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The Buzzer: Pro Niemi; Odd night for the Blues

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Three Stars

1. Antti Niemi

After floundering with the Stars and flopping briefly with the Penguins, it sure seemed like last season would be Niemi’s last in the NHL.

Niemi even played two forgettable games for the Panthers team he frustrated tonight, so you can forgive his former teammates for wondering where this guy was. (Stars management might be doing that, too, if they’re not cursing Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin for losing to the Lightning.)

Niemi set a new career-high with 52 saves against Florida, with only Mike Hoffman‘s Forsberg-like goal beating him.

That performance stands taller than some other great goalie performances that should get at least honorable mentions. Andrei Vasilevskiy pitched a 35-save shutout against Benn and those Stars. Laurent Brossoit continued his brilliant work as Winnipeg’s gem of a backup, making 43 out of 44 stops. But Niemi’s 52 saves fell one short of tying a franchise record for the NHL’s most storied franchise. Seems fair to give him the top spot.

Not bad for a guy who legitimately seemed to be done last season.

2. Mika Zibanejad

As much as the Rangers’ opponents from Carolina rank as a team to watch at the trade deadline, the Rangers are no slouches themselves in sell mode.

It would be surprising to see Zibanejad go in such a liquidation, at least if the Rangers don’t want this to be a lengthy rebuild. He’s a prime-age scorer, with Tuesday’s two goals and two assists pushing his season total to an impressive 41 points. Zibanejad only had 47 points all of last season, and 2015-16’s 51 represent a career-high, so he could really set a new bar for himself. The talent’s seemingly always been there, so it’s pretty exciting to see such growth, and it must be painful to compare his work to that of trade partner Derick Brassard.

Mats Zuccarello collected three assists in this one as well, including a truly brilliant one to set up one of Z’s goals. Zuccarello now has three goals and three assists for six points during a three-game run.

The Rangers really dominate the Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden, apparently.

3. Viktor Arvidsson

Arvidsson was one of two players to collect a hat trick on “National Hat Day,” with Tomas Hertl being the other. Arvidsson gets the nod for two reasons: 1) one of Hertl’s three goals included an empty-netter and 2) Arvidsson managed a GWG in his efforts.

(Joe Thornton scored the game-winner in what was his 1,000th game with the Sharks.)

Some of those Arvidsson goals included some great moments from his teammates, much like Zibanejad was boosted by Zuccarello. You can see a great outlet pass from Mattias Ekholm and a falling helper from Ryan Johansen in the highlights of Nashville’s one-sided win against Washington.

Strange, tough night for St. Louis

The Blues lost in overtime to the Islanders, with Jordan Binnington suffering his first defeat. But that wasn’t what made this an unusual night.

Early in the game, Oskar Sundqvist continued his unlucky 2018-19 by losing his edge and falling into an on-ice official, needing help off of the ice. Luckily, he would come back later in the game.

It wasn’t the only unusual reaction between a Blues player and someone other than an Islanders player, as a trainer helped a struggling Zach Sanford to the bench:

Here’s hoping Sanford ends up OK. David Perron extended his point streak to 12 games, but that’s about where the good news ended for St. Louis on Tuesday.

One more great highlight

Click here for that Hoffman goal. It was pretty ridiculous.

Also ridiculous: Hertl’s effort on this tally. The Czech winger grew up idolizing Jaromir Jagr, so it must have felt great to emulate number 68 in overpowering Evgeni Malkin on his way to this tremendous goal:

Apparently Hertl’s hat-trick goal pushed him to 100 career tallies. So not a bad consolation prize for Hertl.

Factoids

Another sign that, yes, scoring is way up this season.

The Islanders are the first team since the 2011-12 Flyers to have eight players score at least 10+ goals through 45 games.

PHT’s Scott Billeck notes that Laurent Brossoit’s 26 saves in the second period set a new Jets franchise record for saves in a single period. So, yeah, Brossoit has a strong argument for a three stars nod, along with quite a few others from a busy Tuesday.

Scores

NYI 2 – STL 1 (OT)
NYR 6 – CAR 2
CBJ 4 – NJD 1
MTL 5 – FLA 1
DET 3 – ANA 1
NSH 7 – WSH 2
MIN 3 – LAK 2 (SO)
WPG 4 – VGK 1
TBL 2 – DAL 0
SJS 5 – PIT 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.

Blackhawks rally to end Penguins’ run at eight games

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By generating a 2-0 lead less than five minutes into Sunday’s game, it looked like the Pittsburgh Penguins would cruise to their ninth consecutive win, ending a run of futility against the Chicago Blackhawks in the process.

Pittsburgh’s losing ways against the Blackhawks ended up continuing instead, as Chicago won 5-3. The Blackhawks have now won 10 straight games against the Penguins.

