Max Talbot’s defection to Philadelphia helps make Flyers-Penguins rivalry more bitter

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You could argue that Maxime Talbot was one of the more underrated players on the Pittsburgh Penguins the last few seasons. Always a grind line-type player and not a guy to score a ton of goals, Talbot was the sort of player that could get lost in the mix.

In Pittsburgh, it’s easy to go unnoticed when you’re playing alongside the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal. Then again, Talbot was the most important player for the Penguins when they clinched Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup finals scoring the Penguins only two goals against Detroit and giving the Pens the Cup.

That’s part of what makes Talbot’s free agency departure to Philadelphia all the more difficult for Penguins fans to wrap their heads around. Not only did Talbot end up leaving Pittsburgh, he took his irascible talent just across the state. With the Penguins and Flyers already being bitter rivals, you’d think that Talbot deciding to go to a hated team would make it a hard decision. As Adam Kimelman of NHL.com finds out, it’s equal parts business and respecting one’s opponent.

“The first step for me this summer was to realize that I was not going to be back with the Pens,” he said. “That was obviously tough. It was a hard thing, because I had been there six good years. But when that was set aside, I wanted to make the best decision for Max Talbot — the best organization that gave me the chance to win, an organization that treats its players well and takes pride in winning and doing the right things.”

That made signing with the Flyers an easy decision for Talbot.

“You know one, two players on every single team in the League,” he said. “You hear about the way ownership and the organization takes care of their players. Let’s say there’s 10 top teams (in the top third), 10 middle teams … the Flyers always come up in the first third. It’s their reputation and I think it’s well-deserved. Since I signed here, I know camp hasn’t started, but I can see the professionalism of the ownership. You feel like you’re in good hands. It would have been tough for me to move from Pittsburgh to a team that you have to build a lot more.”

Hearing about professionalism and respect when it comes to this rivalry is stunning to hear. Seeing Talbot speak in the third person when talking isn’t quite so surprising. When these teams collide there’s always a little extra heat between the two. This season figures to have things run a lot hotter with Talbot’s defection as well as former Penguins legend Jaromir Jagr spurning an offer from Pittsburgh to sign with Philadelphia.

What Talbot brings to the Flyers is a guy who plays the game with a sandpaper-like nature, consistently rubbing the other team the wrong way with his aggressive style. He also gives them a stable presence on the penalty kill and a guy with enough of a scoring touch to be a threat if given the opportunity. He’ll also figure to be a scene stealer once again on HBO’s 24/7 leading up to this year’s Winter Classic.

While Flyers fans have every reason to be excited about putting one over on the Penguins in the offseason, the reception for both Talbot and Jagr doesn’t figure to be very welcoming when the two teams meet up for the first time in Pittsburgh on December 29. If Talbot can do for the Flyers what he did in Pittsburgh, the fans on Broad Street might have a reason to throw a parade next summer.

Bruins rookie Vaakanainen concussed by Borowiecki; Discipline coming?

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Already playing without a couple of defenders (Torey Krug, Kevan Miller) the Boston Bruins lost another one on Tuesday night when rookie Urho Vaakanainen, playing in just his second NHL game, had to leave their game against the Ottawa Senators after he was elbowed in the face by Senators defenseman Mark Borowiecki during a scramble around the front of the Ottawa net.

The Bruins later announced that Vaakanainen has already been diagnosed with a concussion.

This is the play.

He was not penalized on the play, but that is not a good look for Borowieckiy because you can clearly see him look at Vaakanainen as he skates in and deliberately raise his elbow to hit him in the head.

I get that the front of the net is a tough area, but this isn’t 1980 anymore and that type of needless play should not be looked at as “okay” just because there is a scramble.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety will almost certainly review that play and he could be be facing some discipline for it. If the NHL determines it is a play worthy of discipline that could be bad news for Borowiecki because he has been suspended once before and the player on the receiving end of his hit was injured. Those two things always factor into the punishment.

