Golden Knights favorites hosting Predators on Wednesday Night Hockey

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Nashville Predators and Vegas Golden Knights. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Disparate divisional trends and a strong bounce-back pattern seem to be riding with the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Golden Knights are the -130 home favorite on the NHL odds with the Nashville Predators coming back at +105, while there is a 6.0-goal total for their matchup on Wednesday at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The second-year Golden Knights, who are 9-4 in their last 13 regular-season home games against the Central Division, will be looking to avoid their first back-to-back home defeats to teams from the other half of the Western Conference after losing 4-2 against the Minnesota Wild on Monday. The Predators are 0-5 in their last five road games against Pacific Division teams, but prior to that had won six in row dating to January 2018.

The Predators are 29-18-4 this season, including a 13-9-4 road record, but are just 2-4 over their last six games according to the OddsShark NHL Database with one of the victories being a 4-1 win on Monday against the Colorado Avalanche, whom they have long dominated.

Only two goals have been scored in the first periods of the last four Predators-Golden Knights contests, so it is not out of the realm that Nashville’s top scoring threats such as center Ryan Johansen and right wing Viktor Arvidsson will have to be patient to wait for opportunities. Another challenge for Nashville is that its power play, converting at a 13.3 percent clip, is 29th in the 31-team NHL whereas the Golden Knights’ penalty kill is fifth (83.8 per cent).

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

The Predators are among the NHL teams moving toward a true two-goalie system. Pekka Rinne handled their most recent game but has had a below-par month, going 3-3-1 with a 3.33 goals-against average and .896 save percentage. Juuse Saros is 3-2 with a 1.58 average and .947 save percentage.

The Golden Knights are also 29-18-4, but are 16-5-3 at T-Mobile Arena. While Vegas has been in win-one, lose-one mode with a 3-3 record across its last six games, some positive signs are that they haven’t dropped two in a row, or allowed more than four goals in any of the losses.

The Golden Knights, whose leading scorers are right wing Alex Tuch and left wing Jonathan Marchessault, roll four lines with speed and often create an edge in offensive zone pressure and shot attempts. Whether that lends itself to scoring a lot of goals can depend on the quality and the form of the opposing goalie. The Golden Knights will have an 18th-ranked power play (18.5 percent) facing Nashville’s 16th-ranked penalty kill (79.9 percent).

Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is 5-3 with a 2.28 goals-against average and .913 save percentage in eight games so far in January.

The total has gone OVER in eight of Nashville’s last 10 road games at sports betting sites. The total has gone UNDER in four of Vegas’ last seven games as a home favorite.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Kenny Albert (play-by-play), Eddie Olczyk (analyst) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Nev.

4 U.S. women’s team members play in ECHL All-Star Classic

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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The visor on Annie Pankowski’s helmet gave her significant pause before the ECHL All-Star Classic.

“That is the first time me and the other women have worn visors,” said the three-time wold champion who has always worn a full cage. “When I saw that, it was the first time I got nervous. I started telling some of the guys like, you know, I’m not going to play defense.”

Not to worry, no one else was playing much defense, either.

Pankowski was one of four members of the U.S women’s team taking part in the event played in collaboration with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association.

Dani Cameranesi, Kali Flanagan and Gigi Marvin also played on the 2018 U.S. Olympic gold medal team.

The ECHL event featured four teams playing short games against each other. There was one female player on each team in the nationally televised showcase.

“It’s an opportunity for our league to celebrate our players but also to highlight hockey everywhere for our fans to enjoy,” ECHL commissioner Ryan Crelin said.

But while the women were competing with some of the better players in minor-league hockey, the games barely resembled normal competition. It was 3 on 3 with no stoppages – and almost no defense other than an occasional stick in the passing lane.

“I was really nervous about how it would go, how the guys would accept us,” Flanagan said. “But they made us feel like one of them.”

Flanagan played for the Eastern Conference All-Stars, who won the event. She scored a goal in the final, though it went into a wide open net after the puck went off a referee’s skate. That earned her some good-natured teasing in the hallways.

“Got lucky there,” she said, laughing, “but you could tell by the time we got to the final, the guys wanted to win.”

Wichita Thunder forward Stefan Fournier said the women were a welcome addition for the all-star festivities.

