PHT predicts the 2010-2011 regular season

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It’s the day we’ve all been waiting for since the Blackhawks lifted the Stanley Cup in June. It’s the start of the regular season. Every day there will be hockey that counts. Every day there will be amazing goals, unbelievable saves, incredible passes, thrilling fights, and completely boneheaded mistakes.And we will enjoy every second of it because we’re sick like that.

It’s not an 82 game race to the end, it’s a marathon. There will be no Olympics to interrupt things this season and the pressure to win is always present. The Blackhawks start the season with the bull’s-eye on their back and they get to carry that burden through the entire regular season through to the playoffs. It’s a position the franchise hasn’t seen since 1961-1962 and many of their new fans are hoping the team handles things a bit better than the franchise did for nearly 50 years.

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So you our loyal PHT readers have been wondering what James and I think of how the season will turn out before all mayhem breaks out at noon today with the Hurricanes and Wild kicking the season off from Finland. If you come with us after the jump, you’ll see just how we think things play out this year as we pick our playoff teams and eventual Stanley Cup champions. You can take these predictions to the bank, just so long as that bank is filled with Monopoly money and candy.

ECStandings.jpgJoe says:  The Caps will have a harder go of it in the Southeast, but they’re still awfully good and they’ll still get their points. The divisional races in the other two divisions are much more interesting between Buffalo and Boston and New Jersey and Pittsburgh. The jumble for the 2-5 spots in the playoffs will be fascinating. After that, however, coin toss city. Philly is still awfully good even in spite of their future goaltending headache.

I like Montreal and Tampa Bay to round things out. It’s a shame we can’t get them to play each other in the first round to tie their connections together from the off-season to the postseason. Truth is, the 7-11 spots will be as tight as the 2-5 spots will be. Anyone in there can make the playoffs. Toronto and Carolina mark the line between being close to the playoffs and being God-awful.

James says: Yes, the Southeast Division is much improved, but the Capitals are a still leaps and bounds ahead of the pack. That dominance will help them earn the top seed again. The Devils were already built for the regular season, but adding Ilya Kovalchuk and Jason Arnott really cements that fact. Losing Marc Savard really hurts my confidence in Boston, but I still think they’re better than Buffalo. Pittsburgh always seems to slide into that 4-5 seed range, so why not? Philadelphia is deep and talented, but might struggle a bit next season. I like Tampa Bay, especially in the weak Southeast (and Eastern Conference, really).

The eighth spot was the biggest coin toss of them all, though. Ultimately, I like Eric Staal more than Michael Cammalleri and Cam Ward more than Carey Price. I have little-to-no confidence in that pick in particular, as the Senators and Rangers could just as easily take that spot.

As for the Western Conference…

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Joe says: Vancouver will look like a juggernaut during the regular season. Kids will write songs about them, the elders will create myths and the hardcore fans will close the tinfoil haberdashery for the regular season. They’ll roll over the Northwest to win the division. Meanwhile, San Jose and Detroit both face heavy challenges from within and hang on to take the other two top spots in the conference. Los Angeles and Phoenix will fight it out over fifth, meanwhile Chicago plays it cool to sit in fourth.

Nashville and St. Louis will scare their fans into thinking they may not make it to the playoffs but ultimately will, meanwhile Calgary, Colorado, and Dallas push hard but fall short. Below them, things turn ugly. Minnesota will struggle, meanwhile Edmonton will finish low but will bring joy to their fans in the form of hope. Anaheim loses an uphill battle having to deal with everyone else in their division. Columbus will struggle mightily dealing with a new system.

James says: The Canucks will feast on a weak Northwest Division and will thrive without having a crazy Olympic Break to mess up their rhythm. The Blackhawks and Red Wings will battle until the bitter end, but Chicago’s youth will trump Detroit’s experience. The Sharks will win the Pacific by outlasting the top-heavy Kings. While they lack elegance, the Predators and Coyotes will yield results from their Chinese Water Torture-style defensive techniques to make it into the playoffs.

Much like the eighth seed in the East, I had trouble picking a No. 8 in the West. Every team has its problems: the Blues will struggle to score, the Flames are weak down the middle, the Ducks cannot play defense and so on. Still, the Blues have a nice young core and should play solid defense in front of their newly acquired goalie Jaroslav Halak. I wouldn’t bet my meager life savings on them, but I feel best about making this choice.

We’ll tell you who we’ve got for the playoffs and the Stanley Cup finals in our next post.

The Buzzer: Malkin paces Penguins, Vegas keeps on winning

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Player of the night: Evgeni Malkin

Evgeni Malkin helped get things started for the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, and then he finished the game off with the overtime winner to send the New York Rangers to a fourth consecutive loss.

Malkin scored once, added three assists and even dropped the gloves in a 5-4 overtime victory, as the Penguins came back with a late — and crafty — third period goal from Sidney Crosby.

