NHL teams provided injury news updates on Monday, with the most noteworthy bits revolving around players dealing with concussions. Let’s sort through that mixed bag:
- First, we’ll begin with promising news. Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan considers Matt Murray to be “an option” to play on Tuesday against the New York Islanders. That said, it’s a preliminary viewpoint, as Sullivan wants to see how Murray handles practice.
You’d get the impression that the optimism is high despite that caveat, as the Penguins sent Tristan Jarry back to the AHL today. That could still change, but the team must feel a lot more confident about Murray being ready for the postseason.
[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]
- In other positive concussion news for goalies, Carey Price is considered “100 percent” by the Montreal Canadiens, though he’s not expected to play on Monday.
Actually, it’s worth questioning whether it’s really worth risking Price’s health in meaningless games for Montreal, especially when you note that he’s frequently suffered from bad injury luck lately. Sure, he wants to play; that ambition is part of what makes him great. Concussions can be tricky, though, and you wonder if the reward would justify the risks involved.
- Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba is in “concussion protocol,” according to TSN’s Sara Orlesky. Trouba will reportedly see specialists, which isn’t that shocking considering how shaken up he looked after getting the worst of a hard collision with Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars:
- Also brutal: Noah Hanifin is out indefinitely in dealing with a concussion, via the Carolina Hurricanes.
The 21-year-old set a new career-high with eight goals this season, and despite being limited to 71 games, he matched last season’s peak of 29 points. Hanifin is starting to show why he was the fifth pick of the 2015 NHL Draft as part of a stacked Hurricanes defense, yet much like his team, it looks like his season’s going to end on a low note.
Hopefully he’ll be able to rebound fully in 2018-19.
The silver lining for injuries in sports is that one player’s absence opens the door for someone else to prove their worth.
(Kurt Warner and Tom Brady gave that sentence a big thumbs up.)
With the regular season winding down, the Boston Bruins are hoping to push the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Atlantic Division title and the conference’s top seed, but they’re probably just as hopeful that some key players will be healthy by the playoffs. That ship has sailed for Anders Bjork, yet they’re crossing their fingers regarding players dealing with a variety of maladies: Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Backes, Jake DeBrusk and Charlie McAvoy.
[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]
Such injuries might at least partially explain the timing of the Ryan Donato signing, and they’ll absolutely open up a chance for him to echo McAvoy in showing that he’s a quick study at the NHL level. Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick discussed as much on Sunday:
Donato already likely made an impact on viewers who saw him shine for the U.S. during the 2018 Winter Olympics, and logically enough, he’s slated to join fellow Olympian Brian Gionta (and Noel Acciari) on the team’s third line. Gionta came away impressed with Donato from their brief run together, as the Bruins website notes:
“He was unreal,” Gionta said of Donato’s five-goal, six-point Olympic performance. “He was probably our best player over there. Extremely composed, great shot, great release, great hockey sense. It will all equate well to this level as well.”
While that’s not too shabby an opportunity for his NHL debut, it’s special teams where Donato gets a fascinating, golden opportunity. Via Left Wing Lock, it appears as though Donato will be on the top unit along with Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Rick Nash, and Torey Krug.
Wow. One couldn’t set the table much better in Boston, particularly for a player who’s touted for a high hockey IQ.
There’s also the matter of having hockey in his blood.
This situation serves as a full-circle moment for Donato and Patrice Bergeron. You see, Bergeron says he learned a lot from Ryan’s father Ted Donato as an 18-year-old rookie with the Bruins:
Even if Donato struggles at first – certainly a possibility, considering that he’s jumping right into the mix, including tonight’s game against a peaking Blue Jackets team – it’s a great story.
Donato has a real chance to make an impact, though. If he can help an already-impressive Bruins team roll out a deeper scoring attack, then watch out. Tonight’s game against Columbus stands as his first opportunity to show that he can hang at the NHL level, and maybe plant the seed that he deserves a significant role even once other forwards get healthy.
You can divide Monday’s five games into two categories: playoff-positioned teams battling it out and then games where favorites need to take care of business.
In the cases of the Panthers and especially Flames, it’s about catching up to the pack before they run out of time.
Let’s begin with the more crowded Western Conference playoff picture:
The lowest-impact “taking care of business” game comes for the Nashville Predators, who currently top the NHL with 104 standings points. Beating the Sabres is all about widening leads in the division, conference, and league; getting a victory here will only embolden Peter Laviolette to rest players for the postseason push.