“They integrated right in,” he said. “I think, for us, it was about respecting all hockey players. Sure, the size of the players might be different between men and women, but mentally, we are all just hockey players.”

For Flanagan, the event was particularly special as her uncle, Joe Flanagan, played in the ECHL All-Star Game more than 20 years ago.

“I was thrilled to be part of that,” she said. “And I’m really happy the ECHL is fighting for women’s hockey.”

Pankowski, playing with a team comprised of host Wichita Thunder players, scored a backhanded goal in the night’s third matchup, getting a big cheer from the crowd.

Cameranesi and Marvin also scored goals during the round-robin portion of the tournament.

Pankowski was thrilled to see each of the women score, but she said one of her favorite moments came after the sharp-shooting competition when she was just yapping with other players.

“I told them I was worried about taking too long, that they might just turn the lights out on me if it took too long to hit the targets,” she said. “And they were all like no, you did fine, look at what this guy did or whatever. It was nice to be so relaxed like that, just joking player to player.”

The Buzzer: Blue Jackets hold on for six wins in a row

Blue Jackets six wins in a row the buzzer
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Three Stars

1. Pierre-Luc Dubois, Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets continue their run of resiliency by fighting back from three deficits (1-0, 2-1, and 3-2) to win in regulation. Their narrow victory against the Jets pushes the Blue Jackets to six wins in a row. With that, they tie the Panthers for the hottest streak entering the All-Star break.

Dubois ended up as Wednesday’s only three-point player, collecting them all on assists. That outburst leaves Dubois with 38 points in 51 games this season.

While those aren’t astronomical numbers, his strong all-around play confirms to me that PLD isn’t just a product of Artemi Panarin.

Now, does Panarin boost the numbers of about everyone he plays with, though? Sure, but Dubois is proving that he can stand on his own.

2. Oliver Bjorkstrand, Columbus Blue Jackets

Bjorkstrand merits an argument as the top star of the day. If nothing else, the winger is hotter than PLD — and plenty of others — if you zoom out.

Bjorkstrand scored two goals for Columbus for the third game in a row. In all three cases, Bjorkstrand collected the game-winning goal. Hmm … maybe Bjorkstrand really deserves that top star nod?

Watch out for a possible strong finish to 2019-20. Last season, Bjorkstrand scored more goals (16) and points (22) in 34 games after the 2019 All-Star break than he did in 43 games before it (seven goals, 14 points). While I’d chalk quite a bit of that up to linemates — wait for it, Bjorkstrand enjoyed some nice Panarin reps, and some Matt Duchene ones too — Bjorkstrand is also one of those snipers who can get on a hot streak. If he repeats history, it could be a big difference-maker for a Blue Jackets team forced to scratch and claw.

3. Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild

Flip Zadina might deserve the nod more than Staal. Zadina, like Bjorkstrand, generated his two points by way of goals. The rookie also affected the game in other ways, firing seven shots on goal and drawing a late penalty that gave Detroit a slight chance for a comeback.

The Wild won, however, and that strikes me as a tiebreaker. That said, even choosing the best Wild skater is tough. I’m giving Staal the edge because both of his points (1G, 1A) were of the primary variety. (Mats Zuccarello‘s 1G, 1A includes a secondary helper). Mathew Dumba makes a strong argument with his two assists and +3 rating, so really, it’s a matter of taste.

Either way, it’s surreal that Staal recently reached 1,000 points. It might even make some of us feel old.

/makes old man noise just from shifting in seat

Highlights

Wednesday provided us with a scant two games, so why not just enjoy clips from both? If you want a standout moment, I’d argue Seth Jones‘ goal was the pick:

Here are the highlights for Minnesota dominating the second period to beat Detroit:

Factoids

  • Again, the Blue Jackets extended their winning streak to six by coming back. It’s apparently their 15th comeback win of 2019-20, second only to the Capitals’ 16 for the most in the league, according to NHL PR.
  • Bjorkstrand became the first Blue Jackets player to score multiple goals in three games or more, via NHL PR. I’m a little surprised Rick Nash never managed that when he was their go-to guy and a premiere power forward.
  • Wednesday marked the first multi-goal game of Zadina’s career. The 20-year-old joins select Red Wings company.
  • Kyle Connor collected his 15th goal since Dec. 1. Auston Matthews is the only player with more (18) during that span, according to NHL PR. Connor has 25 goals overall in 2019-20.
  • Sportsnet stats notes the Jets are 1-6-0 in their last seven, and other numbers are disturbing.

