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The Buzzer: Pastrnak dominates, Couturier breaks out, Senators rally

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Three Stars

1. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins. The Boston Bruins’ top trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak dominated once again on Saturday night in a 5-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. That trio was on the ice for four of the Bruins’ five goals, with Pastrnak having a hand in all four of them, scoring three for his second hat trick of the season. The four-point night is already Pastrnak’s third of the season, more than any other player in the league. Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars and Mikko Rantanen of the Colorado Avalanche are the only other players with two.

2. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers. After a breakout season offensively in 2017-18, Sean Couturier got off to a bit of a slow start for the Philadelphia Flyers. He has been starting to get back on track over the past couple of games and had a huge breakout performance on Saturday afternoon in a 4-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks where he recorded three points (two goals, an assist) and was a plus-four. He is now up to 11 points in 16 games this season, with eight of those points coming in the past six games. The Flyers are 5-0-1 in those games, having earned 11 out of a possible 12 points.

3. Matt Duchene, Ottawa Senators. Matt Duchene and the Ottawa Senators have been in the news quite a bit lately, but it is probably not the kind of attention they want. They should get some of that attention on Saturday night after rallying with four consecutive third period goals against one of the best teams in the league to pick up a 6-4 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Duchene had a huge night for Ottawa by recording three points, including a pair of assists in the third period. One of those assists set up Ryan Dzingel‘s game-winning goal.

The Hurricanes lost in the most Hurricanes way possible

Carolina is on a record-setting pace this season in terms of their ability to register shots on goal. This is not always leading to victories. Take Saturday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings as an example. Even though they recorded 52 shots on goal (and only allowed 32) they were still unable to come away with a win, losing in a shootout by a 4-3 margin after allowing a 3-1 third period lead to slip away. This game was already Carolina’s 10th game this season with at least 40 shots on goal. No other team in the NHL has more than five. During the entire 2017-18 season there were 14 teams that did not record 40 shots on goal in a game for the entire season. The Hurricanes have dominated the shot chart for several years now but keep getting the same mediocre results in the standings.

Highlights of the Night

The Pittsburgh Penguins entered Saturday’s game against Arizona riding a five-game losing streak and trying to avoid their first six-game losing streak in 12 years. They were able to accomplish that with a 4-0 win over the Coyotes. The first goal of the game belonged to captain Sidney Crosby as he scored on another absolutely ridiculous backhand shot. There might not be a better backhand shot anywhere in the league.

The Buffalo Sabres rallied for a 4-3 shootout win over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday afternoon, erasing what had been a 3-1 third period deficit. That makes this first period glove save by Carter Hutton to rob Bo Horvat of what looked like a sure goal that much more important. This is one of 36 saves Hutton made during the game.

Factoids

Remember when the Montreal Canadiens traded P.K. Subban for Shea Weber? Of course you do. Since that trade P.K. Subban has recorded 111 points with the Predators, including his assist on Saturday’s game-winning goal against the Dallas Stars. That point total is more than the number of games that Weber has played in for Montreal. Safe to say, that trade has worked out spectacularly for the Predators (stick-tap to @JJFromKansas for that statistic).

Mike Hoffman helped the Florida Panthers beat the New York Islanders on Saturday night, and in the process extended his current point streak to 11 games. That is the second-longest streak in Panthers history behind only Pavel Bure.

The Detroit Red Wings picked up another come-from-behind win.

The Calgary Flames were 1-0 winners over the Los Angeles Kings thanks in large part to a 22-save shutout from David Rittich, the first shutout of his career.

 

Scores

Buffalo Sabres 4, Vancouver Canucks 3 (SO)

Philadelphia Flyers 4, Chicago Blackhawks 0

Nashville Predators 5, Dallas Stars 4 (OT)

Boston Bruins 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 1

Florida Panthers 4, New York Islanders 2

Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Arizona Coyotes 0

Ottawa Senators 6, Tampa Bay Lightning 4

Montreal Canadiens 5, Vegas Golden Knights 4

New York Rangers 5, Columbus Blue Jackets 4 (SO)

Detroit Red Wings 4, Carolina Hurricanes 3 (SO)

Calgary Flames 1, Los Angeles Kings 0

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.

