J.T. Compher

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The Buzzer: Avs keep winning thanks to MacKinnon

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Three Stars

1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

It’s hard to imagine there being all that many hot takes sizzling out there about MacKinnon not being able to dominate on his own, but if they existed, they’ve gone ice cold as the speedster continues to score with Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog on the shelf. (Among others.)

The Blackhawks had little hope of slow MacKinnon down – literally and figuratively – as he scored one goal and three assists, with two of those helpers being of the primary variety.

J.T. Compher had a strong game as well with a goal and two assists, while Pavel Francouz made 34 out of 36 saves.

2. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

The Predators have an elite defense, but at times, that label is more about how much they can drive offense (and serve as a net-positive) more than it is about always locking teams down, at least now that we’re firmly in the Peter Laviolette era.

With that in mind, Rinne, in particular, has been crucial to Nashville’s success. So, when he struggles (18 goals allowed in his last four games heading into Friday, with only one full game during that time), it’s a Rinne-sized worry.

Maybe Friday can serve as a confidence-booster? He made 31 saves to shut out a tough Hurricanes team, hitting some significant milestones in the process. Consider these some early factoids: Rinne became the 22nd goalie to reach 350 career wins, and this marked his 58th shutout, tying him for 19th in NHL history.

3. Gustav Nyquist, Columbus Blue Jackets

For all the CBJ lost during the offseason, they made a reasonable pickup by adding Nyquist’s skill and smarts to their mix.

After a respectable-but-unspectacular October, Nyquist scored 12 of his 18 points during 13 November games. Friday was the highlight, as Nyquist generated a hat trick as the Blue Jackets beat the Penguins. Considering how much John Tortorella seems to dislike the Pens, that’s a triply delicious accomplishment.

The only thing that keeps Nyquist from advancing up this list is that one of his three goals was an empty-netter.

Highlights of the Night

David Pastrnak‘s fantastic overtime setup can be seen in the overall highlights of the Bruins’ OT win against the Rangers:

To spread the wealth a little bit, enjoy Brenden Dillon setting up Noah Gregor for one heck of a first NHL goal. This is like a … well, luckier version of Erik Karlsson‘s memorable setup for Mike Hoffman from a few years back.

Factoids

  • NHL PR notes that Henrik Lundqvist is the only goalie with more shutouts (63) than Pekka Rinne (58) since Rinne came into the league in 2005-06.
  • David Pastrnak scored 12+ goals for the second consecutive month. Via NHL PR: only three other players have managed that during the first two months of a season: Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Mike Bossy.
  • Maybe don’t sit on a lead against the Capitals? Washington already has five wins in games where they trailed by multiple goals in 2019-20, the most of any team, according to NHL PR. Alex Ovechkin scored his 255th career power-play goal, tying Teemu Selanne for third-most in NHL history. Brett Hull is second all-time with 265 PPG, while Dave Andreychuk has the record with 274. Feels like a healthy Ovechkin could blow those totals out of the water, right?
  • Sportsnet stats with another interesting Ovechkin nugget:

Scores

BOS 3 – NYR 2 (OT)
BUF 6 – TOR 4
PHI 6 – DET 1
COL 5 – CHI 2
MIN 7 – OTT 2
WPG 3 – ANA 0
SJS 4 – LAK 1
WSH 4 – TBL 3 (OT)
VGK 2 – ARI 1 (SO)
CBJ 5 – PIT 2
NSH 3 – CAR 0
STL 3 – DAL 1

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.

Avs get first taste of life without Rantanen against Golden Knights

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Learning that Mikko Rantanen is most likely week-to-week, rather than month-to-month, after a scary-looking injury was mostly cause for a sigh of relief from the Colorado Avalanche.

Still, being without a star player for several games is far from ideal, and the Avs aren’t exactly getting eased into that grind, as they face a tough opponent in the Golden Knights in Vegas on Friday.

