Mikko Rantanen

Penguins remain hot with win vs. Avalanche

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Brandon Tanev notched a shorthanded goal in overtime to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche.

Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel also scored as Pittsburgh recorded its fourth straight victory. Matt Murray added 26 saves.

Matt Calvert and Nathan MacKinnon found the back of the net for the Avalanche but their six-game point streak to open the season came to an end.

Crosby continues to dazzle

The Penguins captain has clearly moved on from a disappointing playoff run last year, which ended in a first-round sweep at the hands of the Islanders. Instead, Crosby is off to a tremendous start, recording points in each of Pittsburgh’s seven games and leading the club on the ice to a 5-2-0 record.

Crosby netted a highlight-reel backhander to tie the game late in the first period and then assisted on a Jake Guentzel tally in the second.

The superstar center craftily tipped the puck around Erik Johnson, played the puck with his glove, and then somehow had the wherewithal to outlast goaltender Philipp Grubauer until an opening appeared for him to slide a backhander into the net.

Early in the second period, Crosby intercepted a pass at the blueline, then set up Guentzel to help the Penguins grab a 2-1 lead.

While several notable players remain sidelined, Crosby will be expected to lead the Penguins on the ice, and continue to improve the players around him. Pittsburgh will need Crosby to play at the top of his game until reinforcements return over the next few weeks.

Avalanche upcoming free agents

After the Mikko Rantanen contract issue this past summer, the Avalanche have several pending RFA’s for next summer.

Colorado is expected to be a legit Stanley Cup Contender with a great mix of dynamic playmakers, infusion of youth and seasoned veterans capable of leading the way during turbulent stretches.

However, Bob McKenzie offered that general manager Joe Sakic wants to see how the first part of the season plays out before engaging in contract talks.

Andre Burakovsky, Tyson Jost and Nikita Zadorov headline the pending RFA class and all presumably have a role to fill moving forward.

Is Lafferty here to stay?

The Penguins have been bitten by the injury bug early and have been forced to rely on their organizational depth to stay afloat during a challenging stretch.

During their Stanley Cup-winning years, the Penguins have always been able to call up a role player to fill a specific need. Is Sam Lafferty the next player to seamlessly fit in?

Lafferty was close to making the team out of training camp according to Bob McKenzie, but fell victim to the numbers game of a roster. However, injuries to five impact forwards — Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bjugstad, Alex Galchenyuk, Bryan Rust and Jared McCann — created a roster spot for him to slide in.

“We always felt like Sam was close coming into this training camp this year. But I think he has a whole lot more confidence in himself that he belongs here,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “And that’s great for him, and that’s great for us.”

The 24-year-old originally from Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, about two hours outside of Pittsburgh, Lafferty has taken advantage of the opportunity recording five points over the previous three games.

“He’s earned his playing time. He’s just playing terrific hockey,” Sullivan said. “He made a difference every game he’s been in. As a result, he’s getting more ice time. He’s a very good penalty-killer. I think he really understands his role and is taking pride in it. You can see it every shift. He’s gaining more confidence.”

The Penguins have done an excellent job in sliding players into appropriate roles, and Lafferty is just the latest example. Does the kid have what it takes to stick around for a full season and continue to make a difference? We will find out as the season goes on.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

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.

Cale Makar off to strong start for Avalanche

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It’s still incredibly early, but the verdict on rookie Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar is so far, so good.

That’s promising for the Avs because, frankly, they made a pretty big gamble on Makar’s development. While you can’t chalk up the Avalanche trading away Tyson Barrie during the offseason to betting on Makar alone — the team certainly had Barrie’s contract year in mind — it was pretty clear that the team’s surplus of young defensemen (from Makar to Bowen Byram and Conor Timmins) made it possible to move Barrie.

Through the first three regular-season games of Makar’s NHL career, the fourth overall pick of the 2017 NHL Draft has an assist in each contest, all wins for the Avalanche. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a productive continuation of his head-turning debut during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when Makar generated six points in 10 postseason contests.