How worried should Avs be about five-game skid?

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The biggest story of the Winnipeg Jets’ 5-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche was the dominant play of Blake Wheeler, who generated a career-high five points. (Stay tuned for more on Wheeler in tonight’s Buzzer.)

Five was a sobering number for the Avalanche beyond Wheeler’s tremendous game, though. With this loss, the Avalanche have now dropped five straight defeats, slipping to 7-6-3.

Once again, it seems like the Avalanche are mirroring their Eastern Conference cousins (and long-ago Stanley Cup Final opponents) in the New Jersey Devils.

Both teams rode MVP-quality performances from Taylor Hall and Nathan MacKinnon, managing to shock the hockey world with appearances in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Each squad were expected to come back down to reality in 2018-19, yet stormed off to strong starts. And now it seems like gravity is pulling each team down.

[Read up about New Jersey’s tough stretch here.]

Perhaps taking a deeper look at the Avalanche’s season will give us sense of how worried they should be.

The top line and everyone else

While the deadly trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog failed to generate a point in Friday’s loss to the Jets, this bumpy stretch isn’t on them. Granted, Wheeler did accomplish the rare task of making MacKinnon look silly in collecting his 400th assist:

Regardless, it’s telling that there are only two other skaters who are in the double digits in points (Tyson Barrie with 12, Alexander Kerfoot with 11), and Barrie is a defenseman who is frequently on the ice with that big three.

Breaking up that top line might be too much to ask of Jared Bednar, but one way or another, the Avalanche could really use more secondary scoring.

Goalies becoming human

The Avalanche’s hot start didn’t just come down to that outrageous first line.

Semyon Varlamov began his contract year on a tear, only allowing 13 goals during eight October appearances, sporting an elite .950 save percentage. While Varlamov made some tough stops before ultimately succumbing to the Jets’ deadly attack on Friday, allowing four goals against Winnipeg means that he’s given up 13 goals in three November contests, the same total he yielded during that unsustainable start.

Speaking of unsustainable, quite a few numbers seemed to indicate that the Avalanche were due for regression. Heading into this loss, Natural Stat Trick listed Colorado’s 9.6 shooting percentage at even-strength as the sixth-highest in the NHL, while their PDO (a stat that’s helpful shorthand for luck) ranking fifth at 1.021.

Calming context

To be fair to the Avalanche, they haven’t been getting routed in the same way that the Devils have.

Even Friday’s 5-2 loss was close at times, as Colorado decreased Winnipeg’s leads to 2-1 and 3-2 in the third period before the Jets pulled away.

Four of this young team’s five consecutive losses have come on the road, and the Avalanche have played eight of their last 11 games away from home. Their opponents haven’t been cupcakes, either. While the Flames and Wild have talent but have been hit-or-miss, Colorado fell to a surprisingly feisty Canucks squad, lost to the red-hot Predators, and then those imposing Jets.

A harsher critic would wave away all of those details as mere excuses, and it’s not such a tough schedule that the Avs deserve a free pass. Nonetheless, it provides some context and solidifies the notion that Colorado shouldn’t get too bent out of shape about this stretch.

***

Long story short, the Avalanche weren’t as strong as their 6-1-2 start indicated, nor are they as rudderless as a five-game losing streak might imply.

The truth is somewhere in the middle, and that should be fine for a very young, fast team that played way beyond expectations last season (not to mention a franchise that owns the Ottawa Senators’ potentially lucrative 2019 first-round pick).

Now, will the Avalanche be competitive enough to earn a playoff spot despite playing in the loaded Central Division and the unfriendly West? Check back after a few more cold and hot streaks.

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.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Preds, Avs meet in playoff rematch

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche at 10:00 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Preds and Avs will meet for the first time since they went head-to-head in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring. Of course, Nashville won that series in six games, but Colorado didn’t go away quietly.

