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NHL Power Rankings: Bruins contenders again

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If you were starting to get worried that sports fans in Boston didn’t have enough good things to be happy about lately I am here to bring you some good news: Their hockey team is looking like a legitimate contender again. Especially now that they are healthy.

The Bruins enter play on Tuesday on a 15-3-2 run over their past 20 games, are one of the best possession teams in hockey, and have three of the best forwards in the league (Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak) at the top of their lineup to drive the offense.

One of biggest developments though are the fact they have rebuilt their defense over the past couple of years with an infusion of young talent, including one of the league’s top rookies in Charlie McAvoy. He is not only playing more than 23 minutes per game, but is also playing them at an extremely high level. Once the strength of their roster, the Bruins defense took a significant hit in recent years due to age, the salary cap, and some trades that depleted their depth. With Torey Krug taking a big step forward and the development of McAvoy and Brandon Carlo that unit is once again a formidable one for a contender.

Then there is the resurgence of starting goaltender Tuukka Rask.

It’s not that Rask was necessarily bad the past two seasons, but he wasn’t really the same player we saw when he was helping lead the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final in 2013 and was one of the top goalies in the league. After posting some league average numbers the past two seasons Rask is back to performing like one of the top goalies in the league and has been nearly unbeatable during the Bruins’ recent hot streak.

Entering play on Tuesday he is 10-0-1 in his past 11 decisions, a stretch where he has allowed just 15 goals. He has allowed more than two goals just once during that stretch and more than one goal just four times.

The Bruins crack the top-five in our power rankings this week.

Let us check in and see where everyone else fits in.

The Best Of The Best

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — The Lightning are running away with the top spot in the Eastern Conference. They enter Tuesday with a seven-point lead over the Capitals and have still played two fewer games. What is not to love about this team right now? They deserve their own category at the moment.

The Elites

2. Vegas Golden Knights — At this point they are not just the best expansion team in NHL history, they are on their way to becoming the best expansion team in any of the four major sports. Another long winning streak, 9-0-1 in their past 10 games. Simply the best NHL story in decades.

3. Washington Capitals — Here come the Capitals. After winning just 10 of their first 20 games they have stormed back over the next 20 by going 14-4-2. They enter Tuesday a point ahead of the Devils in the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

4. New Jersey Devils — If it wasn’t for what Vegas is doing these guys would probably be the biggest surprise in the league this season. The biggest individual player surprise? Brian Gibbons is tied for the team lead in goals at the moment.

5. Boston Bruins — Starting to look like a contender for all of the reasons mentioned above.

6. Los Angeles Kings — Still having a great season but have cooled off a bit since we last checked in on the power rankings. The top of the roster is great, but still some questions about the bottom half.

The Strong Contenders

7. Nashville Predators — Their depth is going to be tested for a bit here without Filip Forsberg. He was on pace for another 30-goal season before he landed on injured reserve.

8. Winnipeg Jets — I feel like Patrik Laine isn’t getting enough attention this season. He is on pace for 37 goals and if he gets there would have two 35-goal seasons before his age 20 season in the NHL. That has only been done by four players in NHL history: Brian Bellows, Jimmy Carson, Sidney Crosby and Dale Hawerchuk.

9. St. Louis Blues — They have hit their first slump of the season, winning just three of their past 10 games.  Not time to panic yet. It happens over the course of an 82-game season.

The Rest Of The Best

10. New York Rangers — They don’t always look great, but they keep stacking up points. Their upcoming schedule though is absolutely brutal and is going to be a huge test.

11. Toronto Maple Leafs — We’re back the wild, high-scoring games that have to be driving Mike Babcock crazy. Their recent road trip was not particularly kind to them, but they get a lot of home cooking over the next few weeks.

12. Columbus Blue Jackets — They have given up at least four goals in six of their past 10 games, including five games where they have surrendered at least five. Not what we are used to seeing from this team the past couple of seasons.

The Middle Ground

13. San Jose Sharks — Joe Pavelski is on pace for what would be (on a per-game basis) the worst goal-scoring season of his career. Shot volume has taken a bit of a dip, but not as big as the drop in shooting percentage. Little bit of bad luck at play? If that corrects itself could be a huge development or the Sharks in the second half.

14. Carolina Hurricanes — They are right on the playoff bubble with what is, once again, one of the worst team save percentages in the NHL. How does this keep happening every single season no matter who the goalie is? They are so, so, so close. It is almost painful how close they are.

15. New York Islanders — Josh Bailey is on pace for more than 100 points. This probably is not getting the attention it deserves.

16. Dallas Stars — Very hot and cold team. Still should probably expect more given what the top of their roster looks like and how many big moves they make every summer.

