Matt Duchene

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.

The Buzzer: Penguins have no answer for Bruins’ Marchand

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Three Stars

1. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins

Almost every night, there can be fierce debate about who deserves the first star, and all the great players who couldn’t quite make it in the top three.

A lot of times, when Marchand is involved, it’s difficult to tell if there’s a single member of his line that deserves top billing, as David Pastrnak is off to a blistering start, and Patrice Bergeron is … well, Patrice Bergeron.

This was not one of those times. Pastrnak and Bergeron certainly contributed to the Bruins’ hard-fought, hard-skated win against the Penguins on Monday, but Marchand stood high above everyone on that ice surface — and on the night overall. He scored a ridiculous five points (two goals, three assists), giving him 28 points in 14 games this season. Pastrnak is one step ahead of Marchand overall in 2019-20 with 29 points, but Pastrnak “only” scored a goal and an assist on Monday (the slacker).

David Krejci is worth mentioning, as well, with two assists.

2. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa Senators

There will probably be instances of “Well, someone has to score” with the Senators top line, including when the constellation involves Pageau, Brady Tkachuk, and Anthony Duclair.

That trio didn’t really need such caveats on Monday against the up-and-down Rangers. Tkachuk had a two-point night of his own (1G, 1A), but the pesty Pageau scored both of his points on goals, and had a nice spread of stats overall: +3 rating, three shots on goal, 8-8 on faceoffs, two hits, three blocks, and, of course, a penalty.

Rangers fans can take solace, at least, in Kaapo Kakko being involved in both of their goals (1G, 1A).

3. Matt Duchene, Nashville Predators

Like Pageau, Duchene scored two goals on Monday. I’m giving JGP the slight edge because, well, one of Duchene’s goals probably shouldn’t have counted. Consider this error the blooper of the night:

Considering that Duchene was far offside on a controversial goal against the Predators that helped inspire a greater push for video reviews, it seems like the speedy center just seems to get these occasional breaks. Luckily, he’s good even when the goals and assists are beyond debate; despite a four-game pointless streak heading into Monday, Duchene has 13 points over his first 14 games as a member of the Predators.

Highlight of the Night

Since we already covered Connor McDavid‘s coast-to-coast goal in a post that didn’t feature Space Ghost, let’s enjoy that impressive game-winner by Marchand:

Marchand’s other goal against Pittsburgh might have been even more impressive, but the above one was the more momentous since it won the game.

Factoids

  • The Marchand/Pastrnak stats are … pretty out of control. NHL.com’s Matt Kalman collected some of them. Marchand is the first Bruins player to collect two different five-point games through his first 14 games, and NHL PR notes that Marchand recorded just the 10th instance of doing so since 1986-87. Mario Lemieux had three five-point outings through such a span twice, Wayne Gretzky collected three five-point outings once, and everyone else did it twice. Marchand’s 13-game point streak is also rare for the Bruins.
  • NHL PR also notes that Pastrnak is the second Bruins player in history to post multiple 12+ game point streaks before their 24th birthday, joining Bobby Orr, who did it three times. Pastrnak’s done it twice, and his 24th birthday isn’t until May 25, so he at least has a chance to tie Number Four’s … three.
  • Fun #specificstat from NHL PR: John Marino of the Penguins is the second player in three seasons to score their first NHL goal in their home state. Ryan Donato, also of Massachusetts, was the most recent to do it.
  • Darcy Kuemper‘s more reliable than (insert the car you find most durable).

Scores

BOS 6 – PIT 4
OTT 6 – NYR 2
NSH 6 – DET 1
ARI 3 – EDM 2 (OT)

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.

Injuries for West contenders: Blues’ Tarasenko, Predators’ Duchene

The good news for the Blues (beating the Kings) and the Predators (taming the Wild) on Thursday is that they won their games. The bad news is that those wins could end up being costly.

In the Blues’ case, Vladimir Tarasenko suffered an upper-body injury during the first period of that 5-2 win against Los Angeles and did not return. It’s possible that Tarasenko was injured during a seemingly innocuous moment, and there is some concern that his upper-body injury might be shoulder-related. Tarasenko suffered a separated shoulder during the Blues’ Stanley Cup run, and had undergone shoulder surgery during the 2018 offseason.

Matt Duchene‘s last shift came late in the second period of the Predators’ eventual 4-0 win against Minnesota. While there was some hypothesizing about when Tarasenko might have gotten hurt, it wasn’t clear when Duchene might have suffered whatever his lower-body injury might be.

Both are off to strong starts

Tarasenko didn’t score a point during just 4:37 of ice time on Thursday, yet he sits at a point per game with 10 in 10. The 27-year-old winger saw a five-game point streak (three goals, five assists for eight points) end here.

The Blues have been wobbly at times to start 2019-20, but this improves their record to 5-2-3. Things could be bumpy if Tarasenko even just misses a bit of time, as St. Louis plays its next two games and six of their next eight on the road.

Duchene was limited to 9:37 ice time and failed to score a point as well on Thursday, but is also off to a generally robust start, as this leaves him with 11 points in his first 10 games as a member of the Predators.