Peter Laviolette’s team comes into this game riding a three-game winning streak, as they’ve racked up victories over the Golden Knights, the Lightning and Bruins. Those are three pretty good teams. What’s even more impressive, is that the Preds only allowed two goals over the course of the winning streak. After missing five games with an undisclosed injury, Pekka Rinne won back-to-back games, including a 26-save shutout against the Boston Bruins.

Coming into the season, many wondered whether or not Rinne would be back next season because he was entering the final year of his contract. The Preds put that story to bed by signing their veteran Finnish goaltender to a two-year, $10 million extension.

“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,” said GM David Poile. “We feel the tandem of Pekka and Juuse Saros is among the best in the league.”

That tandem has been impressive. Rinne has a 5-1-0 record with a 1.63 goals-against-average and a .948 save percentage this season, while Saros owns a 6-2-0 record with a 2.50 goals-against-average and a .917 save percentage. Not too shabby. The defense might be the backbone of this team, but the two goaltenders aren’t far behind.

“My goal was to stay here, and I felt like the team wanted me to stay here. I think in that sense, sooner the better,” Rinne said. “I’m very happy about the whole situation.”

Their defense and goaltending will be challenged tonight, as they’ll face an Avs team that’s second in the league in goals per game (3.71).

The Avalanche have also received some steady goaltending from Semyon Varlamov, but this Avs team is being carried by their first line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen.

That trio combined for 243 points in 2017-18, and they’ve already combined for 63 points through 14 games. MacKinnon and Landeskog are both tied at 11 goals, but Rantanen leads the team in points with 24. Nobody in the NHL has picked up more points than Rantanen. Even though he’s played one less game than Connor McDavid, he’s still picked up two more points.

“You start getting in that 80-point-plus range and it puts you among the elite in the league, in my opinion,” Avs coach Jared Bednar told the Denver Post last month. “And then you look at the start he has this year and some of the things that stand out with his sturdiness on pucks and the way he’s using his size and strength. I think he’s just figuring out how he can be more productive and more dangerous by using his size because he’s a big strong guy.”

Rantanen has only been held off the scoresheet in two of 14 games this year.

Reminder: the early game on NBCSN features the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. 

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.

Ten stunning numbers from the first month of the NHL season

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The first month of the NHL season is already in the books, and it was an exciting one that was full of big offensive numbers, surprise teams, and great individual performances.

Each month during the season we will take a look at some stunning numbers, trends, or statistics that stand out.

So what stood out from the first month of the 2018-19 season?

Hurricanes on historic shot on goal pace — After registering 51 shots on goal in their 4-3 overtime loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Friday night, the Carolina Hurricanes are now averaging more than 42 shots on goal per game this season. In the history of the league only one team has ever gone a full season and averaged more than shots on goal, and that was the 1970-71 Boston Bruins. Now, it’s easy to write this Hurricanes number off as “it’s early” and that number is probably due to come down at some point. But even if you just look at it as the first 13 games the Hurricanes are still putting shots on net at an historic rate.

Their 551 shots on goal at this point in the season are more than any team ever at this point in the season, including the 1970-71 Bruins (who had just 536 at this point). Only six teams in league history other than these Hurricanes and the ’70-71 Bruins have managed to top the 500 shot mark at this point in the season.

The difference between this Hurricanes team and that Bruins team? The Bruins finished that season as the highest scoring team in the league by more than 100 goals (399 … the next closest team had 291). These Hurricanes are only 23rd in the league in goals per game.

Coyotes shorthanded goals — Through their first five games of the season the Arizona Coyotes could not score at all, no matter what the situation was on the ice. That has drastically changed in the three weeks since as they are now on a roll, having scored at least four goals in six of their past seven games.

One area where they have excelled is in shorthanded situations, where they are not only only of the best teams in the league at preventing goals, but have already scored seven shorthanded goals.

Brad Richardson has a league best three of them. Free agent acquisition Michael Grabner has two.

As a team, their seven shorthanded goals are by far the most in the NHL and are already more than 14 teams scored all of last season.