17. Minnesota Wild — They are finally getting Zach Parise back. Getting him back healthy, as well as Nino Neiderreiter, could make this a interesting team. They have hung around despite those two major injuries.

18. Chicago Blackhawks — Corey Crawford‘s injury problems are starting to become a concern, especially as the team has only won two games this season with him out of the lineup.

19. Philadelphia Flyers — Very quietly Claude Giroux is on pace for what would be a career high in points. His career high was 93 points (in 77 games) in 2011-12. He is currently on track for 99 if he is able to play in all 82 games this season (and maintain this same pace).

Running Out Of Time To Make A Move

20. Florida Panthers — The Panthers have won five in a row and are trying to make a little bit of a move in the Eastern Conference. But is that winning streak a case of too little, too late? Even with it they are still five points out of a playoff spot with four teams ahead of them.

21. Anaheim Ducks — Getting their centers back healthy might make a pretty big difference. They have won four out of five and are, as of Tuesday, back into a playoff position.

22. Calgary Flames — Johnny Gaudreau is amazing but this really is not the way the Flames envisioned this season going, especially after their big offseason moves.

23. Colorado Avalanche — Exciting offense plus bad defense and goaltending can at least make for some fun hockey. If you’re going to miss the playoffs again you should at least be entertaining. Nathan MacKinnon alone has been worth the price of admission this season.

24. Pittsburgh Penguins — The “played a lot of hockey the past two years” excuse is starting to get old. It is simply a flawed team that has too many empty roster spots (like, for example, the entire fourth line and a big part of the third line) at the moment. Out of their 13 games in December they only won two of them in regulation.

25. Edmonton Oilers — They showed some signs of life with a four-game winning streak in mid-December but then followed it up with a three-game losing streak. That gap between them and a playoff spot really is not getting any smaller.

Not Too Early To Start Looking To Next Season

26. Detroit Red Wings — At this point it’s just a matter of watching to see when — or if — they start making trades. Mike Green would probably be an attractive player. Could they find a taker for Jimmy Howard?

27. Montreal Canadiens — Don’t trade Max Pacioretty at his lowest value. Don’t trade Max Pacioretty at his lowest value. Don’t trade Max Pacioretty at his lowest value. Don’t trade Max Pacioretty at his lowest value. Don’t trade Max Pacioretty at his lowest value. Don’t trade Max Pacioretty at his lowest value. Don’t trade Max Pacioretty at his lowest value. Don’t trade Max Pacioretty at his lowest value.

28. Vancouver Canucks — It was fun for a little bit in Vancouver this season, but it is just not their time yet.

29. Buffalo Sabres — Hey, at least the Bills are going to the playoffs!

30. Ottawa Senators —  Since starting the season 8-3-5 the Senators have gone 4-14-3 and completely fallen apart. Things are looking grim.

31. Arizona Coyotes — Tough situation. Extremely young team that has some talent that you should be excited about but is just overmatched on most nights.

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.

Predators place forward Viktor Arvidsson on injured reserve

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Nashville Predators have placed forward Viktor Arvidsson on injured reserve with a lower-body injury and recalled forward Frederick Gaudreau from the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals.

The Predators made the move Tuesday afternoon.

Arvidsson was helped off the ice Monday during practice, and The Tennessean reports he tested himself during Tuesday morning’s skate.

The forward ranks third on the Predators with 13 goals and fourth with 27 points. The Predators already have Filip Forsberg on injured reserve with an upper-body injury.

Gaudreau has played 18 games with the Predators with three assists. He had 14 points in 21 games with the Admirals this season.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers at New York Rangers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Tuesday night, as the New York Rangers host the Philadelphia Flyers at 7:00 p.m. ET.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Rangers

Rick NashMika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich
Mats ZuccarelloJ.T. Miller – Vinni Lettieri
Jimmy VeseyDavid DesharnaisPaul Carey
Michael Grabner – Peter Holland – Jesper Fast

Ryan McDonaghNick Holden
Brady SkjeiKevin Shattenkirk
Marc StaalSteven Kampfer

Startling goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

[Flyers look to push winning streak to five games against Rangers]

Flyers

Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny
Michael RafflValtteri FilppulaJakub Voracek
Jordan WealNolan PatrickWayne Simmonds
Taylor LeierScott LaughtonJori Lehtera

Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere
Robert HaggAndrew MacDonald
Brandon ManningRadko Gudas

Startling goalie: Brian Elliott

 

Golden Knights’ defense coming into focus with signings

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As the Vegas Golden Knights’ success gradually goes from shocking to accepted, there’s still the question of what this team might look like next season and beyond. Such questions are only natural when you consider all the key players who still need contract extensions.

