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The Buzzer: Kucherov, Point dazzle again

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Three stars

1. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

Kucherov extended his point streak to 10 games in style with a four-point night as the Lightning crushed the New Jersey Devils 5-1.

Kucherov scored the game’s opening goal and then assisted on three of the team’s next four goals. No. 86 has five goals and 24 points during his 10-game heater.

2. Kevin Fiala, Nashville Predators

Goals had been few and far between for Fiala up until last week. Since Nov. 27 — four games now — Fiala has three goals in that span and now five on the season.

Fiala’s second-period marker proved to be the game winner as Pekka Rinne did the rest, stopping 21 shots to put Nashville alone atop the Western Conference standings.

3. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning

Kucherov being an assist machine as of late has certainly benefitted those around him, including Point, who was the beneficiary of another Kucherov pass on the power play to give Point his 20th goal of the season — one back of Patrik Laine.

Kucherov has assisted on 11 of Points 20 goals, but Point isn’t too bad at dishing out the apples himself. His two assists in the game were his 16th and 17th of the season to put him third on the team in that category.

Highlights of the night

Totally meant to do that:

Kind of not fair:

Ditto with this one:

Factoids

Scores

Lightning 5, Devils 1

Predators 2, Sabres 1

Stars 4, Oilers 1


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

Add Turris to Predators’ troubling injury list

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Sometimes, when it comes to injuries, it can be about quality instead of quantity.

If you peak at the Nashville Predators’ list of injuries at Rotoworld, you won’t see a ton of names. They won’t receive much sympathy from Sunday’s opponents, the Anaheim Ducks.

Even so, in placing Kyle Turris on injured reserve on Sunday, the Predators lack some key names, as Turris joins P.K. Subban and Viktor Arvidsson. That’s two of the Predators’ top-six forwards, not to mention arguably their best defenseman.

This unfortunate Turris news does give us a reason to take a look at his 2018-19 season so far.

Through 23 games, the 29-year-old scored five goals (including an OT-winner) and 11 assists for 16 points, making for a .7 points-per-game average, which is slightly ahead of the pace he ended up with during his first campaign with Nashville (Turris had 42 points in 65 contests after being traded from Ottawa).

Turris definitely had a cushy gig, though. Via Hockey Reference, Turris began a whopping 70.7-percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, easily the highest rate of his career. That’s a significant change from his Senators days, when he began just 52-percent of his shifts in the attacking zone. It’s fair to wonder if Peter Laviolette might want to shift some of those opportunities to the dangerous top line during Turris’ absence, and maybe once he returns?

This bad news could have had the silver lining of giving the Predators a chance to take another look at Eeli Tolvanen, a promising prospect who (somewhat surprisingly) decided to stay in North America instead of exercising a clause to go to the KHL. Instead, the Predators called up tiny forward Rocco Grimaldi.

Such injury challenges put the Predators’ lines in a blender. Austin Watson is getting a look on the top line with Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg. Calle Jarnkrok is grabbing Turris’ spot in the middle of Kevin Fiala and Craig Smith (at least when Fiala isn’t being demoted to the bottom-six). Nick Bonino remains an expensive third-line center for Nashville, even with Turris out.

The Predators currently lead the Western Conference with 33 points, tying the Tampa Bay Lightning for the NHL’s second-best record with an identical 16-6-1 mark. Those two teams currently trail the (wait for it …) Buffalo Sabres for the league lead.

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: 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.

Predators, Rinne sign two-year, $10 million extension

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It appears that Pekka Rinne will finish his career in the place it started.

The Nashville Predators locked up the 36-year-old netminder on a two-year extension, a lead that will pay him $10 million over its course ($6 million in 2019-20, $4 million in 2020-21). Rinne was drafted by the Preds in the eighth round in 2004. Since then, he’s become the club’s franchise leader in too many records to count.

Not a bad birthday present, again.

Essentially, Rinne takes a hometown discount here. His annual average value will drop from $7 million to $5 million beginning next year, dropping him outside the top 10 highest paid goalies. This is important and we will get to it in a second.

“Pekka Rinne has been the most impactful player our franchise has ever had, both on the ice as one of the NHL’s best goaltenders, and off the ice as a leader in the community,” Nashville general manager David Poile said. “Both the organization and Pekka want him to play his entire career with the Predators, and this helps accomplish that objective, while also stabilizing our goaltending for at least the next two seasons beyond 2018-19. We feel the tandem of Pekka and Juuse Saros is among the best in the League.”

