Craig Smith

Kevin Fiala #22 of the Minnesota Wild celebrates after scoring a goal
Getty Images

The Buzzer: Fiala stays hot; Rust’s hat trick gets Pens back on track

Three Stars

1) Bryan Rust, Pittsburgh Penguins

His third NHL hat trick helped the Penguins end a six-game slide as they defeated the Ottawa Senators, 7-3. Rust broke a 1-1 tie late in the opening period with a perfectly placed wrist shot from the high slot. He netted his second at 13:29 of the third when he buried a loose puck in front after crashing the net. No. 17 would complete his hat trick late in the third after forcing a turnover near the blue line then firing a wrist shot between the goaltenders’ pads. Evgeni Malkin had four assists and Sidney Crosby recorded his 800th career helper as the Penguins restored order in Pittsburgh with an important victory.

2) Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets

When you think of elite goal scorers, Connor does not immediately jump to the top of the list for many. However, the 23-year old is tied for sixth in the NHL scoring race and is closing in on his first career 40-goal season. Connor scored twice and added an assist in the Jets’ 3-1 win against the Sabres at Bell MTS Place. He has scored in four consecutive games and registered his sixth multi-goal game of the season as the Jets picked up their second win in the previous two games. Connor netted his first of the evening when he buried a perfect feed from Blake Wheeler at 13:59 of the first period. He notched his second of the game in the middle frame when he quickly pounced on a loose puck in front and buried the rebound.

The Jets remain in a heated wild-card race in the Western Conference, but Connor’s consistent offensive production should help Winnipeg reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

3) Kevin Fiala, Minnesota Wild

Fiala scored in his fifth straight game to lead the Wild to a crucial 3-1 victory against the Nashville Predators. The Swiss forward has five goals and six assists in the previous five games. Minnesota is only one point from both Western Conference Wild Card spots and has played two less games than the Jets who occupy the position currently. Fiala’s 23 points since February 4 are second most in the NHL, trailing the scorching-hot Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers.

Highlights of the Night

Jake DeBrusk won a foot race and converted a breakaway to break a 10-game scoring drought as the Bruins topped the Lightning, 2-1.

Mitch Marner put the puck between his legs then slid a backhanded shot past Martin Jones to even the score at 2-2.

Fiala maneuvered around Ryan Ellis with a patient toe drag and then evened the score at 1-1 with a nifty wrist shot.

Charles Hudon’s wicked wrist shot helped the Montreal Canadiens cruise past the New York Islanders, 6-2.

Patrick Kane helped Dylan Strome notch his second goal with a perfect cross-ice pass in the Blackhawks’ 6-2 win.

Craig Smith snagged a puck with his glove then rifled a bouncing puck into the back of the net.

Push for the Playoffs

Stats of the Night

Injury news

Scores

Montreal Canadiens 6, New York Islanders 2
St. Louis Blues 3, New York Rangers 1
Pittsburgh Penguins 7, Ottawa Senators 3
Boston Bruins 2, Tampa Bay Lightning 1
Minnesota Wild 3, Nashville Predators 1
Winnipeg Jets 3, Buffalo Sabres 1
Chicago Blackhawks 6, Anaheim Ducks 2
Edmonton Oilers 2, Dallas Stars 1 (OT)
Vegas Golden Knights 3, New Jersey Devils 0
San Jose Sharks 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 2


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.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Zucker, van Riemsdyk among this week’s best adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Kailer Yamamoto, Oilers – RW: Edmonton summoned Yamamoto on Dec. 31st and they’ve never had any reason to look back. He has seven goals and 14 points in 16 games while playing primarily with Leon Draisaitl. He had some false starts earlier in his career, but he’s a talented young forward who should be a significant part of the Oilers’ offense from here onward.

Jason Zucker, Penguins – LW/RW: Zucker is owned in 58% of Yahoo leagues at this point and normally I wouldn’t highlight a player whose already been scooped up in that many leagues, but I wanted to make an exception in this case because he’s a great addition if he’s still around for you. Being acquired by the Penguins significantly boosted his fantasy value. He’s averaging 17:14 minutes since joining and, more importantly, is playing alongside Sidney Crosby. He’s an already established, skilled winger who is now playing with one of the best players in the league. This should go well and there’s already evidence that it will with him recording three points in three games with Pittsburgh.

Alex Galchenyuk, Wild – C/LW: While I see Zucker as a must-add, Galchenyuk, who was part of the same trade, is a big gamble. Like Zucker, the trade has boosted Galchenyuk’s value, but in Galchenyuk’s case, he was hovering around zero prior to this trade. While Galchenyuk was a capable top-six forward with Montreal and to a lesser extent with Arizona, he didn’t work out at all with Pittsburgh. Galchenyuk’s role steadily dropped throughout his tenure with the Penguins to the point where he was averaging just 7:21 minutes per game. In Galchenyuk’s first two games with Minnesota he logged 12:26 minutes and then 13:44 minutes – so better, but not great. Still, what makes me tempted to keep an eye on Galchenyuk is the Wild’s decision to pair him with Mats Zuccarello when he has been on the ice. This is an opportunity for Galchenyuk to re-establish himself as a top-six forward and he has all the motivation in the world given that his contract is up at the end of the season. Maybe it’s a stretch to pick him up this minute, but I would keep him in mind this next week and if it appears that he is working out in Minnesota, scoop him up.

Miles Wood, Devils – LW: Like Galchenyuk, Wood is someone to keep a close eye on for now rather than pick up right away. Wood has 10 goals and 20 points in 57 games, so he hasn’t been worth owning in standard leagues, but he’s also only been averaging 12:42 minutes. He has three goals and four points in his last six contests though while logging an average of 14:34 minutes over that span. That increase is encouraging and with Blake Coleman now in Tampa Bay, Wood’s role could increase further. On Sunday, with Coleman no longer in the lineup, Wood took his former spot on a line with Nikita Gusev and Travis Zajac. Wood also has 89 hits, so he can contribute in that regard and if your league values PIM instead, he’s noteworthy there too with 51 minutes.

James van Riemsdyk, Flyers – LW: van Riemsdyk is a hot-and-cold player who is producing right now. He has five goals and 14 points in his last 13 contests and is currently on a four-game point streak. Overall this season he’s a somewhat borderline fantasy asset in standard leagues, but at the least he’s worth considering in the short-term.

Patric Hornqvist, Penguins – RW: Hornqvist isn’t someone that makes sense to have on every fantasy team, but for those in need of a reliable right winger due to injury, he’s a good stopgap measure. He has 14 goals and 26 points in 40 games while posting a solid plus-eight rating and contributing 87 hits, so he’ll help you across the board. He’s also been performing particularly well lately with three goals and seven points in his last seven games.

Jonas Brodin, Wild – D: With two goals and 24 points in 58 games this season, Brodin is just a point shy of his career-high. That’s not enough to warrant his inclusion on the vast majority of standard league fantasy teams, but he’s not too far behind the curve. He’s at least worthy of consideration during hot streaks like the one he’s currently on. He has a goal and four points in his last five games.

Brandon Sutter, Canucks – C/RW: Sutter has never been a major offensive threat and injuries during his tenure with Vancouver have further obscured him. This season he’s appeared in just 34 games, though he has a respectable eight goals and 16 points over that span. He’s hot right now with two goals and five points in his last three games, but what makes this a little more interesting is the fact that Vancouver has given him a bigger role over that stretch. He’s averaged 14:55 minutes this season, but he’s logged between 16:05 and 19:02 minutes in each of those three games. Even if Vancouver continues to lean on him like that, he might not be a great addition in the long run, but if nothing else, he’s an okay gamble for the moment.

Craig Smith, Predators – RW: Smith has been clicking lately, scoring an incredible six goals over his last five games. With 17 goals and 28 points in 58 contests, he’s not a great player to hold onto at all times, but as long as he’s hot, he has some value. Just don’t hesitate to swap him out for someone else after he stops scoring.

Nick Bonino, Predators – C: If a center is a better fit for you right now than a right winger, than you might want to consider Smith’s linemate, Bonino. He’s been hot right alongside Smith, scoring three goals and eight points in his last 11 games. Bonino is up to 17 goal and 34 points in 58 contests this season, so he’s been a better offensive contributor than Smith, but because of how deep the center position is, Smith is owned in 12% of leagues to Bonino’s 10%.

Players You May Want To Drop

Erik Karlsson, Sharks – D: Karlsson is still owned in 75% of Yahoo leagues at the time of writing and no active owner in a single season league should have him on their team. It’s painful, but he’s already been ruled out for the rest of the season due to a broken thumb sustained on Friday, so there’s no benefit to him occupying a spot on your team. If you are in a keeper league though, there’s certainly reason to still hold onto him. Although injuries have limited Karlsson in each of the last two seasons, when he’s healthy, he’s still one of the league’s top offensive defensemen.

Ilya Kovalchuk, Canadiens – LW/RW: When Kovalchuk first joined Montreal, he seemed revitalized with four goals and eight points in eight games. He’s slowed down dramatically since then though with two goals and four points in his last 11 contests. He’s still getting big minutes in Montreal, which makes him an interesting forward to keep an eye on and there’s also the potential that the Canadiens might opt to trade him given that they’re eight points behind Toronto in the playoff race despite having played in one extra game. A trade involving Kovalchuk is more likely to hurt than help his fantasy value because it will likely result in him getting fewer minutes, but you never know. Even if you do drop him now, he’s still worth keeping a close eye on.

Anthony Beauvillier, Islanders – C/LW: Beauvillier has a solid 17 goals and 36 points in 57 games this season, but a big chunk of that production came from a recent hot streak. He had seven goals and 13 points in 10 games from Jan. 14-Feb. 10. If you had him during that time, you reaped the benefits, but he’s also had some long cold stretches and we might be witnessing the start of another after he was held off the scoresheet in his last three games. 

Jake DeBrusk, Bruins – LW/RW: DeBrusk scored seven goals and 14 points in 13 games from Jan. 7-Feb. 8, but that hot streak is behind him. He’s been held off the scoresheet in each of the Bruins’ last four contests. Overall this season, he has 18 goals and 34 points in 55 games, which is decent, but not quite enough for most fantasy owners to justify holding onto him all-year-round.

Jonathan Drouin, Canadiens – C/LW: Drouin has an ankle injury, but it’s not clear yet if that’s a big issue. So far it doesn’t sound like it is. He sustained the injury on Wednesday, tried to play through it Friday, and then sat out Saturday’s game after participating in the pregame warmups. For Drouin though, this recommendation has very little to do with the injury and far more to do with his recent play. He has been limited to three assists in his last 10 games and hasn’t recorded a point in four contests since he returned from a wrist injury that cost him most of the campaign. It might be a matter of rust and if given enough time he might be able to move past it, but there’s not a ton of time even left in the campaign for him to regain his rhythm.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.

The Buzzer: Lightning win ninth straight; Smith’s hat trick powers Predators

Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 and Brayden Point #21 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate
Getty Images

Three Stars

1) Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

Vasilevskiy extended his point streak to 20 games after a 29-save performance in the Lightning’s 3-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers. The Russian goaltender improved to 18-0-2 during the impressive streak. The Bolts have erased a slow start thanks to a 10-game winning streak at home and a 21-2-1 record in their past 24 games. The Boston Bruins currently have a one-point advantage in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference standings on the surging Bolts.

2) Zach Sanford, St. Louis Blues

A four-goal performance wasn’t enough to help the Blues escape Las Vegas with two points, but was a career night for the forward, nevertheless. Sanford scored in a variety of ways around the net and added a wicked wrist shot to cap off his excellent performance. Sanford gave the Blues a one-goal lead with 8:15 remaining in the final period, but the Golden Knights found a way to tie the game and notch the overtime winner. It was St. Louis’ first game since Jay Bouwmeester’s medical incident on Tuesday.

3) Craig Smith, Nashville Predators

Smith’s first career hat trick helped Nashville snap a two-game losing streak. Juuse Saros made 31 saves and collected his second shutout of the season in the Predators’ 5-0 win against the New York Islanders. Smith buried a sharp-angled shot to open the scoring 35 seconds into the game. He later wired two wrist shots from the slot to complete the hat trick. The 30-year-old has five goals in the previous three games.

3A) Mikael Backlund, Calgary Flames

In a 6-0 rout against the Anaheim Ducks, Backlund scored twice as the Flames picked up their third win in the previous five games. The Swedish centerman benefitted from Michael Stone’s spinning pass midway through the opening period to give the Flames a 2-0 lead. Fast forward to late in the second period, Ducks forward Rickard Rakell floated a backhand pass from the point that Backlund easily intercepted. Backlund raced up ice and converted a neat deke to his backhand to help the Flames run away with this one.