Meanwhile, the Wild host the Kings in one of tonight’s two “test your might” games. Minnesota has developed a solid cushion for the Central Division’s third spot – granted, facing the Jets isn’t much of a “prize” – but adding more points would help hold off the Avalanche. The Kings have a lot more on the line, as they need to provide themselves with breathing room ahead of the bubble teams in the West.
Delightfully, you can watch Kings – Wild on NBCSN tonight starting at 8 p.m. ET. The game is also available on our Live Stream.
Finally, the Flames need to take care of business against a team outside the playoffs more than anyone else tonight. Calgary’s dropped three of four games and face a stretch of three of four games on the road. The Coyotes have been more competitive lately, but perhaps that will make this less of a trap game?
[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]
The Florida Panthers can’t be pleased that they’ve dropped two of their last three games, as they likely wanted to gather momentum heading into a road-heavy end of March. Beginning with tonight’s game in Montreal, the Panthers face a three-game road trip and seven of eight games away from home.
As much as their games in hand seem like points in the making, actually converting those opportunities into wins could be a challenge. Really, it’s all about avoiding falling into traps:
Mon, Mar 19 @ Montreal
Tue, Mar 20 @ Ottawa
Thu, Mar 22 @ Columbus
Sat, Mar 24 vs Arizona
Mon, Mar 26 @ NY Islanders
Wed, Mar 28 @ Toronto
Thu, Mar 29 @ Ottawa
Sat, Mar 31 @ Boston
With a game against the Habs, Islanders, and Coyotes, along with two contests against the Senators, the Panthers need to dig deep, even with a lot of away games coming up.
Finally, in the East’s “test your might” game, we have the resilient Boston Bruins taking on the red-hot Columbus Blue Jackets in Boston. The Blue Jackets are winners of seven straight games while, even with injuries and other hurdles to clear, the B’s have won eight of 10 contests. It should be a great barometer for where both teams are heading into the final weeks of 2017-18.
If the playoffs began today:
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils
Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Nashville Predators vs. Los Angeles Kings
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche
Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
San Jose Sharks vs. Anaheim Ducks
Columbus Blue Jackets at Boston Bruins, 7 p.m. ET
Nashville Predators at Buffalo Sabres, 7 p.m. ET
Florida Panthers at Montreal Canadiens, 7:30 p.m. ET
Los Angeles Kings at Minnesota Wild, 8 p.m. ET
Calgary Flames at Arizona Coyotes, 10 p.m. ET
For two decades the Detroit Red Wings were on top of the NHL (or at least consistently close to it) and one of the elite franchises in the league. Always in the playoffs, usually a legitimate threat to win it all, and a Stanley Cup Finalist six times between 1995 and 2009, more than any other team in the league during that stretch.
Eventually that run was going to end, and in recent seasons you could kind of see the slide slowly starting to begin. They stopped winning in the playoffs. They had become a team that would get into the top-eight but never really go anywhere once they got there. Core players got older. The scouting staff and farm system wasn’t finding and developing Hall of Famers in the back half of the draft anymore.
The team was clearly starting to descend down the mountain.
That descent has now turned into a complete collapse, and they may have hit rock bottom over the past couple of weeks.
At least for this season. Who knows how much deeper this can go in future seasons.
After being systematically dismantled by Nathan MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday, the Red Wings enter the week having lost 10 games in a row, have one of the worst records in the NHL, and just look … bad.
The most concerning thing of all, though, is that this is not just a bad team this season, it is one of the oldest teams in the NHL, one of the most expensive teams in the NHL, and 15 of the players on the roster are under contract for next season with more than $58 million in cap space committed to them.
Even worse: Who on this team is a player that can be the centerpiece of any sort of a rebuild or offer legitimate hope for the future?
Dylan Larkin is still only 21 years old and has shown flashes of being an impact player at various times in his young career. But he has also 23 goals … over the past two years. Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou look like they could be useful players, but they are not franchise building blocks. Gustav Nyquist is going to be 29 next season and has topped 50 points once in his career. There is not one player on the defense right now that is under the age of 27 and other than Mike Green all of them are signed through at least next season.
All of that, including the recent 10-game losing streak, has them sitting in the No. 31 spot in this week’s PHT Power Rankings.
Where does everyone else sit?
To the rankings!
1. Nashville Predators — These guys have not lost a game in regulation since Feb. 17 and have only lost two in regulation since the beginning of February. Best record in the league, hottest team in the league, where else are they going to be in the standings?
3. Tampa Bay Lightning — They have not played their best hockey lately … and they are still 10-2-1 over their past 13 games. Insanity.
