For most of us, Alexander Radulov’s return to the NHL amounted to the build-up of heavy anticipation for more than a week – and maybe significant curiosity for years. Yet when it comes to the Nashville Predators, it’s the return of a prodigal prospect who spurned them.
REVIEWING RADULOV’S RETURN
Radulov managed to score in his first game back on Thursday, as he pounced on a loose puck to give the Predators their only goal in a dominant 5-1 win for the Pittsburgh Penguins. That tally marks almost a four-year anniversary for his last goal at the NHL level – he last found the net on March 20, 2008.
If you judged Radulov by that headline-grabbing moment, it would seem that he was worth every bit of hype that he received. Unfortunately, even fantasy hockey’s often-overly-simplistic metrics for measuring a player showed that it was more of a mixed bag.
That even strength goal more or less salvaged his night from a fantasy perspective, as he was on the ice for three regular strength Pittsburgh Penguins goals, ultimately giving him a -2 rating.
So the overall stat line on Radulov was: one goal, two shots, -2 rating, no penalties and 15:54 time on ice.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s too early to truly judge Radulov’s potential impact. He’s obviously going to try to “get his” – it wouldn’t be surprising if he has an outright goal to average at least point per game in his limited time in the NHL. The good news is that the Predators won’t be playing a locomotive of a team like the Penguins every night – they’ll face the Jets in Nashville (which is obviously preferable to facing them in Winnipeg) on Saturday and then Nashville will travel to Chicago to face the Blackhawks on Sunday. If you’re in a rugged head-to-head match in the playoffs this week, the upcoming weekend’s work could very well be a make-or-break deal.
PENGUINS STEAL SPOTLIGHT
Radulov came into Thursday with the headlines but the Penguins quickly stole the spotlight with a blistering performance.
Evgeni Malkin showed that he was the best Russian on the ice last night, scoring two goals to push his season totals to 45 goals and 95 points. His Art Ross Trophy lead is starting to get a bit ridiculous, so the chase for 50 goals could be more interesting. Geno has seven goals and 11 points in his last five games, so scoring five more tallies in nine games to hit 50 goals sounds more doable than it really should.
Malkin wasn’t the only Pen who had a great game, though, as James Neal collected four assists, Kris Letang piled up two helpers and Chris Kunitz had a goal and an assist. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 29 out of 30 shots to improve his record to an impressive 40-14-4 mark. Perhaps best of all, the Penguins clinched a playoff berth and are only a point behind the New York Rangers for the Atlantic Division title.
The only “bummer” is that Sidney Crosby failed to register a point.
KEITH MIGHT REGRET THAT ELBOW
After it seemed like the NHL would hold a meeting with Duncan Keith over the phone for his foolish elbow on Daniel Sedin – thus limiting the extreme nature of the possible suspension – Brendan Shanahan apparently changed his mind. Instead, the league offered Keith an in-person meeting, which could mean a suspension of five contests or more. Granted, it doesn’t guarantee such a punishment, but that typically is a sign that a big one is coming.
If you believe in Hammurabi’s hockey code (eye for an eye, so to speak), then that might be fair. It remains to be seen how severe Sedin’s issues are, yet the early indications are that it’s not looking particularly good. Yup, this is a disastrous situation and it’s likely that both players wish it didn’t happen.
(It also lights an even bigger fire on what might just be the NHL’s most hateful rivalry.)
Both Jonathan Quick and Brian Elliott collected shutouts, but Quick earned a win via a shootout. The Los Angeles Kings took a tenuous Pacific Division lead in the process … Mike Smith kept the Phoenix Coyotes a stride behind the Kings by beating the Colorado Avalanche in regulation. That win gives Smith his 100 th NHL victory and ended Semyon Varlamov’s winning streak at five … Meanwhile, the Dallas Stars slipped to eighth place as the Vancouver Canucks beat them 2-1 in regulation. Henrik Sedin assisted on both goals, providing more evidence that the twins are stars – even when their duplicates aren’t on the ice … Ilya Bryzgalov keeps heating up, making him one of the best stretch run goalies in fantasy at the moment … Nikolai Khabibulin lost in his first game back in Tampa Bay since winning a Stanley Cup win the Lightning. Dwayne Roloson won what might have been one of his final games in that contest … Nazem Kadri was called up by the tumbling Toronto Maple Leafs – again.
Alex Tanguay could be the next guy to get suspended for an elbow after a questionable one on Minnesota’s Jared Spurgeon, who might be dealing with a concussion thanks to that hit … Mikko Koivu returned for the Wild last night, but couldn’t score. If his owner dropped him expecting the talented Finn to be out the rest of the season, hopefully you know what I’m going to say: get him. Like, now … It seems quite likely that Craig Anderson will play tonight … Radim Vrbata returned from flu-like issues, helping the Coyotes recover from the loss of Shane Doan, who set out the first game of his suspension … Jimmy Howard might return for the Red Wings on Saturday … Carlo Colaiacovo is dealing with his seasonal injury. Word is that it’s a lower-body issue … Alexander Semin missed the Capitals’ shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers with a lower-body ailment of his own. (Click here for the full injury list.)