Early on, it appears as though J.T. Compher is the winner of the replacing Rantanen sweepstakes, as he’ll slide into a first-line role with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. While line juggling is common in the modern NHL, the Avs’ top line has been practically glued together, particularly the duo of MacKinnon and Rantanen. Via Natural Stat Trick, MacKinnon’s played 2,700 minutes with Rantanen and a bit less than 523 minutes without him since 2017-18.

While the Avs’ top line has been synchronized with each other, Compher noted to the Avs website that he’s been used to moving around the lineup.

“Over the last few years I have played with a lot of different guys in a lot of different spots,” Compher said. “For me when I get put in a new spot, it is not too different. Just trying to play my game, play with speed, hard on pucks, creating turnovers and the more I can get it in Landy and MacK’s hands, the better we are going to be.”

In particular, Compher’s shot might help him produce with those top players:

Speaking of different guys in different spots, this will also serve as an opportunity for the continued growth of the Avs’ supporting cast.

As great as Rantanen and MacKinnon have been in helping Colorado to a 7-1-1 start with 12 points apiece, the Avs are less one-dimensional than they’ve been in the past thanks to a hot start from the likes of Andre Burakovsky, who ties rising star defenseman Cale Makar for third place in team scoring with eight points.

The Avalanche’s top power play unit still seems pretty stout on paper, via Left Wing Lock: MacKinnon, Landeskog, Burakovsky, Nazem Kadri, and Samuel Girard.

The Avs are getting dragged into this, but nonetheless, Rantanen’s injury serves as an impetus to experiment with different combinations. It will still likely hurt in the short term, yet finding different groups and styles that work might come in handy if Colorado makes it a third straight year of playoff berths.

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.

Avalanche vs. Penguins livestream: How to watch Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Colorado Avalanche. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Colorado is the only perfect team remaining in the NHL. This marks the fourth time in franchise history that the Nordiques/Avs have opened a season at least 5-0-0.

The stars of these two teams, Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon, both hail from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. They both attended Shattuck St. Mary’s boarding school in Faribault, Minn. and both played junior in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League before each being selected No. 1 overall. They maintain a great relationship off the ice, including training together in the offseason.

Beyond their explosive top line, Colorado also has benefitted from the development and emergence of young defensemen Cale Makar and Sam Girard. Makar turns 21 on Oct. 30th, and Girard doesn’t turn 22 until May. After showing a glimpse of their talent last postseason, they are off to strong starts in 2019-20.

Makar has at least one point in all five games so far (six pts. total). He’s the fifth defenseman in NHL history to start his regular season career with a five-game point streak. Marek Zidlicky (2003-04, Predators) is the only player from that group who has ever extended that streak six games.

Pittsburgh has won three straight games, and is coming off back-to-back seven-goal performances over the weekend. The Pens beat the Wild 7-4 on Saturday before beating the Jets 7-2 on Sunday. Sidney Crosby has scored at least one point in every game this season, including multi-point efforts in each of the past three contests. His 10 points leads the Pens. This is Crosby’s 950th game, and he is one goal away from 450 for his career.

[COVERAGE OF AVS-PENGUINS BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Colorado Avalanche at Pittsburgh Penguins
WHERE: PPG Paints Arena
WHEN: Wednesday, Oct. 16, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Avalanche-Penguins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

AVALANCHE
Gabriel Landeskog – Nathan MacKinnon – Mikko Rantanen
Joonas DonskoiNazem KadriAndre Burakovsky
J.T. CompherTyson JostColin Wilson
Matt CalvertPierre-Edouard BellemareMatt Nieto

Cale Makar – Sam Girard
Erik JohnsonMark Barberio
Ryan GravesIan Cole

Starting goalie: Philipp Grubauer

PENGUINS
Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Brandon Tanev
Dominik KahunJared McCannPatric Hornqvist
Zach Aston-ReeseTeddy BluegerDominik Simon
Adam Johnson – Joseph Blandisi – Sam Lafferty
(Jared McCann is a game-time decision.)

