Jim Rutherford

Nikita Kucherov #86 of the Tampa Bay Lightning
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The Buzzer: Kucherov carries Lightning; Hart makes victorious return

Three Stars

1) Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

Kucherov scored twice including the overtime winner in Tampa Bay’s 2-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Russian winger has collected 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) during an 11-game point streak as the Lightning have climbed up the standings. The Bolts also extended their point streak to nine games (8-0-1) and moved to within three points of the Boston Bruins for first place in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. Captain Steven Stamkos did not play due to a lower-body injury and is considered day-to-day.

2) Anthony Beauvillier, New York Islanders

The focus was on Alex Ovechkin’s chase for 700 goals but Beauvillier and the Islanders quickly stole the spotlight with two early goals in a 5-3 victory against the Capitals. The 22-year-old forward set a new career high with his six-game point streak. No. 18 scored the opening goal after a beautiful tic-tac-toe passing sequence 3:30 into the game. He added his second less than three minutes later when he gathered a rebound during a scramble in front of Ilya Samsonov. His linemates Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson each had three assists in the victory.

3) Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers

After a nine-game absence due to a strained abdominal muscle, Hart returned with 30 saves in the Flyers’ 4-1 win against the Florida Panthers at Wells Fargo Center. Philadelphia improved to 7-2-1 over its last eight games and passed the Carolina Hurricanes for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Hart and the Flyers have been dreadful away from home this season and will need to improve in a hurry if they expect to keep up in the Eastern Conference Playoff race.

[RELATED: Ovechkin’s chase for 700 continues on NBCSN | Pens acquire Zucker]

Highlights of the Night

You have to see it to believe what Matthew Tkachuk pulled off in the third period against the San Jose Sharks.

Nelson left a perfect drop pass for Bailey before he slid the puck over to Beauvillier who completed the brilliant sequence to give the Islanders a 1-0 lead early in the first period.

Brayden Point stole the puck from Zach Werenski preceding a marvelous string of passes that allowed Kucherov to slam home the overtime winner.

Ivan Provorov could not have fired the puck into a better spot for his 10th goal of the season.

There are times when all you have to do is put your stick on the puck, but in this situation Milan Lucic wisely redirected a pass to the top portion of the net to give the Flames an early one-goal lead.

Stats of the Night

Scores

New York Islanders 5, Washington Capitals 3

Arizona Coyotes 3, Montreal Canadiens 2

Philadelphia Flyers 4, Florida Panthers 1

Tampa Bay Lightning 2, Columbus Blue Jackets 1 (OT)

Vancouver Canucks 6, Nashville Predators 2

Calgary Flames 6, San Jose Sharks 2

Ovechkin’s quest for 700:


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.

Penguins bolster depth by acquiring Zucker from Wild

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Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford had his eyes on Jason Zucker this summer and finally pulled off the acquisition Monday evening.

NHL insider Bob McKenzie broke that story and reported that the Pittsburgh Penguins sent Alex Galchenyuk, Calen Addison and a conditional 2020 first-round pick to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Zucker.

The 28-year-old forward has 3 years remaining on his contract after this season with a $5.5 million cap hit. He erupted offensively in the 2017-18 season when he recorded a career high 33 goals and 64 points, but has been unable to replicate that production since.

Pittsburgh hopes to unlock that offensive potential by pairing him with either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Rutherford was likely not enthused about surrendering a premium draft pick, but the strategy is to extend the Penguins’ championship window for as long as possible.

“Jason Zucker is a top-six forward that we think will be a great fit for our group,” Rutherford said in the team’s press release. “He’s a proven goal scorer, and with three more years on his current contract, he has the potential to make an impact for us moving forward.”

Rutherford originally tried to acquire Zucker this summer in a trade for Phil Kessel, but the deal was nixed due to a no-movement clause.

From Minnesota’s perspective, the team unloads a long-term contract and will see if Galchenyuk can find his stride. He will become an unrestricted free agent when his contract expires at the end of this season.

If Pittsburgh does not qualify for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they have the option to move the first-round selection to Minnesota from the 2020 NHL Draft to the 2021 NHL Draft.

Pierre LeBrun reported that no salary was retained in the deal.

NHL On NBCSN: What’s behind Bryan Rust’s breakout season

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

After a two-year detour the Pittsburgh Penguins have rediscovered their championship identity. They are playing fast, they revamped their defense to add mobility, and they have a balanced lineup (when healthy) with four lines that can contribute. They enter Tuesday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) as one of the league’s best teams and it is the usual suspects at the top leading the way for them.

Sidney Crosby has played like the best player in the world. Evgeni Malkin is rebounding from a down year in 2018-19 and is playing some of the best hockey of his career. Kris Letang has been great at the top of a dramatically improved defense, and Jake Guentzel was on track for a second straight 40-goal season before his injury. They also have had an infusion of young talent into the lineup (John Marino, Jared McCann, Dominik Kahun, and Teddy Blueger) to make an impact.

The surprising star of this team so far, however, has been the breakout performance of veteran forward Bryan Rust.

He enters Tuesday’s game with 21 goals and 43 total points, both of which are already new career highs. He has done that in only 35 games. That is an 82-game pace for 49 goals and 100 points!

Let’s dig into this.

Continuation of his 2018-19 finish

Rust has always been a valuable part of the Penguins’ lineup since becoming a regular in the middle of the 2015-16 season. He is an excellent defensive forward, he brings a ton of speed to the lineup, and he has always been able to chip in offense. He also has the versatility to fit into any role the team needs, whether it be as a first-line winger, a penalty killer, or a third-line winger. That solid all-around play earned him a four-year, $14 million contract extension that began a year ago.

But 30 games into that contract he scored just one goal, and it was easy to conclude that he was one of the players general manager Jim Rutherford was talking about when he criticized the team’s performance early on and that maybe some players had become content with their Stanley Cup rings and big pay days. But starting with a game on Dec. 12, 2018, Rust has been one of the most productive forwards in the entire league. He finished the 2018-19 season with 17 goals in his final 42 games (a 33-goal pace over 82 games), and in his past 77 games dating back to last season has 38 goals and 71 total points.

The Malkin effect?

Rust has spent a significant portion of his ice-time this season playing on a line next to Malkin, and there is no doubt that has helped give his production a boost. Those two have been magic together this season, and were even better when paired next to Guentzel before his injury. While it is fair to point that out, it should also be noted that a significant portion of Rust’s 5-on-5 ice-time over the previous three seasons has come on a line next to either Malkin or Crosby. So it’s not like this is the first time he’s ever played with a superstar center.

The biggest factor at play…

He is getting a more significant role in the offense

With Phil Kessel traded and all of the injuries (including Rust himself) they dealt with in the first half, the Penguins needed to someone to step in a top-line role. While Rust had seen a lot of top-line minutes in previous years, he has received consistent top-line minutes this season. That has been his role from the minute he returned to the lineup, and it has not only resulted in more time with Malkin, it has also simply resulted in more ice-time overall.

Entering play on Tuesday his ice-time average is a career-high 19:54 per game. That is a four minute per game jump from any of his previous seasons in the NHL. More ice-time means more opportunities. More opportunities more shots. All of that together means more goals.

While he has seen a slight boost to his shooting percentage (19.2 percent this season versus 12.4 percent the previous three seasons) the increased shot volume (3.1 shots per game versus 1.88 the previous three years) is probably the biggest driving factor here, and more ice-time has played a significant role in that.

The power play opportunity

Before this season Rust had played just 92 minutes on the power play in his entire career (22 seconds per game, mostly on the second unit) and had just five total power play points. This season? In 35 games he has already played 80 minutes on the power play and as of Tuesday has five goals and 12 total points on the power play.

Big picture, what you are seeing here this season is a talented player have the perfect confluence of events come together for a career year: A slight bump in shooting percentage, more ice-time, more ice-time with a great player, and an opportunity to play a meaningful role on the power play.

You should not expect him to maintain a 50-goal, 100-point pace forever, but if he keeps getting this sort of ice-time and opportunity there is every reason to believe he can continue to exceed his previous performances.

Gord Miller, Mike Milbury and AJ Mleczko will have the call from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa. Pre-game coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET, hosted by Kathryn Tappen and analysts Keith Jones and Ben Lovejoy.

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.

Meet the 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame class

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The 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame class is unique in the contributions the six inductees gave to the game. 

There’s the leader and two-way dynamo; the defector who left a successful career at home to come to North America and pursue his hockey dream; the dominant force in the women’s game who led Canada to great international success; the consistent offensive threat from the blue line wherever he played; the GM who after a long playing career established himself as a successful team builder, helping to lead two different franchises to Stanley Cups; and finally, the college coach who has over 1,000 wins on his resume and five national championships.

Let’s take a look at the 2019 class that will be inducted Monday night in Toronto.

CarbonneauGuy! Guy! Guy! It was worth the wait for the three-time Selke Trophy winner. After nearly two decades of eligibility, the skilled defensive forward got the call.

After scoring the lights out in junior with the QMJHL’s Chicoutimi Saguenéens, Carbonneau reinvented himself into a steady two-way presence with the Canadiens. Following in the footsteps of another Selke winner, Bob Gainey, Carbonneau helped Montreal to two Stanley Cups while recording scoring at least 15 goals in each of his first 10 NHL seasons. He would play one year in St. Louis before ending his career with five seasons in Dallas. It was with the Stars that he would win another Cup

Nedomansky – The first player to defect from Eastern Europe to play professionally in North America, “Big Ned” arrived in Toronto at age 30 to play for the WHA’s Toronto Toros. By the time he arrived here, Nedomansky had won nine medals representing Czechoslovakia and helped his country to silver and bronze medals at the Olympics.

Nedomansky made an immediate impression in his first two seasons in the WHA. He would score 97 goals and record 179 points with the Toros. He would play two more seasons in the league after the franchise moved to Birmingham, Ala. before being traded to the NHL — yes, an inter-league trade. (Included in the deal to Detroit was Dave Hanson a.k.a. “Jack Hanson” of Slap Shot fame.

The goals kept coming for Nedomansky in Detroit, where he would play five seasons. He would finish his career splitting the 1982-83 season with the Rangers and Blues. He spent the last two seasons working as a pro scout for the Golden Knights.

Wickenheiser – The legend owns four Olympic gold medals representing Canada, plus seven more golds from the World Championships. She was the Olympic tournament MVP in 2002 and 2006 and is Canada’s women’s leader in goals (168), assists (211) and points (379) after playing 276 games internationally. 

While playing professionally in Finland, she became the first women to record a point in a men’s league. Wickenheiser also participated in two rookie camps with the Philadelphia Flyers and acted as a guest coach in camps with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers. She is currently the Assistant Director of Player Development for the Maple Leafs, but is also attending medical school at the University of Calgary. Hall of Fame chairman Lanny MacDonald was unable to reach her after her selection was announced in June because she was in a class and unable to use her phone. Eventually, she saw the missed calls from Toronto and learned of the good news.

Zubov – An offensive stalwart, his 771 points puts him in the top 20 all-time among defensemen, as does his 0.72 points per game average. He finished his NHL career with the 12th-most playoff points for defensemen with 112. Only Sergei Gonchar has more goals and points than Zubov among Russian blue liners. He’s a two-time Stanley Cup winner, four-time All-Star, and gold medalist at the Olympics and World Junior Championship.

His best offensive season was his most memorable one as a player. Zubov led the 1993-94 Rangers in points with 89 (12 goals) and helped lead the team to the Presidents’ Trophy. Quarterbacking the NHL’s top power play (23%), the blue liner was fourth in the entire league with 49 points with the man advantage. That team would go on to win the Stanley Cup that season, with Zubov, Alexander Karpotsev, Alex Kovalev, and Sergei Nemchinov becoming the first Russian-born and trained players to get their names engraved on the trophy.

BUILDERS

Rutherford – After Peter Karmanos secured the purchase of the Hartford Whalers in 1994, Rutherford, then a part-owner, was put in charge as general manager. Having worked together in the past running junior teams, the tandem would remain in charge of the franchise long after its move to North Carolina when they became the Hurricanes in 1997. 

Five years after the move the Hurricanes reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time. Four years after that they were finally champions. In 2014 Rutherford stepped down from his GM role and later as team president after Carolina missed the playoffs seven out of eight seasons. He wasn’t out of work long as he would quickly join up with the Penguins. Over the next two seasons he would build a roster that would win back-to-back Cups, the first time an NHL team had achieve that feat since the 1997-98 Red Wings.

York – With nearly 1,110 wins under his belt, York is the winningest active coach in NCAA hockey history. He’s won five NCAA titles with Boston College and Bowling Green and reached the Frozen Four 12 times. York’s teams have also won nine Hockey East titles and nine Beanpots. A four-time Hockey East coach of the year winner, he was also named 1977 Spencer Penrose D-I coach of the year, and was named recipient of the 2010 Lester Patrick Trophy for his contributions to the game in the U.S.

Also honored this weekend at the Hall of Fame were longtime NHL PR man and former beat writer Frank Brown, who is the recipient of the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award, given “in recognition of distinguished members of the newspaper profession whose words have brought honor to journalism and to hockey,” and Sportsnet broadcaster Jim Hughson, who is this year’s winner of the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award, for “outstanding contributions to their profession and the game of ice hockey during their broadcasting career.”

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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.

Penguins re-sign Marcus Pettersson to bargain one-year deal

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All offseason the Pittsburgh Penguins’ goal was to get defender Marcus Pettersson re-signed to a long-term contract. But due to the team’s always cramped position just under the NHL’s salary cap, and without another trade to create more space, they had to settle for a shorter deal.

On Thursday the Penguins announced that they have re-signed Pettersson to a one-year contract that will pay him $874,125.

It is a short-term steal for the Penguins, but if Pettersson is able to duplicate what he did a year ago after joining the team in a mid-season trade he is going to be in line for a significant raise next summer.

“Marcus is a smart, reliable defenseman who improved our defensive corps after coming over from Anaheim last year,” general manager Jim Rutherford said in a statement released by the team. “We are fortunate to have a good, young defenseman of his caliber in our top-six.”

The Penguins acquired Pettersson in a trade that sent Daniel Sprong to the Anaheim Ducks.

He finished the season with two goals and 23 assists in 84 games (yes, 84) split between the two teams. It is not yet known where exactly he will fit on the team’s blue line this season, but he played at his best when he was paired alongside Erik Gudbranson. Whether or not they want to go with that pairing from the start remains to be seen, but it might be their best option when it comes to assembling their best and most balanced defensive lineup given the players they have.

Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin figure to once again be the team’s top pairing.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 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.