Let’s dig a little deeper on the first three regular-season games for Makar, who is about turn 21 on Oct. 30.

Minor nitpicking

If you want to get greedy, there are a few “yeah, but …” points you can make, even though the big picture remains very, very promising.

To start, Makar’s three assists were all secondary ones on the power play, and he wasn’t the driving force of any of the goals. That’s abundantly clear here and here, with Makar’s biggest impact coming on this Mikko Rantanen power-play goal, as Makar made a nice move and pass to earn space for Nathan MacKinnon, who made an absolutely ridiculous pass to Rantanen:

(Seriously, that MacKinnon pass.)

It’s fair to mention that the Avalanche – wisely – have deployed Makar in very beneficial ways. Makar’s averaged a team-leading 5:11 power play TOI per game of his 19:17 TOI per game through three contests. Thanks to that heavy power play deployment, the Avalanche has scored five goals and only allowed one while Makar’s been on the ice.

Promising work nonetheless

As I mentioned before, you have to get pretty granular to criticize a rookie who’s been a point-per-game player out of the gate. Overall, Makar’s been promising.

Via Natural Stat Trick, Makar’s been more or less breaking even at five-on-five, with Colorado scoring twice and allowing one goal when he’s been on the ice at even-strength. If Makar can keep that up, while playing with a solid-but-unspectacular partner in Nikita Zadorov, that would be fantastic for an Avalanche team trying to live up to escalating expectations.

Again, the overall progress report is so far, so good.

You can watch Makar and the Avalanche take on the Penguins on Wednesday Night Hockey on Oct. 16. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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.

McKenzie on Devils-Hischier contract talks, health of Flyers’ Patrick

Hockey insider Bob McKenzie stopped by the NBCSN studio during the first intermission of Devils – Flyers on Tuesday (a 4-0 win for Philadelphia), providing some interesting updates on the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft (Nico Hischier) and Nolan Patrick, who went second that same year.

Devils aim for extension with Hischier

McKenzie brought up some interesting comparables for Hischier, including Arizona Coyotes winger Clayton Keller (eight year extension with $7.15M AAV begins next season) and Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor (signed for seven years, $7.14M AAV this summer). McKenzie explains that, while Hischier might not have reached the same production heights as Connor or Keller when those two had been at their best, Hischier’s all-around game makes up some of the difference.

The Devils have some reason to show some haste. While there might be some sticker shock at being in that $7M stratosphere, Hischier could really drive up his perceived value if he enjoys a huge season with Taylor Hall on his wing. McKenzie wonders if Hischier might even push for a Mikko Rantanen-type deal ($9.2M AAV) if he has a big enough 2019-20.

With Hall in a contract year, the Devils could also get some cost certainty if they hash something out sooner, rather than later.

Of course, McKenzie describes this opportunity as a “platform year” for Hischier, who might benefit from waiting things out.

Migraine issues still fuzzy for Patrick

The Flyers are hoping to have impressive depth down the middle once Patrick can join Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes.

While McKenzie reports that there has been progress – Patrick didn’t travel overseas with the Flyers, but is expected to travel with the team in North America – it sounds like this is still a week-to-week thing for the 21-year-old.

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: Wrapping up wild Saturday around the NHL

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Three Stars

1. Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers. What a start to the year for the Rangers’ top center. Playing alongside big free agent acquisition Artemi Panarin, Zibanejad already has eight points in two games and had a hat trick on Saturday in a 4-1 win over the Ottawa Senators, scoring an even-strength goal, a power play goal, and a shorthanded goal. Read more about it here.

2. Mike Hoffman, Florida Panthers. The other hat trick in the NHL on Saturday belonged to Hoffman as he was the difference in the Panthers’ 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. After scoring a career-high 36 goals in his debut season with the Panthers a year ago, he already has four goals in his first two games this season.

3. John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks. When he is on top of his game Gibson can be the best goalie in hockey. He showed that on Saturday by turning aside 35 of the 36 shots he faced in a 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks. Gibson and the Ducks handed San Jose its third consecutive defeat to begin the season. The Ducks are now 2-0 with Gibson stopping 67 of the first 69 shots he has faced over the first two games.