Patrick Kane dished out three assists in this one, including Alex DeBrincat‘s goal to cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 2-1 in the first period, and Dylan Strome‘s game-winner. There was some great puck movement on that Strome goal:

After former Penguin Chris Kunitz tied things up at 2-2, the Penguins gained another lead after Derick Brassard finished on a great Phil Kessel pass, but that would be the last time Pittsburgh would end up beating Cam Ward in this game. Kane’s playmaking ways paved the way for an impressive milestone:

This loss saw the end of a personal six-game point streak for Sidney Crosby, who went without a goal and an assist after rattling off three goals and 10 assists for 13 points during that span.

The Blackhawks were only credited with going 1-for-3 on the power play, but Duncan Keith‘s goal came mere moments after a man advantage ended. Combine that with Pittsburgh going 0-for-3 (including some 5-on-3 time), and it’s clear that special teams went Chicago’s way.

Keith’s teammates would remind you that he hasn’t scored many goals lately, with that being his first in 2018-19 after scoring only two last season.

The Capitals, Blue Jackets, and Islanders all won their most recent games, so updated versions of various Metro races look quite a bit worse for the Penguins:

1. Capitals: 25-12-4 for 54 points, 41 GP, 22 ROW
2. Penguins: 23-13-6 for 52 points, 42 GP, 22 ROW
3. Blue Jackets: 24-14-3 for 51 points, 41 GP, 24 ROW
4. Islanders: 23-13-4 for 50 points, 40 GP, 21 ROW

It’s tough to imagine the Blackhawks rallying to a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, yet they’ve been picking up steam lately, going 6-3-1 in their last 10 games. If nothing else, contending teams shouldn’t look at them as an easy two points when they see the Blackhawks on their schedules.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Penguins host Blackhawks on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Penguins are one of the hottest teams in the league, with wins in eight straight games. They defeated the Winnipeg Jets 4-0 on Friday night in a 33-save shutout by Matt Murray. After struggling to start the year and missing time with an injury, Murray has now won seven in a row, matching the best stretch of his career.

Sidney Crosby is riding a six-game point streak (3G, 10A) and has 51 points (19G-32A) in 38 games this season, a 1.34 points per game clip. He hasn’t had a scoring rate that high in a full season since 2009-10 (1.35 ppg). He’ll skate in his 903rd career regular-season game as he closes in on Mario Lemieux’s franchise record (915 GP).

Kris Letang has also tallied a point in six straight games (3G, 6A) and is leading the team in time on ice per game during the winning streak (26:16).

Erik Gustafsson leads all Blackhawks defensemen with 23 points and eight goals, both of which are already career highs for the 26-year-old, who is in his third NHL season. Jeremy Colliton scratched Gustafsson on December 2, and since being benched, Gustafsson has responded with 12 points (4G, 8A) in 13 games.

Gustafsson has been on the top pair with Duncan Keith while Henri Jokiharju is at World Juniors. He has also been the primary point man on the power play unit.

“He’s got the world at his feet if he wants…we push him because we know he can do it,” said Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton. “At times, he does do it, as far as his gap and being aggressive to get pucks back, and being physical at times, and even better around his own net. He can do it. It’s not a question of ability. It’s a question of committing to it. So it’s an easy decision to try to hold him accountable, because he can give us so much.”

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

What: Chicago Blackhawks at Pittsburgh Penguins
Where: PPG Paints Arena
When: Sunday, Jan. 6, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blackhawks-Penguins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLACKHAWKS
Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsDominik Kahun
Artem AnisimovDylan StromePatrick Kane
Alex DeBrincatDavid KampfBrendan Perlini
Chris KunitzMarcus KrugerDrake Caggiula

Duncan Keith – Erik Gustafsson
Gustav ForslingBrent Seabrook
Carl DahlstromConnor Murphy

Starting goalie: Cam Ward

PENGUINS
Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Bryan Rust
Dominik SimonEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist
Tanner PearsonDerick BrassardPhil Kessel
Riley SheahanMatt CullenZach Aston-Reese

Brian Dumoulin – Kris Letang
Marcus PetterssonJack Johnson
Olli MaattaJuuso Riikola

Starting goalie: Casey DeSmith

MORE: Kris Letang is playing the best hockey of his career

WATCH LIVE: Rangers host Penguins on Wednesday Night Hockey

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Both of these teams are headed in the right direction after rough stretches earlier this season. For Pittsburgh, a 1-7-2 mark from late October into November dropped its record to 7-8-4 and they sat last in the Metro. They’ve since turned things around and their current win streak has catapulted them into the top-3 in the division on the strength of both a strong offensive and defensive showing.

