Sissons’ hat trick, coach’s challenges lift Predators to another win

A Colton Sissons hat trick and two successful coach’s challenges were the difference for the Nashville Predators on Wednesday night as they picked up a 4-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche, winning their fourth game in a row and improving to a league-best 12-3-0 to start the season.

Sissons was the offensive star for the Predators as he not only ended what had been a 13-game goal drought, but recorded the second regular season hat trick of his career.

Ryan Hartman added an empty net goal in the final minutes to help put the game away for the Predators.

While the final score ended up looking a little lopsided, this game could have been a lot closer had it not been for the NHL’s replay system that allowed Nashville to challenge two potential Colorado goals that were ultimately overturned.

Early in the second period Ian Cole thought he scored what would have been his second goal of the season only to have it overturned after replay showed that the puck had barely exited the zone as defender Samuel Girard tried to keep it in.

In the third period, and with the Predators leading 3-1, Colin Wilson thought he scored against his former team to cut the deficit to a single goal, only to again have the Predators challenge for offsides and again have the call overturned.

Avalanche forward Alexander Kerfoot was offside as Cole attempted to dump the puck in to the zone on the rush.

The two challenges by Nashville were bold calls by the coaching staff because had they not been overturned they would have not only given up the goal, but also been assessed a delay of game penalty for the failed offside challenge. Either way they were potential game-changing calls, and they both just so happened to go the Predators’ way.

When the Avalanche weren’t having goals overturned by review, Predators goalie Pekka Rinne was playing another spectacular game by turning aside 24 of the 25 shots he faced. In his first eight appearances in 2018-19 the reigning Vezina Trophy winner has a .948 save percentage on the season.

After a great start that saw the Avalanche go 6-1-2 in their first nine games they have now lost five of their past six games and each of the past four.

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.

Blues fire Yeo, name Berube interim head coach

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After falling 2-0 to the Los Angeles Kings, the St. Louis Blues fired Mike Yeo, naming Craig Berube interim head coach late on Monday night.

This continues an astoundingly terrible November for NHL head coaches. Last season, there were no in-season firings across the league. Yeo now stands as the third head coach in November alone, following John Stevens and Joel Quenneville.

[Read more: Coach Q out in Chicago / Kings can Stevens]

Considering that the Kings fired Stevens, you almost wonder if Willie Desjardins exchanged a knowing glance with Berube at some point.

The timing is interesting, even beyond the coaching change happening after the Blues lost to another team that fired its head coach.

Despite landing Ryan O'Reillywho’s been absolutely fantastic in St. Louis – the Blues fell to 7-9-3, suffering their third shutout loss in four games. The Blues currently rest in last place in the Central with 17 standings points; only the lowly Kings rank lower in the West with 15.

Such a start simply wasn’t acceptable for the Blues, particularly after Yeo failed to take them to the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Yeo leaves the Blues as an in-season firing not that long after being an in-season replacement. He took over for Ken Hitchcock during the 2016-17 season, coaching in 32 regular-season games as the Blues rallied to a postseason spot. Yeo was able to exact some revenge against his former team, the Minnesota Wild, as the Blues won the series in six games.

That would end up being the only playoff round Yeo would win as Blues head coach. They fell in six games to the Nashville Predators, and then St. Louis failed to earn a postseason berth in 2017-18. Now, 19 games into 2018-19, the Blues have made another change.

Much like Yeo, Berube traveled a path from NHL head coach (with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2013-14 and 2014-15) to assistant with the Blues, ultimately replacing Yeo now.

Teams certainly don’t aim to replace coaches, but especially while a season is in full swing. With that in mind, longtime Blues GM Doug Armstrong has to be feeling some serious heat after making that decision twice in three seasons.

As wily as Armstrong’s been at times (landing ROR, handily winning the Brayden Schenn trade, deftly timing the Kevin Shattenkirk trade), the Blues have been “good, but not good enough” for far too long.

Yeo wasn’t a disaster in St. Louis. In the end, it felt like the Blues were not necessarily adapting to the winds of change in the NHL.

