Surging Sergachev gives loaded Lightning yet another weapon

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The Tampa Bay Lightning are so far ahead of the rest of the NHL, it’s almost insulting, and the scary part is that we might not have seen this team at its best.

Or, at least, there’s mounting evidence that the Bolts are uncommonly well-suited if injuries or other curveballs head their way.

Such a thought comes to mind – and maybe puts a damper on trade deadline daydreaming for other teams – when you see Mikhail Sergachev starting to heat up.

Overall, it’s been a slightly disappointing season for the 20-year-old, at least as far as counting stats go. Last season, Sergachev inspired a ton of “Sergachev has x points compared to Jonathan Drouin” comments on his way to 40 points in 79 games despite averaging just 15:22 TOI. This season, those jokes have dried up (Drouin’s at 35 already), as the Russian defenseman’s been limited to 18 points.

But things are really coming around lately.

With a goal in Tuesday’s 2-0 win against the Stars, Sergachev now has five points (two goals, three assists) in his last five games. He also has six in his past seven.

That’s obviously a small sample size, but it’s remarkable just how much swagger you can see in Sergachev’s game. Consider this goal from Jan. 12, when Sergachev made a saucy fake-slapper before setting up an Ondrej Palat tally:

Sergachev is being bold, and good things are happening when he’s being bold:

Maybe just as importantly, Sergachev is clearly gaining the trust of Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. Consider what he said on Jan. 12, via Joe Smith of The Athletic (sub required):

“It’s night and day from last year to this year,” coach Jon Cooper said. “It’s funny, he pointed a lot last year and was scoring goals. But there was so much about the game he had to learn, whether it was at the defensive end, where you’re supposed to be, and he’s done a great job this year. Last year, you had to dress seven ‘D’ to manage his minutes, there’s no need to do that anymore.”

Here’s a wild assumption: maybe Cooper needed that time as much as Sergachev did?

Cooper gives off the vibe of one of the NHL’s more progressive head coaches, yet he also struggled with the risk/reward part of Drouin’s game, and a lot of coaches tend to fixate on mistakes made by young players while letting similar mistakes go when it comes to veterans.

After all, Sergachev’s possession numbers were quite impressive last season, too — to the point that it was almost a little frustrating to see the Lightning struggle against, say, the Capitals and not loosen Sergachev’s leash a bit.

Either way, there’s no denying that Sergachev is more trusted. After starting a lopsided 70.2-percent of his shifts in the offensive zone in 2017-18, he’s down to a still-offense-leaning but more reasonable 54.3 percent this season, and he’s still a strong possession player, even relative to his talented teammates.

The Lightning should really see how far they can push things with Sergachev, actually.

With such a robust lead in the East, this should be a great opportunity for Cooper to experiment with different lineup combinations.

From a handedness perspective, it would likely irk Cooper to pair Sergachev with fellow left-handed shot Victor Hedman, but then again, would the end result still be more effective than limited, veteran RHD Dan Girardi? If RHD Anton Stralman has lost one too many steps, could Sergachev instead make for an upgrade alongside Tampa Bay’s other standout LHD, Ryan McDonagh?

Heck, would the Lightning’s already-deadly power play be even scarier if it bucked 4F/1D trends and went with Sergachev and Hedman on the top unit, instead of Sergachev on the second PP?

It’s perfectly plausible that the Lightning have already found all the correct answers in their current alignments, but what better time to experiment than now, when you have that buffer — yet you may never be in a better position to win a Stanley Cup with this core?

(After all, re-signing Brayden Point won’t be cheap, while Sergachev and Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s will be slated for substantial raises after 2019-20.)

Some of these factors present challenges for the Lightning, but if Sergachev’s growth and other factors tip toward Tampa Bay, this already-formidable team could be that much more terrifying.

That thought is almost as scary as trying to stop Sergachev when he’s improvising in the offensive zone.

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.

Hughes has first NHL hat trick, Devils beat Capitals 5-1

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NEWARK, N.J. – Jack Hughes had his first career NHL hat trick, Vitek Vanecek made 38 saves against his former team and the New Jersey Devils beat the Washington Capitals 5-1 on Saturday for coach Lindy Ruff’s 800th victory.

“It’s exciting,” Hughes said. “Couple of two-goal games in my career, so nice to cap it off with the third one tonight.”

Ruff became the fifth NHL coach to reach the 800-victory mark. The former Buffalo player won 571 games with the Sabres from 1997-2011. He had 165 wins in five seasons with Dallas and has 64 in two-plus seasons with New Jersey.

“It means I’ve been around a long time,” Ruff cracked. “Great to win the game. Again, you got to do a lot of right things, have good teams, and the way our team is playing I have to give them a lot of credit for getting me there.”

The Atlantic Division-leading Devils have won two in a row after seeing their franchise-record 13-game winning streak snapped by Toronto.

Devils captain Nico Hischier and Fabian Zetterlund also scored.

John Carlson scored for Washington and Charlie Lindgren made 24 saves.

“Not scoring goals, not capitalizing on our chances,” Carlson said. “We’ve had our chances, especially today, but we only walked away with one goal. We could have had five or six. It’s just not going in right now.”

Vanecek, meanwhile, was hoping for the shutout against a familiar foe.

“That would have been nice, but that’s hockey,” Vanecek said, “For sure you’re trying, but not every time; the win is more important.”

Hischier opened up the scoring with his 10th goal of the season midway through the first period on a power play after Alexander Ovechkin was called for slashing.

Hughes wrapped the puck around goalie Lindgren’s right leg and the goal post to put the Devils up 2-0 5:59 into the second period. Hughes appeared to have lost his angle on the goal when he ripped a shot off Lindgren’s face mask and into the net midway through the period for his 10th goal of the season to give New Jersey a 3-0 lead.

The 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick added his third midway through the third period as hats rained down on the ice with New Jersey up 4-0.

“You want to continue to play the right way, but if an opportunity comes you want to definitely put it in the back of the net with authority,” Hughes said. “So tonight, I was able to cap it off and it was nice.”

Fabian Zetterlund capped the scoring for New Jersey late in the third period.

NOTES: The Devils improved to 16-0-0 this season when Hischier has a point. New Jersey’s Nathan Bastain (upper body) did not return after the first period. . Ovechkin is still nine goals away from 800 and 11 from passing Gordie Howe for second place on the NHL goals list.

UP NEXT

Capitals: At Vancouver on Tuesday night.

Devils: At the New York Rangers on Monday night.

Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

“That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

“It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

“It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

“We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

TAKE NOTE

The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

UP NEXT

Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

“We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.