The move might seem quizzical at first glance. The Preds have been grooming Saros as Rinne’s heir-apparent for a while now, so why give Rinne another big-money extension while limiting Saros’ role over the next couple of seasons?

Saros was impressive in his stint as a starter this season with Rinne out with an injury. In eight games (five of which he started in Rinne’s absence) Saros has posted a 6-2-0 record with a .917 save percentage.

The thing is, you can’t just let Rinne go while he’s still on top of his game. He won the Vezina for the first time in his career last season and despite his injury, has the second-best five-on-five save percentage in the league at .961 and owns a 4-1-0 record.

Skeptics will point to his playoff performance last season, including his Game 7 debacle in the second round against Winnipeg, and that’s fair game. Rinne was disastrous, falling from his .927 regular season save percentage mark to .904 in the postseason, including a dreadful .848 in home games.

Perhaps the playoffs were just a blip on the radar. Rinne hasn’t shown any ill-effects stemming from it. It seems Nashville is comfortable with how Rinne has rebounded after putting all the blame on his own shoulders following their playoff exit.

What Poile has engineered here, then, is quite clever. Rinne and Saros (whose cap hit is $1.5 million for the next three seasons) will make a combined $6.5 million, $500,000 less than Rinne is making this year.

Given that the Preds are already counting $69 million toward the cap next year, it’s pretty brilliant that they can keep arguably the best one-two punch between the pipes for a while more.

There’s little risk here. There’s no lengthy term, the money is right and there’s more time to ease Saros into the starter’s role, which is ultimately good for the future of the franchise.

Nashville’s attention now needs to turn to defenseman Roman Josi, who will be looking for a big money extension. The Preds will also have Kevin Fiala, Ryan Hartman and Colton Sissons as restricted-free agents at the end of this season.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule


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

Predators get Rinne back heading into scary stretch

The Nashville Predators are heading toward a stretch more ghoulish than Michael Myers’ mask, but at least they’ll have their starting goalie back.

Nashville activated Pekka Rinne off of IR on Wednesday, sending Troy Grosenick to the AHL. Rinne was hurt after a collision with teammate Kevin Fiala during the Predators’ eventual 6-3 win against the Flames on Oct. 19.

Rinne’s return is an especially comforting development once you consider the challenges ahead over the next two weeks or so:

Thu, Nov. 1: at Tampa Bay
Sat, Nov. 3: vs. Boston
Wed, Nov. 7: at Colorado
Sat, Nov. 10: at Dallas
Mon, Nov. 12: at Anaheim
Tue, Nov. 13: at San Jose
Thu, Nov. 15: at Arizona

So, six of the Predators’ next seven games are on the road, and the closest thing to a layup is that Nov. 12 game against the Ducks, and for all we know, Anaheim might sort things out by then. Nashville’s vaunted defense will need to deal with some of the absolute best scoring lines in the NHL during that span.

At least the Predators haven’t been prey away from home so far this season, sporting a perfect 5-0-0 record through their first five road games.

And, again, it’s a big plus to have their big, workhorse goalie back.

As highly regarded as Juuse Saros is, the younger, smaller Finn has been a bit up-and-down to start 2018-19. His 6-2-0 record is strong – particularly for a backup – yet his .917 save percentage is good, yet behind his career pace of .922.

On the other hand, Rinne’s been lights out. In going 3-1-0 so far, he sports a sparkling .929 save percentage. That’s slightly better than last season’s .927, which he rode to his first Vezina Trophy.

Checking deeper stats including those available at Corsica Hockey, Rinne shows more strongly than Saros so far, standing out in categories including goals saved against average.

Saros’ and Rinne’s performance levels are worth watching in both the long and short term, as Rinne is currently in a contract year. A couple weeks ago, Bob McKenzie discussed Nashville’s interest in a possible extension for the veteran goalie:

In a Wednesday update, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun simply reports (sub required) that there have been discussions between the Predators and Rinne’s reps, with no clear indication yet if a deal is close or far apart.

Saros and the Predators managed a 4-1 win against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday. You can read more about that victory here.

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.