Which teams are the most likely candidates to 'break through' in 2010-11?

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Thumbnail image for conkblockdrinks.jpgLate last week Mike Chen of From the Rink gave his three picks for possible “breakout” teams for the 2010-11 season. I personally agree that the Tampa Bay Lightning and Atlanta Thrashers show some promise, but while it cannot get much worse for the Columbus Blue Jackets, they don’t scream “breakout” to me. (Then again, the Colorado Avalanche and Phoenix Coyotes showed few signs of life aside from adding a new coach last summer, so Chen’s logic might be pretty sound there.)

That post got me thinking about other candidates. I’m going to cheat a bit by taking a look at all the teams who missed the playoffs rather than the most hopeless teams to see who might have the best chance to jump. The one big exception, though, is that I need to think that each team has a genuine chance to make the playoffs.

St. Louis Blues

Why they might make the playoffs: Much like the Blue Jackets, the Blues were a Central division playoff surprise in 08-09 that came plummeting back to earth last season. The difference is that St. Louis boasts (in my opinion at least) a much stronger roster than Columbus. While they lack a top-end star like Rick Nash, I might take their deeper rotation of quality forwards (David Backes, TJ Oshie, David Perron, etc.) instead. Especially when you consider their superior defensive and goaltending groups.

Glass-half-empty points: That being said, the Central division is a beast. Chicago and Detroit are still the cream of the crop and Nashville is scrappy enough to make third place a tough spot to earn. If Chen is right about the Blue Jackets, that means the division won’t have an obvious weak team, unless that might be the Blues after all.

Thumbnail image for ducksthreeforwards.jpgAnaheim Ducks

Why they might make the playoffs: Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Jonas Hiller and (hopefully) Bobby Ryan plus the two old Finns (Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu) gives the Ducks a nice group in the big minute spots. The Pacific division is unpredictable but might be a little bit less wicked next season with the Sharks a little weaker, the Coyotes primed for a possible regression, the Stars in disarray and the Kings missing out on the Kovalchuk sweepstakes.

Glass-half-empty points: Still, the Ducks might be called the “Ucks” since they have no D. (Like what I did there? Took a page out of the “He’s Ason Kidd because he has no J” book of insults.) Seriously, though, their defense is awful.

Calgary Flames

Why they might make the playoffs: They still have some talent, maybe. Obviously, there’s Iginla and Kipper plus Jay Bouwmeester and Robyn Regehr. I didn’t hate the cheap addition of Alex Tanguay and while I snickered at the Olli Jokinen signing, maybe he can score some filler goals to increase their chances at a playoff berth. Plus, the Sutter brothers are under some serious pressure. Sometimes that brings the best out of people.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for ollijokinen3.jpgSometimes.

Glass-half-empty points: Most hockey people see the Flames as a sinking ship. I have to admit I lean in that direction, but I thought the Flames might be worth mentioning even if it’s just because they’re one of the best teams that didn’t make the playoffs.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Why they might make the playoffs: Like the Flames, their are a lot of heads that could roll if they don’t make the playoffs. The team will get a training camp to congeal after Brian Burke’s many moves (I’d recommend handing out name tags). While I disagree with many of Burke’s transactions, he did get Kris Versteeg for very little and the team is better on paper. Versteeg, Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf and the could-be-better goalie duo of J.S. Giguere and “The Monster”? They won’t rock the world, but this is the Eastern Conference, after all.

Glass-half-empty points: Much like with the Flames, I had to strain to be positive about the Leafs. They’re under a lot of pressure and spending a lot of money to fight for the 7th or 8th spot in the East. The odds are high that the bottom of that conference won’t boast a sleeping giant in the bottom ranks like the Flyers again next summer, but making the playoffs would be quite the change of pace for the moribund Leafs franchise.

So those are my four guesses for teams who might “break through” next season, even if the Ducks and Flames were a bit of a cheat. Did I miss anyone? Share your thoughts in the comments.

The Buzzer: Special nights for Seguin, Boyle, Rinne

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Player of the Night: Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars.

There some nice three-point nights on Friday, including nights involving Seguin’s opponents (Johnny Gaudreau scored one goal and two assists while Sean Monahan had 2G, 1A) and the guy who got picked ahead of Seguin many moons ago (Taylor Hall had a three-point night and a big hit).

While you might feel the urge to ding Seguin for getting an empty-netter to collect a hat trick, he already covered the cool points portion of this contest earlier in the game with a sweet lacrosse-style goals.

(I can’t get enough of those types of goals. Am I alone in that account?)

Seguin crossed the 200-goal mark tonight, by the way.

Highlight of the Night: Normally, I wouldn’t double-dip on a highlight, but it really cannot be overstated how cool it was that Brian Boyle finished this brilliant assist by Will Butcher on Hockey Fights Cancer night. (Also, the Seguin bit included his lacrosse goal anyway, so due diligence.)

He definitely was emotional on Friday, as his family participated in the ceremonial puck drop. Here’s hoping he can stay healthy enough to score many more going forward.

Streak-breaker: Jack Eichel helps the Sabres beat Connor McDavid and the Oilers. Buffalo had been on a seven-game skid.

This was the best goal from Buffalo’s 3-1 win, though:

Factoids:

On a night when the Stars honored great two-way Finnish forward Jere Lehtinen, Pekka Rinne moved all alone for first all-time among Finnish goalies for shutouts, edging his former backup Carter Hutton in the process:

It almost feels like the Vegas Golden Knights send a new (positive) record every night they play. (More on their win here.)

Bearded wonder Joe Thornton now has his sights set on Super Mario:

Injuries might obscure Nino Niederreiter‘s hot run, but it’s time to take notice if you haven’t already.

Scores

Bruins 4, Penguins 3
Jets 4, Ducks 1
Wild 3, Avalanche 2 (SO)
Islanders 5, Flyers 4
Capitals 3, Lightning 1
Golden Knights 5, Sharks 4 (OT)
Sabres 3, Oilers 1
Devils 3, Canucks 2
Rangers 2, Red Wings 1 (OT)
Blue Jackets 5, Senators 2
Maple Leafs 5, Hurricanes 4
Predators 2, Blues 0
Coyotes 3, Kings 2 (OT)
Stars 6, Flames 4

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.

Golden Knights pad Pacific lead, even with Burns’ first goal

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Coming into Friday’s game, what was stranger: Brent Burns having zero goals on the season despite 84 shots on goal in 20 games, or the Vegas Golden Knights leading the Pacific Division?

Both points ended up being relevant to the discussion, as Burns finally scored his first goal of 2017-18 to help the San Jose Sharks rally for a “loser point,” but the Golden Knights ultimately won 5-4 in OT.

With that, the Golden Knights won their fourth game in a row and now have 29 standings points, making for at least a slight cushion for the Pacific Division lead (the Kings are in action, but at 26 points, they’ll trail Vegas even if they manage a comeback win).

Vegas probably wasn’t happy to see a three-goal lead dissolve, yet the Golden Knights just keep plugging away. They enjoyed a strong output from three forwards with plenty to prove in James Neal (one goal, one assist), William Karlsson (two goals), and Jonathan Marchessault (one goal and two assists). Both Neal and Karlsson are at 12 goals on the season now.

The Golden Knights do have a bit to be concerned with, though, and that’s not limited to giving up the lead. Maxime Lagace “wasn’t feeling good” so he left the game for Malcolm Subban, while David Perron suffered an upper-body injury and did not return thanks to this questionable check:

Even in defeat, Burns has to feel relief with this goal:

Heck, even the Sharks seemed to wipe a little sweat off of their brows as the beastly blueliner finally scored.

(Eh, Burns might need a few more goals to get people to stop complaining about his fantasy value. Sorry, Sharks.)

