Nikita Zadorov

Canadiens’ Kotkaniemi leaves game after scary fall (Video)

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Scary scene in Montreal on Thursday night during the first period of the Canadiens’ game against the Colorado Avalanche.

Second-year forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi had to leave the game after an ugly fall that resulted in him hitting his head off the ice. He remained on the ice for a few moments before being helped off the ice by teammates with his head slumped over.

The Canadiens announced that he was out for the remainder of the game due to an “upper-body injury.”

You can see the sequence in the video above.

It all happened after Kotkaniemi was pinned against the boards by Nikita Zadorov, and then fell backwards. There are a lot of problems with Zadorov’s hit, including the fact it looked to be very late (the puck was long gone from Kotkaniemi when Zadorov initiated the hit) as well as the fact he appeared to lift his right leg and swing into the back of Kotkaniemi’s, knocking him backwards. That doesn’t really qualify as a slew-foot, but everything about the play itself seemed unnecessary.

There was no penalty called on the play.

The Canadiens are already playing without two key forwards in Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron.

UPDATE:

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.

Avs hold breath about MacKinnon after blowing out Predators

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The Colorado Avalanche boast one of the best lines in the NHL, but right now, all three of those forwards are banged up.

Nathan MacKinnon‘s injury tarnished the Avs’ 9-4 blowout of the Nashville Predators on Thursday, and adds to a troubling trio of injuries, as the team was already dealing without Mikko Rantanen (week-to-week) and Gabriel Landeskog (out indefinitely).

While the Avalanche figure to be without Rantanen and Landeskog for some time, the hope is that MacKinnon’s upper-body injury won’t be major. The Athletic’s Ryan S. Clark reports that Colorado head coach Jared Bednar said MacKinnon was held out from the remainder of Thursday’s lopsided game for precautionary reasons. Could that mean that this won’t be major for MacKinnon? The Avs certainly have to hope so.

Clark also reports that defenseman Nikita Zadorov‘s status is unknown after suffering an upper-body injury of his own.

The Avalanche made big, bold investments in surrounding that super-line with other talent, and many of those players shined bright against the Predators.

MacKinnon actually had a tremendous game even though it was truncated, as the speedy center scored one goal and three assists for four points. He fired 10 SOG on Thursday, and seemed driven to score against the defending Central Division champs:

Key offseason addition Joonas Donskoi managed a hat trick, while both Andre Burakovsky and Cale Makar enjoyed one-goal, two-assist nights.

Remarkably, the Predators were actually up 3-2 at the 4:55 mark of the second period, and then Colorado erupted with a ludicrous six goals in eight minutes:

As important as Landeskog and especially Rantanen is to that top line, MacKinnon is the biggest star on the Avs, and one of the NHL’s brightest overall. Colorado is better positioned to withstand another loss in 2019-20 than the Avs were in 2018-19, but the prospect of missing all three first-liners is daunting.

The Avalanche have to be crossing their fingers that further MacKinnon updates end up being as prominent as that “precautionary” word was.

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.

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.

Lucic punches Avs’ Zadorov in Flames debut

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The James NealMilan Lucic trade is still a little hard to believe, but it did in fact happen. While Neal had a quiet debut in the Edmonton Oilers’ narrow win on Wednesday, Lucic made an impact in the Calgary Flames’ season-opener against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday.

You won’t find a consensus about Lucic having a positive impact, though.

After Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov delivered a hard hit on Austin Czarnik, Lucic confronted Zadorov. During the exchange, Lucic punched Zadorov, who didn’t seem to see it coming.

Was it a “sucker punch?” Was Lucic merely sticking up for his teammate? Maybe it was something in between?

Either way, Lucic was whistled with a fighting major, instigator penalty, and a misconduct. Zadorov was somewhat strangely given a fighting major and a boarding penalty.

One can debate the “deterrent” factor of a player like Lucic all day, but ultimately it really is that: a subjective discussion.

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.