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NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Blackhawks vs. Blues; Canadiens vs. Kings

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues with a doubleheader on Wednesday night. In the early game, the St. Louis Blues host the Chicago Blackhawks at 8:00 p.m. ET. To watch the game online, click here

It’s still early, but the Blackhawks and Blues are currently first and second in the Central Division standings, so this should be a pretty entertaining matchup.

Despite making plenty of big changes this off-season, the ‘Hawks have found a way to take care of business so far. No Western Conference team has scored more goals (25) than Chicago, and they owe a lot of that to Brandon Saad.

Saad was re-acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in a trade involving Artemi Panarin. The move may not have been overly popular at the time, but Saad is off to an incredible start (six goals and two assists in six games). Add Patrick Kane (eight points in six games), Ryan Hartman (eight points in six games), Jonathan Toews (six points in six games) and Richard Panik (six points in six games), and you quickly understand why the ‘Hawks have been so good.

Also, don’t forget about Corey Crawford, who’s been lights out this season. He’s won four of five starts and he owns a 1.39 goals-against-average and a .960 save percentage. Referring to him as good is a heck of an understatement.

The Blues might not be as flashy as the ‘Hawks, but they’ve been impressive nonetheless. St. Louis has had to overcome injuries to key figures like Alex Steen, Jay Bouwmeester and Robby Fabbri early on this season.

They have cooled down a little though, as they’re coming off back-to-back losses to in Florida and Tampa Bay. In their defense, those were the final two games of a four-game road trip and it was a stretch of five road games (six games overall) is 11 days.

In the late game, the Los Angeles Kings host the Montreal Canadiens at 10:30 p.m. ET. To stream that game live, click here

The 2017-18 season hasn’t been kind to the Canadiens, who have now lost five games in a row. Montreal is coming off a 5-2 loss to San Jose last night.

There are some major concerns with the team right now. First, their top players haven’t been performing up to standard. Max Pacioretty, who has been an automatic 30-goal scorer over the last four seasons, hasn’t looked dangerous at all this season.

Alex Galchenyuk scored his first goal of the season last Saturday, but he hasn’t been overly impressive either. He’s been so inconsistent that head coach Claude Julien has decided to demote him to the fourth line.

And then there’s Carey Price, who has looked like a shell of himself in the early going. By now, we know that without Price, this team doesn’t have a chance of making a dent. He has a 1-4-1 record with a 3.56 goals-against-average and a .885 save percentage.

If those three players don’t get their game sorted out quickly, the Canadiens could be in for a very long season.

Things couldn’t be going much better for the Kings right now. They’re off to a 4-0-1 start, and players that struggled to produce last year have been really good this year.

Captain Anze Kopitar has eight points in five games, which is impressive. And where has this Dustin Brown been? Brown four goals and three assists in five games. Last season, he had 14 goals and 36 points. Can he keep it up? Probably not, but the Kings will continue to ride these guys for as long as they can.

Overall, it’s been a dream start for the Kings. Going from Darryl Sutter to John Stevens appears to be paying off in a big way.

“I think it’s a lot of what we hoped it would be,” Stevens said of the season so far, per LAKingsInsider.com. “We wanted to be a really solid, defensively sound team, but we wanted to have more of an attack mentality so we can do more with the puck. We’ve created some really good quality opportunities on the rush, and I think we’re starting to implement some of the things in terms of having more of an attacking mindset when we’re in the offensive zone. I think we’ve got lots of work to do with that. We want to be an aggressive team, but we want to have more of an attack mindset on our team.”

Voynov will leave Kings, return to Russia

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By going with the option to “self-depart,” Slava Voynov is leaving the Los Angeles Kings and heading back to Russia.

Voynov released a statement via his agent, Rolland Hedges, sharing the stunning (yet perhaps foreseeable?) decision:

“Earlier today, I notified the National Hockey League, National Hockey League Players’ Association and the Los Angeles Kings of my decision to immediately begin the formal process of returning to Russia with my family. I sincerely apologize to those in and around the game of hockey who have been affected by my situation, and I also wish the players of the LA Kings success in the future.”

The OC Register’s Rich Hammond reports that this decision may allow Voynov to return to North America at some point in the future:

Also, Hammond notes that this isn’t quite a done deal, although the process is likely to be completed.

As far as Voynov’s money goes, it appears that the Kings are free of that burden:

As Puck Daddy reports, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirms that there will be “no cap charge” for the Kings.

