It begins: Five storylines to watch for in tonight’s NHL season openers

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Drop the puck already. Since the middle of June, fans have been itching to get hockey back and now it’s here. Just like the end of last season, the new season starts off with the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks in action. They won’t be facing each other, but for the Bruins it’s their last taste of Stanley Cup glory as their banner goes up at TD Garden in Boston against the Flyers. Montreal starts their season in Toronto against the Maple Leafs and Vancouver hosts the Pittsburgh Penguins.

With those three games to look forward to tonight, there are five stories to eyeball as the night goes on.

1. Bruins’ quest to repeat starts against Flyers team ready to prove themselves

No team has repeated as Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998 and the Bruins would like to end that streak. They’ll do so with essentially the same team they had last season only swapping out Michael Ryder and Mark Recchi for Benoit Pouliot and defenseman Joe Corvo. Getting to start against their playoff nemeses from the last two seasons, Philadelphia, makes for a nice juxtaposition. With Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas getting a chance to carry the team once again, Boston should give Philly enough nightmares from last season to last a while.

The Flyers come into this season without Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and with Jaromir Jagr, Wayne Simmonds, and first round pick Sean Couturier. GM Paul Holmgren’s chemistry experiment to get the Flyers  back to the Cup finals begins in earnest against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season. Expect fireworks of all kinds.

2. Jaromir Jagr aims for a milestone in his first NHL game since 2008

With one point tonight Jaromir Jagr would hit 1,600 points for his career. After being away from the NHL since the end of the 2008 season playing in the KHL, Jagr’s hoping to be the guy that leads the Flyers to the Stanley Cup. With such a storied legacy, however, he’s got numerous statistical targets within reach this season. If Jagr was a selfish player he might be satisfied with just getting his point and be done. So far he’s saying all the right things about wanting to win it all for the Flyers. Here’s to hoping he keeps it up all year.

3. Max Pacioretty and Matt Lombardi return to action after different awful concussions

When we last saw Max Pacioretty in a regular season game he was being carted off the ice on a stretcher after being run into a stanchion by Zdeno Chara in March. The last time we saw Matt Lombardi on the ice was nearly a year ago for the Nashville Predators after getting knocked out of the second game of the year with a concussion. Tonight in Toronto, they’ll both be back in action going against each other after grueling recovery from their injuries. Here’s to hoping they both have incident-free seasons for their teams.

4. The Evgeni Malkin MVP campaign begins tonight?

After how well Evgeni Malkin looked in preseason, the question of whether he can bounce back from knee surgery and turn into an offensive dynamo all over again starts tonight against the Canucks. Malkin looked like the guy that we saw during the Penguins’ Stanley Cup-winning season in 2009 during the preseason. He was fast, made unbelievable moves, and dominated shifts while controlling the puck. With Sidney Crosby still out of action, if that Malkin shows up in the regular season we could pay witness to a very special season from the Russian superstar.

5. Oh yeah… The Canucks still play hockey

Hey, remember the Vancouver Canucks? They won the Presidents’ Trophy last year and were supposed to roll through to the Stanley Cup. They nearly pulled it off if it wasn’t for those meddling Boston Bruins. The Canucks’ quest to get back to the finals and come away with the hardware (and hopefully without burning down the city) starts at home. Fortunately for them they won’t have to deal with Sidney Crosby tonight.

Unfortunately, the Penguins are still a very good team and they’ll have Evgeni Malkin back in the lineup. For Vancouver, they’ll have to see what life is like without Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond and how things change with Marco Sturm and Cody Hodgson. Still, the Canucks bring a boatload of talent to the ice and they’ll be serious threats again out of the West. Here’s to hoping the memories of their last game in Rogers Arena haven’t stuck in their mind or else Roberto Luongo will start freaking out.

The Buzzer: Josi’s island; Bob robs Vegas

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Three Stars

1. Roman Josi

There was some exciting hockey on Monday, yet there weren’t a ton of performances where players put up gaudy numbers.

Oddly, the only two skaters who generated at least three points were both part of a losing effort for the Predators. Josi stands far above Ryan Johansen from an all-around standpoint, which is why he’s also standing above the Preds center in these three stars.

Josi generated two goals and one assist in helping Nashville salvage a standings point after the Predators dug themselves a 3-0 hole against the Senators. Josi fired six shots on goal and logged 23:54 in ice time in that loss.

The Swiss-born defenseman has been coming up big for a Predators team that’s dealing with all kinds of injury headaches, including to other go-to guys like P.K. Subban and Filip Forsberg. Don’t be surprised if Josi generates some Norris buzz if he keeps this up, as he has 26 points in 34 games.

2. Sergei Bobrovsky

Monday saw some strong goalie performances. Jaroslav Halak blanked his old team as Boston crushed Montreal, only needing to make 22 saves for a shutout. Thomas Greiss didn’t shut out the Avalanche, yet he kept Mikko Rantanen off the board, which should at least earn him a Kindergarten-style gold star.

But “Bob” might have had the best night of any goalie.