The 6-3-1 Predators are already dealing with an injury to star winger Filip Forsberg, so while the volume of injuries isn’t high for Nashville right now, the quality of players could be significant.

The hope for both teams is that these are merely minor ailments, but both teams have to be holding their breath.

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.

NHL Power Rankings: Early season surprises and slow starts

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In this week’s edition of the PHT Power Rankings we take a look at some of the early season results around the league.

The first couple of weeks can be tricky to analyze because there is a lot of random noise still taking place, and that can cloud our early outlook on a lot of teams. Over the course of an 82-game season every team is going to hit hot streaks and cold streaks, and if one of those streaks happens early in the year with nothing else around it we can easily jump to some wrong conclusions.

So far some Stanley Cup contenders have struggled, while a couple of teams that were thought to be at the bottom of the league have excelled.

Which teams are for real and which ones are not? Let us try to figure some of that out now.

To the rankings!

The early elites

These teams are at the top and will likely stay here…

1. Carolina Hurricanes. Anyone that thought this team’s second half and postseason run was a fluke was mistaken. They are for real and they are not going away. If they get the goaltending they could be a serious contender to win it all.

2. Colorado Avalanche. So far the preseason hype is legit. They still have the superstars at the top of the lineup, and now they have some actual depth to go with it. Cale Makar looks like a potential Calder Trophy winner.

3. Boston Bruins. When Tuukka Rask is on his game — as he has been so far — the Bruins can be close to unbeatable.

4. Vegas Golden Knights. They do have two losses (a one-goal loss to a great Boston team, and a random off night in Arizona) but they have absolutely steamrolled every other team they have played, including several division foes. Mark Stone could be a real sleeper MVP contender this season.

Great starts but still have something to prove

These teams have started fast, but may not stay here…

5. Edmonton Oilers. The good news: They won their first five games, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl look unstoppable, and James Neal is doing exactly what they hoped. The bad news: The roster after those three is still littered with questions and their underlying numbers point to an unsustainable hot streak. We will see where this goes.

6. Buffalo Sabres. Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin is a heck of a duo to build around, but after the way they started last year and fell apart after the first two months the rest of the team has to prove they can do it all year before anyone buys into them.

7. Anaheim Ducks. John Gibson might be the best goalie in hockey, and because of that they always have a chance on any given night. Having Ryan Miller is a backup is a pretty darn good Plan B in net, too.

8. Philadelphia Flyers. Still not quite sure what to make of the Flyers. The top of their lineup is great but the rest of the roster has question marks. A lot here still depends on what Carter Hart does. They started the season with three games in three different countries and managed to collect five out of six points during that stretch. Nice start.

The contenders that you know will be there

These teams are almost certainly going to be in the playoffs, and maybe even have a chance to play for the Stanley Cup, but have not yet played their best (or close to their best)…

9. St. Louis Blues. Brayden Schenn is responding to his new eight-year contract extension by scoring a ton of goals. We know he is good now, but that contract comes down to how good he looks four or five years from now.

10. Nashville Predators. Matt Duchene has been everything they could have hoped for so far. If he continues that he will be a significant addition to this roster.

11. Washington Capitals. They have not really played their best yet but are still managing to collect points in the standings almost every night. Good thing to do when you are not yet at your best.

12. Pittsburgh Penguins. The injury situation has left their forward lines a jumbled mess, but they are still finding ways to score goals and win. Sidney Crosby has been completely dominant.

13. Toronto Maple Leafs. The defensive questions that have followed this team around for the past few years are still there right now.

14. Tampa Bay Lightning. Something seems a little off so far. This is the best roster in the league on paper, but they have been really hit-and-miss so far this season. Their 4-2 loss in Ottawa over the weekend was ugly.

15. Calgary Flames. Some regression was to be expected this season, but they still have enough talent to be a factor in the Western Conference. Johnny Gaudreau is superb with the puck and is off to a great start.

The great unknowns

These teams are still mysteries whose seasons could still go in any direction…

16. Winnipeg Jets. Their defense is not very good, and that is going to be a big problem, especially if Dustin Byfuglien does not re-join the team. But they do still have a great collection of forwards and the big wild card is Patrik Laine having a monster season. So far, he is.

17. Montreal Canadiens. What this team really needs is for Jonathan Drouin to have a breakout year and become the star forward they hoped he could (and would) be.

18. Detroit Red Wings. They have to be thrilled with the start Anthony Mantha is off to. They have played well, but the roster just does not seem to stack up to the other potential playoff teams in the Eastern Conference.

19. New York Rangers. Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin looks like it has a chance to be quite a duo this season.

20. New York Islanders. They are still going to struggle to score goals, but Mathew Barzal will produce more than he has so far. They will still go as far as the goalies can take them.

21. Florida Panthers. They won just one of their first five games entering Monday, but two of their losses came in a shootout. Yeah, they missed out on two points, but we are talking about a coin flip away from their start looking dramatically different than it does. Sergei Bobrovsky being off to a slow start is not helping.

