Five things we learned: Another nightmare for Niemi

NIkita Kucherov picked up two goals while Steven Stamkos had four points, including one goal and the Tampa Bay Lightning gave the Pittsburgh Penguins no chance, beating them 7-1.

The Lightning claimed their latest victim (again), the Oilers struggled to score (again), Pittsburgh has a problem (yes, again) and more.

Here are five things we learned on a busy Saturday night in the NHL.

Oilers’ scoring struggles continue
The question mark hovering over the Edmonton Oilers over the past few seasons has been whether or not they can build a strong enough blue line to back up their high-powered offence.

Now that they’ve made some solid strides in that department of late, the trouble appears to be up front. Who here saw that coming?

You’ll have to scroll all the way to the bottom of the NHL standings to see Edmonton, currently sitting in third-last place with a 2-5 record thanks to a four-game losing streak. They edged the Chicago Blackhawks Thursday night, but suffered another loss Saturday afternoon against the Philadelphia Flyers.

We’ve seen brilliance from the Oilers’ top scorers (see Connor McDavid‘s stunning no-look pass versus Chicago), but it’s becoming clear that we need to see much more.

Believe it or not, the Oilers have the league’s second-lowest goals for total: 14, which is just two more than the lowly Montreal Canadiens.

What’s even more puzzling is that they’ve taken the most shots per game in the entire NHL (38.9) yet are still struggling to find the back of the net. The club is still without Leon Draisaitl and Drake Caggiula, and the team has not offered up a return date on either player.

“We’re cleaning up the defensive part, but now we’ve got the offensive part going,” head coach Todd McLellan said after the game. “Perhaps a couple of players will be back in our lineup who will make us a little quicker and a little more skilled than we are right now. But if not, this group has to get it done.”

Kucherov and Stamkos keep on streaking
You know who’s not having any trouble in the goals department? Nikita Kucherov. The Tampa Bay Lightning winger extended his impressive goal streak in Saturday’s lopsided win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, scoring twice and adding an assist to bring his goal total to 10 (!) in just nine games—that ranks him atop the league, tied alongside some guy named Alex Ovechkin. Kucherov, 24, has registered at least one point in every game so far this season, scoring in all but one (Thursday versus Columbus).

This laser-beam of a shot on Antti Niemi less than two minutes into Saturday’s game was particularly pretty:

The only player with more points than Kucherov just happens to be his captain. Steven Stamkos has been making plays like we all know he can, to the tune of three goals and a whopping 15 assists for 18 points in nine games. He registered four points Saturday (one goal, three assists) to keep his own point streak alive and help the 7-1-1 Lightning maintain their place atop the NHL standings.

Saturday’s goal came on the power play, and earned him a spot in the franchise’s books.

Penguins need to figure out their backup situation, ASAP
The Pittsburgh Penguins gave Antti Niemi a vote of confidence when they picked him up in free agency. The netminder has yet to reward them for it.

Niemi struggled Saturday night against the Lightning, letting in seven goals on 32 shots for his third loss of the season. His stats are dreadful: he’s let in 16 goals in parts of seven periods (12 of which were scored by Tampa Bay) and has a goals-against average of 7.50 to go with his .797 save percentage.

Yes, Pittsburgh has struggled in front of him, but it’s crystal clear that the Penguins must do something to improve their backup situation—especially considering they’ve got the most back-to-backs of any team this season, making that position particularly valuable.

Keep your phone on, Tristan Jarry.

Senators lose Bobby Ryan to another hand injury (and deja vu)
The Ottawa Senators won Saturday’s instalment of the Battle of Ontario, but lost one of their top forwards in the process as Bobby Ryan broke a finger blocking a shot in the 6-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The team was quick to diagnose the injury, with head coach Guy Boucher telling reporters after the game that he’ll likely miss a month of game action with a fractured right index finger. It’s the same finger he broke last February, and his sixth hand injury since the 2014-15 season.

Here’s the weird part: the last time Ryan suffered a hand injury was Feb. 18, 2017, when he was struck by a puck during a game against the Maple Leafs. The score of that game? 6-3 Senators—the exact same score as Saturday night’s victory over Toronto.

(Weird, right?)

He missed 11 games that time. Ryan has six assists in eight games this so far this year to lead the team in that category (tied with Erik Karlsson).

The Kings might just be unstoppable
The Los Angeles Kings are off to an incredibly hot start, and they kept that streak alive Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, 6-4.

They’re the only team without a regulation loss, and their 6-0-1 record has them in second place in the NHL behind Tampa Bay having played two fewer games.

The Kings are starting to look like the Pacific powerhouse we got used to seeing a few years ago. They’re third in total goals (3.86 per game) thanks to team leaders Anze Kopitar (six goals, five assists) and Dustin Brown (five goals, six assists).

It’s still early, of course, but the Kings are making an early statement as a team to watch.


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