PHT Predicts: Ducks vs. Predators — Who do you have?

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All right so Anaheim-Nashville isn’t exactly the kind of match-up that grabs you by the face and makes you want to watch it, we admit that. When you start checking these two teams out though, we’re thinking this series could turn out to be the best of the first round battles. Both teams play a hard, physical game.

Nashville thrives on defense and with a pair of blue liners like Shea Weber and Ryan Suter it’s easy to see why they’d be strong there. Having Pekka Rinne as your goaltender helps make life easier on the offense so they don’t have to do too much. Good thing too since Patric Hornqvist, Martin Erat, and Mike Fisher are about all they can count on offensively.

Anaheim has made their living scoring in bunches. Rocket Richard winner Corey Perry leads the way and 40 year-old Teemu Selanne is making people think it’s 1993 all over again. Add those guys along with Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and offensive blue liners Cam Fowler and Lubomir Visnovsky the Ducks look like an offensive juggernaut in comparison. Their only issues come in goal where any one of Dan Ellis, Jonas Hiller, or Ray Emery could see action.

Yeah, it’s a contrast of styles all right and what we think matches that.

James says:
On one hand, you have a playoff-proven Ducks team with quite possibly the best trio of forwards in the NHL. This team is thrilling and sloppy like an adorable, oversized puppy dog. Meanwhile the Predators resemble a stray dog that’s been away from home too long. They are lean and mean, with very few frills but they break out their Costco-sized batch of elbow grease when the going gets tough.

If Nashville will ever win a playoff series, it will be this one. They have the steady goaltending situation, the all-world defenseman looking for a big raise (Shea Weber) and the defensive style that theoretically should translate to the postseason. Anaheim’s explosive offense makes me nervous, but the Ducks’ uncertainty in net and vulnerability on defense makes me feel comfortable to pick the fifth seed in another series.

It’s the Predators in 6 as Pekka Rinne shows us why so many people think he deserves Vezina Trophy consideration.

Matt says:
If it weren’t for Hawks/Canucks III, this would be the most interesting series in the West. The Ducks are one of the hottest teams entering the playoffs; while the Predators have been talking about how they must make it past the first round. Just about any outcome could happen and it wouldn’t be terribly surprising—from a Ducks sweep to the Preds in 7. Even though the Ducks have been on fire, when push comes to shove I’ll take the better defense and goaltending in a playoff series. Predators in 6.

Joe says:
About the only thing I feel certain of between these two teams is that this series is going deep. Six or seven games for sure and how it turns out feels like a coin flip. Anaheim’s offense is killer and they’ve got the best first line in the NHL. Getting Selanne’s production alongside a leader like Saku Koivu and a pair of lines that can grind it out with the best of them, it’s tough to resist them. Rinne’s goaltending is fantastic and their defense is nasty but that offense doesn’t sit well with me. I put no confidence into this prediction, but I’m sticking with it. Ducks in 7.

Not liking what our take is on this series or you want to take up the flag for Pekka Rinne or Corey Perry as your own personal series MVPs? Go ahead and vote in our poll and let us know what you think.

NHL On NBC: Flyers Look to stay hot against Capitals

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Before the city of Philadelphia loses its collective minds on Sunday evening for the NFC Championship game, the local hockey team — which is playing extremely well again! — will be back on the ice when it visits the Washington Capitals on Sunday afternoon for a 12:30 p.m. ET puck drop. You can watch it live on NBC or on our NBC Sports Live Stream

The Flyers have been one of the most maddeningly inconsistent teams in the league this season going back and forth between extended winning streaks and lengthy cold streaks. At the moment, they are back on one of the hot streaks.

After defeating the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon the Flyers have now won six of their past seven and seven of their past nine and enter Sunday’s game just one point behind the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, while having games in hand on both teams (one on the Rangers entering Sunday; still three on the Penguins). A win against the Capitals could jump them over both teams and put them just one point back of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the third spot in the Metropolitan Division.

The Flyers are led by the trio of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier, all of whom are among the NHL’s top-2o scorers this season. Giroux is currently fourth in the league in total points, while Voracek has four most assists than any other player in the league. Couturier, going through a massive breakout season offensively, has been one of the best two-way centers in the league and has to be one of the front-runners for the Selke Trophy at the halfway point of the season.