Other notable performances on Saturday

  • Patric Hornqvist and Jared McCann both scored a pair of goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they rebounded from an ugly season opening loss to rout the Columbus Blue Jackets, 7-2.
  • The Sabres dominated the New Jersey Devils, 7-2, thanks to a pair of two goal efforts from Sam Reinhart and rookie Victor Olofsson. Rasmus Dahlin also had three assists for the now 2-0 Sabres.
  • James Neal scored two goals for the Edmonton Oilers as they were able to hold on for a wildly entertaining back-and-forth win over the Los Angeles Kings. Connor McDavid also had four points (one goal, three assists) in the win.
  • Tyler Bertuzzi scored two goals and added two more assists to help lift the Detroit Red Wings to a 5-3 win over the Nashville Predators to open their season.
  • Brayden Schenn celebrated his new eight-year contract extension with the St. Louis Blues by scoring his first goal of the season in their 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars.
  • Jaroslav Halak stopped all 35 shots he faced for the Boston Bruins, and they needed every one of those saves in a 1-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes.
  • Colorado’s big three of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog were once again dominate in a 4-2 over the Minnesota Wild.
  • Johnny Gaudreau had three points (one goal, two assists) and David Rittich stopped all 34 shots he faced for the Calgary Flames in their 3-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks.

Highlights of the Night

The Carolina Hurricanes were overtime winners once again, this time erasing a two-goal third period deficit against the Washington Capitals. New addition Jake Gardiner scored the game-winner, his first as a member of the Hurricanes.

The prettiest play of the night was still probably the passing play by the Rangers to set up Zibanejad’s second goal.

Blooper of the Night

The Oilers were winners, but it was still a frustrating night for goalie Mike Smith at times as he had a couple of early mishaps playing the puck. This one was especially tough for him.

He had another turnover behind the net later in the period that resulted in another easy Kings goal. Fortunately the Oilers offense showed up in a big way.

Honorable mention blooper: Kasperi Kapanen‘s ridiculous stick-throwing penalty that helped complete the Montreal Canadiens’ third period rally. Watch it again here. It set the stage for the Canadiens’ shootout win. Brendan Gallagher also had a huge night for Montreal, recording three points.

Factoids

  • The Boston Bruins have won 15 consecutive games against the Arizona Coyotes, tied for the longest active win streak for one team against a single opponent. [NHL PR]
  • Phil Kessel played in his 776th consecutive regular season game on Saturday night, tying him for the seventh-longest consecutive games played streak in NHL history. [NHL PR]
  • Jeff Petry‘s penalty shot goal was just the second penalty shot goal by a defender in Canadiens history. [NHL PR]
  • Sidney Crosby had a fight and moved into a tie with Jean Beliveau for 41st on the NHL’s all-time points list. [NHL PR]
  • The Avalanche are nearly unbeatable when all three of MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog record at least one point in a single game. [NHL PR]
  • McDavid’s four-point game was already his eighth in the NHL. Only Nikita Kucherov, Patrick Kane, and Johnny Gaudreau have more four-point games since McDavid entered the league. [NHL PR]

Scores

Buffalo Sabres 7, New Jersey Devils 2

Montreal Canadiens 6, Toronto Maple Leafs 5 (SO)

New York Rangers 4, Ottawa Senators 1

Florida Panthers 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 3

Pittsburgh Penguins 7, Columbus Blue Jackets 2

Carolina Hurricanes 3, Washington Capitals 2 (OT)

St. Louis Blues 3, Dallas Stars 2

Detroit Red Wings 5, Nashville Predators 3

Boston Bruins 1, Arizona Coyotes 0

Colorado Avalanche 4, Minnesota Wild 2

Anaheim Ducks 3, San Jose Sharks 1

Calgary Flames 3, Vancouver Canucks 0

Edmonton Oilers 6, Los Angeles Kings 5

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.

