Rinne named NHL’s first star of the month

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The Nashville Predators badly needed Pekka Rinne to bounce back after his third sub-par season in the last four years.

So far, he’s delivered.

Today, Rinne was named the NHL’s first star of the month, after going 9-1-2 with a .949 save percentage in November.

Rinne has started all but four of the Predators’ 22 games. Young Juuse Saros is the current backup, after Marek Mazanec struggled in the No. 2 role and was eventually assigned to the AHL.

While Saros, 21, was good in his only two starts, Rinne is the veteran with the $7 million cap hit. Last season, the 34-year-old didn’t play like one of the NHL’s highest-paid goalies, when he finished with a .908 save percentage in 66 starts.

The Preds as a team have been much better since a rocky start to the current season, but there have still been games when Rinne has been busy. Tuesday in Colorado, he made 37 saves in a 5-3 victory over the Avs. His overall record sits at 10-5-3 with a .934 save percentage.

Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid were the second and third stars of the month, respectively.

Enroth off to tough start with Maple Leafs


The Toronto Maple Leafs waited a while before settling on a backup goalie for 2016-17. On Aug. 22, they gave Jhonas Enroth a one-year, $750,000 deal to be the No. 2 behind Frederik Andersen.

A quarter of the way through the season, it is not looking like a very good signing. Enroth fell to 0-3-1 with last night’s 3-0 loss to the Calgary Flames, who beat him twice in the first minute of the game.

“The first goal I didn’t get to my position and that’s on me,” Enroth said afterwards. “Maybe I was a little bit slow on the pass out. On the second goal it was just a bang-bang play. Not much to do there I think.”

Enroth spent last season with the Los Angeles Kings. He only started 13 games behind workhouse Jonathan Quick, but managed to put up decent numbers, going 7-5-1 with a .922 save percentage.

This season, his save percentage is a lowly .872. And for a bubble team like the Maple Leafs, that’s not something they can afford in their push to make the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

The good news for the Leafs is that Andersen has been much better since his own tough start. He won eight games in November, finishing with a .931 save percentage for the month. Barring the unexpected, he’ll get the start Saturday in Vancouver.

The Leafs should be a motivated group against the Canucks. Their coach, Mike Babcock, was left fuming after the performance in Calgary.

“As a team, as a coaching staff, as a goaltender we weren’t ready and end up giving up your full day of preparation in the first five minutes or whatever it is,” said Babcock. “There’s no excuse for that.”

Pre-game reading: What will David Pastrnak’s next contract look like?

— Up top, a reminder that Connor McDavid is the fastest kid alive.

David Pastrnak has 13 goals in his first 18 games of the season. He’s also a pending restricted free agent, which begs the question — what kind of deal should he get from the Boston Bruins? The Globe argues for a long-term pact, and that may indeed be the best course of action, depending on the final cap hit. But the B’s already have a bunch of big contracts on the books, so you have to wonder if they might push for a bridge. That’s what Brad Marchand did in 2011, before cashing in on his next two contracts. (Boston Globe)

— Could Marian Hossa become the next Jaromir Jagr? It’s a good question — in fact, we’ve asked it before. The answer will become even more important next season when Hossa’s salary falls to just $1 million for the remaining four years of his contract. Hossa, 37, said prior to the current season that he was going to take things “year-by-year.” The way he’s played so far, it sure doesn’t look like he needs to retire. (Chicago Sun-Times)

Devan Dubnyk has been practically unbeatable in Minnesota’s crease. Among NHL starters, only Carey Price‘s .947 save percentage is higher than his .946 mark. But Dubnyk doesn’t want to get too hung up on his numbers. “Obviously you can look at them all you want between games, but if you’re so worried about what they’re going to be it’s going to affect how you feel, and how you react to getting scored on during a game, because it’s going to bother you if you give up two on seven shots early in the game and you’re worried about improving your stats instead of just the next save, that could have an effect on what you’re doing.” (NHL.com)

— Did you know Mike Richter was once a member of the Nashville Predators? Find out how that ever happened by reading this list of five NHLers you didn’t know got picked in expansion drafts. (The Hockey News)

— The Arizona Coyotes don’t intend to lend winger Lawson Crouse or defensemen Jakob Chychrun to Canada’s World Juniors entry. Arizona prospect Dylan Strome was named yesterday to Canada’s selection camp, but he’s not on the Coyotes’ NHL roster anymore after being returned to his junior team earlier this month. (Arizona Republic)

D-to-D now a no-no under Torts


The word “dinosaur” is often used to describe John Tortorella.

That’s just what happens when you call it “the Corsi and the Fenwick” while railing against hockey’s new statistics.

But the way things are developing this season in Columbus, “dinosaur” might be an unfair label, because Tortorella has clearly learned a few things from his failures.

Take his new approach to moving the puck:

Unless the Blue Jackets are making a line change, Tortorella wants his defensemen to minimize their passes back and forth. Instead, he wants them to get the puck up to the forwards as quickly as possible. Don’t wait for the other team to get set defensively. Attack. Now.

“To me, it’s the process of the past couple of years and where the league has gone,” Tortorella said, per the Columbus Dispatch. “We need (the defensemen) to be part of our quickness. I’ll say it again, I think we’ve added leg speed, but I think we have added mental quickness, too, and (reducing the D-to-D pass) is part of the mental quickness.”

As long-time PHT readers will know, this blog was an ardent critic of Tortorella’s during his one disastrous year as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks.

In fact, we once wrote specifically about all the D-to-D passes that the Canucks defensemen were making:

Under Tortorella, getting the puck up to the forwards as soon as possible doesn’t seem to be a priority.

The result is defensemen holding on to the puck for what seems like forever — often being forced to circle back, or pass it back and forth with their partner — and no chance of a dangerous transition.

The result is an offense that ranks 28th in the NHL.

The Blue Jackets’ offense currently ranks second in the NHL, averaging 3.19 goals per game.

Of course, Tortorella only had to watch the way his old colleague, Mike Sullivan, had the Pittsburgh Penguins moving the puck last season to see how effective it can be.

In the Stanley Cup Final, the San Jose Sharks never managed to get their forecheck going against the Penguins, mostly because the puck was gone before they got there.

In today’s NHL, speed kills more than ever.

And the fastest moving object on the ice is the puck.

Read more: Alexander Wennberg is becoming a star for Columbus

Strome returns to Isles lineup, says team needs ‘wake-up call’

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Ryan Strome will be back in the Islanders’ tonight against Pittsburgh.

The 23-year-old forward wasn’t very happy about being a healthy scratch the past two games, and it sounds like his frustrations have been heard by head coach Jack Capuano.

“We’ve had some good talks over the last few days,” Capuano said, per the New York Post. “He’s been real good. He knows where his game needs to be. He’s one of those guys, for me, he cares so much. He wants to play better. He knows that he can. Just want to continue to have communication with him. What can we do better to continue to try to help him?”

Strome is a key player for the Isles. He has the talent to contribute on offense, and his 50-point season in 2014-15 proved he can do it at the NHL level. But with just two goals and four assists in 19 games this season, he knows he need to kick it up a notch.

In fact, per the Post, Strome believes the “whole team needs a wake-up call.”

He’s not wrong.

The Isles (7-10-4) enter tonight’s action seven points back of a wild-card spot, and that’s a huge hole at this point in the schedule. If they don’t start making up some ground, their playoff hopes could be all but over come Christmas time.

These next two weeks could be tough, however…