Talk about the Penguins being opportunistic on the winner. Off a defensive zone faceoff win for the Rangers, Ryan McDonagh made a terrible giveaway right beside his own net, giving the puck to Phil Kessel, who slipped it over to Malkin for the quick one-timer.

Highlight of the night:

There were a few candidates for this tonight. Phil Kessel once again showed off that tremendous wrist shot. Thomas Vanek decided to blast a slap shot on a breakaway, going post and in against the Senators. Nikita Kucherov had a perfect shot against Cory Schneider after previously setting up teammate Vladislav Namestnikov for a pretty goal versus the Devils. Yes, there were a few options.

But, we’ll go back to Winnipeg for this one. Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson not only protects the puck from Jacob Trouba on the breakaway, but then dekes out Steve Mason with the move to the forehand.

Factoid of the night:

The Vegas Golden Knights won again, giving them a 5-1 record to begin their inaugural season. That puts them in elite company.

Scores:

New Jersey 5, Tampa Bay 4 (SO)

San Jose 5, Montreal 2

Pittsburgh 5, New York 4 (OT)

Philadelphia 5, Florida 1

Toronto 2, Washington 0

Vancouver 3, Ottawa 0

Nashville 4, Colorado 1

Columbus 5, Winnipeg 2

Dallas 3, Arizona 1

Vegas 5, Buffalo 4 (OT)

Carolina 5, Edmonton 3

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Sharks send Habs to their fifth straight loss

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Make that five straight losses for the Montreal Canadiens.

Jonathan Drouin had a goal and an assist on Shea Weber‘s power play blast, giving the Habs center a two-point night. That’s one of the few bright spots, as Montreal lost by a score of 5-2 to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.

This was a battle of two teams struggling to start the new season, with each sitting on only one victory. For the Habs, that victory was back on Oct. 5 in their season opener against Buffalo.

Since then, however . . .

And it isn’t about to get any easier for the Habs. This was the start of a stretch that includes three games in four nights against the bruising California teams — the Sharks tonight, the Kings tomorrow, and the Ducks on Friday. It could still get worse before it gets better.

For the Sharks, who were led Tuesday by Logan Couture‘s four-point performance and Joe Pavelski‘s first goal of the season, they end their five-game home stand on a positive note after losing three of the previous four games.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Wayne Simmonds leaves Flyers game for ‘precautionary reasons’ with lower-body issue

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The Philadelphia Flyers earned a 5-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, thanks to a four-goal outburst in the second period.

And Philly forward Wayne Simmonds earned a decision over Micheal Haley in a quick fight during that middle frame, too.

While the Flyers got the win, the news wasn’t all good with respect to Simmonds, however, as he was removed from the game for precautionary reasons because of a lower-body issue, the team announced.

Beyond that, the Flyers said they will know more about his status by either tomorrow or Thursday. That puts a bit of a damper on the win.

Not only is the 29-year-old Simmonds one of the toughest players in the league, unafraid to drop the gloves or throw big hits from time to time, but he’s an important part of Philadelphia’s offensive attack, as well. A productive member of the power play, he’s flirted with the 30-goal mark on three occasions while in Philly and reached that mark in each of the past two seasons.

And he’s done that on a contract that includes an annual cap hit of just under $4 million.

Simmonds was also off to a strong start in 2017-18 with five goals and seven points in six games.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Rangers’ losing streak continues with OT defeat vs. Penguins

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The New York Rangers needed a win.

Their slow start is among the surprises early this season, as the Rangers have now lost four in a row with only one win to their record through seven games so far. They’ve had trouble scoring. Mistakes at inopportune moments have been costly.

Facing the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, the Rangers had a brutal start and a brutal finish in a 5-4 overtime loss to their Metropolitan Division foes.

Phil Kessel scored just 43 seconds into the game, utilizing that dangerous wrist shot off the rush to beat Henrik Lundqvist top corner. By the end of one period, it was 2-0 Pittsburgh.

Despite a second-period comeback, with three goals in under three minutes, and taking the lead in the third period, the Rangers couldn’t hang on and the Penguins won in overtime.

Sidney Crosby scored a crafty tying goal with only 56 seconds remaining in regulation, waiting for the Rangers defender to touch the puck negating what would’ve likely been called a hand pass on Pittsburgh before firing a no-look backhander toward the net from behind the red line. The puck deflected in off Lundqvist, helping send this one to overtime.

Evgeni Malkin capped off a four-point night with the overtime winner.

“Right now it’s a little bit challenging as far as putting a whole game together for us,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault following the game. “But this group is very accountable … and I’m very confident that if we keep doing a lot of the things we’re doing right now, we’re going to be on the right track.”

A trio of Rangers recorded their first goals of the season. That included David Desharnais, Michael Grabner and Pavel Buchnevich, although the latter played less than 10 minutes on Tuesday, despite nearly four minutes in power play time, and of course the goal.

The Rangers host the New York Islanders on Thursday. Another loss, and one has to wonder how hot the seat may be getting under Vigneault.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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