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The Buzzer: Kucherov’s five point night; Bergeron, Kovalchuk with big returns

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Three Stars

1. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. The Tampa Bay Lightning look unstoppable right now. After their 6-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night they are still averaging more than four goals per game on the season and are 11-0-1 in their past 12 games (and also 16-2-1 in their past 19 games). Leading the way on Saturday night was Nikita Kucherov with a five-point night to give him 57 points in 37 games this season. That is a 126-point pace over 82 games. The five points is a new season-high for him and already the eighth time this season he has recorded at least three points in a game. He is now just two points back of Colorado Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen (59 points) for the league lead in the scoring race.

2. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins. What a difference he makes when he is on the ice. Patrice Bergeron returned to the Boston Bruins’ lineup on Saturday afternoon for the first time since November 14 and it was like he never left. He finished with a four-point performance (two goals, two assists) in a 5-2 win over the Nashville Predators and was his usual dominant self in all phases of the game. He is now up to 31 points in 20 games this season for a Bruins team that has been trying to stay afloat despite some brutal injury luck this season. Getting a healthy Bergeron back will obviously be a huge boost to that lineup.

3. Phillip Danault, Montreal Canadiens. Entering play on Saturday Montreal Canadiens forward Phillip Danault had not scored a goal in 11 consecutive games, had just one in his past 30, and just two for the entire season. He topped that season total with three goals in a 4-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights. Given that he had scored just 10 goals since the start of the 2017-18 season, and only 27 in 223 career games, he is probably one of the most unlikely players to net a hat trick this season.

More big performances from Saturday

Jeff Skinner scored his 26th goal of the season for the Buffalo Sabres. That total is good enough for second place in the NHL behind only Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin. He continues to play his way toward a huge contract in the coming months.

Roberto Luongo turned aside 33 shots for the Florida Panthers in a 2-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings.

Cam Atkinson scored two more goals for the Columbus Blue Jackets to help lift his team to a 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, handing rookie goalie Carter Hart his first NHL defeat.

Pheonix Copley, Laurent Brossoit, Matt Murray, and Linus Ullmark all recorded shutouts on Saturday.

David Perron had two points for the St. Louis Blues in a 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames.

Alexander Radulov had two points, including the game-winning goal with just 10 seconds to play in overtime, to help lift the Dallas Stars to a 2-1 win over the Minnesota Wild.

Mark Scheifele‘s 22nd goal of the season, which came with just under 1:30 to play in regulation, helped lift the Winnipeg Jets to a 1-0 win in Vancouver. It is his fifth game-winning goal of the season.

— Mitch Marner thought he had a hat trick for the Toronto Maple Leafs until one of the goals was awarded to Andreas Johnsson. He instead had to settle for two goals and an assist in a 5-3 win over the New York Rangers. Johnsson also had three points in the win.

— The Arizona Coyotes allowed a three-goal third period lead to slip away against the Colorado Avalanche but were able to rebound for a 6-4 win thanks to a pair of late goals from Brad Richardson — the game-winner with less than four minutes to play, and then an empty net goal to secure the win.

Steven Stamkos scored two goals for the Tampa Lightning and hit the 20 goal mark for the 10th time in his career. He is one of the best players in the league and is only the third leading scorer on the Lightning, a testament to how good and deep the Lightning roster currently is.

Highlights of the Night

This is what the Los Angeles Kings had in mind when they signed Ilya Kovalchuk over the summer. It has not worked out as planned so far, but he had his bet game of the season on Saturday afternoon in a 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks by scoring two goals, including the game-winning goal in overtime.

The Sidney Crosby to Jake Guentzel connection is rolling in Pittsburgh. Guentzel scored two more goals on Saturday night in a 3-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, while Crosby picked up an assist on all three Penguins goals. The passing on Guentzel’s second goal was crisp.

Speaking of crisp passing, this John Tavares to Mitch Marner play is pretty great, too.

Factoids

Rasmus Dahlin scored a goal in the Buffalo Sabres’ 3-0 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night and is off to an incredible start to his career.

More on Ilya Kovalchuk’s big game for the Los Angeles Kings.

A perfect time for Pheonix Copley to record his first NHL shutout.

The Tampa Bay Lightning head to the holiday break as the best team in the NHL at the moment.