Joe Thornton‘s two assists helped the Sharks secure a standings point, and now he sits alone at 12th all-time in assists, passing Joe Sakic.

The Golden Knights continue to be one of the most heartening stories in the NHL, but even in grabbing the extra point, they’re only five ahead of the Sharks. Fighting off regression won’t be easy for the Golden Knights, yet they have incentive to push for some sort of home-ice advantage, as they improved to an impressive 9-1-0 in Vegas so far in their inaugural season.

You never know how far a good run might take you, so don’t blame the Golden Knights for letting it ride.

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.

Video: Devils’ Butcher with some razzle dazzle to set up Boyle

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If you’re the type to get annoyed when college free agents soak up a lot of attention during the dog days of the hockey summer (Brandon Dubinsky is nodding), you were probably fed up with defenseman Will Butcher by the time he chose the New Jersey Devils as his destination.

Well, at least the 22-year-old blueliner is backing up the hype, especially when it comes to setting up goals.

Butcher’s 15th assist (and 17th point of the season) ranks as one of his best yet, as he totally baffled the Vancouver Canucks before setting up a Brian Boyle goal. You can watch that sweet helper in the video above this post’s headline.

Speaking of Devils rookies, it seems like Nico Hischier is OK after this Alex Edler hit, but the Devils might be wise to keep an eye on the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, as this looked a little worrisome:

Again, it seems like Hischier avoided injury, yet we shall see.

There was also this big hit by Taylor Hall on rising Canucks forward Brock Boeser:

The Devils ended up beating the Canucks 3-2 on Friday.

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.

Well, at least Flyers are getting ‘loser points’

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Love it or hate it, the loser point is a reality in the NHL, and the Philadelphia Flyers are one of the teams that really make things weird with what is now an 8-9-6 record in 2017-18.

8-9-6. Look at that. It almost makes your eyes hurt, right? Something just seems wrong about that.

No doubt about it, there are a lot of reasons to be frustrated if you’re a Flyers fan right now. Most obviously: they’ve now lost seven straight games after falling 5-4 in OT to the New York Islanders. Philly came into the third period with a 4-2 lead that they squandered, aside from getting a “loser point.” There’s at least some frustration with head coach Dave Hakstol:

Still, in this weird standings format, not all losing streaks are equal.

Bad: They dropped two straight games to the Islanders. Good-ish: At least both games went to overtime.

Bad: Yeah, teams that want to take the next step can’t afford many slumps like seven games without a win. Good-ish: They grabbed four points during this skid. They’re at least scrapping for points when they can, in general; while they only have two wins in their last 10 games, yet they’ve managed at least a standings point in all but three (2-3-5, ugh).

Bad: The Flyers are tied for last in the Metropolitan Division, and they’re really last since they’ve generated 22 points in 23 games while the Hurricanes have that many in 20 games played. Good-ish: While they have disadvantages that would force them to make a real run to do damage, you can’t rule out the Flyers in the wild card races.

Ultimately, this team remains … perplexing.

They have one foot in the current, with good stuff like the dominant Claude GirouxSean CouturierJakub Voracek line in mind, even if some of that makes moves like the Brayden Schenn trade sting a little extra. On the other hand, they’re trying to bring along a group of wet-behind-the-ears defensemen, and there’s a fear that that group will take long enough to hit its stride than some of those forwards will start to hit the wall of regression.

Ultimately, it might be crucial for GM Ron Hextall to figure out what to emphasize in the near future, particularly the trade deadline.

At the moment, the Flyers are essentially aiming for the best of both worlds: developing that young talent while hoping to be competitive. That’s a great have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too scenario, but sometimes teams really lower their ceilings by being too trigger-shy to commit one way or the other.

You’d think with a seven-game losing streak, that Philly would be downright-bad. Instead, they seem more stuck in the middle, and such a situation presents its own set of problems, or at least some head-scratching questions.

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.