Brayden Schenn

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The Buzzer: Hellebuyck earns his bucks; MacKinnon, Isles stay hot

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Three Stars

1. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets

The Jets’ early struggles have kept Hellebuyck’s strong start under the radar (for the most part), but an Oct. 29 showing against the Ducks wasn’t so great, as Hellebuyck allowed five goals on only 19 shots on goal in about a half-game’s worth of action. Hellebuyck made up for that in a big way against Anaheim’s neighbors in San Jose.

The Sharks managed a commanding 53-19(!) SOG advantage on Friday, but they didn’t even get a pity point for their considerable efforts. Hellebuyck basically had a night’s work in the second period alone, allowing just one goal despite a 28-SOG barrage by San Jose.

Hellebuyck ended up making 51 out of 53 stops, so chances are, his strong work is now noticed … if the Sharks, if by no one else.

2. John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

Goalies had a tendency to steal games involving California-based teams on Friday.

Despite the Canucks generated a 19-5 SOG advantage through the first period, the Ducks ended the first 20 minutes up 1-0 thanks to a Jakob Silfverberg shorthanded goal. Vancouver went on to generate a 40-29 SOG advantage overall, yet the Ducks won in overtime thanks to all-world goaltending by their all-world goalie.

Perhaps the Ducks are playing a little better under Dallas Eakins as they didn’t under Randy Carlyle, but this team still depends on Gibson as much as just about any NHL team leans on a goalie these days.

3. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes

Feel free to replace Aho with one of Friday’s other three-point players, if you’d prefer.

You may, for example, be more impressed with Tom Wilson‘s ferocious hit, nifty deflection goal, and overall night (1G, 2A). Wilson’s teammate Michal Kempny made a fantastic keep-in to help set up that deflection goal, and finished the night with three points (all assists) of his own. Anders Lee also managed one goal and two assists, helping the Islanders push their league-leading winning streak to a resounding eight games. And so on.

When in doubt — and there’s usually doubt in such an exciting, skilled league, especially on busy nights — I tend to go with goals over assists, and so one. Two of Aho’s three points were goals, and his assist was a primary one.

It also rarely feels like a bad time to mention Aho, who deserves more mentions as one of the NHL’s great stars.

Highlight of the Night

Since we already covered Sean Couturier pulling “The Forsberg,” enjoy this great overtime goal by the Ducks. Troy Terry makes a highly impressive long-distance bomb of a pass, then Ryan Getzlaf manages to settle it down, avoid an aggressive pokecheck attempt from Jacob Markstrom, and steal that stolen win for the Quack Pack:

Markstrom’s earlier glove save could be an honorable mention.

Bullet dodged?

The early word is that Canucks rookie Quinn Hughes isn’t too badly hurt after this scary-looking tweak. Here’s hoping that early word is accurate, because yikes:

Factoids

  • Speaking of Aho, Nathan MacKinnon is apparently just a little bit hotter to start 2019-20 than Aho was to begin 2018-19:

 

Scores

PHI 4 – NJD 3 (SO)
NYI 5 – TBL 2
WSH 6 – BUF 1
CAR 7 – DET 3
STL 4 – CBJ 3 (OT)
DAL 2 – COL 1
ANA 2 – VAN 1 (OT)
WPG 3 – SJS 2

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 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.

Top-line injuries to Blues and Avalanche shake up Central

Not long after the St. Louis Blues raised their Stanley Cup banner and the Colorado Avalanche got rolling on a season of high expectations each team has a significant obstacle to overcome.

The Blues will be without sniper Vladimir Tarasenko for five months, basically the rest of the regular season. The Avalanche – already missing injured winger Mikko Rantanen – ruled out captain Gabriel Landeskog indefinitely with a lower-body injury. Those injuries to top-line players on two Central Division powerhouses could shift the balance of power in the Western Conference for months.

”It shakes things up big time,” said retired forward Patrick Sharp, who spent 12+ of his 15 NHL seasons playing in the Central. ”It’s going to test the depth of these two teams.”

Tarasenko underwent right shoulder surgery Tuesday. The Russian winger scored 11 goals and added 15 assists on the Blues’ Cup run and is difficult to replace.

St. Louis will try to compensate but not by leaning too hard on playoff MVP Ryan O'Reilly and fellow stars Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz. The onus is on the likes of Zach Sanford, Sammy Blais, Robert Thomas and Robby Fabbri to step up.

”Our team is built as the sum of all the parts,” general manager Doug Armstrong said. ”We’re going to have to have a strength in numbers (approach), and I believe that we can get it done.”

Sharp, who played 65 games against the Blues and watched their Cup triumph as an NBC Sports analyst, doesn’t doubt that. Because of Tarasenko’s production 5-on-5 and on the power play, he said losing him will test their offensive depth. He is looking specifically to Thomas to fill the void.

”The numbers didn’t really reflect the kind of playoffs that he had, but it seemed like every big game that the Blues had, Robert Thomas was one of the best forwards on the team,” Sharp said. ”If he can kind of recapture that playoff magic and show it in the next five, six months of the regular season, the Blues will be in good shape.”