Vaakanainen was the selected by the Bruins in the first-round of the 2017 draft with the No. 18 overall pick.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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

WATCH LIVE: Winning streaks on the line as Predators host Sharks

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the San Jose Sharks and the Nashville Predators at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

Pekka Rinne is on injured reserved, opening the door for Juuse Saros to take the reins as the starting goalie for the Predators. When Nashville hosts the Sharks on Tuesday, it’ll be the first time that the 23-year-old netminder will have started consecutive games in his young NHL career.

Saros has 46 starts in his career, and working with Rinne for the past couple of seasons has provided him plenty of confidence to handle an extended workload when called up.

“Juuse is very calm,” said Predators head coach Peter Laviolette via the Tennessean. “He’s got a great guy to sit next to him in the room in Pekka. Approaches life the same way. They lead with their work ethic.”

As the Predators look to extend their five-game winning streak, they’ll face a Sharks team have won two in a row and scored nine goals over their last two games. Logan Couture has scored four of those nine goals and is one of the bevy of weapons that head coach Peter DeBoer can deploy every night.

[Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

WHAT: San Jose Sharks at Nashville Predators
WHERE: Bridgestone Arena
WHEN: Tuesday, October 23rd, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVESTREAM: You can watch the Sharks-Predators stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

SHARKS
Evander KaneJoe PavelskiKevin Labanc
Tomas Hertl – Logan Couture – Timo Meier
Marcus SorensenAntti SuomelaJoonas Donskoi
Barclay GoodrowRourke ChartierMelker Karlsson

Marc-Edouard VlasicErik Karlsson
Joakim RyanBrent Burns
Brenden DillonJustin Braun

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

PREDATORS
Filip ForsbergRyan JohansenViktor Arvidsson
Kevin FialaKyle TurrisCraig Smith
Calle JarnkrokNick BoninoRyan Hartman
Zac RinaldoColton SissonsFrederick Gaudreau

Roman JosiRyan Ellis
Mattias EkholmP.K. Subban
Dan HamhuisYannick Weber

Starting goalie: Juuse Saros

MORE: Rusev and Lana turn Predators stars into WWE superstars

Galchenyuk could really tie Coyotes’ offense together

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Seth Jones is not the only returning player worth watching as the Columbus Blue Jackets take on the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night.

While the Blue Jackets will see their Norris-caliber defenseman make his season debut, Alex Galchenyuk will finally play his first regular-season game for the Coyotes.

Late in the preseason, Galchenyuk suffered a lower-body injury that sidelined him on a week-to-week basis, forcing the slick scorer to miss Arizona’s first seven games. The concern was that, once again, the Coyotes would begin the season on a down note. With a 2-5-0 record and, somehow, just 11 goals scored through seven games, such concerns ended up being justified.

Injecting Galchenyuk’s scoring ability into that lineup could mean a big boost.

No, he’s not the sort of tide-changing star who would lift Arizona into the scoring stratosphere, but Galchenyuk is a one-time 30-goal scorer, has another 20-goal season on his resume, and has reached 50+ points twice in his career. Not bad for a 24-year-old who will surely enter this season with a chip on his shoulder (and likely a refreshed feeling after exiting a toxic situation in Montreal).

Let’s go over why Galchenyuk’s addition could be big for the Coyotes:

Some help for Keller

Clayton Keller probably feels some empathy for Islanders wunderkind Mathew Barzal, as both have been asked to carry a huge burden of scoring for their teams entering sophomore seasons.

Players of any age can use someone who thinks the game at a higher level like them, and opens up space with smarts, skill, and finishing ability. Such a synthesis is plausible for Keller – Galchenyuk, whether that requires a few shifts or a few games to come to fruition.

With a big body like Lawson Crouse to – ideally – do some of the dirty work, and maybe shovel in some goals in front of the net, this could be a nice little scoring line.