Bobrovsky stopped 28 shots for his first shutout of 2018-19. It’s been a bumpy contract year for the Blue Jackets goalie, as you can see from his poor .905 save percentage. Don’t count him out, though, especially since Columbus has been able to maintain a playoff position even without Bobrovsky authoring his usual regular-season heroics.

3. Ryan Johansen

Honestly, this feels like the quintessential Ryan Johansen game.

There was the very good: Johansen managed three assists, factoring into all of Nashville’s goals. It’s been a strong season for Johansen, who’s generated 29 points in 34 games, even if his offense has cooled off with Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson on the shelf.

If there’s one thing that’s maddening about Johansen, it’s that he shoots so infrequently, so it’s fitting that he had zero SOG on Monday, even with the Predators chasing the Senators for much of the contest. Johansen now only has 55 SOG in 34 games in 2018-19, which seems almost unthinkable for a top-line forward.

But, hey, it’s mostly working, so this is probably closer to nitpicking than a more profound critique. Probably?

Highlights

Chances are, more people will bug Johansen about him giving up the puck on Thomas Chabot‘s pretty OT game-winner, though:

Since Dec. 12, Bryan Rust has a hat trick, six points in four games overall, and also provided a goaltending audition.

Factoids

You may call these Ducks plucky.

Nice fodder for Senators GM Pierre Dorion, who recently said that their rebuild might be ahead of schedule:

Another reminder that Halak was a Hab:

Scores

ANA 4 – PIT 2
CBJ 1 – VGK 0
BOS 4 – MTL 0
OTT 4 – NSH 3 (OT)
NYI 4 – COL 1

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.

Should Ian Cole be suspended for kneeing Brock Nelson?

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On paper, Monday was an excellent night for Barry Trotz and the New York Islanders.

The Islanders topped the Colorado Avalanche 4-1, keeping the Avs’ scorching-hot top line mostly in check. Nathan MacKinnon grabbed an assist on Gabriel Landeskog‘s power-play goal, but Mikko Rantanen was held pointless for the first time in ages. Also, with the Pittsburgh Penguins falling to the Ducks in regulation, the Isles regained control of the third spot in the Metropolitan Division.

So, the Islanders mostly contained the NHL’s hottest scoring line, and with this win, would be in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs if they began right now.

It wasn’t all good news, though.

Two injuries hang over this win, and one brings potential controversy. As you can see in the video above this post’s headline, Avs defenseman Ian Cole seemingly engaged in a knee-to-knee hit on Isles forward Brock Nelson. Cole received a kneeing minor on the play.

Also, in attempting to deliver a hit, Thomas Hickey fell awkwardly, and eventually needed to be helped off of the ice.

Following the game, Trotz didn’t have much of an update, as Newsday’s Andrew Gross reports:

Hickey came into Monday’s game averaging 19:14 TOI per contest, a career-high, so it was clear that he was earning Trotz’s trust. Nelson broke a four-game pointless streak with an assist in this win, giving him 21 points in 32 games, good for fourth on the team in scoring. So these situations are worrisome for an Islanders team that’s vastly surpassing expectations.

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.

Pacioretty injured in Golden Knights’ shutout loss

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The Vegas Golden Knights have been gathering momentum lately, but Monday was not kind to them.

Malcolm Subban‘s solid night wasn’t enough, as the Golden Knights couldn’t score a single goal against Sergei Bobrovsky, falling via a 1-0 shutout loss.

Monday could end up being costly beyond what must have been a frustrating score, as Max Pacioretty appeared to suffer a knee injury during the defeat. (Click here for a GIF of the leg injury.)

Pacioretty wasn’t able to return to Vegas’ loss. After the loss, Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said more information could be known by Tuesday.

Pacioretty was already dealing with a different lower-body ailment amid confusion about an earlier unhealthy/healthy scratch, so “Patches” might need to rev up that “Wolverine”-style healing ability if he wants to get back into action soon.

There was some fear that Colin Miller might have suffered a knee issue of his own, but he was able to play as the game went along, so at least Vegas might have dodged that bullet. Maybe.

The Blue Jackets managed this regulation win, even with Artemi Panarin out of the lineup. Maybe it wasn’t always pretty, but they’re likely feeling better than the Golden Knights right now.

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.

Unlikely fight: Bobby Ryan vs. Kyle Turris

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File this Monday fight under “unexpected,” as Nashville Predators center Kyle Turris dropped the gloves with Bobby Ryan of the Ottawa Senators.

Turris was once Ryan’s teammate with the Sens, but it’s unclear if that had anything to do with it. Either way, when you consider the players involved, this was a fairly passionate bout.

It looked like Ryan got the best of Turris, at one point seemingly leaving Turris dazed.

Via Hockey Fights, it’s been quite a while for Ryan, in particular, as his last fight happened against Kris Russell in March of the 2013-14 season.

Turris, meanwhile, has seen quite a remarkable array of opponents, ranging from Tanner Glass to Marc-Edouard Vlasic, with current teammate P.K. Subban also included.

After falling behind 3-0, the Predators were able to secure a standings point by sending the game to OT at 3-3. The Senators got the last laugh, however, as Thomas Chabot scored this beautiful overtime game-winner:

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.