3 Stars for Saturday in the NHL
1. Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators
Everyone, slow-starting Juuse Saros has transformed into second-half Saros. Or something like that.
For most of us, it was getting challenging to latch onto memories of Saros rebounding late in seasons during recent years. Through February (12 games), Saros was 5-5-0 with a troubling .898 save percentage. As much as the Predators wanted to let the 25-year-old take the torch from 38-year-old Pekka Rinne, they were running out of time.
(And, depending upon how you read into drafting a goalie with their 2020 first-rounder, maybe they already were out of patience for Saros. To an extent.)
Well, snooze-alarm Saros (can we get a verdict on a nickname for this quirk?*) woke up.
After generating a tremendous .963 save percentage in March, Saros shook off a Thursday loss to pitch a 41-save shutout vs. the Blackhawks to earn the No. 1 star of Saturday in the NHL. While the Stars complicate the race for the fourth and final Central Division spot, this Saros-centric win gave the Predators a full two-point advantage over Chicago.
Is this the sort of surge that might even prompt the Predators to pump the brakes on trading someone like Mattias Ekholm? That might be a stretch — unless Saros stays hot. If so, then who really knows? Goalies, everyone. Goalies.
Saros saved 3.96 goals above expected today. https://t.co/EkLAya8D9W
— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) April 3, 2021
* – Yes, yes, some call him “Juice.” But that doesn’t address this part of his game, whether it’s a coincidence, a Craig Anderson rotation thing, or somehow legit.)
2. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins
The biggest NHL stars of Saturday came out before actual stars appeared in the sky. (At least, depending upon where you were watching the games/sky/games and sky.)
Really, it’s a judgment call if you believe Marchand or Saros should take the imaginary crown as the to star for Saturday in the NHL.
Either way, stars produced in a big way during that matinee between the Bruins and Penguins. Brad Marchand took the cake with a hat trick plus an assist. He’s now on a three-game point and goal streak (5G, 2A). We’ve kind of come to expect dominance from Marchand, and that’s what we’re getting, with 41 points in 32 games.
David Pastrnak wasn’t far behind Marchand, collecting two goals and one assist. Marchand likely enjoyed getting the best of his training partner Sidney Crosby, who produced a pair of helpers in defeat. Those other goalies didn’t quite enjoy the afternoon Saros did, eh?
3. Alexander Wennberg and Sergei Bobrovsky spite the Blue Jackets for the Florida Panthers
John Tortorella already made waves in the NHL by making Jack Roslovic a stunning healthy scratch on Saturday. Perhaps such a bold move angered The Ghosts of Blue Jackets Past.
Alexander Wennberg earned the best claim to a three star nod, collected the first hat trick of his career. (It feels a bit like cheating with an empty-netter, but only when you’re splitting hairs.) While Wennberg isn’t going to be the top reason cited if Torts and/or Jarmo Kekalainen get fired after this season, he’s had a nice rebound. Those of us who get excited about fringe moves can feel a tinge of joy at Wennberg’s solid 19 points in 38 games.
On the opposite end of the good/terrible Panthers move spectrum, we see someone who will probably always (privately?) delight in tormenting Torts. That’s Sergei Bobrovsky. With 44 saves on Saturday, he played a big role in making Tortorella grumble even more than usual.
Honorable mentions: Anisimov, still an NHL player, still one who can score
- Considering how his contract fits into the, erm, budget-conscious puzzle in Ottawa, it’s sometimes easy for Artem Anisimov to get lost in the shuffle. Frankly, it’s also kind of easy to forget that he’s merely 32. He reminded us of his presence on Saturday, collecting three assists as the Senators beat (and frustrated, and fought) the Canadiens. Yes, Anisimov boasts a strong argument to make the top three stars of the NHL on Saturday.
- The rest are a clearer step or two behind. Josh Anderson and Evgenii Dadonov both scored goals in that Habs – Sens game. Artemi Panarin, Claude Giroux, and Anthony Beauvillier scored two goals apiece, too. Several goalies enjoyed strong outputs, just not Saros-strong.
Surprisingly even fight: Brady Tkachuk vs. Shea Weber
Even for someone of the Tkachuk lineage, it is kind of surprising just how seamlessly Brady Tkachuk transitioned into becoming a net-front demon. Brady’s brother Matthew Tkachuk shows a proclivity for that kind of play, too, but 21-year-old Brady might be even better.
Of course, to thrive in that area, that means you need to be willing to take a beating. It doesn’t hurt if you can show that you can dish one out, either.
Brady Tkachuk removed much/all of that doubt with a startling fight against Shea Weber. Maybe most startling: the most common debate would be if Brady Tkachuk fought Shea Weber to a draw, or won the brawl outright. (See the Hockey Fights poll for one example.)
Do you think Brady Tkachuk won his fight with Shea Weber?
Tkachuk scored a goal on Saturday, but couldn’t get the assist to make it a “Gordie Howe Hat Trick.” Bah!
Highlights for Saturday in the NHL
Let’s circle to the three stars of Saturday in the NHL and look at two hat tricks. Again, Brad Marchand supplied the hat trick plus an assist:
Meanwhile, Wennberg got that spite hat trick vs. Tortorella and his former Blue Jackets:
Medium-hot take: the real highlight would be the Panthers bringing those duds back. The austere cat in their current design just lacks that spunk (and a belly you probably shouldn’t pet, yet …).
Rumblings about a playoff bubble; Canucks COVID updates
As you may have heard, the Canucks now have 14 players in COVID protocol, and it’s likely that number might climb. Pierre LeBrun reports that 16 players and three coaches have been affected.
LeBrun also put out some potential larger NHL ramifications regarding the Canucks’ situation with COVID on Saturday:
Via sources, here is the latest on the Canucks outbreak. Again, hockey is secondary.
There are 16 players and three coaches currently affected but that list is likely to grow.
More developments ⤵️@TSNHockey @TheAthletic pic.twitter.com/sAoh5ghJUc
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) April 3, 2021
During the latest Saturday Headlines segment on Sportsnet, Elliotte Friedman reports that the NHL has at least discussed the possibility of another playoff bubble. Friedman emphasizes that it’s absolutely not what is wanted, but it’s understandable that the league would at least consider Plan B-type situations after what the Canucks have experienced.
(Again, none of this means a playoff bubble would be likely. As with most things COVID-related, a lot can change.)
Here are the 14 Canucks currently listed in COVID protocol, via the NHL:
Travis Boyd, Thatcher Demko, Alex Edler, Adam Gaudette, Travis Hamonic, Jayce Hawryluk, Braden Holtby, Bo Horvat, Quinn Hughes, Zack MacEwen, Tyler Motte, Tyler Myers, Antoine Roussel, and Brandon Sutter.
Saturday’s NHL scores
Bruins 7, Penguins 5
Lightning 2, Red Wings 1
Predators 3, Blackhawks 0
Sabres 3, Rangers 2 (SO)
Islanders 3, Flyers 2 (SO)
Stars 3, Hurricanes 2
Panthers 5, Blue Jackets 2
Senators 6, Canadiens 3
Avalanche 2, Blues 1
Wild 2, Golden Knights 1
Sharks 3, Kings 2
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.