Get your game notes: Bolts at Sabres

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Tonight on NBCSN, it’s the Buffalo Sabres hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7:30 p.m. ET. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

• With 36 points, TB is tied with MTL for the most points in the NHL and is off to its best start in franchise history through the first 25 games of a season.

• TB enters tonight having won four straight games, including a 6-3 win at NYR on Monday night. The Lightning have outscored opponents 16-8 during the win streak. Earlier this season, TB had a 6-game winning streak from Oct. 28-Nov. 9.

• TB is averaging an NHL-best 3.60 goals/game and is the only team to have scored 7 goals in a game three different times this season.

• C Steven Stamkos ranks third in the NHL with 15 goals and is tied for fourth with 29 points. He is on a 5-game point streak (3 goals, 4 assists) and has points in 11 of his last 12 games.

• Since the beginning of the 2009-10 season, no player in the NHL has scored more goals than Stamkos’ 225. Alex Ovechkin is the next closest player with 214.

• TB is 14-0-0 when RW Ryan Callahan scores a goal, dating back to last season when the club acquired him from NYR. Callahan is second on TB in goals (11) and tied for third in points (21).

• Callahan, a Rochester, N.Y., native, grew up rooting for the Sabres and played for the Buffalo Lightning of the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OPJHL) from 2001-02.

• After starting the season 3-13-2, BUF has gone 5-1-0 in its last six games to pick up over half (10) of its total points (18) during that stretch. BUF is coming off back-to-back wins against MTL.

• G Jhonas Enroth has started five of the Sabres’ last six games – three of them coming in a four-night span – due to G Michal Neuvirth being out with a lower-body injury that he suffered on Nov. 18 against SJ. During those five starts, Enroth has gone 4-1-0, allowing 8 total goals.

• BUF has gained at least a point in each of its last six divisional matchups (4-0-2) for the first time since it had points in six straight games from Feb. 26-March 23, 2013, when it went 5-0-1

• BUF is averaging an NHL-worst 1.67 goals/game.

• The Tyler Ennis / Zemgus Girgensons / Matt Moulson line has combined to score 18 of the Sabres’ 40 goals this season.

• 82nd regular-season meeting between BUF and TB, and first of five meetings this season.

• Tonight is the first game in a back-to-back, home-and-home series. The teams will play again on Thursday at TB. They will also play this season on Dec. 31, Jan. 9 and March 3.

• TB has won 3 of its last 4 meetings against BUF.

• In their last meeting, TB won 4-3 (OT) at BUF on March 29 last season.

• BUF leads all-time series 50-24-5-2 (W-L-T-OL).

HEAD-TO-HEAD

• TB: C Steven Stamkos has 10G-12A in 23 career games played vs. BUF, and has 3 game-winning goals.

• TB: G Ben Bishop is 4-0-1 with a 2.31 GAA and .920 SV% in 5 career starts vs. BUF.

• BUF: RW Drew Stafford has 9G-10A in 25 career games played vs. TB, including 3 power-play goals.

• BUF: G Jhonas Enroth is 3-0-1 with a 1.74 GAA and .949 SV% in 4 career starts vs. TB.

TAMPA BAY TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• C Steven Stamkos, who missed 45 games last season after breaking his leg, told the Tampa Bay Times in November that his right leg may never feel the same. Yet he has managed to play in all 25 of TB’s games this season. He leads the team in goals (15) and points (29), and power-play goals (6).

• RW Ryan Callahan, who signed a 6-year/$34.8 million contract extension with TB in June through 2019-20, has 6 points in his last 4 games.

• D Victor Hedman returned to the ice on Saturday against Ottawa after missing 18 games due to a finger fracture he suffered in the fifth game of the season. Hedman has 10 points in 7 games this season, including 3 assists in the Lightning’s 6-3 win over the Rangers on Monday night – his first points since the injury.

• TB acquired a third-round draft pick in 2015 from ANA on Nov. 28 in exchange for D Eric Brewer. The trade created a roster spot the Lightning needed with Hedman returning from injury. In 17 games for the Lightning this season, Brewer had 4 assists and a +5 rating.