His team did not get the win, but Connor McDavid is still having yet another incredible season.

Scores

Boston Bruins 5, Nashville Predators 2

Columbus Blue Jackets 4, Philadelphia 3

Florida Panthers 2, Detroit Red Wings 1

Montreal Canadiens 4, Vegas Golden Knights 3

Los Angeles Kings 3, San Jose Sharks 2 (OT)

St. Louis Blues 3, Calgary Flames 1

Arizona Coyotes 6, Colorado Avalanche 4

Buffalo Sabres 3, Anaheim Ducks 0

Toronto Maple Leafs 5, New York Rangers 3

Washington Capitals 4, Ottawa Senators 0

Pittsburgh Penguins 3, Carolina Hurricanes 0

Dallas Stars 2, Minnesota Wild 1 (OT)

Winnipeg Jets 1, Vancouver Canucks 0

Tampa Bay Lightning 6, Edmonton Oilers 3

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.

Plekanec announces NHL retirement as Canadiens terminate contract

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Tomas Plekanec’s NHL career came to an end on Friday.

The Montreal Canadiens announced that the 36-year-old Plekanec was being placed on unconditional waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract.

“I always wanted to retire a Montreal Canadien,” Plekanec said.

General manager Marc Bergevin said that with the development of the team’s young centers — Phillip Danault, Max Domi and Jesperi Kotkaniemi — he felt it was time to move on and go with the kids.

“The organization made a hockey decision regarding the future of Pleky,” said Bergevin. “It was a tough decision to make. Tomas will always be a part of the Canadiens family.”

The decision, according to Bergevin, was mutual, and Plekanec’s $2.25M cap hit will come off the team’s books.

Plekanec isn’t sure what’s next, only that he wants to continue playing and will try to do so in Europe, possibly joining HC Kladno of the Czech Republic, the team that Jaromir Jagr plays for and owns.

The 15-year veteran played only three games this season after returning to Montreal following a brief stop with the Toronto Maple Leafs at the end of last season. Plekanec, a third round pick of the Habs in 2001, reached the 1,000-game mark on Oct. 15 and leaves the NHL with 233 goals and 608 points.

All but 17 of his 1,001 NHL games came with the Canadiens.

“I’m going to miss the guys. It’s another family, coming here every morning,” Plekanec said. “Now, it’s gone. It’s something I’m going to miss, for sure. I’m going to watch them and cheer for them.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Time for Rangers fire sale; Top 20 lines

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Zach Sanford wrote a letter about his father who passed away in September. “My dad never saw me play an NHL regular-season game in person. He couldn’t make it for my first games with the Washington Capitals, and then I got traded to the Blues and played a handful of games at the end of the year in St. Louis. He was so proud of me, though, and to hear him talk about me, you’d think he was playing in the NHL, too. From what my family tells me, he told everyone who would listen that his son had made it to the NHL.” (NHL.com/Blues)

• It’s time for the New York Rangers to start their fire sale. For starters, they should trade Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes. (New York Post)

• NBC Sports Philly believes we should have seen the Flyers’ slow start coming. (NBC Sports Philly)

• The Vancouver Canucks have had some great Swedish players come through their organization. Markus Naslund and the Sedin twins have led the charge in years past, and it looks like Elias Pettersson is the next one. (Sports Illustrated)

Samuel Girard has been standing out for all the right reasons in Colorado. (Mile High Hockey)

Phillip Danault has done a terrific job down the middle for the Habs this season. (Sportsnet)

Alex Ovechkin skated with roughly 80 people from the American Special Hockey Association. (NHL.com)

• The Chicago Blackhawks signed prospect Brandon Hagel to an entry-level contract. (NHL.com/Blackhawks)

• ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski ranked the top 20 lines in the NHL. Where do Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak rank? Hint: They’re not first. (ESPN)

• Travis Yost breaks down how Jack Eichel is helping his teammates get better looks at their opponents’ net. (Buffalo News)

Derek Stepan is interviewing some of his Coyotes teammates to discuss Halloween-related topics like favorite candies:

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.

Canadiens using speed to overwhelm opponents

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Heading into the 2018-19 NHL season, the expectations weren’t very high for the Montreal Canadiens. After all, a team that has struggled to score goals five-on-five traded away Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk. But thanks to their newfound identity, they’ve managed to exceed all expectations  and boast a 5-2-2 through nine games.