22. Columbus Blue Jackets. So far the goaltending has been the issue it was expected to be, but Pierre Luc-Dubois looks like he is on track for the huge year that was expected of him.

23. Vancouver Canucks. Quinn Hughes was the big reason for excitement this season and so far he is looking like a player that wants to insert himself into the Calder Trophy discussion.

24. Los Angeles Kings. The expectation was that there was no way Jonathan Quick could play worse than he did a year ago. In his first three games he has surrendered 19 goals. That is not going to cut it.

25. Arizona Coyotes. They are still getting great goaltending, but the lack of offense is a real concern.

Good teams that should be better

These are good rosters and should be playoff teams, but they have struggled so far…

26. San Jose Sharks. Not sure if a 40-year-old Patrick Marleau was the missing piece here, but they did win their first two games after he arrived, helping to ease the frustration from an 0-4 start. Do not expect this team to remain this low all season. Too much talent here. Still a potential Western Conference champion.

27. Dallas Stars. Roope Hintz has been the lone bright spot on what has been, so far, one of the most disappointing teams in the NHL.

Could be a long season

These teams have looked bad and may continue to look bad all season…

28. Ottawa Senators. Their win over the Lightning this weekend really was impressive, but other than that they have looked exactly like we expected the Senators to look.

29. Chicago Blackhawks. The early returns on the “did they do enough to fix their defense?” question are not looking promising.

30. New Jersey Devils. Their best players and their new faces are all off to slow starts, and that should help when those players get things turned around. Not sure if the goaltending will turn around, though. So far the Devils have not really done anything well this season.

31. Minnesota Wild. There is just — well — there is just not much positive happening here.

MORE:
• 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.

How worried should winless Sharks be after loss to Predators?

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With the nostalgic signing of Patrick Marleau, plenty of San Jose Sharks fans were thinking of the past on Tuesday. That’s good, because right now, the present hasn’t been pretty.

The Sharks sunk to 0-4-0 on the young 2019-20 season after the Nashville Predators beat them 5-2. This is San Jose’s second 0-4-0 start in franchise history, with the only other instance coming in their awkward earlier phase in 1993-94.

Is it time to play the “Jaws” theme for a rattled Sharks group, or is too soon to ponder such horrors? Let’s bat around a few thoughts.

Sharks’ offense not going swimmingly

Tuesday’s performance brought out backhanded compliments.

After only managing a goal apiece in their first three losses, the Sharks finally scored two goals. Granted, it felt a little empty, as Brent Burns made it 4-2 with about 4:23 remaining in the third period. Also, they finally scored a goal on the power play.

San Jose managed a strong effort in the second period, but Pekka Rinne managed to only allow an Evander Kane deflection goal during that middle frame. Much like against Minnesota, Nashville really turned up the power in the third period to pull away from the Sharks.

A few players stick out as needing more. Timo Meier seemed like a bargain at a $6M AAV, but so far, he’s been ice cold, opening the season without a goal or an assist. Tomas Hertl brought hype as possibly the Sharks’ best center over Logan Couture, yet while Couture is contributing, Hertl is also at a goose egg.

Sharks get stung in transition

To some extent, San Jose is going to “live by the sword, and die by the sword” when it comes to gambling ways from defensemen Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns. Karlsson’s attempt to transition died a painful death on this Filip Forsberg goal:

While Burns has been reasonably productive, Karlsson’s off to a slow start, with an assist in three games (and a healthy baby being born keeping him from the season-opener … maybe he just needs to get his sleep schedule right?).

San Jose is awfully top-heavy, so they’re going to need their best guys to be strong. That perceived lack of depth might mean more tough nights like these than the Sharks are accustomed to.

Predators’ mix looks good again

Matt Duchene now has six assists in his first three games in gold. That pass to Forsberg in the 4-1 goal above ranks as one of his sweetest dishes, and he’s had some great moments that didn’t end up on the scoreboard. Duchene made a fantastic toe-drag move during Tuesday’s game but was thwarted by Martin Jones, while he made a tremendous play to Mikael Granlund that forced Devan Dubnyk to make a highlight reel save in the team’s opener.

As Duchene could attest considering the early reactions to his cold start in Ottawa vs. the misleadingly hot Nashville start for Kyle Turris, it’s too early to say that the Predators “won” in essentially trading Duchene for P.K. Subban. Subban may eventually prove to be a more positive impact-player, all-around, for New Jersey.

The Predators were looking for the right combination of offense, defense, and goaltending in bringing in Duchene, though, and he might just give Nashville that extra gamebreaker to reach that next level.

That’s because Nashville already had some of those, from Forsberg to Roman Josi, who scored two goals and looks like he’ll cost someone (maybe the Predators, maybe a different team) a pretty penny on his next contract.

The Sharks don’t need to panic about making the playoffs, yet with each loss, they are certainly making their climb bumpier, especially as the Vegas Golden Knights appear as molten-hot as the Sharks are ice-cold. Besides, they faced a dangerous Vegas team twice, the Ducks are quietly undefeated, and the Predators could very well be the real deal.

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.