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PHT Power Rankings: Flyers worth watching

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The Philadelphia Flyers did something that should have been nearly impossible a season ago by winning 10 games in a row and then somehow missing the playoffs. How does that even happen?

This season they are trying to reverse that performance.

After losing 10 games in a row earlier this season the Flyers now find themselves in a pretty good position to make the playoffs.

After their win in Vegas on Sunday night (only the fourth team to win a game in Vegas in regulation this season) the Flyers find themselves in third place in the Metropolitan Division, just one point behind the second place Penguins and five points behind the first place Washington Capitals. They also have a five-point cushion over the pack of non-playoff teams in the Eastern Conference.

Since that 10-game losing streak came to an end the Flyers are 20-8-2 in the 30 games that have followed. That is a 115-point pace over 82 games.

How many teams have a better record over that stretch? Two. The Boston Bruins and the Vegas Golden Knights.

They have three of the top-17 point producers in the NHL in Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Sean Couturier (Giroux and Voracek are both in the top-seven), a great power forward in Wayne Simmonds, and some really intriguing young talent in Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Nolan Patrick. They just need to get a little more out of Brian Elliott to really be on to something.

They have been on the rise in our power rankings in recent weeks and check in this week just outside of the top-10.

Here is the rest of the list.

The Elites

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — The Lightning have been the top team in the NHL from almost day one. Great group of forwards. One of the top defenseman in the NHL. A front-line starting goalie. Now try to imagine them with Ryan McDonagh on their blue line on top of all of that. It could happen.

2. Boston Bruins — Tuukka Rask went nearly two months between losses in regulation. With him playing like an elite goalie once again the Bruins look like they are going to be a force. Patrice Bergeron is having another wonderful season. Is he an MVP candidate? Maybe he should be. History is not kind to his chances though.

3. Vegas Golden Knights — The more I watch the Golden Knights the more I think they have a legitimate shot to win the Western Conference. Fast. Skilled up front. Good goaltending. They have a lot going for them.

4. Nashville Predators — How much will Mike Fisher be able to provide? Expectations should be kept within reason, but their center depth is ridiculous. That was their biggest undoing in the Stanley Cup Final a year ago. Should not be a problem this year.

The Strong Contenders

5. Winnipeg Jets — The fact they kept winning as much as they did without Mark Scheifele in the lineup is a great example as to how deep this team has become.

6. Washington Capitals — Are they as good as their record? Tough to say because they give up a ton of shots and their possession numbers are not great, but Braden Holtby is a game-changer. So is that Alex Ovechkin guy.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins — Their big three up front with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel is still on a roll right now. Also starting to get on a little bit of  a roll lately? Matt Murray. If he gets going again for this team, watch out.

8. Dallas Stars — Okay, maybe I undersold the Stars a bit in last week’s power rankings. Let’s try to correct that this week.

9. Toronto Maple Leafs — Their defense stinks, but they have a ridiculous group of forwards that can score with anybody in the NHL and a goalie that is playing really, really, really well. They have a tough path through the playoffs, but it is still an exciting team. They have also won eight of their past 10 games entering play on Monday.

10. St. Louis Blues — They do not seem to get a lot of love but they have a really good record, one of the best players in the world in Vladimir Tarasenko, and have won eight of their past 12 games.

Close To Contenders

11. Philadelphia Flyers — At least they are never boring. They have been one of the best teams in the league over the past two months.

12. Los Angeles Kings — I really don’t know what to make of this team. They enter the week on the outside of the playoff picture … but they are also two points away from being in second place in the Pacific Division. They also have the fourth best goal differential in the Western Conference and are still tough to score against and control possession.

The Middle Of The Pack

13. San Jose Sharks — After a slow start to the season Brent Burns is once again one of the top scoring defenders in the NHL. They are going to need him to carry the offense with Joe Thornton sidelined.

14. Minnesota Wild — This is where things start to get a little bit messy in the West. A bunch of teams all thrown together, only separated by a handful of points. The Wild with a healthy Zach Parise and Nino Neiderreiter could be an intriguing team out of that group.

15. Calgary Flames — They better hope Mike Smith‘s injury is not serious. He has been really good this season and they can not afford to lose him.

16. New Jersey Devils — They are trending in the wrong direction. Fortunately they built themselves a nice cushion early in the season, but that cushion is getting smaller and smaller with each loss.

17. Anaheim Ducks — I keep thinking a healthy Ducks team could make a big move but it hasn’t really happened yet. Losses in four of their past six have not helped.

18. Carolina Hurricanes — They keep hanging around and are not going away. They open the week in a playoff spot and have a pretty good shot to end that postseason drought.