• C Alex Killorn’s career-best seven-game point streak ended last night. He has scored the game-winning goal in two of TB’s last four games and has contributed to “all those little plays that kind of go unnoticed,” according to teammate Tyler Johnson.

• G Ben Bishop has allowed 2 or fewer goals against in six of his past nine games. He has started 20 games this season, posting a 15-3-2 record with a 2.30 GAA and .917 SV%. He has yet to record a shutout this season.

BUFFALO TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• C Tyler Ennis leads BUF with 16 points and his 7th and most recent goal of the season is still being shared widely on social media. In a 2-1 win vs. MTL last Friday, Ennis squeaked past two Canadiens before scoring from behind his back while falling onto the ice.

• Entering the week, 20-year-old C Zemgus Girgensons was leading all players in the 2015 NHL All-Star Fan Vote. The highest-drafted Latvian player in NHL history (picked 14th overall by the Sabres in the 2012 draft) is tied with Ennis for the team lead with 7 goals. According to the Buffalo News, he’s received many of his votes from overseas in Latvia. In Latvian, “Zemgus” means “one who eats lions.”

• D Josh Gorges, who was the NHL’s leader in blocked shots when he hurt his knee on Nov. 11 vs. STL, is expected to return to the lineup tonight after missing the last seven games, said head coach Ted Nolan.

• RW Drew Stafford, the longest-tenured Sabre, is third on the team with 12 points (4G-8A) but has not recorded a point in his last four games. He missed BUF’s game at MTL on Saturday (lower-body) but is expected to be back in the lineup tonight.

• When Stafford was 21 and starting his career, BUF was a Presidents’ Trophy team (2006-07). Now, at 29, he’s in the final year of his contract with a team that finished with its worst record in 42 years last season.

• RW Brian Gionta has just 2 goals through 24 games in his first season with the Sabres – both of which came in BUF’s 4-1 win over SJ on Nov. 18. Gionta scored 20+ goals seven times in his 12 seasons with MTL/NJ.

• RW Chris Stewart has 2 goals in his last 3 games after scoring just 1 goal in his first 21 games this season. Ever since being traded from STL to BUF at last season’s trade deadline, Stewart has been a popular name in the trade rumor mill, and he is now drawing interest from WPG and CHI.

Bargain star MacKinnon says he’d take less money again to help Avalanche win

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If you could choose one active NHL player to build a team around, who would it be?

In a vacuum, the answer should be obvious: Connor McDavid. Yet, when you consider salary cap realities, the choice gets fuzzier thanks to the absolutely ludicrous bargain the Colorado Avalanche are enjoying with Nathan MacKinnon.

With all due respect to the steals teams like the Bruins enjoy with David Pastrnak, you can’t really beat the bang for the buck the Avalanche get for MacKinnon (unless you try to cheat with rookie contracts, which: tsk, tsk).

MacKinnon, 24, is currently in the fourth season of a contract that carries an outrageously team-friendly AAV of just $6.3M, and delightfully for Colorado, that deal won’t expire until after the 2022-23 season. That cap hit is barely more than half of the $12.5M AAV McDavid carries, and frankly, McDavid is worth every penny of the league maximum. (And MacKinnon likely deserves something in that range, too.)

You have to wonder if MacKinnon must be want to fire his agent after seeing players like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner cashing in on their second deals, but the speedy Avalanche center mostly shrugged it off — though with some humor — telling Forbes’ Jordan Horrobin that, in the grand scheme of things, MacKinnon has “no regrets” about signing his contract.

After all, MacKinnon is doing just fine, with Cap Friendly estimating his career earnings at $27.025M so far. Yes, MacKinnon deserves more, but unless Elon Musk or Bill Gates is reading this post, you’d agree that it’s a good problem to have.

Even so, fans of teams with stars on less team-friendly contracts likely feel jealous when they see MacKinnon ripping through defenses at a cut rate. Those fans may grit their teeth, then, while Avs fans may want to throw up confetti when they realize that MacKinnon indicated to Horrobin that he’d sacrifice some dollars on his next contract if it helped the Avalanche win big.

