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The Buzzer: Vatrano’s four-point night; Laviolette earns win No. 600

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Three Stars

1. Frank Vatrano, Florida Panthers: Continuing his career year, Vatrano notched his 16th goal and added three assists as the Panthers beat the San Jose Sharks 6-2. The score was knotted at two as the third period began but goals from Keith Yandle and Vincent Trocheck nine seconds apart blew the game open in the Panthers’ favor. Aleksander Barkov chipped in with three helpers of his own. According to the NHL, Vatrano is the third undrafted player in franchise history to record a four-point game, joining Steve Reinprecht and Jesse Belanger.

2. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators: The Finnish netminder turned aside 35 of 36 shots he faced as Nashville downed the Colorado Avalanche 4-1. The win snapped Rinne’s three-game losing streak and helped Predators head coach Peter Laviolette earn his 600th NHL victory. Nick Bonino recorded his 100th career goal and now has four goals in his last four games. Nashville has won 12 of its last 13 regular-season games against Colorado.

3. Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild: Staal scored his 15th of the season and later helped set up Charlie Coyle‘s game-winning goal during a 4-2 Wild victory over the Vegas Golden Knights. Devan Dubnyk made 30 saves and has stopped 64 of his last 67 shots faced. Minnesota is now 4-0-1 against Vegas and are one of two teams (St. Louis) without a regulation loss against the reigning Western Conference champions.

Highlights of the Night

Pretty little goal here from Viktor Arvidsson, who leads all NHL players with 10 goals since the calendar turned to 2019:

Paul LaDue‘s first goal since October was the difference as the Kings topped the Blues:

Congrats to Mackenzie MacEachern for scoring his first NHL goal in the Blues loss:

One heck of an effort by Mikael Granlund and Zach Parise to help set up Mikko Koivu‘s empty-netter:

Justin Braun‘s going to want another shot at this one:

Factoids of the Night

• Via the AP: Laviolette is the 20th coach in NHL history to each 600 career wins and third this season joining John Tortorella and Claude Julien.

• Per the NHL, birthday boy Jonathan Quick recorded his 302nd victory, which is fourth-best among U.S.-born goaltenders. He’s now 67 behind Tom Barrasso.

• Also per the NHL, Aaron Ekblad of the Panthers is the 13th defenseman in the League’s modern era (since 1943-44) to record at least 10 goals in each of his first five seasons.

Scores
Predators 4, Avalanche 1
Kings 4, Blues 3
Wild 4, Golden Knights 2
Panthers 6, Sharks 2

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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.

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.

Forsberg scores two, Predators outlast Blackhawks in overtime

How nice is it to have Filip Forsberg back, Nashville?

After missing more than a month because of injury, Forsberg re-entered the fray earlier this week and in his second game back, produced two goals, including the clincher in overtime to down a stingy Chicago Blackhawks team 4-3 on Wednesday Night Hockey.

The Predators are flying, now 5-0-1 in their past six games — including three straight — after losing six straight and back on top of the Central Division, one point ahead of the Winnipeg Jets.

For a stretch, Nashville looked human. Injuries took their toll and the slump ensured.

It’s only within the past week that they’ve been running with a few more cylinders. Before that, it was Nov. 18 when the likes of Forsberg, P.K. Subban and Viktor Arvidsson, for example, suited up in a game together.

Alex DeBrincat continued to abuse the back of the net, scoring his 21st of the season. He has goals in each of his past three games and seven in his past 10.

His goal tied the game briefly late in the first period, only to be countered eight seconds later by Arvidsson’s 13th.

Patrick Kane continued his red-hot play with two more assists, pushing his point total to 21 (nine goals, 12 assists) in his past 12 games.

Forsberg scored his first goal since Nov. 21 In his second game back after missing more then a month because of injury, Forsberg was flying in the game and was rewarded on the power play with a top that beat Blackhawk’s goalie Collin Delia top corner.

The Blackhawks are now 1-3-1 in their past five games after going 5-1-0 in their previous six games. It might be time to stop sleeping on them, however. They’re five points back of a playoff spot, which is still a mountain to climb, but it’s no Everest. Chicago has found their game despite not having Corey Crawford behind them.