Perhaps even more ridiculous: Their penalty kill has only allowed three goals this season, meaning they are somehow have a plus-four goal differential when playing shorthanded. Tampa Bay is a minus-one (three goals against, two for) and San Jose is a minus-two (six against, four for). Nobody else in the league is better than a minus-four.

[Related: Why there is reason to believe in the Arizona Coyotes]

The Elias Pettersson show — The Canucks’ prized rookie has helped make them one of the early season surprises, and his performance is just remarkable.

 

John Gibson is dominating — But it is still not enough for the Ducks.

He has a .936 save percentage through his first 11 starts of the season, and has won just four games. A goalie playing at that level should have more than four wins. Way more.

Since the start of the 1987-88 season there have been 18 goalies that have faced at least 350 shots in his team’s first 14 games and had a save percentage higher than .935. Gibson’s four wins are the fewest out of that group, while only Sean Burke as a member of the 2001-02 Arizona Coyotes won fewer than six games.

Alex Ovechkin is not really slowing down — The Capitals are not off to a great start, but Alex Ovechkin most certianly is. Not only is he off to a great start, he is off to one of the best goal-scoring starts of his career. His 10 goals in his first 11 games ties for the second best start of his career. The only time he scored more goals through his first 11 game was the 2009-10 season when he scored … 11. He also scored 10 during the 2013-14 and 2017-18 seasons. The only one of those seasons where he did not end up leading the league in goals was the 2009-10 season. What is remarkable about his play the past two seasons is that he is currently in his age 33 season. Players are supposed to be slowing down at that age and he … sort of isn’t.

Max Domi is scoring goals … against goalies — He has already scored six goals this season for the Montreal Canadiens. Why is this stunning? All of those goals have come with a goalie in the opposing net (meaning no empty-net goals). During the entire 2017-18 season Domi scored just nine goals … with only five of them coming with an opposing goalie in the net (four of his goals a year ago were of the empty net variety).

Kings’ offensive offense — Everybody in the NHL is scoring more goals this season. Everybody except for the Los Angeles Kings. Through their first 12 games they averaging just two goals per game, by far the lowest number in the league. This has been a dull offensive team for years now, even when it was winning, but when it comes to this season and the modern NHL the rest of the league seems to have lapped them a number of times.

Colorado’s top line — The trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog is making a strong case for being the best line in the league. When they are together during 5-on-5 play, they are outscoring teams by a 14-7 margin (the Avalanche are 14-14 without any of them on the ice), while Rantanen and MacKinnon are in the top-two in scoring, having already topped the 20-point mark. Together, they have combined for 27 goals. Or … three more than the Los Angeles Kings have scored as a team.

[Related: Nathan MacKinnon on breakout season — PHT Q & A]

Vegas is getting PDO’d — I think most people expected some sort of a regression from the Vegas Golden Knights in year two because pretty much everything went their way in their debut season. What’s weird about this regression is the Golden Knights are actually doing a lot of things really, really well. They are one of the best teams in the league in terms of their 5-on-5 shot differential and  they are one of the best teams in the league when it comes to generating and preventing scoring chances. The problem is none of their chances are going in and their goalie can not stop anything. Injuries to Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty, their two big offseason acquisitions are not helping, nor is the suspension to Nate Schmidt, one of their top defenders. But as of Saturday the Golden Knights have the worst 5-on-5 shooting percentage in the league (5.04 percent) and the worst 5-on-5 save percentage (only .886). Those percentages are crushing them. 

The Islanders’ goaltending is keeping them in it — The post-John Tavares era in New York is off to a far better than expected start as the enter the weekend tied for first place in the Metropolitan Division after a home-and-home sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The driving force behind that early success is the play of their goaltenders, Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner. Together they have a .931 save percentage that is the third best team save percentage in the league (behind only the Arizona Coyotes and Anaheim Ducks). It is surprising because their save percentages a year ago were .892 (Greiss) and .908 (Lehner). Goalies, man. They can change a team, and you never really know when one is going to go on a roll.

(Data via Hockey-ReferenceNatural Stat Trick and NHL.com)

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.