19. Columbus Blue Jackets — Really disappointing team right now. I thought the addition of Artemi Panarin was going to be a game-changer for them. He has been great, but the rest of the offense has gone in the tank lately. Now they are in a fight just to make the playoffs.

20. New York Islanders — They are dangerously close to wasting what has been a great offense and great seasons from John Tavares, Josh Bailey and Mat Barzal. The latter is having one of the best rookie seasons we have seen in the NHL in years.

21. Colorado Avalanche — After winning 10 in a row the Avalanche have now dropped six of their past nine. Losing Nathan MacKinnon has hurt a ton.

22. New York Rangers — They pretty much admitted they are going to be sellers and trade off anyone they can. They are still “in it” but once they start dealing players like Rick Nash and Michael Grabner, and perhaps even Ryan McDonagh or Mats Zuccarello, it is hard to see them being in it for much longer.

Buy A Lottery Ticket

23. Florida Panthers — They had a nice winning streak to make things a little interesting, but it was probably too little, too late.

24. Chicago Blackhawks — After losing to the Minnesota Wild in regulation the Blackhawks sit 10 points out of a playoff spot with four teams ahead of them. That might have been it for the Blackhawks this season. Corey Crawford might be back soon but he can not save this season.

25. Detroit Red Wings — Having a 5-2 lead with six minutes to play and then losing by giving up four goals on a five-minute power play might have been one of the low points of the season.

26. Montreal Canadiens — The Canadiens current players are probably tired of hearing about P.K. Subban, but that’s too bad. Historically dumb trades that set a franchise back always get remembered and talked about.

27. Vancouver Canucks — They dominated the Dallas Stars to end what had been a pretty miserable four-game road trip. So they at least have that going for them.

28. Ottawa Senators — They did win four of their past six games but … this team is still not very good. Neither is the entire situation with the team. Like the Rangers they recently hinted that a rebuild is on the way.

29. Edmonton Oilers — There was a four-game stretch here recently where Connor McDavid scored seven goals and recorded 10 points. The Edmonton Oilers won only one of those games. That pretty much sums up what this team is right now. Connor McDavid then a bunch of guys just occupying the roster.

30. Buffalo Sabres — Jack Eichel was the only thing this team really had going for it right now. Now he is injured with a high ankle sprain.

31. Arizona Coyotes — It is not a matter of effort, it is simply a lack of talent. A ridiculously young team with too many holes to compete.

————

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.

Trade: Rangers send Grabner to Devils

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The New York Rangers signaled that they’re still open for business – and aren’t taking injury chances – by making Ryan McDonagh, Michael Grabner, and Rick Nash healthy scratches in Thursday’s eventual loss to Montreal. It wasn’t long before they showed why.

The Rangers, daringly, traded with local rivals in the New Jersey Devils for the first time ever. Grabner serves as another significant forward the Devils have added via a trade.

The Trade: Devils acquire Michael Grabner from the Rangers; Rangers receive a second-round pick and prospect Igor (Yegor) Rykov.

Why the Devils made this trade: New Jersey is battling hard for playoff positioning, and things have been a little dicey lately, with two straight losses, even as Taylor Hall continues his red-hot scoring streak.

[Get up to date on a busy night on the ice for the Metro division]

Grabner gives the Devils more scoring punch, and considering his speed, he could really fit in well with the way New Jersey has been converting to the sort of attacking system that was once almost unthinkable.

Maybe New Jersey needs defense more, but is it that easy to come by? “Out-scoring your problems” is a fun strategy, either way. Grabner, 30, currently boasts a “Cy Young” stat line of 25-6 (25 goals, six assists) so far this season. Really, he might be the biggest winner of all; the pending unrestricted free agent could enjoy an even bigger raise from his bargain-basement $1.65 million cap hit if he powers the Devils during a playoff push.

Why the Rangers made this trade: Grabner’s contract expires after this season. Getting a second-round pick and a prospect is a nice return for a mid-level “rental.” The Rangers have made no mistake about being in liquidation mode, as Grabner continues the work they already began by moving Nick Holden. There could be quite a bit more coming for the Rangers.

It’s unclear if Rykov will be much more than a throw-in.

Some like the defenseman’s two-way game, and he’s maturing in the KHL. That said, the 20-year-old wasn’t drafted in 2015, while the Devils selected him in the fifth round (132nd overall) in 2016. All About the Jersey provided interesting instant feedback on Rykov when he was selected.

This is most likely about the second-rounder for the Rangers, although …

Who won the trade?

This is a straightforward deal. The Devils gamble a bit, but not enormously, to try to further their playoff push. There’s always the chance that Grabner would be a big hit in Newark and re-sign, but so far this sure looks like a short-term fix.