Other notable performances

  • James van Riemsdyk recorded a goal and an assist in the Flyers’ 6-2 win against the Panthers.
  • Artemi Panarin had a goal, an assist and shootout tally as the Rangers collected their third straight win.
  • Wayne Simmonds scored twice as part of a four-goal third period in the Devils’ 4-1 win against the Red Wings.
  • Tyler Seguin ended a 17-game goal drought in the Stars’ 3-2 win against the Maple Leafs.
  • Jack Eichel had a goal, an assist and a beautiful set up for Victor Olofsson for the overtime winner.

Highlights of the Night

Jack Eichel raced past a defender in overtime, then stopped on a dime and set up Victor Olofsson for the overtime winner.

Auston Matthews fired a laser past Ben Bishop to tie David Pastrnak for the NHL scoring lead at 41 goals.

Smith picked Nick Leddy‘s pocket, then found an opening from a sharp angle 35 seconds into the game.

Vladislav Gavrikov found Nathan Gerbe trailing the play when the Blue Jackets took a one-goal lead in final minute of opening period.

Panarin showed great patience with this impressive deke, but should it have counted?

Stats of the Night

Scores

Buffalo Sabres 4, Columbus Blue Jackets 3 (OT)

Dallas Stars 3, Toronto Maple Leafs 2

Tampa Bay Lightning 3, Edmonton Oilers 1

Philadelphia Flyers 6, Florida Panthers 2

New Jersey Devils 4, Detroit Red Wings 1

Ottawa Senators 3, Arizona Coyotes 2

New York Rangers 4, Minnesota Wild 3 (SO)

Nashville Predators 5, New York Islanders 0

Washington Capitals 3, Colorado Avalanche 2

Vegas Golden Knights 6, St. Louis Blues 5 (OT)

Calgary Flames 6, Anaheim Ducks 0


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.

NHL on NBCSN: Can Hynes, Predators warm up against hot Blackhawks?

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blackhawks and Predators both find themselves out of the playoffs, but their stories have been very different lately.

While injuries pile up, Chicago is hot by recent standards. The Blackhawks are keeping their shaky playoff hopes alive with wins in six of their last nine games, scoring enough to offset problems. Their overall record sits at 19-19-6 (44 points in 44 games).

Meanwhile, the Predators keep grasping for answers.

Predators, Hynes running out of time

Nashville fans looking for an instant success were out of luck in Hynes’ Predators debut. The Bruins dispatched the Predators by an unsettling score of 6-2.

The larger recent picture looks dim. Nashville only won once in its last five games, and that was a win against the lowly Los Angeles Kings. The Predators head into Thursday with a mediocre 19-16-7 record (45 points in 42 games).

While games in hand matter, the Predators also realize that they need to stop squandering them.

“We’ve been [saying] the same stuff over and over again,” Rinne said shortly after the Predators fired Peter Laviolette and hired Hynes. “[There’s] a lot of time, a lot of time, a lot of time. But time is running out. You’ve got to change the way you do things. The bottom line is enough talking, we’ve got to start playing.”

[Our Line Starts: Is Hynes for Predators?]

Early impressions

Of course, in Rinne’s case, it would help to … you know, get some stops.

Hynes endured terrible goaltending with the Devils. Rinne and Juuse Saros disappointed wildly so far in 2019-20, and the first game under Hynes didn’t provide meaningful changes on the scoreboard.

Then again, the Bruins rank as one of the league’s toughest opponents, and that first game was a rushed process. Even with that in mind, Hynes made some early impressions on the Predators. While Craig Smith pointed to some excessive complexity during Laviolette’s latter days, Matt Duchene and others describe Hynes’ message as “crystal clear.”

“It was simple and easy to grasp,” Austin Watson said of Hynes’s practice, via the team website. “I’m sure we’ll make adjustments as we go forward or add some different tweaks, but for today, I thought it was great. You back it up with some video and then go on the ice and just try to get better today.”

[Discussing some changes Hynes can make in replacing Laviolette]

Rinne mentioned that the Predators are running out of time. They’re also running out of excuses. While the Blackhawks are finding ways to win, Nashville cannot lose games like these. Thursday figures to be a significant test for the Predators and their new coach.