“We have guys that we wouldn’t (otherwise) be able to bring in,” MacKinnon said. “On my next deal, I’ll take less again. Because I want to win with this group.”

Now, sure, “less” is likely to be a relative term. Maybe it would mean that MacKinnon would “settle” for a bit less than whatever the maximum salary would be. The league’s salary structure and revenues could really blossom by 2022 (the first summer where MacKinnon could sign an extension) or after 2022-23, when his deal expires. Or maybe MacKinnon would follow his buddy Sidney Crosby and give the Avalanche another extreme sweetheart deal.

And, obviously, things can change fast. The Avalanche could fall off the rails compared to their current seemingly skyrocketing upward trajectory, or MacKinnon could clash with management, making the prospect of leaving even more money on the table far less palatable down the line.

But the concept of getting another value contract with MacKinnon is ultimately extremely promising for the Avs.

After all, this bursting group of young talent figures to become pretty costly down the line. Cale Makar is already flirting with superstar status, and he’ll need a second contract after 2020-21. Philipp Grubauer only has two more years on his active contract, too, and could prove he’s worth far more than his current $3.33M AAV. Gabriel Landeskog‘s contract expires during that same offseason.

You can see how the belt could really tighten for the Avalanche down the line, and while MacKinnon should command a huge raise whenever he inks his next contract, it sounds like he might be willing to compromise to try to win a Stanley Cup (or, perhaps if he parallels Crosby in more than just taking less money for the team, winning multiple Stanley Cups).

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.

Coyotes’ Soderberg thriving despite blindness in left eye

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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The darkest time came right after the injury. Months in the hospital. Multiple surgeries. Pain, fear, little hope.

Playing hockey again was not even a remote consideration. Carl Soderberg had bigger concerns.

”I was more worried about my eye and would I get my vision back,” Soderberg said.

The Arizona Coyotes made the biggest splash of the offseason, trading for highly productive right wing Phil Kessel.

But the addition of Soderberg might have been Arizona’s biggest move.

A 6-foot-3, 210-pound center, Soderberg has given the Coyotes a big body to go with all those fast, skilled young players.

He’s a willing jostler outside the crease, creating traffic in front of opposing goalies and shooting lanes for his teammates. He’s the guy who goes into the corners to dig pucks out. Need a big hit, he’s Arizona’s guy.

Soderberg also is skilled, tied with Christian Dvorak for second on the team with eight goals. He’s also tied for fifth with 15 points through 29 games.

”He’s a guy that goes to the net. He’s always around the net,” Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said. ”He’s just fit in and he’s a big body. It’s nice to have those big bodies. He’s done a nice job for us.”

The most amazing part of Soderberg”s NHL success: he’s legally blind in his left eye.

He was injured while playing in the Swedish Elite League in 2006 when an opponent tried to lift his stick and hit his eye instead. Soderberg suffered a detached retina, spent three months in the hospital because of pressure in his eye and lost track of how many surgeries he had, estimating between eight and 10.

A young player reaching his prime, Soderberg was in too much pain to think about his hockey career.

”The pressure in my eye was so high for months,” the 34-year-old said. ”It wouldn’t go down, so I was in constant pain, getting constant headaches and worried if I would ever be able to see out of my eye again. I just wanted to feel good again.”

Once the pressure started to go down, Soderberg began working out and, within about a year, was playing hockey again. His return was difficult, from figuring out how to play with limited vision to quashing the fear that comes with having been struck in the eye with a stick.

”It was a little different on the eyes, I was scared, afraid to get hit again,” he said. ”It took me a couple years to fully get back.”

Soderberg worked through the tentativeness and adjusted his game, learning to turn his head more to see the puck and having a better understanding of where everyone is on the ice.

”You have to be more aware, you have to listen to your teammates, look around you a little bit more,” Soderberg said.

Willie O’Ree knows what Soderberg is going through.

Playing at a time when players didn’t have helmets much less visors, O’Ree took a slapshot to his right eye during a game in 1956. O’Ree lost nearly all the vision in his eye and was told he would never play hockey again.