Finishing touch on the power play, and in general

Circling back, the Coyotes created their fair share of chances, even during the early parts of their historically bad start. So far this season, the Coyotes suffer from easily the worst even-strength shooting percentage, connecting on just 2.96-percent of their shots on goal, according to Natural Stat Trick. No other team is under Anaheim’s 4.58-percent mark.

Oh yeah, they haven’t been much luckier on the power play, either, with their 10.5-percent success rate ranking second-worst in the NHL.

Again, Galchenyuk isn’t just going to sprinkle pixie dust all over these problems and make them go away by himself.

Still, his skill adds what could be some crucial finishing touch to a group that needs it at all levels. Galchenyuk has hit nine power-play goals twice in his career, and 30 of his 108 career tallies have come via the man advantage.

Left Wing Lock’s listings have Arizona’s top power-play unit as Galchenyuk, Keller, Derek Stepan, Dylan Strome, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Such a group won’t send the Capitals, Maple Leafs, and other high-end 5-on-4 groups tumbling down the stats leaders, but it could very well make special teams a coin-flip, rather than a disadvantage for the Coyotes.

Demoted to your level of competence

When you get a player back from injury, pieces can fall into more natural places. Even if Galchenyuk isn’t quite a top-line center (a genuine possibility), he might be able to help the Coyotes open up advantages at different levels.

For one thing, Derek Stepan probably makes more sense as a second-line or 1b center.

Stepan probably deserves more respect than he sometimes receives; five of his last six seasons were 50+ points, and he generated nearly a point-per-game the year he missed (ah, the streak-killing menace that was the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season …).

With zero goals and one assist so far this season, Stepan was really fighting it. Maybe he was straining to play above his means? It’s plausible that he’ll return to that 20-ish goal, 50+ point pace with a little less weight on his shoulders.

***

Viewing Galchenyuk as a savior is wrong.

If the Coyotes climb in a big way, it will be as much about finally getting the bounces they haven’t been receiving all that often this season.

Still, consider Galchenyuk as an extra paddle on that pinball machine, possibly moving that random luck in the right direction. At worst, it should be fun to see him create offense alongside a brilliant young forward in Clayton Keller.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Rusev and Lana turn Predators stars into WWE superstars

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The Nashville Predators are readying for a heavyweight showdown with the San Jose Sharks on NBCSN tonight, so what better way to hulk up then to get some lessons from WWE’s superstars?

NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the San Jose Sharks and the Nashville Predators at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

Being that it’s Rusev Day, it only makes sense that Roman Josi and Ryan Johansen listed two Predators fans/WWE superstars and power couple Rusev and Lana. As you can see in the video above, what resulted was something of a tag team match, as Lana transformed Josi into a new persona (where he evokes the mop-haired guy from “Workaholics”) while Rusev warps Johansen into the sort of cowboy-themed character who would have put butts in seats in the days of territories.

Some highlights of the clip:

  • Lana noting Josi’s handsomeness, and finding ways to make Rusev jealous.
  • Rusev getting jealous.
  • Rusev being a proponent of a leather cowboy vest because it gives Johansen an opportunity to “show a little peck bounce.”
  • Those shorts are probably a little small on Ryan Johansen. Maybe knee pads would have pulled the outfit together?
  • It seems like a little more attention could have been placed on entrance music. Going to have to knock it down from an A+ to an A because they didn’t use the Predators’ terrible-great goal song:

Regardless, it’s great stuff, and perhaps it will inspire the Predators to smack down the Sharks.

Which team and professional wrestler pairings would you like to see next? Maybe Bret Hart can teach the Flames the “excellence of execution?” So many possibilites.

(Oh, and let us add to the best wishes for Roman Reigns, who shared the stunning news that he’s battling leukemia. Here’s hoping he follows in Mario Lemieux’s footsteps by resuming his career after beating cancer.)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.