The Rangers get a fabulous return for what might just be a few months of Grabner’s services, which weren’t going to do them any good with their season going down the tubes. This could really get the ball rolling on a wave of moves, whether this franchise goes “full rebuild” or leans more toward a “reset.”

(Ah, sporting terminology …)

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.

Metro movement: Flyers gain on Capitals, Penguins

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Every now and then, it’s convenient to group the highly competitive Metropolitan Division’s games into a lightning round post. That was especially true here, but it seems reasonable enough tonight, too.

Let’s start at the bottom: the New York Rangers are just short of waving the white flag, as they lost to the Montreal Canadiens. The most relevant thing they did on Thursday was to make Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash, and Michael Grabner healthy scratches, a nod to the trade deadline. They’re stuck at 59 points in 61 games.

[BREAKING: Rangers reportedly send Grabner to the Devils(!)]

Now let’s rattle off the relevant results, going from the first-ranked Capitals and stepping down the ladder.

Inactive on Thursday: Penguins (74 points in 61 games played), Hurricanes (64 points in 60 GP)

Capitals drop emotional loss to Panthers, and (barely) in regulation

It seemed like Washington would shake off Roberto Luongo‘s much-see speech and grab a win during an emotional night in Florida. They had a 2-1 lead fairly deep into Thursday’s game.

The Panthers wouldn’t be denied. They ended up tying the game with less than four minutes remaining, and then Vincent Trocheck won it with just 20 seconds left in regulation. Leaving this one empty-handed stings for the Caps, although in the grand scheme of things, it was nice for Florida to get to W.

[Luongo’s speech, Panthers’ emotional ceremony.]

Flyers virtually tie second-ranked Penguins, beat Blue Jackets in regulation.

On paper, this wasn’t a pretty 2-1 win for the Flyers. Prevailing in regulation against a divisional opponent, thus limiting at least one threat from chipping away at their buffer? Now, that’s beautiful for Philly.

If you want a summary of how rapidly fortunes can change in the NHL, consider this: the Flyers have a very real chance to win this division mere months after losing 10 games in a row. Sports, everyone.

Both teams only managed 20 shots on goal, making for a pretty friendly way for Petr Mrazek to make his Flyers debut. Claude Giroux (goal, assist) and Shayne Gostisbehere (two assists) really powered the victory, too, as they were involved in both goals.

The Flyers are showing that they can win a variety of games … and with a variety of goalies. They’re now on a four-game winning streak, and are even better when you zoom out, going 8-0-2 in their past 10 games.

Mrazek got the Ric Flair treatment:

The bright side for the Blue Jackets is that they’re currently in the final wild-card position, even with frustrations piling up. Still, this was an opportunity to create some distance from opponents that are breathing down their necks …

Islanders fall to Maple Leafs, but it was in a shootout

… as the Islanders grabbed a “charity point.”

While the Blue Jackets are at 65 standings points in 61 games played for that final wild-card spot (and fifth in the Metro), the Islanders are close by with 65 points in 62 GP.

It was a thriller in Toronto, and while Doug Weight’s bunch deserves some kudos for hanging in there, they did see 2-0 and 3-2 leads dissolve.

The brightest side is probably that they might be making modest gains on defense, as they’ve limited opponents to 32 and 31 shots on goal during the past two contests. That’s progress for a team that recently saw goalies make 45 and 50-save shutouts.

Taylor Hall remains hot, but not enough for a win (again)

The New Jersey Devils fired 40 shots on goal, and Taylor Hall kept his remarkable scoring streak going. (Officially, his 26th goal of 2017-18 pushed him to 13 games, while others believe it’s 20 in a row.)

You’d think that would be a winning combination, but not exactly the quietly climbing Minnesota Wild, who ended up winning 4-2.

Still, that Hall kid is going to be OK, eh?

***

So, here is how the Metro looks after all of that action.

Capitals: 75 points in 61 games played (31 ROW)
Penguins: 74 points in 61 GP (33 ROW)
Flyers: 74 points in 61 GP (31 ROW)
Devils: 70 points in 61 GP (27 ROW)
Islanders: 65 points in 62 GP (26 ROW)
Hurricanes: 64 points in 60 GP (24 ROW)
Rangers, if you must: 59 points in 61 GP (24 ROW)

The Penguins also have 35 vanilla wins, while the Flyers are at 32.

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.

Panthers’ Luongo gives emotional speech about Florida school shooting

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Prior to Thursday’s game against the Washington Capitals, the Florida Panthers honored victims of last week’s shooting Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, which claimed the lives of 17 people.