That game helped them earn a point in this one. They pulled the game to 3-2 on Jonathan Toew’s 18th, a shorthanded goal with 20 seconds left in the second period and then found an equalizer with 2:21 left in regulation on an Artem Anisimov strike.

The Predators head to Columbus on Thursday to play Game 5 of a six-game road trip. They’ll face the Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets next week, with the latter set up to be one of the biggest games in the Central this season.

Chicago hosts the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday.


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

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks face off against Predators on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

After a losing six straight games (0-5-1) in December, Nashville has rebounded with a five-game point streak (4-0-1) since New Year’s Eve. Their latest win was an impressive 4-0 victory over the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Monday. Rinne had 18 saves in his third shutout of the season.

Filip Forsberg returned to the lineup on Monday after missing 17 games with an upper-body injury. The team was 8-7-2 without him. Monday was Nashville’s first game since Nov. 10 with Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, and P.K. Subban all in the lineup.

The Blackhawks have climbed out of the basement of the NHL by going 7-4-2 since mid- December, but still have several teams to leapfrog if they want to make the playoffs. Still, they have become a tough out, as evidenced by their 4-3 loss to the Conference-leading Flames on Monday.

Patrick Kane has been red hot with 19 points (9G, 10A) in his last 11 games. He also has had multi-point games in four of his last six games. Jonathan Toews had a six-game point streak snapped on Monday, but still has 39 points (17G, 22A) in 45 games overall. Toews is on pace for 71 points and 30 goals, which would be his most productive season since 2010-11.

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

What: Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks
Where: United Center
When: Wednesday, Jan. 9, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Predators-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

[P.K. Subban sends inspirational message to young fan after racist taunts]

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLACKHAWKS
Alex DeBrincat – Jonathan Toews – Dominik Kahun
Artem AnisimovDylan Strome – Patrick Kane
Brandon SaadDavid Kampf – Drake Caggiula
John HaydenMarcus KrugerBrendan Perlini

Duncan KeithErik Gustafsson
Carl DahlstromConnor Murphy
Brandon Davidson – Henri Jokiharju

Starting goalie: Collin Delia

PREDATORS
Filip Forsberg – Ryan Johansen – Viktor Arvidsson
Kevin FialaColton SissonsCraig Smith
Calle JarnkrokNick BoninoAustin Watson
Ryan HartmanFrederick GaudreauRocco Grimaldi

Roman JosiRyan Ellis
P.K. Subban- Mattias Ekholm
Matt IrwinDan Hamhuis

Starting goalie: Pekka Rinne

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 United Center. Kathryn Tappen hosts NHL Live alongside analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones, as well as NHL insider Bob McKenzie.

MORE: Blackhawks’ Alex DeBrincat can’t stop scoring

Summer coaching changes paying major dividends across NHL

By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

It wasn’t the 15-hour flight to China for training camp that had general manager Brad Treliving’s head spinning.

It was the pace of Bill Peters’ first practice as coach of the Calgary Flames.

”I was tired watching it,” Treliving said.

Peters has lost no time in helping the Flames improve and reach first place in the Pacific Division during his first season. In fact, the six teams that hired a new coach over the summer are all doing well – certainly when compared to the five that have dumped coaches already the season. Those clubs are a combined 47-60-11 since making those moves.

Peters and Todd Reirden, who took over the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals from Barry Trotz, will coach in the All-Star Game on Jan. 26 with their teams leading their respective divisions at the halfway mark.

Jim Montgomery’s Dallas Stars are third in the Central Division and Barry Trotz’s New York Islanders a point out of a playoff spot with extra games to play, while the New York Rangers are overachieving under David Quinn and the Carolina Hurricanes are taking steps forward after Rod Brind’Amour replaced Peters.

For Reirden and Brind’Amour, the challenge was moving up from a role as a longtime assistant. Capitals and Hurricanes players say the transitions have been smooth because each coach hasn’t altered his approach.

”(Reirden is) a completely different person, different personality, different style and I think he’s stuck to who he is,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson said. ”What’s helped him is just staying true to what we all expect out of him.”

With almost the same roster back, Washington was expected to make the playoffs and take a good shot at repeating. Expectations were fuzzier for the Flames, Islanders and Stars.

