Fresh off Nashville scoring mark, Josi chasing down Leetch

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Nashville captain Roman Josi finally has chased down Paul Kariya for the Predators’ single-season scoring record.

Next up is Brian Leetch, someone who might be much tougher to catch.

Josi added three assists last week at Ottawa in his career season, giving him 87 points to top the mark of 85 set by Hall of Famer Kariya in 2005-06. Josi is just the 10th defenseman in NHL history to put up 87 points in a season and he has nine games remaining to become the first defenseman in three decades to reach the 100-point mark.

Leetch is the last defenseman to reach that mark, with 102 points to win his first of two Norris Trophy awards in his Hall of Fame career. Josi’s 87 points are the most by an NHL defenseman since Ray Bourque had 91 and Sergei Zubov 89 in 1993-94.

Not that Josi has taken time to enjoy the best scoring season of his career. He’s too busy trying to extend Nashville’s playoff streak to an eighth straight season, with the Predators trying to hold onto a wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

“This time of the year, it’s all about winning,” said Josi, the 2020 Norris Trophy winner.

Josi leads all NHL defensemen and ranks 10th in the NHL in points. Through Tuesday night, he had 19 goals with his 68 assists second among all NHL skaters.

He led the league with 32 points in March, the first defenseman to do that in any month since Paul Coffey in February 1990. He also joined Coffey and Bobby Orr as the only defensemen to score at least 28 points in a calendar month.

The Predators captain also has four four-point games this season, twice as many as any other defenseman this season. He had four straight games with at least three points, a feat only Orr in 1970-71, managed among NHL defensemen.

The Predators played a video from Kariya congratulating Josi on topping his franchise mark last weekend. Josi credits his success to teammates who also are having career years.

This is the first season Nashville has ever had three players with at least 70 points, with the Predators joining Colorado, Calgary and Florida in that category. Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene are tied with a franchise-record 38 goals, and Tanner Jeannot leads all rookies with 24 goals.

“I’m getting a lot of free points because guys are playing so well,” Josi said. “Guys are scoring, our power plays doing really well, so it’s just so much fun being part of this team. Everybody plays for each other. Everybody wants everyone to do well, and it’s just been so much fun.”

Despite his career season, Josi might not even be a shoo-in to win the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman for a second time. Colorado’s Cale Makar, who has 77 points and averages 25:43 of ice time, appears to be the frontrunner for that award, and Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman remains a top candidate.

Josi’s Nashville teammates know who they favor.

“I just see him doing his thing so consistently, just dominating the puck, dominating the ice, making big-time plays every game,” Predators center Ryan Johansen said of Josi. “It’s really a pleasure to be a part of and watch.”

EMPTY-NET OVI

Alex Ovechkin on Sunday scored his ninth empty-net goal of the season, tying the record set by Pavel Bure in 1999-2000. It was Ovechkin’s 45th goal of the season and 775th of his NHL career.

As Ovechkin chases down Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 that long seemed untouchable, it’s worth noting a vast majority of each player’s goals came against a goaltender. Ovechkin is up to 48 empty-netters and needs eight to tie the record of 56 held, of course, by Gretzky.

GAME OF THE WEEK

The Minnesota Wild visit the St. Louis Blues on Saturday in the final game between the Central Division rivals fighting for position behind Colorado.

LEADERS (through Tuesday)

Goals: Auston Matthews (Toronto), 58; Assists: Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida), 77; Points: Connor McDavid (Edmonton), 108; Ice time (active players): Seth Jones (Chicago), 26:13; Wins: Juuse Saros (Nashville), 36; Goals-against average: Frederik Andersen (Carolina), 2.07; Save percentage: Igor Shesterkin (N.Y. Rangers), .934.

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AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.

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