Being that the high school is located about 14 miles from the Panthers’ BB&T Center, it’s not surprising that many players were highly emotional during the ceremony. Remarkably, Roberto Luongo gave an outstanding speech about his love for the Parkland area, where he’s spent 12 years of his life, and how the shootings affected his family and the community at large.

You can see a full transcript of Luongo’s emotional speech here and watch it in the video above this post’s headline.

NHL.com’s Nick Cotsonika noted earlier today that Luongo’s son experienced a scare last week:

That’s just one of Cotsonika’s tweets about this emotional night; his full feed is worth your time.

The Panthers projected names of the victims on the ice during the pre-game ceremony, and also provided this beautiful tribute:

It says a lot about the composure of Luongo and the Panthers to go from such an emotional ceremony into a game against the Capitals, especially considering moments like these:

For more information, particularly how to support those affected, the Panthers’ website is a great place to start. You can also find out more about the Panthers’ tribute in this earlier PHT post.

Sadly, nights like these have been far too common lately, but credit the NHL and its teams for heartfelt responses to tragedies. Much like the Vegas Golden Knights opening their inaugural season without ads on the boards and with an emotional presentation, the Panthers handled this situation with class.

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.

Canada, Russians get dream draw to reach gold-medal game

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Informed Germany had upset top-seeded Sweden and would be Canada’s semifinal opponent, Eric O’Dell’s unfiltered reaction didn’t last long.

”Oh yeah? Perfe – it doesn’t matter,” he said, abruptly changing what he was going to say. ”We’re ready for any team, and every team from here going forward’s going to be tough. It really didn’t matter for us, but we’ll be ready.”

Many Canadians share O’Dell’s initial surprise and happiness to face underdog Germany instead of Sweden, and the same can be said for Russians at least relieved to get the Czech Republic and not the faster United States. They have perhaps the best draws they could have imagined on a crash course to the gold-medal game at this Olympic tournament with no NHL players.

The two traditional hockey powerhouses have been clinical but not perfect in getting to this point and should have one final chance to get their games in order for what would be a tense final between two longtime rivals. But Canada overlooking Germany and the ”Olympic Athletes from Russia” overlooking Czech Republic would be a mistake.

”They belong in the semifinals,” Canada captain Chris Kelly said of the Germans. ”They’re playing well. They’ve won two overtime games and last game they were in control. They were up 3-1 in the third period, so we need to be at our best against them. We need to stay in the moment and focus on them. We can’t look too far ahead.”

Slovakia coach Craig Ramsay said before the tournament that if the Germans get good goaltending they can do some damage. They’ve gotten that from Danny aus den Birken, who has a 2.43 goals-against average and made 31 saves in a 4-3 overtime victory over Sweden.

Germany had never before beaten Sweden at the Olympics, and after doing so even coach Marco Sturm conceded his team’s expectations and goals have changed throughout the tournament.

”It’s our dream and we’re allowed to dream,” said Sturm, who played 14 NHL seasons before moving into coaching. ”I think all the athletes who are at the Olympics are allowed to dream and our dream came true and now we’re in the top four, so it can’t be better that.”

The two favorites came in expecting this, and after beating Norway in the quarterfinals, Russian captain Pavel Datsyuk said, ”Our dream’s still on.” The Czech Republic stands in their way, and the Russians watched it beat the United States and the defensive-minded team has improved every game.

”They are good,” former NHL player Ilya Kovalchuk said. ”They’re really strong, they won their group, they beat the Americans who is a really good team, so we need to be prepared.”

The Czech Republic will certainly be prepared and have no shortage of belief after knocking off the United States in a shootout. It has gotten similarly strong goaltending from Pavel Francouz, who has stopped nine of 10 attempts in two shootouts, including in the quarterfinals to eliminate the United States. The Czechs have a handful of former NHL players in Roman Cervenka, Jakub Nakladal and captain Martin Erat.

It’s starting to feel familiar to Hockey Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek, who led the Czech Republic to the gold medal in 1998 in Nagano by beating Canada and Russia.

”They don’t have as many stars as we did in Nagano, but they have some skilled players and they play like a team,” Hasek said by phone. ”It reminds me a little bit (of) our team in ’98. We didn’t have as many stars as Americans or Canadians, but we play as a team the best hockey.”

Canada has played some of its best hockey, too, and will likely have former New York Islanders goaltender Kevin Poulin in goal against Germany after he replaced injured starter Ben Scrivens during its 1-0 quarterfinal shutout of Finland. General manager Sean Burke called Scrivens day-to-day with a shoulder/collarbone injury and expects the veteran to return. Scrivens did not practice Thursday.

Burke, 51, was a goalie for 15 NHL seasons but isn’t eligible to suit up.

”It’s not me,” he said. ”Hopefully it’s somebody better than me.”