Alexandar Georgiev

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The Buzzer: Rantanen dominates in return; Driedger gets shutout in first start

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Three Stars

1. Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche. After being sidelined for more than a month Rantanen returned to the Avalanche lineup on Saturday and picked right up where he left off, recording four points in a complete destruction of the Chicago Blackhawks. He is now up to 16 points in 10 games this season, and with him back in the lineup the Avalanche dominant duo of Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon is going to start taking over games again. They are still without Gabriel Landeskog but have managed to keep piling up points thanks to the brilliance of MacKinnon and the improved depth throughout the roster. Given all of the salary cap space they still have they are going to have a chance to add a major piece before the trade deadline and be a force in the Western Conference playoffs. Joonas Donskoi also had four points for the Avalanche on Saturday, while MacKinnon added three. This game also featured one of the most random and unexpected fights of the season when Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat squared off against Colorado defenseman Samuel Girard.

2. Chris Driedger, Florida Panthers. With big-money free agent Sergei Bobrovsky off to a terrible start this season, the Panthers turned to the 25-year-old Driedger for his first career start on Saturday against the Nashville Predators. He made quite an impact turning aside all 27 shots he faced as the Panthers began a nine-game homestand. Before Saturday Driedger had only made three relief appearances (all with the Ottawa Senators) in his very brief NHL career.

3. Tanner Pearson, Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks have been waiting for some of their depth players to make an impact offensively this season, and it has finally started to happen over the past couple of games. Pearson had a huge game in their 5-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers, scoring two goals and adding two assists. Unlike Wednesday’s game in Pittsburgh, they were able to hold on to this three-goal third period lead to snap what had been a brief two-game losing streak.

Other notable performances from Saturday

  • Alex Ovechkin became just the fifth player in NHL history to record 15 consecutive 20-goal seasons to begin a career. He also moved into 10th place all-time with his 24th career hat trick. Read all about it here.
  • Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov teamed up for a shutout for the New York Islanders as they beat the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets were one of four teams to lose a defenseman to injury on Saturday.
  • The Toronto Maple Leafs won for the fourth time in five games under new coach Sheldon Keefe thanks to a John Tavares overtime winner against the Buffalo Sabres.
  • Alexandar Georgiev stopped all 33 shots he faced for the New York Rangers in a 4-0 win over their arch-rivals, the New Jersey Devils.
  • Big night for Calgary Flames forward Elias Lindholm as he scored two goals, giving him 14 on the season, in a 3-1 win over the Ottawa Senators.
  • Defenseman Justin Faulk scored his first goal as a member of the St. Louis Blues in a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
  • Logan Couture scored two goals for the San Jose Sharks as they erased an early two-goal deficit to beat the Arizona Coyotes by a 4-2 margin.
  • Jack Campbell was outstanding for the Los Angeles Kings, stopping 32 out of 33 shots in a 2-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets.

Highlights of the Night

Ivan Provorov lifted the Philadelphia Flyers to a 4-3 overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday with this incredible goal in the extra period.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Lundqvist in uncharted territory with Rangers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Henrik Lundqvist will find himself in unfamiliar territory when the Rangers face the Red Wings on Wednesday Night Hockey.

The 37-year-old goaltender will start for the first time since being pulled after two periods against the Boston Bruins last week. Alexandar Georgiev has guarded the crease the previous three games and continues to push for more ice time with steady play between the pipes.

Lundqvist has allowed 16 goals in his previous five starts and has picked up only one victory over that span.

“This is all part of the big picture,” Rangers coach David Quinn said before Monday’s game against Ottawa when he announced Georgiev would play his third in a row. “Managing the amount of games Hank is going to play. I know it may be a big deal that he hasn’t played in three in a row, but when the dust settles and 82 games finish, Hank is going to play a lot of hockey for us.”

Quinn will never disrespect one of the most accomplished players in franchise history, especially in a public forum, but his job is to guide the Rangers in the right direction and keep one eye on the future.

Despite a hiccup against the Senators on Monday, which had more to do with the skaters than the goaltending, Georgiev has picked up where he left off last season. The 23-year-old has established himself as a trustworthy backup but still needs to prove he can handle a larger workload to be considered a future starting goalie.

Another factor in the future goaltending equation is Igor Shesterkin. A 2014 fourth-round pick, Shesterkin has emerged as one of the organization’s top prospects and is off to a terrific start in the American Hockey League in his first season in North America. The 23-year-old Russian was named AHL goaltender of the month for October when he posted a 5-1-0 record coupled with a sparkling 1.49 goals against average.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

With a prized prospect sitting in Hartford waiting for an opportunity and a promising backup pushing for more playing time, the question has to be asked how much should Lundqvist play?