New York, meanwhile, and first-year head coach David Quinn, began the season 0-3-0 and lost 11 of 14 (3-6-5) since Thanksgiving before going on the road and winning its last two games at Nashville and St. Louis. The Rangers return home now, but only briefly as they are in the midst of a period that takes them on the road (see schedule below) after they ended 2018 with a majority of home games.

Pittsburgh’s “Big 3” is leading the way once again as Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin are the top three on the team in points. Crosby has 48 points (18G-30A) in 36 games this season, a 1.33 points per game clip. He hasn’t had a scoring rate that high in a full season since 2009-10 (1.35 ppg).

Perhaps the best story on the Rangers this season has been the play of Chris Kreider, who leads the team with 20 goals (2nd-best is Mika Zibanejad w/ 11). You’ll remember he missed 24 games last season with a blood clot. Kreider has an active 5-game point streak (5G-3A)

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers
Where: Madison Square Garden
When: Wednesday, Jan. 2, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Penguins-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

PENGUINS
Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Bryan Rust
Dominik Simon – Evgeni Malkin – Patric Hornqvist
Tanner PearsonDerick Brassard – Phil Kessel
Zach Aston-ReeseMatt CullenRiley Sheahan

Brian DumoulinKris Letang
Marcus PetterssonJack Johnson
Olli MaattaJuuso Riikola

Starting goalie: Matt Murray

RANGERS
Chris Kreider – Mika Zibanejad – Jesper Fast
Vladislav NamestnikovKevin HayesMats Zuccarello
Boo NievesBrett HowdenPavel Buchnevich
Cody McLeodRyan StromeFilip Chytil

Marc StaalNeal Pionk
Brady SkjeiAdam McQuaid
Fredrik ClaessonKevin Shattenkirk

Starting goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

Kenny Albert (play-by-play) and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will call Penguins-Rangers from Madison Square Garden.

WATCH LIVE: Capitals, Penguins meet on Wednesday Night Hockey

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues as the Pittsburgh Penguins visit the Washington Capitals on Wednesday Night Hockey with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

This will mark the 48th regular-season matchup between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, with Crosby (21G, 45A – 66 points) outscoring Ovechkin (30G, 20A – 50 points) to lead Pittsburgh to a 28-17-2 record in the previous 47 contests (WSH: 19-21-7). They also have met 25 times in the playoffs, with Crosby (13G, 17A – 30 pts) and Ovechkin (15G, 18A – 33 pts) each averaging more than a point per game and Pittsburgh holding an advantage in their head-to-head games (13-12) and series (3-1).

The Penguins fell 4-2 to the Anaheim Ducks on Monday for their fifth loss in their last 10 games. Head coach Mike Sullivan doesn’t have a lot of patience left for their lackluster play.

“There needs to be a level of accountability and ultimately that falls on me,” he said. “Sometimes the biggest hammer a coach has is ice time, and there have been situations over the last little while where the coaching staff has utilized that. That’s not something this coaching staff likes to do. We want our guys to take ownership for their own expected games, and we want them to take ownership for the way this team is going to play.”

One example of this accountability was playing Guentzel just 3:40 in the second period on Monday. Given 8:36 on ice in the third period, Guentzel responded with several strong shifts and three shots.

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

Washington enters tonight as one of the hottest teams in the league, winners of five straight games and 12 of their last 14. They’ve also been lighting the lamp at a furious pace, scoring three or more goals in every game during that 12-2-0 stretch (4.29 goals per game).

Alex Ovechkin is riding a career-best 14-game point streak (17G, 6A), the longest active streak in the league. Ovechkin is on pace to score a career-high 74 goals this season. His current career best was 65 goals in 2007-08. The last person to score 74+ goals was fellow Russian Alexander Mogilny, who tallied 76 goals in 1992-93.

While Ovechkin has deservedly dominated headlines, Evgeny Kuznetsov is currently on an eight-game point streak (1G, 9A) and has also tallied at least one assist in all eight of those games.

[Related: Alex Ovechkin’s stunning numbers]

What: Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals
Where: Capital One Arena
When: Wednesday, Dec. 19, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Penguins-Capitals stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

PENGUINS
Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Bryan Rust
Zach Aston-ReeseEvgeni MalkinPhil Kessel
Tanner PearsonDerick BrassardPatric Hornqvist
Riley SheahanMatt Cullen – Garrett Wilson

Olli MaattaJamie Oleksiak
Marcus PetterssonJack Johnson
Juuso RiikolaChad Ruhwedel

Starting goalie: Matt Murray

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Tom Wilson
Brett ConnollyLars EllerDevante Smith-Pelly
Dmitrij JaskinNic DowdTravis Boyd

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Jonas SiegenthalerMadison Bowey

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick, U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk, and ‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst Pierre McGuire will have the call from Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Kathryn Tappen hosts NHL Live ahead of Penguins-Capitals on Wednesday, alongside analysts Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and insider Darren Dreger.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule