Kyle Turris

Lightning beat Predators in surprisingly nasty OT battle

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The Tampa Bay Lightning and Nashville Predators are two teams that didn’t expect to find themselves out of the playoff picture in December. Both teams showed desperation during Tuesday’s tight, tenacious game, with the Lightning coming out on top with a 3-2 overtime win.

Lightning’s big guns come through; big opportunity brewing for Bolts

Tampa Bay’s top players ended up making the difference.

Victor Hedman began the scoring, maintaining his point-per-game pace (23 in 23). The biggest difference-makers were Nikita Kucherov (overtime game-winner, assist) and Steven Stamkos (two assists) in what was a feisty contest.

The Lightning ended a three-game losing streak with this win, and could be set for a surge with a heavy run of home games coming up. Seven of their next eight games take place in Tampa Bay, and they also play 10 of their next 12 at home.

Feel the hate

Is there some secret beef between the Predators and Lightning? These two teams were downright nasty at times on Tuesday night, to the point that you wonder if all of the pro wrestling cross-promotion caused unexpected feuds.

(Audience members shouting “shoot” gets some new meaning.)

There were fights, angry moments after whistles, and more than a few controversial moments. Predators fans and players weren’t happy with certain calls, expecting Erik Cernak to get the same sort of major penalty treatment that Ryan Johansen received for his elbow on Brayden Point.

However you feel about specific calls, it sure seemed like the two teams had hard feelings against each other:

Powerful Predators penalty kill

Considering Nashville’s dreadful 2018-19 power play, and the Lightning’s outstanding man advantage for some time now, you’d think the Predators might be toast during a game where Tampa Bay received a five-minute opportunity.

Instead, the Predators went 1-for-4 on the power play, and managed to keep Tampa Bay 0-for-3, which was even worse when you considering that major chance.

Goaltending factored into the not-so-explosive power plays, mind you, including Pekka Rinne making some impressive saves (including on Steven Stamkos on multiple PP chances). The Predators’ PK didn’t earn Nashville the win, but they’re a big reason why they managed a point.

Healthy return

After sitting for seven games as a healthy scratch, Kyle Turris also stood as a big reason why Nashville managed a point. Turris scored a goal and an assist for the Predators in his first game back, and generally created a lot of nice opportunities for the Preds.

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.

PHT Face-Off: Guentzel without Crosby; Year of the rookie defenseman

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It’s the start of another week, so that means it’s time for the PHT Face-Off to look ahead to some of the trends and topics that will dominate over the next seven days.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau had a November to remember:

Unless you’re paying really close attention to the Ottawa Senators, you probably didn’t notice how productive Pageau was throughout the month. He found the back of the net 11 times in 16 games in November. That puts him in some pretty elite company with this franchise:

Now, there are two questions surrounding his situation. First, how long can he keep this going? Only nine players have scored more goals than Pageau so far this season. That list includes: David Pastrnak, Alex Ovechkin, Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Brad Marchand, Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews, Jake Guentzel, Patrick Kane and Elias Lindholm. That’s elite company to be in heading into the third month of the season.

Second, what do the Sens do with Pageau? He’s clearly having a career year and he’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. The 27-year-old has a cap hit of $3.1 million and you’d have to think that he’s going to get a raise. Do they re-sign him? Do they trade him and cash in on some good assets? We’ll see what happens.

• Guentzel can survive without Crosby: 

Guentzel is regarded as a good offensive player, but many fans have wondered whether or not he could keep producing offense without Sidney Crosby by his side. Well, he’s kind of in the middle of answering that question right now.

Crosby underwent surgery to repair a core muscle last month. The Pens captain last played on Nov. 9 against Chicago. Since then, the Penguins have played 10 games. Guentzel didn’t pick up a point in the first two games without Crosby, but he then rattled off a seven-game point streak. He’s up to 13 points in the 10 contests without his linemate.

Crosby isn’t the only that has missed time this season. Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust, Alex Galchenyuk and Patrik Hornqvist have also missed an extended period of time. Guentzel has played in all 27 games and he’s probably the team’s MVP right now.

• The year of the rookie defenseman: 

Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko were the first two picks in last year’s NHL Draft and they’ve both played extensively in the NHL this season, but they aren’t dominating the rookie scoring charts. Instead, Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar lead their rookie class in scoring right now. That’s pretty unique considering both players are defensemen.

Hughes is averaging 20:30 of ice time through 27 contests and he’s managed to pick up two goals and 23 points. Very impressive. He’s also just one three-assist performance away from tying Ray Bourque’s rookie record, which is mind-boggling considering there’s still so much time left in the 2019-20 campaign.

As for Makar, he has one three-plus assist performance under his belt, but he leads all rookies in scoring with 26 points in 26 games. The 21-year-old jumped onto the scene for Colorado last postseason and he’s continued to build on the success he had back then.