Quinn has already made one tough decision when he benched Marc Staal against the Lightning last week and in the two subsequent games, marking the first time the alternate captain was a healthy scratch in his 13-year career with New York.

“Every now and then, it doesn’t hurt to sit out,” Quinn said of the decision to scratch Staal. “I know people have a hard time with it, they don’t like hearing it, and I don’t want anyone to enjoy it. But it was something I felt was needed.”

With a new era of Rangers hockey on the horizon, Quinn and the front office will be forced to make several painful choices as new talent continues to emerge.

If Lundqvist and Staal want to continue to don the Rangers sweater, they’ll need to earn their roster spots over and over again with each opportunity. It might not be fair for two players that have been part of one of the most successful periods in the organization’s history, but that’s the sandbox these two signed up to play in when they became NHL players.

Liam McHugh will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones and NHL insider Darren Dreger. Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will call Red Wings-Rangers from Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y.

NBC Sports will premiere “The Russian Five” documentary, a feature on the first five Russians to play hockey together in the NHL, Wednesday, November 6, following Wednesday Night Hockey between the Red Wings and Rangers. The documentary tells the story of how Sergei Fedorov, Slava Fetisov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Slava Kozlov, and Igor Larionov were able to defect from their homeland and transform the Detroit Red Wings into perennial contenders and back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions in 1996-97 and 1997-98.

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

Rangers win on rough night for Lightning

For a while, it looked like the Tampa Bay Lightning would author the dreaded “costly win,” as they managed a 1-0 first period lead while seeing Victor Hedman and Patrick Maroon leave the game (and not return) with early injuries.

The New York Rangers were determined to make it a costly loss, instead, beating the Lightning with an impressive 4-1 effort.

Here are some takeaways from a hard-working win by this young Rangers team.

The costly part

After seeing a historic regular season be left in smoldering ruins thanks to a first-round sweep by the Blue Jackets, Lightning coach Jon Cooper wondered if the team wasn’t ready for adversity. Maybe this is a “be careful what you wish for” situation.

Again, Hedman and Maroon were injured on Tuesday. It’s unclear how Hedman got hurt (other than it’s a lower-body issue), while Maroon was injured after fighting with one of the NHL’s last remaining enforcers, Micheal Haley.

The Bolts were already a little banged up to begin with, as Anthony Cirelli missed the game, and Brayden Point was a game-time decision. The Lightning have to hope that Hedman’s new issue is a minor one, as they struggled mightily without him late in 2018-19, including that playoff plummet.

Of course, things weren’t perfect for the Rangers, as they won without star center Mika Zibanejad.

A nice all-around effort by New York

The only goal the Rangers allowed was partially due to the Lightning managing a very long stretch in the attacking zone, and partially based on a bad line change.

But aside from that, they managed to play a strong all-around game, bouncing back from a humbling 7-4 loss against the Bruins. Via Natural Stat Trick, the Rangers generated 11 high-danger chances at 5-on-5 while only allowing five by the Lightning.

It must be heartening that both Kaapo Kakko and Adam Fox scored goals on Tuesday. The kids will have their growing pains, but they could be alright.

Also: Ryan Strome now has a three-game multi-point streak after scoring a goal and an assist, and his overall point streak is at five games (three goals, five assists for eight points).

Great goaltending

This was a low-scoring affair until the Rangers really started to break through, in part because of sharp goaltending.

Alexandar Georgiev grabbed the win, stopping 29 out of 30 shots. Andrei Vasilevskiy couldn’t grab the W, yet he was strong, making 38 out of 41 saves.

The Rangers face an uphill battle at 4-5-1, but nights like Tuesday strengthen the argument that they’re making some strides in the right direction. Now at 5-4-2, it’s clear that the Lightning have almost as much ground to cover.

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.

Can Henrik Lundqvist bounce back for Rangers?

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers.

Let’s tackle three questions for the Rangers in 2019-20 …

1. How will the new guys fit in (and how many new guys will fit in)?

Don’t blame head coach David Quinn if he uses phrases like “learning process” a lot next season, as there are a ton of new faces in New York, including players who figure to be top scorers and minute-eaters.

It’s not just about getting the most from Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba. Really, it’s not even about integrating likely rookie impact-makers like Kaapo Kakko and Adam Fox.

The Rangers must also decide if prospects like Vitali Kravtsov will make the team out of training camp, and if they’ll stay long enough to eat up a year of their rookie contracts. Quinn must decide if players like Lias Andersson are ready to take another step forward.

From a forwards and defense level, this is a very different-looking team, something that was cemented by the Kevin Shattenkirk buyout. As far as chemistry experiments go, the Rangers are basically mad science.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Under Pressure | X-factor]

2. Is Henrik Lundqvist washed up?

If you had to choose one Ranger to forget all about last season, it would be Lundqvist.