Brendan Burke and Pierre McGuire will call the action from United Center in Chicago. Paul Burmeister will anchor Thursday night’s studio coverage with Keith Jones and Mike Johnson.

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 Hynes succeed with Predators where Laviolette failed?

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The Nashville Predators actually did it. They fired Peter Laviolette, and then hired John Hynes in a dizzying span.

The dream is that Hynes can sculpt this lump of underachieving clay back into contending shape. How well do such imaginings line up with reality, though? Let’s consider the way things might or might not change for the Predators.

Good Cop/Bad Cop?

In sports, teams sometimes opt to rotate approaches. First, you hire a “yeller” to scream out the procrastinators. Then you soothe various wounds with a “player-friendly” coach … or vice versa.

The Predators might be aiming for such a dynamic.

While plenty (including Babcock-blasting Mike Commodore) showed fondness for Laviolette over the years, the word “intense” comes up over and over in describing the coach. The Tennessean’s Joe Rexrode summed up some of that intensity in a May 2017 column:

This is a man whose default setting is “cold glare” when he enters a room. A seemingly humorless man, a professional sourpuss, a coach who can detect bad intentions in the most harmless of questions.

When Hynes was fired, it was striking to see just how many people went out of their ways to support him. The praise ranged from players including Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier to former front office members.

Affixing Hynes with a white hat and Laviolette with a twirly villain’s mustache would, again, be a bit extreme. Laviolette showed a sense of humor in being the butt of a joke, after all, while some wonder if Hynes favored veterans over younger players in New Jersey.

Still, in a broad, “macro” sense, you could argue that the Predators shifted from a stern to a gentler touch.

Hynes upgrading offense after it wilted under Laviolette?

After hiring Laviolette, Predators GM David Poile (understandably) hyped Laviolette’s “aggressive offensive philosophy.”

Laviolette justified such claims — for a time. After all, a franchise that once spent first-round picks to land Paul Gaustad was now emphasizing offensive acquisitions from Filip Forsberg to Ryan Johansen to Matt Duchene.

Whatever happened along the way — maybe the message faded, perhaps the league passed Laviolette by — the Predators’ offense plummeted. This thread from Micah Blake McCurdy argues that Hynes may improve Nashville’s system, even just by default.

Hynes provides a clean slate for those who fell in Laviolette’s doghouse

Following Sunday’s uglier-than-it-seemed shootout loss to the Ducks (which may have been the final straw for Lavy, depending upon whom you ask), Preds winger Craig Smith implied that Nashville’s system became bogged down by details.

“Sometimes maybe we overthink our system and play a little (lax) and sit back on our heels,” Smith said, via The Tennessean’s Paul Skrbina. “In the third (period Sunday) I think we just said eff it; let’s get after it a little bit. Read and react. Just play hockey, making hockey plays. That’s what we did.”

Could Hynes help them just play hockey? Maybe, maybe not.

In a fascinating discussion of Hynes’ Devils days, CJ Turtoro told On the Forecheck that Hynes’ system could also get too complicated.

Turtoro: One weakness for this particular team seemed to be complexity. As I mentioned, his system aims to create space, but that can create chaos that makes it difficult for players to support one another if they’re not on the same page, or not where they’re supposed to be …

The dream would be for Hynes to boost the Predators’ offense without taking away too much defense. Basically, the fantasy would parallel Craig Berube finding the right mix for the Blues after Mike Yeo leaned too defense-heavy. File that under easier said than done, of course.

Either way, the Predators may simply get a boost from Kyle Turris and others getting a clean slate.

Personally, I get the impression that Turris has paid for past sins. He struggled last season, injuries or not, but there’s compelling evidence that he shouldn’t have been a healthy scratch. Certainly not a frequent one.

Don’t underestimate the power of getting out of the doghouse.

Plenty of work to do

It’s kind of cruel that Hynes is going from one of the worst goalie duos to one of the league’s other terrible tandems.

If nothing else, it’s far more surprising to see Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros struggle that it was to see the Devils’ motley crue produce dismal results. So maybe Hynes can help them achieve more, particularly behind a far, far superior defense than the one he deployed in New Jersey?

Hynes and the Predators don’t have much of a margin for error, so this should be interesting to watch.

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.