4. Winnipeg Jets — Patrik Laine is still an unstoppable force right now. Ovechkin-like in his recent dominance.
The rest of the contenders
5. Toronto Maple Leafs — They have not had Auston Matthews, their best player, since Feb. 22 and are still 6-2-2 in 10 games without him and enter the week riding a four-game winning streak.
6. Vegas Golden Knights — They are only 7-6-1 in their past 14 games and starting to cool off just slightly. Still have a firm grip on the Pacific Division and William Karlsson is going to score more than 40 goals this season. What a season.
7. Washington Capitals — Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s injury could be a big deal in the short-term. Also sort of a big deal: What is going on with the goalie situation where Philip Grubauer is taking some starts from Braden Holtby. And playing really, really, really well.
8. Minnesota Wild — Eric Staal is two goals away from what would be his third 40-goal season. Only six other active players (Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Gaborik, Rick Nash, and Marian Hossa — technically he is still active) have at least three such seasons.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins — Goaltending is still a huge question mark with Matt Murray sidelined, but he seems to be getting closer to a return. The Penguins need him if they are going to win a third consecutive Stanley Cup.
The middle ground
10. Columbus Blue Jackets — With seven wins in a row they have not only solidified their playoff position, they have a real chance to get back into the top-three in the Metropolitan Division. Would that give them the best possible matchup in the first-round, though (potentially playing Pittsburgh instead of Washington)?
11. San Jose Sharks — Not many people are talking about the Sharks but they are going for home-ice in the first-round and have won seven of their past nine games. All of this without Joe Thornton for most of the season.
12. Colorado Avalanche — They have earned at least a point in 12 of their past 14 games and Nathan MacKinnon is playing like the league MVP. They are quietly making a push at a top-three spot in the Central Division.
13. New Jersey Devils — After going five consecutive games without a point, No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischer has bounced back with five points in his past five games. He may not be Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews as a No. 1 overall pick, but he is the second-leading scorer on a playoff team as a 19-year-old. That is impressive.
14. Philadelphia Flyers — Petr Mrazek has not been good since arriving in Philadelphia, carrying an .888 save percentage with the Flyers into the week.
15. Anaheim Ducks — Rickard Rakell is making a run for the title of “NHL’s most underrated player.” He is currently in the middle of his second straight 30-goal season.
16. St. Louis Blues — It is kind of amazing they are still hanging around. They looked finished a week ago but four wins in five games has kept their playoff hopes alive.
17. Los Angeles Kings — They are clinging to a playoff spot but their inconsistency has made it impossible for them to put any distance between them and the rest of the pack.
18. Florida Panthers — All of that work to get back into the playoff race then they lose home games to Ottawa and Edmonton and now have to play seven of their next eight games on the road.
19. Calgary Flames — Mike Smith had a great season prior to his injury and his absence was a big part of their late season slide. His return has not yet made an impact as he has given up 10 goals in his first two starts.
20. Dallas Stars — There is never a good time to lose eight out of 10, but the worst possible time to do it is late in the season when you are in the middle of a tight playoff race with five other teams. They are spending way too much money to be this mediocre.
21. Edmonton Oilers — Connor McDavid is trying to win the scoring title for the second year in a row, and with the way he is going right now it would probably not be wise to bet against him. It is appalling that the team around him is so bad.
23. Carolina Hurricanes — This season has been the past few years of this organization in a nutshell. Just enough to build up excitement, seem like they are getting close, then fell apart.
24. Chicago Blackhawks — Alex DeBrincat has three hat tricks this season and is tied for the team lead in goals as a rookie. He has been a bright spot in a lost season.
25. Ottawa Senators — They had a chance to play spoiler with three wins in a row recently, including two over playoff hopefuls Florida and Dallas.
26. Arizona Coyotes — They still have the worst record in the league, but as we said a week ago they haven’t played like the worst team in the league for a few weeks. And have you seen the teams below them lately? Yikes.
27. Buffalo Sabres — Jack Eichel is back which should give Sabres fans something worthwhile to watch down the stretch.
28. New York Islanders — They have won five of their past 22 games and only one of their past 12. What else is left to say? The only win for this team this season is they own Calgary’s first (and second) round draft pick which should give them two shots at the draft lottery.
A tier all their own at the bottom
30. Vancouver Canucks — Sometimes it seems like we have not really paid much attention to just how bad the Canucks have been over the past three seasons.
31. Detroit Red Wings — Ten. Games. In. A Row.