The Rangers’ defense was abysmal in 2018-19, and Lundqvist buckled under the pressure of trying to carry that sorry bunch, suffering through a season where he had a very un-Hank-like .907 save percentage.

When you look a little deeper at the numbers, you’ll see that his 2018-19 season wasn’t that far from normal, or maybe a “new normal.” Via Hockey Reference, you can see that his even-strength save percentage has been nearly identical for the last three seasons, as it was .919 in both 2018-19 and 2017-18 and .918 in 2016-17.

Before that, prime Lundqvist was regularly beyond .930 at even-strength, and so frequently above .920 overall that you almost set your watch to his elite play.

Considering that he’s 37, maybe the window for his elite play has finally closed, but maybe Lundqvist can squeeze out one or two more great years? Let’s not forget that Lundqvist wasn’t exactly protected in Alain Vigneault’s latter years with the Rangers, as those teams were often horrendous from a possession standpoint.

If Quinn can create more of cocoon for Lundqvist (and Alexandar Georgiev), might the Rangers improve at keeping pucks out of their own net? Even with Panarin leading a big boost in offensive punch, you’d think they’d need a lot more than they got from their goalies last season, Swiss cheese defense and all.

3. Will the playoff picture be an open road or treacherous path?

The Rangers aren’t the only team in their division that should be tough to gauge once prediction time rolls around, making it difficult to tell if the Metro will compare to what was a mighty Atlantic Division last season.

The Devils are just about as wildly different as the Rangers, and the Flyers made bold moves in their own right.

It’s easiest to imagine the Rangers falling in the wild-card range, so a lot may hinge on how other teams perform, both in the Metro and Atlantic Divisions. If the Panthers and Sabres take big strides — as they’re paying to do — then the Atlantic teams could gobble up as many as five playoff spots, forcing the Rangers to break into the top three of the Metro. That might be asking too much, so the Rangers have to hope for a little bit of a buffer when it comes to the playoff bubble.

(You know, unless they end up being far better or far worse than expected.)

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.

Rangers getting a good look at the future, despite playoff disappointment

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Silver linings for teams far off the playoff line are few and far between at this time of the year.

But if there is one that can be taken for any team looking at re-tooling or rebuilding for next season, it’s the ability to take a look at the future crop against NHL adversaries.

The New York Rangers are one of these teams. They declared themselves open for business prior to the trade deadline and dealt away some big names, including Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh, for some younger talent.

They’re also facing a challenge with aging goaltender Henrik Lundqvist who, as great as he is, won’t win the battle with Father Time.

Needing to fill holes at several positions, the Rangers have been able to take a good look at a couple of promising prospects, including what may well be their future between the pipes.

New York has played rookie Alexandar Georgiev six times and owns a 3-2-0 record since he played his first NHL game on Feb. 22. Despite picking up the loss, Georgiev allowed just two goals on 40 shots for a .950 save percentage.

He’d give up four in his next start the following night, but since then has amassed three straight wins, including a 37-save performance on Wednesday against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. He’ll be called upon again on Saturday, another test and another chance for evaluation.

The inital analysis is promising. Georgiev is sitting on a very respectable .929 save percentage in his brief time in the NHL and he’s already turning heads around the league.

NHL.com’s Kevin Woodley’s wrote that Georgiev is taking after the likes of Andrei Vasilevskiy, Semyon Varlamov and Sergei Bobrovsky — some pretty good company.

Blueshirt Banter’s Tom Urtz Jr. took a really deep dive in Georgiev, concluding by calling him a “pleasant surprise.”

There’s a lot to like about him, his potential is visible, and the circumstances are set up in his favor for him to be able to prove himself more in an extended setting next season,” Urtz Jr. wrote.

Shifting to the men in the rearguard, Neal Pionk is making the most the big minutes he’s been getting over the past 17 games, and he’s starting to produce.

Pionk is on a three-game point streak with five assists during that span.

Also 22 and also undrafted, Pionk, like Georgiev, is showing real promise on defense.

“He competes hard and he’s got a good skill set,” Vigneault told NYRangers.com on Friday. “He can make that good pass and there’s no doubt that in his college and prior to that, he was considered an offensive defenseman. He’d join the rush and was good on the power play, so there is some upside there with him. We need to continue to work at his game and continue to improve it.”

The Rangers appear to have some budding young talent and an array of players to build around with the likes Pavel Buchnevich, Vladislav Namestnikov and Jimmy Vesey — assuming they sign the latter two who are set to become RFAs at the end of this season.

And perhaps most importantly, the Rangers, who have long held the distinction as a team where old players go to get older, seem to finally be favoring youth over past-their-prime talent.

That’s good news for Rangers fans.


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