Calgary had alternated making and missing the playoffs under coaches Bob Hartley and Glen Gulutzan before Peters took over. The Flames’ 58 points have them tied atop the Western Conference and trailing only the powerhouse Tampa Bay Lightning in the overall NHL standings, a big testament to Peters’ puck-hounding style and straightforward communication.

”He’s a great coach,” star winger Johnny Gaudreau said. ”He knows how to win. It doesn’t matter if you’re top line, bottom line, if you’re not playing well you’re not going to be on the ice. He’s not going put you over the bench there. He expects a lot out of his players and it’s been great playing for him this year.”

Trotz has had a similar impact with the Islanders, bringing much-needed structure to a team that missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons and lost point-a-game center John Tavares to Toronto in free agency. Veteran GM Lou Lamoriello said with any coaching change three or four players get better and three or four get worse; he thinks Trotz has gotten the most out of a team far different than what he had in Washington.

”He’s extremely detailed, very consistent in his approach as far as planning, execution, system and delivery,” Lamoriello said of Trotz. ”He has an outstanding delivery to the players as far as no highs, no lows and holds them accountable to what is being asked of them.”

In Dallas, top-line center Tyler Seguin said Montgomery has done a good job of giving players rest, sometimes opting for video work instead of practice. Despite an uproar over pointed comments made by CEO Jim Lites about the performance of Seguin and captain Jamie Benn, the Stars hold a wild-card spot in Montgomery’s first NHL season after five years at the University of Denver.

Quinn spent five seasons at Boston University before GM Jeff Gorton hired him to coach the Rangers, and the returns on that decision are already positive. His job isn’t to get New York into the playoffs right away but rather instill good habits. He is also occasionally scratching players young and old to set a standard for quality of play.

”He’s trying to set a tone of accountability here,” Gorton said. ”I think he’s been consistent to who he is, and his philosophy is if guys aren’t doing the job, then I’ve got to put guys in that are going to do it.”

Consistency and familiarity have helped Brind’Amour with the Hurricanes, who lack scoring punch and have a league-worst nine-year playoff drought. The players respect his legendary work ethic.

”When he says it, you know he’s done it and it makes you want to do it, too,” defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk said. ”When he talks, he commands the room and I think he’s a guy you really like to play for.”

JOHNNY HOCKEY

No player in the NHL is hotter right now than Gaudreau , who’s earning every bit of his ”Johnny Hockey” nickname. His 16 goals and 35 points in 18 games are the most in the league since Dec. 1 and inside the organization show the progression of the 25-year-old into an all-around superstar.

”There’s a maturity to his game,” Treliving said. ”He’s had a real defensive consciousness this year. Not that he hadn’t in the past, but when he doesn’t have (the puck), he’s tracking to get it back.”

TIGHT METRO

The top four teams in the Metropolitan Division – the Capitals, Penguins, Blue Jackets and Islanders – were separated by just six points. That could mean a Trotz vs. Reirden showdown in the first round, Washington-Pittsburgh again or any combination of first-round matchups among teams that look evenly matched.

”It’s a challenge and it forces you to be on your game all the time,” Reirden said.

BANGED-UP PREDATORS

Nashville has dealt with major injuries to several key players. Defenseman P.K. Subban missed 19 games before Christmas, winger Viktor Arvidsson missed 24 of 25 and winger Filip Forsberg missed 17 in a row before returning Monday. Nashville endured a six-game losing streak in December but has somehow thrived amid injuries in the stacked Central Division.

”There’s no sense crying about it,” coach Peter Laviolette said. ”We’ve got to win hockey games.”

GAME OF THE WEEK

The Boston Bruins visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on ”Hockey Night in Canada” Saturday in what could be an Atlantic Division first-round playoff preview.

LEADERS (through Tuesday)

Goals: Alex Ovechkin (Washington), 30; Assists: Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay), 50; Points: Kucherov, 71; Ice time: Drew Doughty (Los Angeles), 26:38; Wins: Marc-Andre Fleury (Vegas), 25; Goals-against average: Robin Lehner (Islanders), 2.18; Save percentage: Jack Campbell (Los Angeles), .930.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports