Connor McDavid

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Oilers need healthy Talbot to give them a spark during upcoming crucial stretch

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At the start of the season, the Edmonton Oilers were one of the favorites to win or at least make it to the Stanley Cup Final. But through 32 games, their season has looked more like a train-wreck than a victory parade in-waiting.

Only the Arizona Coyotes are below the Oilers in the Western Conference standings right now, which is still kind of surprising.

One of the biggest reasons they’ve struggled in the first third of the season is because of goalie Cam Talbot. First, he wasn’t very good at the start of the season. Talbot wasn’t providing his team with the solid goaltending he had given them last year.

Second, just as he was rounding into form, he suffered a upper-body injury that’s kept him out of the lineup since the end of November.

Prior to getting hurt, the 30-year-old had won three games in a row while allowing two goals in each of those outings. During his absence, Laurent Brossoit went 3-4-0. The Oilers backup netminder gave up three goals or more in four of those seven games.

On Friday, the Oilers (finally) got some positive news, as they activated their starting netminder from the injured list. According to head coach Todd McLellan, he’ll be between the pipes for Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Wild. Now, they just have to hope that he can pick up where he left off before landing on IR.

Earlier this season, Canadiens goaltender Carey Price was in a similar situation to Talbot’s. Price was awful out of the gate and the Canadiens were struggling. Nothing was going right for them. But after missing roughly three weeks with an injury, Price returned in tip-top shape. Even though Montreal is still outside of a playoff spot right now, they play of their goaltender has allowed them to get back into the race.

McLellan has to hope that Talbot’s “break” allowed him to get better and re-focus on the task at hand. Connor McDavid is still the face of the franchise, but he clearly can’t get the job done by himself.

Edmonton is about to jump into a crucial stretch of their season. After tomorrow’s game in Minnesota, they’ll play seven of their next eight games on home ice, where they have an ugly 5-10-0 record. If they want to get back in the playoff hunt, they’ll need to start racking up the wins at Rogers Place.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: McDavid dominates; Fleury’s unlucky return

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Player Of The Night: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

The Edmonton Oilers have at least started to show some signs of life in recent games. They were shutout on Sunday night in Toronto, but sandwiched around that game were a convincing 6-2 win in Montreal and then a thoroughly dominating 7-2 win in Columbus on Tuesday night that left Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella completely speechless.

Leading the way for the Oilers was captain Connor McDavid as he went off with a four-point night.

The four points are a season high for him and the fifth time this season he has recorded at least three points.

That performance gives him 39 points in 31 games on the season and currently has him third in the NHL scoring race, three points behind Tampa Bay Lightning teammates Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

Marc-Andre Fleury Probably Deserved Better In His Return To The Lineup

Marc-Andre Fleury made is return to the Vegas Golden Knights net and looked great, stopping 35 of the 37 shots he faced. Unfortunately that was not enough to get Vegas a win as they fell in a shootout to the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-2.

One of those two shots in regulation that beat him? It was this.

That is unfortunate.

Still, that is another point for Vegas as they continue their push for a playoff spot in the Western Conference during their inaugural season in the NHL.

Highlight Of The Night

The Philadelphia Flyers were 4-2 winners over the Toronto Maple Leafs and have now, suddenly, won four games in a row following a 10-game losing streak.

They picked up the winner on Tuesday thanks to this goal that featured a crazy between-the-legs pass.

Highlight Of The Night Part Two

Now let us take a look at Johnny Gaudreau from the Calgary Flames. This came in a losing effort in the shootout but this is still a slick move. Maybe illegal? Either way, it counted.