Colorado opened the season 8-2-1 but will need to tread water until Rantanen and Landeskog return. First-line center Nathan MacKinnon is a one-man playmaker who no doubt benefits from having Rantanen and Landeskog and will have to be at his best – and try to stay healthy.

Much like the Blues, though, the Avalanche can’t put the pressure on one player.

”We have a significant amount of players that want more and feel like they’re playing real well,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. ”I’m hoping they strive in situations like this and prove that they can take on a bigger role. … Having everyone dig in and try to step up their game, and make up for the guys that are out of the lineup is an important piece to winning especially if you’re going to try and sustain it over the course of the season.”

Knowing Colorado couldn’t be a one-line team and contend for the Cup, GM Joe Sakic traded for Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky and signed Joonas Donskoi and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare to bolster his forward depth.

”These injuries to top players, that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you’re talking about the landscape of an eight-month season for Colorado,” Sharp said. ”If they have aspirations of going deep in the playoffs, they’re going to need big contributions from everybody. So a little adversity at the start of the year doesn’t hurt anybody.”

It might help the Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars in the stacked Central Division. Predators center Matt Duchene on Tuesday night returned from a brief absence with a lower-body injury.

LANDESKOG X2

Colorado’s captain isn’t the only injured Landeskog. The horse by the same name was scratched from the upcoming $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

”Horse always comes first,” Avalanche defenseman and racehorse part-owner Erik Johnson tweeted. ”Bad day for Landeskog human and equine.”

Told of Landeskog’s human namesake also being hurt, trainer Doug O’Neill said, ”Maybe it’s twin pain.”

JOSI DOMINOES

Roman Josi‘s eight-year extension with the Predators worth $9.1 million a season will have a ripple effect on other top pending free agent defensemen like Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo and Boston’s Torey Krug.

Since all three were full-time NHL players beginning in 2013, Josi has 327 points and averaged 25:30 of ice time, Pietrangelo has 284 points and averaged 25:19 and Krug has 294 points and averaged 25:30.

”Every contract is relative when you’re talking about comparable players,” said agent Mark Guy, who represents Pietrangelo. ”Obviously whenever you go through and you sit down and negotiate with a team, players and teams have comparables that they shoot towards, and Josi and Alex are obviously in most people’s minds comparable players.”

Pietrangelo’s go-ahead goal helps Blues defeat Wild: 3 observations

Alex Pietrangelo scores go-ahead goal vs. Blues
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Alex Pietrangelo’s third-period goal helped the St. Louis Blues defeat the Minnesota Wild 2-1 Wednesday evening at Enterprise Center.

Sammy Blais also scored and Jordan Binnington made 35 saves including several in the final minutes as the Blues picked up their second straight win.

Devan Dubnyk stopped 24 shots and Mats Zuccarello scored his first of the season as the Wild continued to struggle on the road, falling to 1-8-0 away from Xcel Energy Center.

Life without Tarasenko

While the loss of Vladimir Tarasenko cannot be minimized, the Blues will try to rely on their organizational depth to replace the missing offense.

Tarasenko averaged just over 71 points a season for the previous five years, and his production will not be replaced by a sole individual.

Sammy Blais got his first crack at the right-wing slot alongside Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn against the Minnesota Wild. A sixth-round pick of the 2014 draft provided an offensive boost when he snapped a wrist shot over the glove of Darcy Kuemper to open the scoring at 6:52 of the second period.

While Blais is not expected to produce at the same rate as Tarasenko did in previous seasons, a surge in production from No. 9 will help the Blues overcome the loss of one of their elite offensive players.

[RELATED: McKenzie on Pietrangelo’s contract situation]

Zuccarello gets his first

It has taken nine games, but Mats Zuccarello finally notched his first goal as a member of the Minnesota Wild after signing a five-year contract with them this past summer. The crafty winger darted toward the net and got two chances at a loose puck while Blues defenseman Justin Faulk got caught watching the puck.

Wild coach Bruce Boudreau was brief during an in-game interview with Brian Boucher on Wednesday Night Hockey when asked about Zuccarello.

“To score and create goals and be a distributor of the puck.,” Boudreau said about what the Wild expect from their top offseason addition. “I’m really happy he got his first because now it might set him on fire.”

Minnesota has resisted the need to rebuild its roster in recent years and the long-term contract handed to Zuccarello this summer is just another example that the organization believes it has the players to contender in the formidable Central Division.

Zuccarello has overcome a lot of adversity throughout his NHL career and living up to his contract in Minnesota will be another challenge for the Norwegian winger.

Binnington remains unfazed

The Blues’ goalie developed a reputation during last year’s Stanley Cup journey for being unflappable between the pipes during most frantic moments.

While a regular-season divisional match up will never equal the intensity from a playoff or Cup-Final game, Binnington proved once again that he remains composed at all times, no matter the situation.

