being able to keep pucks in, or else you’re going to start playing defense.”

The Sabres could use an offensive boost from their defense (or anyone really). Last season, Jack Eichel collected 57 points in 61 games, which comes out to an impressive 0.934 points-per-game. But Unfortunately for the Sabres, no player topped 60 points in 2016-17.

Buffalo changed the look of their defense during the summer, as they acquired Nathan Beaulieu from Montreal and Marco Scandella from Minnesota. Both guys are capable of moving the puck, which should help Housley execute his plan.

Also, it’ll be interesting to see if Housley can take Rasmus Ristolainen‘s game to the next level. The 22-year-old has surpassed the 40-point mark in each of the last two seasons. He’s also served as the big-minute guy on the Sabres blue line.

“We’re here to learn from him and pick his brain, he was a [heck] of a player in his day,” defender Zach Bogosian said. “He gets the game. He’s played for a while, he’s coached for a while, he’s been around forever.

“Guys are looking forward to playing that style.”