Golden Knights management is chipping away at those questions regarding their defense in 2018-19, particularly this week.

On Monday, the Golden Knights signed local favorite and rugged defenseman Deryk Engelland to a one-year extension worth $1.5 million. (That deal includes $1M in potential performance bonuses, according to Cap Friendly.)

One day later, the team announced a two-year extension for Jon Merrill (pictured). The deal is for $2.75M overall, so it will make for a $1.375M cap hit in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

The Golden Knights now have five defensemen on their current roster who are signed through 2018-19, if not longer: Engelland, Merrill, Nate Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, and Brad Hunt. McNabb is locked up the longest, with a $2.5M cap hit kicking in next season and expiring after 2020-21.

The most interesting remaining defensemen to sort out are Colin Miller and Shea Theodore, both pending RFAs. The Golden Knights have been buying up blueliners at bargain rates, but Theodore and Miller could be tougher nuts to crack contracts-wise. (Two UFA defensemen Luca Sbisa and Clayton Stoner on IR.)

Quick look at Engelland and Merrill

Engelland, 35, has been one of the Golden Knights’ ice time leaders with 19:39 per night, collecting 13 points while limiting his time in the penalty box (16 PIM in 41 games) compared to his usual numbers. He’s not perfect, but it’s conceivable that he’ll be worth that minimal cost to Vegas, especially since he’s an ambassador for the still-new franchise.

While Vegas hopes Engelland can bring that veteran presence for another year, they’re likely banking on Merrill to be more effective at a cheap rate.

The 25-year-old has been dealing with injuries and other issues, limiting him to 14 games played.

***

These defensive signings aren’t as important as locking up Jonathan Marchessault, nor is it as crucial as making the right call with the likes of James Neal and David Perron. With Malcolm Subban and Marc-Andre Fleury seeing their deals expire after 2018-19, management will need to make some goaltending decisions not that long from now.

A little bit of greed can inspire players to go that extra mile and stay that much hungrier, yet it’s also comforting to sometimes have some answers. After this week, there’s some clarity on the blueline, even if some decisions still need to be made.

And, hey, the Golden Knights haven’t really locked themselves into bad contracts yet. Old teams could probably learn a thing or two from these new kids.

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.

Johnny Gaudreau is playing best hockey of NHL career

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Maybe it’s because Johnny Gaudreau has been a productive scorer since day one. Almost literally.

Gaudreau scored a goal in his first NHL game with the Calgary Flames, his only appearance in 2013-14. The slick, undersized forward then generated 24 goals and 64 points as a rookie in 2014-15, and really hasn’t missed a beat.

While there were plenty of questions heading into 2017-18 for Calgary – goaltending, Jaromir Jagr, depth on defense and offense – everyone just assumed Gaudreau would keep scoring. So perhaps that explains why people aren’t making much of a deal about Gaudreau scoring even more than usual.

As of Tuesday, Gaudreau is in a four-way tie for second in NHL scoring with 54 points.

After scoring two goals and six assists for eight points in four games, the Flames forward was named NHL’s first star of the week, ahead of teammate Mike Smith (also red-hot). His point streak actually extends into 2017, a stretch of seven games, five of which were multi-point (two goals, 11 assists for 13 points).

Gaudreau set career-highs in goals (30) and points (78) in 79 games back in 2015-16. While he’s at a solid goal-scoring clip of 15 so far this season, his playmaking is what might make this his best work. Gaudreau is averaging 1.2 points-per game, a pace of about 98 points during an 82-game season.

Upon hearing about Gaudreau’s All-Star nod about a week ago, Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan did a great job summarizing what makes him so effective.

“I think he gets the best looks in the National Hockey League,” Gulutzan said, via the Calgary Sun. “He puts himself into position every game to create and shoot. Just the way he navigates himself on the ice and can handle the puck, it’s pretty amazing. For not a big guy, he can strip guys of pucks and get those kind of opportunities, too. It’s a combination of speed, agility and high hockey I.Q. that allows him to do it. He’s our engine for generating offense.”

This goal Gaudreau scored against the Stars on Nov. 24 is a great example of his ability to “strip guys of pucks,” and why he’s such a nightmare to defend.

Gaudreau and the Flames are currently resting up on a bye week, and hopefully not getting too rusty, as Calgary owns the longest active winning streak in the NHL at seven games. Beginning on Saturday, the Flames will play six of their next seven games at home, so there’s a solid chance that they’ll keep their strong play going.

If so, the Flames – and Gaudreau – will be difficult to ignore.

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.