The Blues need to get up to speed, and fast. If not, it might cost Armstrong and Berube their jobs.

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.

Sabres storm back to extend Penguins’ early season misery

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PITTSBURGH — These aren’t the Buffalo Sabres you have come to know over the past seven years.

These also are not the Pittsburgh Penguins you have come to know, either.

The two teams continued on their early season paths — which are going in completely opposite directions — on Monday night as the Sabres stormed back and erased a three-goal second period deficit to pick up a 5-4 overtime win on a Jack Eichel goal, leaving the Penguins stunned and still searching for answers.

For the Sabres, it continues what has been the team’s best start in close to a decade, extending their current winning streak to six games and giving them a 10-2-2 record in their past 14 games. Everything is clicking for them right now, from new acquisitions like Jeff Skinner stepping in and making a massive impact on the top line, to new starting goalie Carter Hutton giving the team capable goaltending every night.

[Related: The Sabres are good]

Hutton did not have a spectacular game on Monday overall, but he still made some huge saves early in the game to keep his team in it. He also played a huge factor on the penalty kill to help kill off a two-man advantage in the second period when the team was already trailing by three goals.

Once they killed off that penalty, Zach Bogosian scored to cut the deficit in half.

From that point on the Sabres completely took over the game and absolutely manhandled the Penguins in their own zone for the final 25 minutes.

“I think obviously there is that desperation in our game there in the third,” said Eichel. “We’ve been in that spot before. We’ve been a resilient bunch. There is that belief in the room every time we go out there we can make a push and find a way to get a point or two. We definitely want to work on our starts, but it’s great to see the way the team sticks together. It’s a credit to all the guys in the room to stick with it even when things don’t go our way.”

“There is a bit of confidence now because we’ve done it a few times,” Eichel continued. “I think it’s a trust and a belief in each other that the next guy is going to get the job done and set you up for your next shift. We’re a pretty tight bunch for how many new guys have come into this team and we’re doing it for each other. Everyone goes out there and doesn’t want to let the guy next to you down.”

While things are going wonderfully for the Sabres right now things for the Penguins are … well …  bad.

How bad? Look at it this way: They are left trying to find silver linings after their past two games. Those games — a 6-4 loss in Ottawa where they mounted a late — and ultimately futile — third period rally, and an overtime loss to Buffalo on home ice in which they had a 4-1 lead (while getting a 29-second two-man advantage) with 15 minutes to play in the second period.

For a team that was winning Stanley Cups just a couple of years ago and entered the season with a roster it thought was capable of winning another one, that is an astonishing and sudden slide.

Coach Mike Sullivan is trying to remain positive.

“On a couple of the goals they score, we make a couple of mistakes and they end up in the back of our net,” said Sullivan.  “Just seems like the way it is going right now. There was a lot to like about our game and our effort. We certainly have to clean up some areas defensively but there was certainly a lot to like in this game as well.

There definitely was a lot to like about the first 25 minutes, especially when it came to the team finding some even-strength scoring from players they need to get it from.

Derick Brassard, who has battled injuries and inconsistent play since arriving before last season’s trade deadline, opened the scoring with a much-needed goal, while recent acquisition Tanner Pearson scored a goal and recorded an assist. Those two points exceeded his total for the season between the Kings and Penguins entering the game.

From there, everything went south.

Defensive breakdowns, an inability to smoothly and efficiently exit the zone, no sustained offensive zone pressure, and more sub-par goaltending (this time from Casey DeSmith) turned what looked to be a much-needed win into yet another loss.

That is now nine losses in their past 10 games as the Penguins are tied with the New Jersey Devils for the lowest point total in the Eastern Conference.

Sullivan was asked if it is too early for things to be getting “desperate.”

[Related: NHL’s most impactful offseason additions]

“I don’t think it’s ever too early,”said Sullivan. “Every game is important, every point is important, and we’re scratching and clawing through it anyway we can. We are well aware of the position we are in. None of us are happy about it. We have a proud group. I do think we are getting better in a lot of areas. We’re not getting the results. We very well could have in a number of games, tonight being one of them. We have to clean up some areas I know we are capable of being better, we have to make sure we do not get down ourselves, and we keep the right attitude and the right energy around the rink so we can pull together.”