Brian DumoulinKris Letang
Marcus PetterssonJustin Schultz
Jack Johnson -John Marino

Starting goalie: Matt Murray

MORE: Patience, preparation part of Makar’s NHL path

Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will call Avs-Pens from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa. Kathryn Tappen will host NHL Live with analysts Patrick Sharp, Jeremy Roenick and NHL insider Bob McKenzie.

Examining Avs’ salary cap, Stanley cup window after signing Rantanen

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It took almost the entire offseason, but the Colorado Avalanche did it. They locked down the last big-name RFA remaining by signing Mikko Rantanen to a six-year deal that carries a $9.2 million AAV.

Initially, it brings to mind favorable comparisons to the Maple Leafs, as Mitch Marner received the same term at an expensive $10.893M cap hit.

But consider another comparison: Matthew Tkachuk and the Flames. In that case, a three-year deal with a $7M AAV opened a three-year window for Calgary to compete for a Stanley Cup, or at least on paper. (As we saw with the Washington Capitals, sometimes the breakthrough comes after you think you had your best chance.)

In the case of the Avalanche, you can look at a few different windows thanks to a few different factors.

The Mac Factor (through 2022-23)

The biggest window comes from getting Nathan MacKinnon, easily one of the most dynamic stars in the NHL, for what feels like close to a 50-percent discount at an absurdly low $6.3M cap hit. To the envy of basically the entire league, that almost larcenous deal runs through 2022-23.

The Avalanche getting four years of Rantanen and MacKinnon for a combined AAV of $15.5M provides an enormous competitive advantage. You could argue that “the rest is gravy,” but in a team sport like hockey, that gravy would be needed to complete a championship meal.

Other noteworthy contracts that last at least four more years include:

The Avalanche added some term with a few of these deals, and also made a key decision to move on from Tyson Barrie, exchanging him in a deal that brought in Nazem Kadri (28, $4.5M through 2021-22).

Decisions coming after 2020-21

Eventually, the Avs will need to decide who will remain a core player over the longer haul, who might be “the guy” in net, and how much they’ll pay key prospects.

While Ian Cole (30, $4.25M) strikes as less of an agonizing choice one way or another, not every decision will be easy. Captain Gabriel Landeskog often combines with MacKinnon and Rantanen to form one of the best bang-for-your-puck, top-heavy top lines in the league, and he’s dirt-cheap at $5.57M, but only for two more seasons. Despite it feeling like Landeskog’s been around forever, he’s only 26, yet the Avs will need to decide if he’d be worth handing what you’d assume would be a much bigger contract, even if he likely would fall behind Rantanen’s big deal.

Two years also covers the contract of Philipp Grubauer, 27, and his $3.33M AAV. Grubauer shook off early struggles to look promising, but will he be a franchise goalie? We’ll see.

With two years remaining on his rookie deal, Cale Makar could earn an astronomical raise from his $880K, considering the promise he’s shown already.

Colorado will also need to make choices regarding Andre Burakovsky and others entering contract years.

Strike soon

The Avalanche were fairly aggressive this offseason, although they didn’t land a big fish on the scale of a, say, Artemi Panarin.

With savings only lasting two years for Makar and four for MacKinnon, Colorado should be proactive in trying to take their best shots, and soon. Whether they try to do so by trade or free agency, the best time for blockbuster moves might be the 2020 offseason. They’ll no longer have $4.25M in dead money from retaining salary for Tyson Barrie and buying out Brooks Orpik, and so it’s not surprising there’s big space coming soon. Cap Friendly estimates their cap spendings for 2020-21 at about $57.136M with 13 roster spots covered, which would provide $24.37M to work with if the ceiling remained at $81.5M.

