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.

WATCH LIVE: Predators visit Avalanche on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche at 10 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

This week’s Wednesday Night Hockey doubleheader wraps up with a rematch from the first-round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Nashville Predators visit the Colorado Avalanche.

It is sure to be an exciting matchup between two top Central Division teams as the Predators roll into the game owning the league’s best points percentage (22 points in 14 game) and best goal differential (plus-17). After reaching the Stanley Cup Final two years ago and then coming back a year ago to win the Presidents’ Trophy the Predators are once again on track to be one of the best teams in the NHL and a top-tier Stanley Cup contender.

The Avalanche, meanwhile, are doing their best to show that their surprise playoff appearance (after completing an incredible one-year turnaround in the standings) was no fluke. They enter play on Wednesday in one of the two Wild Card spots in the Western Conference and just one point back of Minnesota for the second spot in the Central Division.

They boast the NHL’s third-best goal differential (plus-12) and one of the NHL’s top lines with the trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog leading the way. Rantanen entered Wednesday as the league’s leading scorer with 24 points, two points ahead of Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid. MacKinnon is third in the scoring race with 21 points while Landeskog is 12th with 18 total points. His 11 goals are tied for the second most.

Puck drop in Colorado is 10 p.m. ET.

[WATCH LIVE – 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Nashville Predators at Colorado Avalanche
Where: Pepsi Center
When: Wednesday, November 7th, 10 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Predators-Avalanche stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

PREDATORS

Filip ForsbergRyan JohansenRyan Hartman
Calle JarnkrokKyle TurrisCraig Smith
Frederick GaudreauNick BoninoKevin Fiala
Zac RinaldoColton SissonsMiikka Salomaki

Roman JosiRyan Ellis
Mattias EkholmP.K. Subban
Anthony BitettoYannick Weber

Starting Goalie: Pekka Rinne

AVALANCHE
Gabriel Landeskog – Nathan MacKinnon – Mikko Rantanen
Sheldon Dries – Alexander KerfootColin Wilson
Matt NietoCarl SoderbergMatt Calvert
Gabriel BourqueVladislav KamenevMarko Dano

Patrik NemethErik Johnson
Ian ColeSamuel Girard
Nikita ZadorovTyson Barrie

Starting goalie: Semyon Varlamov

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.

WATCH LIVE: Lightning visit Avalanche on NBCSN

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The NBCSN Wednesday night doubleheader continues with the Colorado Avalanche hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning at 9:30 p.m. ET. You can watch that game online by clicking here

The Lightning are no strangers to red-hot scoring lines, as they’ve deployed quite a few of their own.

There was Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and a lucky guy (usually Vladislav Namestnikov or J.T. Miller) last season. Kucherov also headlined “The Triplets” with Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson.

Heading into Wednesday’s game, Stamkos and Kucherov are on different lines, yet the Lightning remain one of the most impressive teams in the NHL. Perhaps those past experiences – not to mention strong defensemen like Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh – will help them slow down an absolutely torrid Avs trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog?

That would be an impressive feat, as no one else has really had much luck doing that so far this season.

[MORE: Preview / Rantanen a driving force / MacKinnon among the best]

What: Tampa Bay Lightning at Colorado Avalanche
Where: Pepsi Center
When: Wednesday, October 24th, 9:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Avs-Lightning stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

Projected Lineups

LIGHTNING

Yanni GourdeBrayden Point — Steven Stamkos

Ondrej Palat — Tyler Johnson — Nikita Kucherov

Alex KillornAnthony CirelliMathieu Joseph

J.T. Miller — Cedric PaquetteRyan Callahan

Victor Hedman — Dan Girardi

Ryan McDonagh — Anton Stralman

Braydon CoburnMikhail Sergachev

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

AVALANCHE

Gabriel Landeskog — Nathan MacKinnon — Mikko Rantanen

Sven AndrighettoAlexander KerfootColin Wilson

Matt NietoCarl SoderbergMatt Calvert

Marko DanoTyson JostGabriel Bourque

Samuel GirardErik Johnson

Ian ColeTyson Barrie

Nikita ZadorovPatrik Nemeth

Starting goalie: Semyon Varlamov

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.

Mike Fisher on Predators return: ‘This could be our year’

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Why is Mike Fisher (eventually) coming back to the Nashville Predators and the NHL? Well, for a lot of the reasons you’d probably expect.

Fisher, Predators GM David Poile, and head coach Peter Laviolette addressed the media about Fisher’s surprise return from retirement on Wednesday, giving some big-picture answers to some of the questions surrounding his comeback.

Why?

Poile joked that he saw photos of Fisher hunting, so he thought Fisher was “relatively happy” in retirement.

Fisher certainly didn’t paint a sad picture of retirement, noting that it was “weird” to watch Predators games as a fan. Still, around Christmas time, the absence really started to sting. He’d been having discussions with Laviolette, current Preds captain Roman Josi, and others here and there about a comeback.

“It always kind of bugged me when guys came back from retirement,” Fisher said.

” … I’m all in, I’m excited. I know it’s going to be a special year.”

Fisher explained that, even without winning the Stanley Cup during last year’s exciting run, that it was the best time of his 17-year NHL career, and he believes “this could be our year.”

(He’s already aligning with the Predators from a pronoun standpoint. That’s a good sign.)

Fisher has the support of his wife Carrie Underwood, if not the three-year-old he’s been chasing around the house in retirement, and it’s clear that the Predators wanted him back. So what’s next?