How they are able to start getting the results and how they can pull it together still seems like a mystery, but they better start figuring it out.

Captain Sidney Crosby is getting closer to a return, but there is only so much he can do. He also does not fix the issues on the blue line, in the goal crease, or in the bottom-six (though his return does push Brassard back down to the third-line role he was acquired to play in).

With Monday’s loss they now find themselves five points behind the Washington Capitals for the third playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division and seven points behind the second wild card team in the Eastern Conference. That is not an insignificant gap, even if it is still November. No team five or more points out of a playoff spot in 2017-18 on Nov. 20 (which is where the Penguins will sit on Tuesday) managed to make the playoffs.

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.

Even Ovechkin was raving about Price in Capitals-Habs thriller

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Goalies don’t often receive big ovations heading into overtime after allowing four goals, but Monday’s Capitals – Canadiens gaming wasn’t your typical contest.

That exciting 5-4 overtime win for Washington had a little bit of everything, really.

  • Former Canadiens forward Lars Eller received boos when he touched the puck in OT, yet the two-way center got the last laugh by scoring the game-winner.
  • Max Domi and the Canadiens looked very much up to speed with the defending champions. Montreal ended up firing 44 shots on goal. Pheonix Copley was chased after allowing four goals on 22 shots, giving way to Braden Holtby, who stopped all 22 he saw. (So this game had Holtby swoop in to save the day.)

Domi also roughed up Dmitry Orlov in this quick fight:

Early on in the game, Ovechkin had the advantage. Ovechkin’s first goal came even-strength, as he connected thanks to a great Tom Wilson pass. After that, Ovechkin generated the 236th power-play goal of his career, tying him with Mario Lemieux for seventh all-time while leaving him just one behind Brendan Shanahan.

It sure looked like Ovechkin would collect his 22nd career hat trick, but Carey Price said no … multiple times.

Ovechkin came quite close coming from the opposite circle of his typical “office,” with the other distinction being that it wasn’t a power-play chance:

Impressive stuff, yet that wasn’t the save that drew rave reviews from basically everyone involved.

As you can see from the video above this post’s headline, Price found a way to get a piece of Ovechkin’s bread-and-butter shot, sprawling out for a spectacular save. In fact, it was so spectacular that Ovechkin himself a) clapped for Price and then b) patted him on the chest.

Ovechkin – Price wasn’t the only entertaining element of Washington’s 5-4 OT win against Montreal. There were a ton of scoring chances, close calls, and some physicality.

That said, that duel between star sniper and big-name goalie made for quite the marquee main event.

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.

Stars lose Ben Bishop to injury

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Monday is looking like an all-around tough night for the Dallas Stars.

Heading into the third period tied 1-1 with the New York Rangers, the Stars had to replace starter Ben Bishop with Anton Khudobin. Bishop’s night was over thanks to a lower-body injury.

Khudobin only allowed one goal against the Rangers, yet Filip Chytil‘s tally ended up being the game-winner as New York prevailed 2-1. So, the Stars lost the game and their starting goalie in this one, and the hope is that Bishop doesn’t miss much more time from there.

The bad news is that the Stars are missing a goalie who’s quietly been quite effective so far in 2018-19. Bishop came into this contest with a strong .923 save percentage. It’s also no secret that Bishop has been hounded by injuries during his career, including during his days with Dallas.

(After the game, the Stars labeled Bishop day-to-day.)

On the bright side, Anton Khudobin’s been strong so far, too. His save percentage was .926 before this contest, so perhaps the experienced backup can hold down the fort even if Bishop is on the shelf for a while?

Either way, the Stars could stand to give their goalies more run support. Dallas only managed 17 shots on goal against Henrik Lundqvist on Monday, only managing a power-play goal by Tyler Seguin.

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.