Scores

CBJ 4 – WIN 3
MIN 4 – DET 2

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.

Wild avoid Red Wings upset, now five points from playoff spot

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If the Wild want to make a playoff push, they can’t afford being upset by a team like the Red Wings. Detroit gave Minnesota a scare by going up 2-1 in the first period, but the Wild ultimately won 4-2 on Wednesday.

Wild move within five points from playoff spot

Losing against dreadful Detroit would have been brutal for Minnesota. Instead, the Wild improved to 23-21-6 on the season, or 52 points in 50 games played.

Wild fans searching for optimism will find a mixed bag. The Wild hold an advantage over the two wild-card teams in games in hand, yet the Predators have a bigger advantage in that regard (Nashville: 47 GP) while sitting at 51 points. Take a look at the races for the wild-card spots:

Wild playoff wild card race

Not great, but it could be worse, too.

The larger plus is that, so far, the Wild have mostly taken advantage of a long stretch of home games, as originally discussed here.

Jan. 16: vs. Tampa Bay (3-2 win)
Jan. 18: vs. Dallas (7-0 win)
Jan. 20: vs. Florida (5-4 loss)
Jan. 22: vs. Detroit (4-2 win)
Feb. 1: vs. Boston
Feb. 4: vs. Chicago
Feb. 6: vs. Vancouver
Feb. 7: at Dallas
Feb. 9: vs. Colorado
Feb. 11: vs. Vegas
Feb. 13: vs. Rangers
Feb. 15: vs. San Jose

Three out of four wins is a pretty good start (but a bad “Meatloaf” cover). Once the Wild get back into the groove on Feb. 1, it’s key to exploit that stretch of seven of eight in Minnesota.

Minnesota gutted Wednesday out, dominating the second period in goals (3-0) and shots on goal (14-4). Jason Zucker, Eric Staal, Mathew Dumba, and Mats Zuccarello triggered the rally:

Wild need Dubnyk to rebound

Bruce Boudreau deserves credit for molding the Wild into a dominant defensive team. While their scorers won’t terrify opponents, they’ve generally been competent enough.

But if the Wild are going to complete a difficult push into the playoffs, they need Devan Dubnyk to rebound.

Dubnyk came into Wednesday with a troubling .892 save percentage, versus a .915 mark for his career. Just about every metric points to the Wild providing a nurturing atmosphere for their goalies, so the results need to start rolling in.

Granted, sometimes luck just isn’t on your side:

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.

Brady Tkachuk replaces Auston Matthews at 2020 NHL All-Star Game

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Due to what the Toronto Maple Leafs are calling a lingering wrist injury, Auston Matthews will not participate in the 2020 NHL All-Star game this weekend in St. Louis, the league announced on Wednesday.

He will be replaced on the roster and in the skills competition by Ottawa Senators forward Brady Tkachuk.

Even though he will not participate in any of the events or the game itself, Matthews will still travel to St. Louis for the weekend.

Matthews is in the middle of a career year for the Maple Leafs and has already scored 34 goals and 57 points in his first 49 games of the season. He has scored at least 34 goals every year he has been in the league and is already just six goals away from matching his career high. The only thing that has kept him from hitting the 40-goal mark every season is injuries. It is not yet known if this injury will sideline him for any games when the Maple Leafs return from the break, but he has not missed any games as of yet this season. According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, Matthews’ agent said the injury has been bothering Matthews for the past three weeks. The Maple Leafs have not played since Jan. 18 when they lost at home, 6-2, to the Chicago Blackhawks. Their next game is on Jan. 27 against the Nashville Predators.

The Maple Leafs will still be represented by forward Mitch Marner and goalie Frederik Andersen.

As for Tkachuk, the 2018 No. 4 overall pick is in his second year with the Senators. In 48 games he has 15 goals and 27 points.

He will join teammate Anthony Duclair at the game, as well as his older brother, Matthew Tkachuk, who will be there representing the Calgary Flames.

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.