Update: The Kings released a statement regarding Voynov, which you can read more about here.

Also, Hammond explains that Voynov is going to self-depart, not self-deport:

Voynov detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

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Slava Voynov has been moved from jail to an unspecified detention facility by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Voynov, who is a Russian citizen, will have a hearing with an immigration judge, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Times reported that the Los Angeles Kings have declined to comment on this latest development.

Voynov began his jail sentence on July 7 after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge.

The 25-year-old defenseman hasn’t played in the NHL since Oct. 6 because he was suspended by the league.

He has also been recovering from a ruptured Achilles, but LA Kings Insider stated back in July, “the expectation, based on multiple conversations with those in hockey operations, is that he’ll be a part of the blue line when he recovers from a ruptured Achilles. There are still major impediments in the way of him putting on a Kings jersey again.”

Los Angeles lost defensemen Andrej Sekera as an unrestricted free agent this summer and Robyn Regehr has retired, but the Kings did sign Christian Ehrhoff to a one-year, $1.5 million deal.

New Oilers goalie Nilsson ready ‘to challenge for the No. 1 job’

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Back in July, Edmonton made an intriguing, under-the-radar move by acquiring the rights to KHL goalie Anders Nilsson.

The deal didn’t garner much attention, possibly because the Oilers had already made a bigger splash in goal — trading for ex-Rangers backup Cam Talbot at the draft — and, of course, they still had Ben Scrivens in the mix.

But the attention could soon be on Nilsson.

“My mindset is to challenge for the No. 1 job,” the Swedish stopper told the Edmonton Journal. “That’s why I signed the one-year contract and it’s up to me to perform.”

Nilsson, 25, is an interesting entity.

Picked 62nd overall by the Isles in 2009, he appeared in 23 games for New York over three seasons before signing with KHL team AK Bars Kazan last summer. A few months later, the Isles traded Nilsson’s rights — he was an RFA upon leaving for Russia — to Chicago, as part of the Nick Leddy deal.

In Russia, Nilsson boosted his stock by going 20-9-8 with a 1.71 GAA and .936 save percentage. He also played for Team Sweden at the 2015 Worlds, splitting time with Jhonas Enroth.

The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder signed with Edmonton almost immediately upon being acquired, seemingly determined to resurrect his NHL career. With the Oilers, he’s projected to battle Scrivens for the No. 2 gig behind Talbot — who, tentatively, is penciled in as the No. 1 — but if the last few years in Edmonton have shown anything, it’s that minutes in net are constantly up for grabs.

Crosby, Toews, Weber, Price lead pack in NHL 16’s ratings

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After unveiling the top 10 goaltenders for the upcoming video game NHL 16, EA Sports has done the same for every other position.

As was the case last season, Sidney Crosby has the highest overall rating at 96, but there are some alterations after that. In 2015, Steven Stamkos ranked second overall with a 93 rating and he kept that rating for 2015-16, but he’s been leapfrogged by Jonathan Toews (94), Shea Weber (94), and Carey Price (94).

Pavel Datsyuk (93) and John Tavares (92) round out the top-five among centers. Both Detroit and Pittsburgh have two players in the top-10 with Henrik Zetterberg (92) and Evgeni Malkin (92) securing eighth and sixth place respectively.

As previously established, Weber leads the pack among defensemen and is followed by Duncan Keith (93), Drew Doughty (93), Ryan Suter (93), and Erik Karlsson (91). Nashville is the only team with two defensemen in the top-10 as Roman Josi (90) ranks ninth.

When it comes to right wingers, Corey Perry (92) got the top position, although he’s closely followed by Patrick Kane (92). Vladimir Tarasenko (91), Jakub Voracek (90), and Marian Hossa (90) make up the remainder of the top-five. Phil Kessel, who was traded from Toronto to Pittsburgh over the summer, saw his rating slip from 90 in 2014-15 to 89 following a rough campaign with the Maple Leafs.

When it comes to left wingers, it won’t surprise many to learn that Alex Ovechkin secured the top rating at 93. He’s followed by Jamie Benn (92), Taylor Hall (90), Zach Parise (90), and Max Pacioretty (89). The Dallas Stars’ acquisition of Patrick Sharp means that they now have two players in the top-10 as Sharp took the final place on that list with his 89 rating.

NHL 16 will be out on Sept. 15 in North America and Sept. 17 in Europe. If you want to see each position’s top-10 list, you can view them here.