The Capitals, meanwhile, are not quite as dominant as they were the past two seasons when they won back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies, but they are still among the top teams in the league. They have lost two in a row and three out of their past four heading into Sunday afternoon’s game against the Flyers, but are coming in with a couple of days rest while they get a Flyers team that just played 24 hours ago. So they are catching a little bit of a break from the schedule.

Alex Ovechkin is once again the driving force behind the Capitals’ offense and enters Sunday as the league’s leading goal-scorer with 28. He is flirting with what could be another 50-goal season.

There is going to be plenty of star power on the ice on Sunday afternoon with five of the league’s top-35 scorers (Giroux, Voracek, Ovechkin, Couturier, Evgeny Kuznetsov), the top goal-scorer (Ovechkin), and two of the top-five scoring defensemen (John Carlson, Shayne Gostisbehere).

Do not miss it.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Pulock opens it up; Price is wronged

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Players of the Night:

  • Whoa, Ryan Pulock. The Islanders rookie collected one goal and four assists for an unexpected five-point night. He came into Saturday with nine points in 33 games so far in 2017-18, but maybe this will open things up for the young blueliner. Pulock played a big role in the Islanders pasting the Blackhawks 7-3.
  • John Klingberg collected three assists as the Dallas Stars dominated the Buffalo Sabres 7-1. For more on the Norris Trophy argument Klingberg is making, click here.
  • The Toronto Maple Leafs entered the third period down 3-1 to the Ottawa Senators. Jake Gardiner collected two of his three assists during their rally back, helping Toronto erase that deficit and win 4-3 in regulation. Gardiner had to pick up some of the slack for Toronto with Morgan Rielly sidelined.
  • There were some other strong nights, such as Nick Bonino chipping in three points to help the Predators stay hot.

Lowlight of the Night:

You won’t see Carey Price allow many goals as bad as this one. At least, the Habs have to hope not in his later years, as his $10.5 million cap hit won’t kick in until 2018-19.

More than a few wonder if the Canadiens’ playoff hopes died with a poor showing in three recent games against the Bruins.

Highlights:

Patrick Marleau: not too old to essentially shrug off a hit. Nice.

Nice glove stops from Jimmy Howard

And Mike Smith:

Meanwhile, this is comes down to cool editing as much as it was a nice goal:

Fantastic stuff from the Sharks.

Factoids

The Bruins are red-hot, and might start putting the heat on the Lightning:

While the Avalanche might be even hotter?

(More on those rising Avs here.)

An additional Pulock fact for ya …

Scores

Stars 7, Sabres 1
Flyers 3, Devils 1
Avalanche 3, Rangers 1
Jets 2, Flames 1 (SO)
Bruins 4, Canadiens 1
Maple Leafs 4, Senators 3
Hurricanes 3, Red Wings 1
Sharks 2, Penguins 1
Coyotes 5, Blues 2
Predators 4, Panthers 3
Islanders 7, Blackhawks 3
Wild 5, Lightning 2
Oilers 5, Canucks 2

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.

Bruins may give Lightning a fight for Atlantic title

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For a while there, the Boston Bruins’ excitement was at least a bit muted by lowered expectations. Yes, it would be great to get a round of home-ice advantage, but that’s not as sexy as going for a division title or more.

Now, it’s important to point out that the Bruins have some work to do, but if you look at the standings after their 4-1 win against the Canadiens and the Lightning’s 5-2 loss to the Wild, it’s not outrageous. The Bruins trail the Lightning by three standings points, and they hold a game in hand on Tampa Bay.

Lightning: 33-12-3, 65 points in 46 games
Bruins: 27-10-8, 62 points in 45 games

The Bruins can also close the gap in more direct ways by getting the best of the Lightning in head-to-head games. The two teams meet three more times this season, with two of those contests coming in Tampa Bay.

At a quick glance, the Bruins are certainly the hotter team, as they’re among the hottest teams in the NHL. Their point streak now extends back to an OT loss to the Rangers on Dec. 16 (12-0-4), including a three-game winning streak. The Lightning have been stumbling by their standards, with three straight losses and two wins in their last seven games.