How might Fisher figure in, change Predators’ plans?

When asked about the trade deadline – which serves as something of a soft deadline for actually signing Fisher – Predators GM David Poile said that he likes where his team is, but “never say never.”

You wonder if Fisher’s return might open the door for the Predators to involve another player in a bolder move?

As it stands, Nashville already had plenty of options down the middle; from top guys Ryan Johansen and Kyle Turris, to supporting centers like Nick Bonino and Colton Sissons, with even players like Calle Jarnkrok having some experience at center.

Last season, Fisher seemingly ended his career on a high note, almost doubling his 2015-16 points total (42 to 23, with 18 of those 42 points being goals). It’s not really the points that the Predators are after, and all the leadership/character/intangibles talk isn’t the full story, either.

Fisher’s versatility could be useful, assuming he can return to game form.

In 2016-17, he won 54.9 percent of his faceoffs, and he’s won at least 52 percent of his draws since 2013-14. As you can see from Hockey Reference’s metrics, Fisher saw an increasing defensive role during his latter days with the Preds, starting just 39.6 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone last season.

Fisher stated that he’s eager to complement this team in whatever way works, and his recent play argues that point.

It will be interesting to see where he’d figure in, most likely in the bottom two lines. According to Left Wing Lock, this is what the Predators’ bottom six looks like right now:

Kevin Fiala — Bonino — Jarnkrok

Miikka Salomaki — Sissons – Austin Watson

With Filip Forsberg out, Pontus Aberg is currently occupying his spot on the top line, so Aberg would serve as another useful option. If everyone’s healthy, it could make for quite the jousting for lineup spots.

Via Natural Stat Trick’s teammate listings, Fisher’s most common forward linemates last season were Craig Smith, Colin Wilson, and Austin Watson. Perhaps Fisher would once again line up with Watson and also with Sissons, giving the Predators two faceoff options on that line? That wouldn’t be the worst scenario, considering how tweaked faceoff rules means that pivots get kicked out of the dot somewhat often.

***

Again, it’s pretty easy to understand why Fisher is coming back. If you saw the wild, fun scene in “Smashville” – even on TV – you’d probably get why that pull is so strong.

Management notes that there is no specific timetable for his return, which might explain some of the vagueness about where he’ll fall in the lineup.

Those questions are tough to answer, yet it’s better to have too much of a good thing rather than not enough. When you note that the Predators came into this season with questions about center depth, the additions of Turris and return of Fisher now make an already formidable team that much more balanced.

It’s fair to say that Laviolette will have a balancing act on his hands if his team is reasonably healthy, though.

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.

Poll: Will Blues compete for Central Division title next season?

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This post is part of Blues Day on PHT…

The St. Louis Blues went through a number of changes last offseason. They key veterans David Backes, Troy Brouwer and Brian Elliott in free agency, and no one really knew how it would affect them on the ice.

After struggling pretty badly in January, they fired head coach Ken Hitchcock and they ended up replacing him with coach-in-waiting Mike Yeo.

At the time of the firing, the Blues were clinging to the final Wild Card spot in the West. In the end, they were able to move up to third place in the Central Division.

Thanks to some masterful goaltending by Jake Allen, they were able to knock off the Wild in five games in the opening round, but they fell to Nashville in round two.

The Blues didn’t make a ton of changes to their roster this summer. They acquired Brayden Schenn from Philadelphia at the draft and they added winger Beau Bennett in free agency.

Is it enough to come away with the Central Division crown?

Both the Blackhawks and Wild finished ahead of them in the standings last season. The ‘Hawks made some major changes to their roster, as they dealt Artemi Panarin, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Scott Darling and Marcus Kruger away. They’ve also already lost Marian Hossa for the season, too.

The Wild got off to a fantastic start last season, but they crumbled down the stretch and were no match for the Blues in the postseason.

As of right now, the biggest threat for the division crown is probably Nashville.  The Predators didn’t have a great regular season, but they managed to find a way to come together during a run to the Stanley Cup Final. They also added Nick Bonino, Scott Hartnell and Alexei Emelin this offseason. Notable losses include: James Neal, Mike Fisher and Colin Wilson.  How will a long playoff run affect the Preds going into next season?

The most intriguing team in the division might just be Hitchcock’s new team, the Dallas Stars. They spent some money upgrading their roster, as they landed goalie Ben Bishop, winger Alex Radulov, center Martin Hanzal, defenseman Marc Methot. The Stars have had a tough time keeping the puck out of their own, so if Hitchcock and his new acquisitions can help them in that area, they’ll be tough to stop.

The Winnipeg Jets have an up-and-coming roster with plenty of skilled players. They signed Steve Mason to help young goalie Connor Hellebuyck out, but will that be enough? The Jets will likely be a dangerous squad in the near future, it just might not be this season.

And as for the Colorado Avalanche, well, let’s just say they still have a ton of work to do before we can put them in the conversation for the division title.

The Blues aren’t going to be the favorites to land the Central Division crown. Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a shot. The key to this whole thing might just be Allen, who has always struggled with consistency at the NHL level.

If Allen can play anywhere close to the way he did during the playoffs (1.96 goals-against-average, .935 save percentage), they’ll have a chance to do some damage.

The biggest question is, did he just catch lightning in a bottle, or is he finally starting to take his game to the next level?

Alright, it’s your turn to have your say. Vote in the poll below and leave your opinion in the comments section below.