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Blues’ Binnington taking full advantage of his opportunity

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You’d be forgiven if you had no idea who Jordan Binnington was before last week.

You’d still be forgiven if you have no idea who he is while you’re reading this, too.

The 25-year-old had just one NHL appearance under his belt prior to this season, coming in for 13 minutes of relief, giving up one goal on four shots back in 2015-16 with the St. Louis Blues, who drafted the 6-foot-1 netminder in the third round in 2011.

From there, it’s been time spent with three American Hockey League teams, where a steady improvement in his numbers (and the inconsistent play of Jake Allen and his .896 save percentage, and loss of Carter Hutton to free agency) have offered him another chance in the Show.

And while it’s not exactly the largest sample size, it’s offered Blues fans some semblance of hope, a respite in a season that wasn’t supposed to go this way after a summer of retooling.

Binnington turned his first NHL start into a 25-save shutout. That effort will often earn a goalie another outing, which Binnington again took advantage of, stopping 28-of-29 to give him his second win in his second kick at the can.

“He’s played well,” Blues coach Craig Berube said Saturday. “He looks confident. He looks aggressive in net, which is good.

This leads us into Saturday, where Binnington has been granted a third round with a .937 save percentage now in four appearances this season. It’s hardly a surprise, of course. One goal allowed across two NHL games — regardless of the opponent (which in this case was the Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens) — isn’t going to get you sent down.

Binnington, arguably, is in for his biggest test as the hot hand in St. Louis against the Dallas Stars. The latter have worked themselves into third place in the Central Division after two of its best players — Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn — were compared to the excrement of a ranch animal.

Binnington is not expected to save the world, at least not yet.

But what this could be is the start of an AHL journeyman finally making it to the next level and sticking there.

Mackenzie Blackwood in New Jersey is starting to carve out a role for himself. Pheonix Copley has shown some good signs with the Washington Capitals. Jack Campbell has been exceptional when called upon (and healthy) on a lowly Los Angeles Kings team.

Binnington has a long way to go, but there are some signs of life in his game. A couple of big outings when given the chance has spawned confidence.

“I’m just going to try and worry about what’s in my control,” Binnington said. “Just hopefully try and be part of the solution.”

In St. Louis, that means solid goaltending.


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

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

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

Hartman’s brace keeps Predators atop NHL summit

The Vegas Golden Knights recent resurgence hit a bump in the road on Tuesday night in Nashville.

Coming into Tuesday’s game on NBCSN, Vegas had cobbled together a 4-1-1 record in the previous six outings to turn around a shaky start to the season.

But few teams have bested the Predators this season and Vegas wasn’t going to be one of them in a 4-1 Nashville win.

Predators goalie Juuse Saros was thrown into a starting role earlier this month after Pekka Rinne went down with injury and had performed admirably entering Tuesday.

Saros helped Nashville weather the first-period storm, turning aside 12-of-13 shots while the Predators could only muster five.

With an intermission to right the ship, Nashville reappeared as a different team in the second — a more normal version of themselves.

Ryan Hartman led the way, scoring twice in 57 seconds to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead. Hartman’s two goals were his first multi-goal game for the Predators since joining them from Chicago last season. Hartman had six points in 21 games with the Predators to finish off the regular season last year.

In 12 games this year, he’s already equaled that mark with three goals and three assists.

The Golden Knights came into Tuesday tied for 29th in the league in goals-for per game, a goal-and-a-half off their torrid pace to start the season last year. Luck hasn’t been on their side so far this season, and that low scoring number didn’t receive a boost in their loss to Nashville.

Vegas came out of the starting gates with purpose and the feverish start was rewarded when Reilly Smith notched his third of the season on the power play.

But the Golden Knights’ side of the jumbotron didn’t see any further action for the rest of the night as Nashville would respond with four unanswered goals.

The Predators continue to rule the roost with a 9-3-0 record.

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

NHL on NBCSN: Predators, Sharks aim to extend winning streaks

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the San Jose Sharks and the Nashville Predators at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

No team has gotten off to a better start than the Nashville Predators.

Eight games, seven wins, 14 points (tied with Colorado, who has played an extra game) and a five-game winning streak have the Preds sitting pretty atop of the NHL standings early on.

It’s one of those, ‘Nothing to see here’ type of deals. The Predators paced the NHL with 117 points last season and are well on their way to doing so again, led by Filip Forsberg who has five goals and eight points thus far. It’s not really all the surprising.

What’s impressive is the Preds have been chugging along without Pekka Rinne in goal. He’s on the injured reserve at the moment, giving Nashville’s secret (but not so secret anymore) weapon a chance to shine.

Juuse Saros might have the most team-friendly contract given how good he is. Saros took over for Rinne on Saturday after the latter suffered a lower-body injury and hasn’t conceded a goal since, posting a 31-save shutout against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday.

Despite their dominance so far, Nashville isn’t taking the 4-3-1 Sharks lightly.

“For me, right now, they’re one of the top teams in the League,” Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette told the team’s website. “Their record is probably not where it should be based on how they’ve played. They’re just a really high-powered team, they have the puck a lot, they’re in your end a lot and they’re capable of exploding… Looking at the opponent coming in here, it’s going to be tough.”

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

San Jose, like Nashville, has found its winning touch recently with two straight wins, including a 5-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres and their most recent ‘W’ in a 4-1 triumph over the New York Islanders.

The Sharks have outscored their opponents 9-2 during that time, led by Logan Couture, who has four goals and five points in his past two games and is riding a three-game point streak.

San Jose feels things are starting to click after some changes over the summer.

“We’re comfortable,” forward Joe Pavelski told NHL.com. “Training camp was quick, felt quick. We were getting up to speed for sure. Things are falling into place. Guys are getting used to the League. We have a couple of young guys filling in some important roles. Every year is a little different.”

The Sharks continue to be without Joe Thornton, who is on IR with a knee injury. Despite the loss of Jumbo Joe, the Sharks seem to be doing fine without him. He is on the road trip, although it’s not certain when he will get back into the lineup yet.

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