Undeterred, he started skating two weeks after leaving the hospital and adjusted his game. Being a left-handed left wing helped some, but seeing the puck to his right required turning his head all the way to the right so he could see it with his left eye.

O’Ree went on to become the first black player in the NHL in 1958 and played 21 seasons in a variety of leagues. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018, has an NHL community award named in his honor and currently serves as the league’s diversity ambassador.

”You never took an eye exam, so I said, if I’m good enough to make the team with one eye, just don’t tell them,” O’Ree said. ”I was getting hit a lot more than I did before, but I was able to play 21 years with one eye.”

Soderberg is playing his eighth NHL season while seeing little more than light in his left eye. He spent three seasons with Boston and four with Colorado before being traded to Arizona for Kevin Connauton and a draft pick last summer.

Soderberg, who has 94 goals and 166 assists in 511 career games, has been a big reason the Coyotes are off to one of the best starts in franchise history, entering Wednesday’s games a point behind Edmonton in the Pacific Division.

”I have a good feeling about us as a group,” Soderberg said. ”We should be at the top of our division at the end and that’s our goal.”

It’s hard not to trust Soderberg’s vision at this point.

Pittsburgh’s Primanti Brothers restaurant honors ‘Doc’ Emrick

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One of the ultimate signs of respect from the city of Pittsburgh is when Primanti Brothers, the local sandwich shop known for piling mountains of french fries and cole slaw on its sandwiches, names something after you.

NBC Sports announcer ‘Doc’ Emrick recently had that honor when the four downtown Pittsburgh locations offered “The Doc Special” this week that included their traditional pastrami sandwich and a pop (no “soda” in Pittsburgh) of your choice for $9.50.

Before ‘Doc’ called Wednesday’s game between the Penguins and defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues, he stopped at the Market Square location to enjoy his very own special.

The restaurant decided to honor him because it has been nearly 50 years since he had his first experience covering the NHL when he covered the Penguins for the Beaver County Times.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Delicate line for NHL coaches; Sabres headed for collapse?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Devils discuss why John Hynes was fired, and the tone is pretty close to the opposite of how people discussed coaches like Mike Babcock once he was out the door. Taylor Hall talks up Hynes’ role in Hall winning a Hart Trophy, saying “I have a pretty cool trophy at home that I think he had a part in.” (The Trentonian)

• Kings coach Todd McLellan has been around, including working with Mike Babcock in Detroit. He has some interesting insight on how “delicate” it can be to motivate players without crossing the line, and compares it to how discipline has changed at elementary schools. “Ears aren’t pulled. You don’t go to the principal’s office to see or get the strap.” (Los Angeles Times)

• John Tortorella didn’t comment, but plenty of players from his various stops discuss his methods, with the overriding message being that he doesn’t cross the line. (The Athletic [$])

• A hand injury will likely keep Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon out at least a couple weeks. (Star-Tribune)

• In taking a deep dive regarding the Sabres’ underlying numbers, Travis Yost wonders if another collapse is looming. (Buffalo News)

• Manon Rhéaume, the first woman to play in the NHL, will be honored with a statue outside Quebec City’s Videotron Centre. [CBC]

• An in-depth breakdown of the Blues’ “Enter the Zone,” predictive gaming platform, which “offered a glimpse of the future of wagering on professional hockey.” (ESPN)

• Sonny Sachdeva wonders if Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl could actually maintain their paces at around 140 points, and compares their starts to some of the hottest stretches from the likes of Jaromir Jagr and Sidney Crosby. (Sportsnet)

• How defensemen are evolving to impact games more at 5-on-5 than on the power play. (Rotoworld)

• People might snicker at Alex Burrows making the Ring of Honour, or sneer at his agitating days, but Daniel Wagner explains that you won’t understand Burrows if you aren’t a fan of the Canucks. (Vancouver Courier/Pass it to Bulis)

• When will the Blackhawks break out of their current trend of mediocrity? (Second City Hockey)

• The second tier of pending free agents who might get big raises, from Jake Muzzin to Evgenii Dadonov. (Sporting News)

• There are some interesting photo choices in the latest edition of the Upper Deck hockey card series. [Puck Junk]

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.