Binnington made 12 saves in the third period including several in the final minutes as the Blues prevented the Wild from forcing an extra session. His stoic nature in the crease gives his teammates a source of confidence, which allows the Blues to thrive when the game is on the line.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

McKenzie on Pietrangelo, Krug contracts; surgery for Byfuglien

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With Roman Josi signing a new eight-year contract extension with the Nashville Predators this week that leaves St. Louis Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo and Boston Bruins defender Torey Krug as the top potential unrestricted blue-liners this summer.

During a Wednesday appearance on NBCSN, NHL insider Bob McKenzie offered some updates on where those situations could go over the next few month following Josi’s new contract.

When it comes to the Blues, McKenzie said general manager Doug Armstrong sat down with Pietrangelo’s representatives three-plus weeks ago but there have been no negotiations since then. McKenzie called it a “unique situation” because the Blues already went out and traded for defenseman Justin Faulk and signed him to a new contract extension, and then locked up forward Brayden Schenn to a long-term deal. With those contracts taken care of Pietrangelo will be the only major pending UFA the Blues have to deal with over the next couple of years and it could put them in a situation where they only have so much money to offer Pietrangelo if he wishes to remain with the only team he has ever played for.

He turns 30 this January and is currently playing on a contract that pays him $6.5 million per season.

Meanwhile, there is another interesting situation in Boston where the Bruins have to figure out a way to get Krug re-signed.

McKenzie pointed out the unique salary structure in Boston where the three best players (Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak) all make between $6 and $7 million per season and there could be pressure for players to not make more than them. Given Krug’s production, he could easily move past them on the salary scale.

Even though they were in a different situation this summer (RFA vs. UFA) the Bruins managed to get Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo signed for a combined salary cap hit of under $7 million over the next two years. Krug, 28, makes $5.25 million per year and is one of the league’s most productive defenders.

You can check out McKenzie’s segment in the video above.

Finally, McKenzie also offered an update on Winnipeg Jets defender Dustin Byfuglien who remains away from the team.

McKenzie reported that Byfuglien recently underwent ankle surgery to take care of some unresolved issues from the high-ankle sprain he dealt with last season. He added that it is believed the ankle issue is one of the factors that resulted in him stepping away from the team just before the start of the season.

No one knows what this means for Byfuglien’s future, but McKenzie noted there is a sense that if Byfuglien does feel healthy enough at some point he could (emphasis on could) be inclined to return to the team.

Byfuglien’s decision to take time away was one of the many decisions that helped break apart nearly the entire Jets defense from a year ago.

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.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Blues prepare for life without Tarasenko

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

We knew that the defending Stanley Cup Champions would go through adversity at some point this season. Well, we’ve reached that point.

Earlier this week, the team announced that forward Vladimir Tarasenko was going to miss five months because of a shoulder injury. That’s a tough pill to swallow if you’re St. Louis. The 27-year-old has scored 37, 40, 39, 33 and 33 goals over the last five seasons. He also had 10 points in 10 games to start the year.

The Russian winger has already missed two games. The Blues dropped the first one, 3-0, to Boston in a Stanley Cup rematch, and they won the second one, 5-4, in overtime against Detroit.

“Obviously we’re a much better team with him in the lineup,” center Ryan O’Reilly said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He’s one of those guys that others teams look at. When he’s on the ice they’re scared. When he gets an opportunity he’s going to bury it. He’s just always creating, doing something.

“It’s tough loss, but we all have to rally here. We all have to find a way to get better.”

During Tuesday’s practice, head coach Craig Berube had Sammy Blais in Tarasenko’s spot on a line with Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz. No disrespect to Blais, but he’s clearly not on the same level as a perennial 30-goal scorer.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

If Berube wants to mix things up, he could also put Robert Thomas, who is more gifted offensively, on the first line. Regardless, the Blues have plenty of time to figure out different combinations. The good news is that whoever gets placed there doesn’t have to carry the line. Schenn is having a solid year (nine goals, 13 points in 12 games) and Schwartz, who can stand to score more goals, is having a good year too (one goal, 10 points in 12 games).

For those clamouring for general manager Doug Armstrong to make a trade, that seems possible but unlikely at this point. The Blues have already made one blockbuster trade this year, when they acquired Justin Faulk from Carolina. Can they swing another big deal? Sure. It just seems impossible to land someone that can replace Tarasenko’s production right away.

There’s a decent chance that Tarasenko’s offense will be replaced by a committee of players. Some of the depth players like Blais, Thomas, Tyler Bozak, Alex Steen (when he returns from injury), but they should be in good hands with Schenn, O’Reilly and David Perron.

If the Blues can hang in there until late March/early April, they’ll likely benefit from getting a rested Tarasenko back right in time for the playoffs. Can they hold on for that long?

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Patrick Sharp and Keith Jones and NHL insider Bob McKenzie. John Forslund, Mike Milbury and Brian Boucher will call Wild-Blues from Enterprise Center in St. Louis, MO.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.