The road ahead is bumpy for the Lightning, too.

Star defenseman Victor Hedman‘s window of recovery was placed at three-to-six weeks as of Jan. 12. A bye week softens the blow, but the Bolts have to cross their fingers that he falls closer to three weeks than six, as their upcoming schedule puts them in a vulnerable place.

Mon, Jan 22 @ Chicago
Tue, Jan 23 @ Nashville
Thu, Jan 25 @ Philadelphia
Tue, Jan 30 @ Winnipeg
Thu, Feb 1 @ Calgary
Sat, Feb 3 @ Vancouver
Mon, Feb 5 @ Edmonton
Thu, Feb 8 vs Vancouver
Sat, Feb 10 vs Los Angeles
Mon, Feb 12 @ Toronto
Tue, Feb 13 @ Buffalo
Thu, Feb 15 vs Detroit
Sat, Feb 17 vs New Jersey
Tue, Feb 20 @ Washington
Thu, Feb 22 @ Ottawa
Sat, Feb 24 @ Montreal

Tonight’s loss to the Wild began what could be a harrowing eight-game road trip for the Lightning. Overall, they play 12 of their next 16 games on the road. The Bruins face their own challenges as the season goes along, but for the near future, it’s a pretty moderate run. It’s also true that the Lightning will enjoy a stretch of home games too, with March holding the ripest opportunities.

Still, some damage might be done by then considering that tough month and Hedman’s at-least-partial absence, possibly enough for the Bruins to draw even (or close to even). It could be a tough haul even if Hedman can get back soon, honestly.

The smart money would still be on the Lightning winning the Atlantic, not to mention possibly getting the East’s top seed and maybe the Presidents’ Trophy as well. Either way, this is another reminder of how remarkable this surge has been for a Bruins team that was once 6-7-4 this season.

The B’s are justified in setting their sights higher than merely securing a playoff spot. For all we know, this could end up being one of the most captivating races down the stretch.

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.

Stars’ Klingberg is building serious Norris argument

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From Nicklas Lidstrom to Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman, NHL fans are used to Swedish defensemen being involved in Norris Trophy talks, and often winning the award outright. It’s about time that we add another name to the conversation: John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars.

Some might roll their eyes when points come up in the Norris discussion, but how could they not, especially in Klingberg’s case?

After collecting three assists in the Stars’ 7-1 Saturday squash of the Sabres, Klingberg now has a whopping 46 points in just 48 games. As of this writing, Klingberg leads all defensemen by 10 points. If he maintains that margin for the remainder of the 2017-18 season, it will be tough to deny Klingberg the first Norris Trophy in Stars history.

Klingberg’s 46 points tie him with Jamie Benn for the team points lead, and place him in a multi-player tie for 18th overall in the NHL.

About two weeks ago, Jamie Benn told the Dallas Morning News’ Mike Heika that Klingberg deserves consideration.

“One hundred percent,” Benn said. “He’s such a dynamic player, and a leader on this team. And I think this year he’s taking his game to another level, and it’s showing out there on the ice.”

It’s not just about the scoring. Klingberg is getting the ice time you’d expect from a Norris hopeful, with an average of 23:33 per game. While that isn’t in the Drew Doughty range, it shows that the slick Swede is a go-to guy for the Stars (he easily leads Dallas in ice time).

His all-around game is impressive. You can see strong possession stats at a glance at Hockey Reference, and with just 14 penalty minutes so far, he’s not hurting his team with bad discipline. While he’s not a primary penalty killer for Dallas, there’s some trust in that area, as he’s averaging 1:18 PK time per contest.

Maybe you’d lean more toward Doughty, Brent Burns, P.K. Subban, or Karlsson – it’s a dynamic and deep field this year – but Klingberg deserves consideration, and he’s already drawing favorable comparisons to beloved Stars blueliner Sergei Zubov (without the in-game smoking breaks, one would assume).

You could argue that Klingberg has been one of the greatest beneficiaries to Ken Hitchcock’s return to Dallas.

Not that long ago, Klingberg was suffering through healthy scratches as the Stars experienced a wildly disappointing 2016-17 season. Now he’s easily on pace to surpass his career-high of 58 points, and Klingberg might just collect some hardware in the process.

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.