Can Makar finish the year at a point-per-game pace? If he does, he’ll be a shoe-in to win the Calder Trophy when it’s all said and done. The NHL’s rookie record for most points in a season by a first-year blueliner is 76 points (Larry Murphy with the Los Angeles Kings in 1980-81). It’s incredible to think that the Avs defender is still on pace to surpass that mark heading into December.

• When will Kyle Turris get back into the lineup? 

Nashville Predators forward Kyle Turris is only in the second year of his six-year, $36 million contract. That’s problematic when you consider that he’s been a healthy scratch in each of his team’s last seven games. The 30-year-old had just seven goals and 23 points in 55 games last year and his points-per-game pace has improved slightly this year, as he’s picked up nine points in 19 contests.

Seriously, what are the Predators going to do with him?

It’s tough to envision any team being willing to take that contract off GM David Poile’s hands. Maybe Nashville could get rid of him if they add a significant draft pick to a trade, but that’s unlikely. They could buy him out at the end of this season, but again, that will be expensive. If they chose to go down that route, they’d have $2 million in dead money on their cap until 2028.

“I’m certainly not trying to say this is a good situation or anything close to being a perfect situation,” Poile said, per The Athletic. “It’s just a roster decision. Peter Laviolette is our coach, and he will do anything to win a hockey game. He’s putting his best foot forward —  in this case, his best lineup forward — every night. That’s his job. That’s all I can ask from him.

“I am very confident that Kyle’s going to get a chance to play. Hopefully, he’s in a position to take advantage of it, and we turn the page on that. There’s nothing fair or equal in this business, so I can’t operate like that or what have you.”

• High-end goalies struggling:

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Sergei Bobrovsky and Carey Price may just be the three best goalies in the NHL, but their play certainly hasn’t indicated that for most of the season.

Let’s take a look at their numbers individually:

Vasilevskiy: 9-7-1, 2.96 goals-against-average and a .906 save percentage.
Bobrovsky: 9-6-4, 3.48 goals-against-average and a .884 save percentage
Price: 10-9-3, 3.18 goals-against-average and a .898 save percentage.

Raise your hand if you thought Darcy Kuemper (.935) was going to have the best save percentage in the league at the start of December. Connor Hellebuyck and Tuukka Rask are tied for second in that category at .933.

Which one of the three struggling netminders in the Atlantic Division is most likely to come out of this funk first? Is there one of these three that is just going to have a bad season and never wake up from this slumber? This should be an interesting situation to follow.

What’s coming up this week?

• The Sabres will have their Founders’ Night to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the day they were awarded an NHL franchise tonight at 7 p.m. ET.

• Several key players will play against their former teams this week. Artemi Panarin will take on Columbus (Thursday), Phil Kessel gets to see the Penguins (Friday) and P.K. Subban will play Nashville (Saturday).

NHL on NBCSN

• Lightning vs. Predators, Tue. Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. ET.

Wednesday Night Hockey

• Blues vs. Penguins, Wed. Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. ET

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Seattle should go after Babcock; Scratching Turris

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Mikko Rantanen could return to the Avalanche’s lineup by this weekend. (NHL.com)

• The expansion Seattle team should pursue Mike Babcock if he’s still available whenever they decide to name a coach. (Seattle Times)

• Sheldon Keefe’s been focused on adapting to his new team. (TSN)

• Keefe also centers his practices around skills-focused drills. (The Leafs Nation)

• Are the Predators doing the right thing by scratching Kyle Turris? (On the Forecheck)

Jake Guentzel has been good even without Sidney Crosby as his center. (Pensburgh)

Robin Lehner has had his share of struggles in the shootout. (NBC Sports Chicago)

• Adam Boqvist is putting up some solid numbers in the AHL. (Rotoworld)

Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau have to be considered one of the best one-two punches in the NHL. (The Hockey News)

• Mark Spector breaks down Jesse Puljujarvi’s risks and options with the Edmonton Oilers. (Sportsnet.ca)

• The injury to Anthony Mantha doesn’t sound too good for the Red Wings. (Detroit Free Press)

• The long-term injury list is hurting the Sabres’ chances of making a splash in the trade market. (Sporting News)

• The Johnny Gaudreau trade rumors are absurd. (My NHL trade rumors)

Charlie McAvoy hasn’t scored yet, but he’s focused on his defensive game. (Boston Herald)

Shayne Gostisbehere is off to a horrific start this season. (Broad Street Hockey)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Predators’ investment in Bonino is paying off

Sometimes, when a player is on an unsustainable hot streak, it can lead to overreactions. Every now and then, though, such a run of good fortune can shine a spotlight on a good player who normally gets the job done in more subtle ways.

Nick Bonino is off to that sort of start for the Nashville Predators.