The Canadiens don’t have a superstar up front or an elite player on defense (Shea Weber is still injured), and Carey Price hasn’t even been dominant yet, but they’ve managed to remain competitive thanks to their ability to move the puck quickly. Also, newcomers like Max Domi, Tomas Tatar, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Xavier Ouellet have fit in really nicely, and they’ve all contributed to the speed the team is playing with.

Not every player on the roster is fast, but Claude Julien and his staff have found a way to change their approach after a horrendous year in 2017-18. Coaching additions like Dominique Ducharme and Luke Richardson have also helped with that change.

When things are going well for the Canadiens, you can tell by the little time they spend in their own end. Last season, it seemed like they would get hemmed in the defensive zone all the time. Now, their defenders have found a way to move the puck quicker. The fact that the forwards have made themselves more available to receive those quick passes has helped the team get out of their own end with relative ease. Moving the puck allows the Canadiens to play a quick transition game, which eventually leads to some offensive output.

That’s why a veteran like Karl Alzner hasn’t been able to get into the lineup consistently. The Habs have favored skating defensemen like Jeff Petry, Victor Mete, Noah Juulsen, Mike Reilly and Ouellet, and it’s made all the difference.

The other interesting thing about Montreal, is that they can come at you with four lines. Some nights, Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Danault and Tatar will lead the way. Other times, it will be Jonathan Drouin, Domi and Artturi Lehkonen. The team has also used Kotkaniemi, Joel Armia and Paul Byron together, and they have fourth-line options that include Andrew Shaw, Matthew Peca, Charles Hudon, Nikita Scherbak and Nicolas Deslauriers.

“I wouldn’t say we’re superstars, but everybody is working hard,” Tatar said. “That’s the key. Without that, you’re not able to win a game. We have four lines rolling and everyone is chipping in. That’s a strength for sure.”

Even though they’re coming off a loss in Buffalo last night, no one predicted that they’d have just two regulation defeats in their first nine games, especially because they went up against Toronto and Pittsburgh (twice).

The biggest question mark surrounding the Canadiens is whether or not they can keep this up. Playing fast and being aggressive on the forecheck every night takes its toll on a team. Keeping that in mind, they’re not an overly big team, either, so they might wear down a little quicker, too.

When they hit the dog days of the season, they’ll need Price to be stellar. For now, they just have to find a way to keep this going for as long as they can.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Karl Alzner’s ironman streak will end with healthy scratch

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The big free agent addition for the Montreal Canadiens in the summer of 2017 was the signing of veteran defenseman Karl Alzner to a five-year, $23.125 million contract. Given Alzner’s style of play, the way he seemed to dramatically decline toward the end of his time in Washington, and the direction the NHL is moving in terms of style of play from the blue line it was, to say the least, a curious move.

Just one year in things are not going as the Canadiens may have planned.

After a difficult debut season in Montreal, Canadiens coach Claude Julien announced on Wednesday that Alzner will be a healthy scratch for the team’s season opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“They’re never easy decisions,” Julien said. “I think it’s pretty obvious that there’s two things happening there to those players, but I think at the end of the day we’re all mandated to do what’s best for the team first. That doesn’t mean we don’t sympathize with certain things, but at the end of the day that’s what we’re all here for, including those players.”

This is a significant move because it will be the first time since the 2009-10 season that Alzner has missed a regular season game, putting an end to his 622-game ironman streak that is currently the 11th longest in NHL history.

It also has to be concerning for the Canadiens that Alzner — who still has four years and more than $19 million remaining on his contract — isn’t viewed as one of the six best defenders for the opening night lineup on a team that not only isn’t particularly good or deep defensively, but is already playing without its best defender in Shea Weber.

[Related: Shea Weber named 30th captain in Canadiens’ history]

Alzner isn’t the only veteran that will be a healthy scratch for the opener.

Long-time center Tomas Plekanec, who returned to Montreal on a one-year contract this summer after being traded to Toronto at the deadline, will also be a healthy scratch.

The Canadiens are going with Phillip Danault, Max Domi, Matthew Peca, and 2018 first-round pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi down the middle.

General manager Marc Bergevin refuses to utter the word “rebuild” when it comes to the 2018-19 team, but the opening night roster certainly seems to indicate the team might favor youth this season.

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.