That’s a lot of money to work with, and now that they have cost certainty for a while with their biggest names, they can try to take a big shot. Maybe that would mean targeting the next Mark Stone like Vegas did: by identifying someone via trade, rather than free agency, and thus buying another playoff run from that player. They should have room to work with in 2019-20, although you never know if there’s a lower internal budget for spending …

***

There’s a lot to be excited about with the Avalanche, especially with Rantanen being 22, MacKinnon being 24, Makar being 20, and so on.

The instinct might be to sit back and relax, but the Avalanche should instead leap at this opportunity to make big leaps rather than more modest steps. As impressive as these bargains are, those coupons will eventually expire.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• 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.

Avs forward Mikko Rantanen in Finland with no deal imminent

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DENVER — Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon have a spot open on their top line.

For the moment, anyway, until things are resolved with their third dimension, Mikko Rantanen.

The Colorado Avalanche are about to open training camp and Rantanen remains in Finland as the restricted free agent tries to work out a new deal.

”It’s going to get sorted out,” Landeskog said Thursday as the team reported to the Pepsi Center for pre-camp physicals. ”Obviously, you miss him. But we’re not too worried about it.”

As far as headway toward a deal, Rantanen’s agent, Michael Liut, said in an email: ”Optimistic, but nothing imminent.” Liut added that there is ”always progress in a negotiation, sometimes slower than both sides would prefer.”

The 22-year-old Rantanen formed a potent combination with MacKinnon and Landeskog last season to help the Avalanche make the playoffs for a second straight year. The All-Star trio accounted for 41% of Colorado’s goals in the regular season. What’s more, the team was 24-6-5 when they each collected a point in a game – and 6-0 when they all scored a goal in the same contest.

Rantanen is coming off a season in which he finished with 31 goals and 56 assists. His 87 points were a career high.

”Certainly he’s a great player for us and we’d love to have him in camp,” coach Jared Bednar said. ”He’s obviously not here, so the focus for me and our team shifts to the guys who are here and in our locker room.”

That means Bednar will tinker with Rantanen’s spot on the top line.

First up, the new guys – Andre Burakovsky, who was acquired in a June trade with Washington, and Joonas Donskoi, a forward the Avalanche picked up in free agency after he spent the last few seasons with San Jose.

After that, maybe some in-house candidates – J.T. Compher and Tyson Jost.

”We have a job to do to get ready for the season, and that’s the way I look at it,” said Bednar, whose team was eliminated last season by the Sharks in Game 7 of the second round. ”Hopefully we can get Mikko in and bring him up to speed quickly and get him joining us for the regular season. That’d be a nice goal for us.”

The Avalanche are a trendy pick to make some noise this season after general manager Joe Sakic gave the team an offseason makeover. Colorado brought in free agents such as Donskoi and center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. They also drafted defenseman Bowen Byram with the No. 4 overall pick.

Colorado also made several trades, including one with Arizona to land defenseman Kevin Connauton. The Avs sent defenseman Tyson Barrie and forward Alex Kerfoot to Toronto in exchange for defenseman Calle Rosen and forward Nazem Kadri.

So far, MacKinnon likes what he’s seen in Kadri, who joined the speedy forward for pre-camp workouts in the higher elevation of Vail, Colorado.

”He’s a lot better than I thought he was. I knew he was a really good player. But up in Vail, there was a lot to be seen,” MacKinnon said. ”I think in Toronto, he was held back a little bit. He’s a great shutdown player. He’s got a lot of offensive upside that I don’t think the league has seen yet. We’re definitely going to see it this year.”

MacKinnon has been in talks with Rantanen – not about contracts, though, just as a friend.

”I know Mikko wants to be here,” MacKinnon said. ”We’re excited to have him here soon.”

NOTES: D Ian Cole remains on schedule after hip surgery, but he won’t be skating with the group to start training camp. ”He’s still not there yet,” Bednar said. … F Colin Wilson and D Erik Johnson are both recovering from shoulder surgeries. ”They’ve both been progressing really well,” Bednar said.