Big winners of the NHL’s restricted free agent signing period

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With Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, and Mikko Rantanen all signing new contract extensions this weekend, the NHL’s summer-long restricted free agency drama has come to a mostly anticlimactic end.

All the top players stayed where they were supposed to stay, nobody unexpected ended up getting traded, no additional offer sheets were actually signed, and the only big development was the shift by players to opt for shorter-term bridge deals instead of max long-term contracts.

Now that everyone is signed for the start of the 2019-20 season (which starts Wednesday night with Blues-Caps at 7 pm on NBCSN), let’s take a look at some of the big winners from the RFA signing period.

Teams that won big

Tampa Bay Lightning. Brayden Point‘s three-year deal is a massive short-term win for the Lightning. They entered the offseason facing a salary cap crunch but still managed to get one of their top players — Point — re-signed without really having to do anything significant to the rest of the roster. At a salary cap hit of just a little more than $6 million per season for the next three years the Lightning have a steal in Point given the way he blends elite offense and Selke caliber defense. Having a core player that good, signed for that cheap, is a huge advantage to a contender whose championship window remains wide open.

Boston Bruins. This looked like it was going to be a tricky situation for Don Sweeney at the beginning of the summer as he had to try to re-sign top defenders Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, as well as forward Danton Heinen, all while having limited wiggle room under the cap. He managed to get all three players signed for a combined cap hit of under $11 million per season. Not bad. McAvoy should have a monster contract coming his way when his current deal ends, but a lot current money will be off the books by then.

San Jose Sharks. Timo Meier‘s contract (four years, $24 million) was the big one this summer and looks like a perfectly fair deal for both sides. Meier very well could end up outperforming that deal before it’s done, but he will still be young enough to secure another significant contract. But getting Kevin Labanc signed for just $1 million for this season after his 17-goal, 56-point season was a really nice bonus for the Sharks. He is betting on himself, but in the short-term the Sharks are getting a huge advantage this season with some additional cap flexibility as they try to get Joe Thornton his Stanley Cup ring.

Carolina Hurricanes. They won at the very beginning of the summer when the Montreal Canadiens signed Sebastian Aho to a five-year offer sheet. The Hurricanes easily matched it, got their franchise player signed, and the whole process helped them to avoid all of the drama and stress that every other team had to deal with in trying to negotiate a deal. That is a win.

Players that won big

Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs. He managed to get a six-year deal out of the Maple Leafs that averages just under $11 million per year. The breakdown of the contract will pay him $41 million over the first three years, including $31 million in the first two years and $16 million this season. It is, by far, the biggest of all the RFA deals signed this summer and when compared to the deals signed by Point and Rantanen (two players that are not only similar to him, but maybe even better) it is a huge win for him to get pretty much exactly what he wanted.

Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia Flyers. Provorov has No. 1 defender potential and the Flyers definitely treat him like a No. 1 defender, but he has not yet consistently played at a level to justify all of that. Despite that, he still managed to get a six-year, $40.5 million contract this summer. That is significantly larger than the deals signed by McAvoy and Zach Werenski (Columbus), both of whom are probably already better than Provorov. If he becomes the player the Flyers think he can be, it will be a fine contract. But he has to become that player first.

Jacob Trouba, New York Rangers. He managed to get out of Winnipeg (something that seemed inevitable for a couple of years now) thanks to a trade to the New York Rangers where he signed a huge seven-year, $56 million contract, complete with a no-move clause and trade protections. Of the major RFA defenders this offseason (Trouba, McAvoy, Provorov, Zach Werenski) this is by far the biggest contract signed. That $8 million per year cap hit is also tied for the fifth largest among all defenders in the NHL. Is he that good? Trouba is a fine player and will make the Rangers’ defense better, but that is a huge investment in a player that is probably best suited to be a No. 2 defender on a contending team. Risky move for the Rangers, but a huge win for the player across the board.

More RFA signing news:
Jets lock up Connor with seven-year contract
Avalanche avoid breaking bank with Rantanen’s contract
Jets come to short-term agreement with Laine

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.