As Southeast rivals make big changes, the Hurricanes are left twisting in the wind


everythingisonstaalandward.jpgOne of the easiest questions for most hockey people – aside from the least objective Washington Capitals fans, perhaps – was “which division is the weakest in the NHL?” Any puckhead worth his or her salt would swiftly choose the Southeast Division as the league’s worst.

The fact of the matter is that the SE might still be the weakest in the NHL, but the once-middling lightweights are building up resources to knock off Ted Leonsis’s heavyweight gorilla in DC.

The Atlanta Thrashers are bulking up with former Chicago Blackhawks including Dustin Byfulgien, the Tampa Bay Lightning are experiencing a shrewd makeover thanks to new GM Steve Yzerman and the Florida Panthers are trading a little success today for potential payoffs tomorrow with multiple draft picks and younger players. Despite those moves, you’d have to be quite the Kool-Aid drinker to handicap anyone as the division winner over Ovechkin & Co. and GM George McPhee can probably point to the natural internal improvements that come with having a young team to explain his lack of splashy moves.

For years, the Capitals would run away with the division while one other team was lucky to even make the playoffs (if there even was a second team; one year the Atlantic sent four teams, the Northeast sent three and only the Capitals represented the Southeast). If there was one team that gave the Caps at least a token effort, it was former Stanley Cup winner Carolina. With a talented goalie in Cam Ward and a great young forward named Eric Staal, the team would experience some of the most dramatic peaks and valleys of any in the NHL.

But what now? The team lost Ray Whitney (via free agency) and the rapidly declining Rod Brind’amour (retirement) while doing very little to improve their team outside of signing the strange “in one year and out the other” defenseman Anton Babchuk and another retread in Joe Corvo. Even in a top heavy league like the NHL, it cannot make Hurricanes fans too comfortable to realize that Staal, Ward and defenseman Joni Pitkanen account for one third of the team’s meager $44 million salary structure.

You can’t completely blame GM Jim Rutherford since owner Peter Karmanos wants to make the team cheaper and therefore easier to buy, but who can the Hurricanes even hope to step up this season? Aside from Brandon Sutter, I don’t know many go-to guys once you get past Staal and Ward. Considering that injuries and inconsistent play doomed a more credible Canes roster last season, it would require quite the coaching job by Paul Maurice for this team to make an impact, even in a decidedly soft Eastern Conference.

While all four of their divisional cousins can point to an improving short-term and an even better long-term future, the Hurricanes must see nothing but clouds and uncertainty on the horizon.

The Buzzer: William Karlsson’s wild night; Hart Trophy race intensifies

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Players of the Night: 

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: MacKinnon’s MVP campaign got a serious boost on Sunday, as he picked up two goals and an assist in a win over the Detroit Red Wings. The Avs forward is now riding a 12-game point streak. He better start making room on a shelf for a Hart Trophy.

William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights: Karlsson continues to be one of the biggest surprises of the 2017-18 season. His natural hat trick against the Flames puts him at 39 goals on the season. Who would’ve thought that we’d be talking about him as a 40-goal scorer?

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning: Even though MacKinnon is rolling right now, Kucherov won’t go away quietly in the race for the MVP crown. The Lightning forward picked up two goals in Sunday’s win over the Oilers. Kucherov has 36 goals and 93 points in 70 games this season.

Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks: DeBrincat scored his third hat trick of the season in a losing effort. The rookie has 25 goals and 45 points in 73 games this season. He has a chance to score 30 this year.

Alex Pietrangelo and Vincent Dunn, St. Louis Blues: The Blues came away with a huge comeback win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Patrik Berglund scored the game-winner in overtime, but Pietrangelo and Dunn each had four points in the victory.

Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets: Laine has been a scoring machine of late. He found the back of the net twice in Sunday’s win over the Dallas Stars. He’s now scored 43 goals in 72 games this season. Laine’s picked up at least one point in 15 consecutive games.

Highlights of the Night: 

A wicked one-timer from Wild Bill:

That’s an incredible backhander from MacKinnon:

Here’s an unorthodox save from Fleury

Factoids of the Night: 

Dunn Deal


Oh and Laine is a teen sensation

DeBrincat’s having an impressive rookie season:


Avalanche 5, Red Wings 1
Golden Knights 4, Flames 0
Lightning 3, Oilers 1
Hurricanes 4, Islanders 3
Flyers 6, Capitals 3
Blues 5, Blackhawks 4 (OT)
Jets 4, Stars 2
Ducks 4, Devils 2

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Blues keep playoff hopes alive with big OT win over ‘Hawks


The St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks have played games with more significance, but that didn’t take away from the excitement of St. Louis’ 5-4 win in overtime.

‘Hawks forward Alex DeBrincat opened the game with two first-period goals before the Blues managed to tie the game in the second frame thanks to a pair of power-play tallies by Alexander Steen and Vincent Dunn, who also assisted on Steen’s marker.

The Blues thought they went ahead late in the second, but this goal was called back:

Chicago went up 3-2 heading into the second intermission after David Kampf put them back ahead.

Dunn collected his third point of the night when Vladimir Sobotka scored the equalizer at the 15:24 mark of the third period, but again, DeBrincat scored just over one minute later.

Alex Pietrangelo, who assisted on St. Louis’ first two goals, managed to tie the game with 18:38 remaining in the third period to force overtime. Dunn registered an assist on the game-tying marker to give him four points on the night.

Pietrangelo then helped set up Patrik Berglund‘s game, so he also finished the game with four points when it was all said and done.

Here’s the OT winner:

Despite being sellers at the deadline, the Blues now find themselves just one point behind Anaheim for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. St. Louis has four more regulation/overtime wins than the Ducks, which could be key down the stretch.

As for the Blackhawks, well, they’re done like dinner.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Video: Ben Bishop injured after making terrific glove save
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After missing five games with a lower-body injury, Ben Bishop made his return to the Stars lineup on Friday night against Ottawa. Unfortunately for Bishop, he seems to have run into some more injury trouble tonight.

The veteran netminder was hurt after he made a fantastic glove save on Jets forward Bryan Little on Sunday night. The Stars Twitter account already confirmed that he suffered a lower-body injury and that he wouldn’t be returning to the game.

Kari Lehtonen is now between the pipes for Dallas.

The Stars are currently sitting in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Bruins sign Olympic standout Ryan Donato to entry-level contract

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The Boston Bruins have a plethora of young players coming through the pipeline, including Ryan Donato who they signed to a two-year, entry-level contract on Sunday night.

The Bruins drafted Donato in the second round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. The 21-year-old spent each of the last two seasons at Harvard. In 2017-18, he finished the year with 26 goals and 17 assists in 29 games with the Crimson.

Donato also represented the United States at this 2018 Olympic Games, where he had had five goals (tied for the tournament lead) in five games.

The team has already announced that he’ll join them right away. He’s eligible to suit up in tomorrow’s game.

“It came together in pretty short order,” GM Don Sweeney said, per the Bruins’ Twitter account. “We had always been committed to providing the opportunity to Ryan if and when he decided to leave school…I think it was an opportunity on both sides to explore with Ryan and see where he’s at.

“He’s a kid that’s got a confidence about himself, a talent level, and he’s got some details he’s gonna have to work on – all young players do. But he’s a player that has hard skill. We’re looking forward to having him…get immersed and get a taste.”

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.