Consider that, with eight goals, Bonino is currently tied with the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Mark Stone, and T.J. Oshie. Overall, Bonino has 12 points in his first 15 games to start 2019-20.

Circling back to that opening paragraph: yes, “Bones” has been undeniably lucky. His eight goals have come on a scant 31 shots on goal, good for a whopping 25.8 shooting percentage. Even for a player who has been a pretty lucky shooter since joining the Predators (no lower than a 14.4 shooting percentage in any campaign since signing before the 2017-18 season), that luck will cool off.

Again, though, that puck luck gives us an opportunity to appreciate just how effective Bonino has been, normally when you ignore the goals and assists.

The book on the Predators has been that, for all their bargains elsewhere on the roster — and getting premium defense, goaltenders, and wingers at high value is ultimately worth it — their centers haven’t been worth what Nashville has paid for. That risk continued when they signed Matt Duchene at $8 million per year, but you could argue the same for Ryan Johansen (also $8M AAV) and most troublingly Kyle Turris ($6M AAV, gulp, through 2023-24).

Bonino and his $4.1M AAV were lumped into that argument, but I’m not so sure how fair that ever was, and he’s been delivering some great play for some time now.

Hockey Viz’s aesthetically appealing heat maps show that Bonino’s had a knack for limiting opponents’ opportunities close to his net, while doing a decent job of creating positive opportunities on the flipside offensively:

Bonino did see a slight dip in 2017-18, his first season in Nashville and away from the glories of the “HBK Line” run with the Penguins, but overall he’s been a solid offensive contributor while seemingly making a considerable impact on defense.

We might explain Bonino’s redemption going under the radar because a) most of the time he’s not scoring like he’s done through the small sample of 2019-20 and b) the mood was generally sour in Nashville toward the end of last season. (It’s amusing that, for all the grief the Predators got for putting up banners, their last Central Division win was met with such indifference.)

Consider how much value Bonino brought to the table in 2018-19 in Goals Above Replacement value, as compiled by Sean Tierney using Evolving Hockey’s data:

Pretty impressive.

The Predators have leaned heavily on Bonino basically since day one, as he’s only begun 32.6 of his shifts in the offensive zone on average in Nashville, with this season so far representing the lowest at just 25 percent.

Such deployment makes it even more likely that Bonino’s offensive numbers will slide. After all, Bonino’s only passed 20 goals once (22), which happened in 2013-14, the only season he hit 40+ points with 49. He was limited to 35 points in 2018-19 and 25 in 2017-18, just to mention his Predators years.

This hot streak gives us a chance to really bask in the under-the-radar work he’s done. If you’ve ever wanted to argue for a player who brings more to the table than meets the eye, then make no “Bones” about Bonino being one of those guys.

If you need to throw out a bunch of Boninos in the process, then so be it.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Hawerchuk’s cancer fight; NHLers on rules

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Hockey Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk is undergoing chemotherapy after being diagnosed with stomach cancer in August, saying he is optimistic as he battles “the fight of my life.” [TSN]

• Before Monday night’s game against Columbus, Mitch Marner paid tribute to seven-year-old Hayden Foulon, who passed away over the weekend after battling leukemia for the past six years. [Sportsnet]

• NHL players talk about the current rules they’d love to see changed: “Losing in a shootout, it’s probably the worst feeling ever. I’d rather, you know, lose it going against your opponents and fighting for it.” [Toronto Star]

Ben Bishop‘s home was damaged turned a tornado that hit the Dallas area on Sunday. A house that Tyler Seguin is currently selling was also damaged. The Stars forward moved to a different home last November. [Dallas Morning News]

• Why the struggling Blues need to find the “buy-in” again. [Post-Dispatch]

• Trade winds may be swirling around Kyle Turris, but his play has been strong for the Predators. [Nashville Post]

• Local boy Sam Lafferty is authoring a really nice story with the Penguins. [Tribune-Review]

• Flames defenseman Travis Hamonic has a lot of “old school” in him. [Calgary Herald]

• Should the Flyers trust Alain Vigneault’s process? [NBC Sports Philadelphia]

• Paul Maurice on how the Jets want to approach shot blocking. [Jets]

• A ranking of “worst to first” jerseys for the Jets. [Hockey by Design]

• The Rangers are “struggling” to find out what’s gone wrong during their current losing streak. [NHL.com]

• Andrew MacDonald has signed a one-year deal with SC Bern of the Swiss league. [Swiss Hockey News]

• Explaining Todd McLellan’s system for the LA Kings. [Frozen Royalty]

• Colby Saganiuk making impression with U.S. Under-17 team. [NHL.com]

• Ovie the Bulldog talks friendships, snacks and what he’d do as NHL commissioner for a day. [Dog o’Day]

• Finally, what’s a number worth? A pretty good haul for the Panthers’ Frank Vatrano:

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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.