Factoid(s) Of The Night

— By stopping all 32 shots he faced against the St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy picked up his 20th win of the season. He is just the sixth goalie in NHL history to win at least 20 games within his first 25 starts of a season. [NHL Public Relations]

Matt Cullen scored his 250th career goal in the Minnesota Wild’s 2-1 shootout win over the Calgary Flames, making him the 29th American-born player in NHL history to reach that mark. [Minnesota Wild PR]

— Carolina Hurricanes goalies Cam Ward recorded his 300th career win on Tuesday night in their 3-2 shootout win over the Vegas Golden Knights. He is the fifth active goaltender to reach that mark. [NHL Public Relations]

Scores

Buffalo Sabres 3, Ottawa Senators 2

New Jersey Devils 5, Los Angeles Kings 1

Philadelphia Flyers 4, Toronto Maple Leafs 2

Washington Capitals 5, Colorado Avalanche 2

Edmonton Oilers 7, Columbus Blue Jackets 2

Tampa Bay Lightning 3, St. Louis Blues 0

Minnesota Wild 2, Calgary Flames 1

Chicago Blackhawks 3, Florida Panthers 2

Carolina Hurricanes 3, Vegas Golden Knights 2

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.

NHL Power Rankings: The Predators are starting to roll

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The Nashville Predators have not only built a powerhouse team in the Western Conference, they have done it in such a way under the salary cap that they not only have their core locked in for the foreseeable future, they still have enough salary cap space to add players like Kyle Turris and Nick Bonino on long-term deals.

Those additions have helped make an already strong team one of the absolute best in the NHL, and they only seem to be getting better.

They not only enter the week with one of the best records in the league, they are starting to look better than the team that was in the Stanley Cup Final just a few months ago.

Entering play on Monday the Predators 13-2-2 in their past 17 games.

Since acquiring Turris in that blockbuster three-team trade with the Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators they are 10-2-2 while Turris himself has already recorded 13 points.

What is perhaps scariest about this team for the rest of the Western Conference is they have not really been fully healthy yet this season. Ryan Ellis, a key part of their defense, which is the backbone of their team, has yet to play this season. Bonino missed a significant chunk of the season and they are currently dealing with injuries to Johansen and Scott Hartnell. When totally healthy this team is going to be an abslute nightmare matchup for just about any team in the NHL with that defense and newfound center depth.

Their current run has them fourth in our power rankings.

Here is a look at where everybody else fits in.

The Elites

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — They still have the NHL’s top two scorers, the NHL’s best goal differential, and the NHL’s best points percentage. Kind of hard to put anybody else on top of the league at this point, right?

2. St. Louis Blues — Losing Jaden Schwartz is just another injury added to the list this season for the Blues, but they keep finding ways to power through and keep winning. It helps that Brayden Schenn is on his way to a career year offensively.

3. Los Angeles Kings — They had a rough stretch where they lost seven out of eight games, but then they followed it up by winning eight in a row. They are once again at the top of the NHL’s goals against leaderboard and have started to find some offense. Anze Kopitar is making a very strong early season MVP case for himself. He is third in the league in scoring, playing a ton of minutes, and dominating in all three zones the way he did when he was the focal point of a two-time Stanley Cup winning team.

4. Nashville Predators — The roster is not only better than the one that went to the Stanley Cup Final, they also just simply look like a better team, too.

The Rest Of The Best

5. Vegas Golden Knights — They. Won’t. Stop. Winning. And now they are getting Marc-Andre Fleury back, the player that was supposed to be the cornerstone of their inaugural season. Quite a story that is developing here.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets — Imagine how good they can be when Cam Atkinson, a healthy scratch over the weekend, starts scoring goals again.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs — It’s not just that the Maple Leafs have a superstar like Auston Matthews at the top of their lineup that makes them so dangerous and exciting offensively. It is the fact their lineup is just incredibly deep overall. Every line is capable of scoring goals on any given shift.

8. Washington Capitals — With wins in eight of their past 10 games, while also averaging 3.6 goals per game during that stretch, they are climbing the standings and starting to look like the Capitals again.

9. New York Rangers — As I said two weeks ago, winning just one of their first eight games put them in a hole that will be tough to climb out of in the standings. They are doing their best to make sure they do, in fact, climb out of it. They are 13-4-0 in their past 17 games.

10. Winnipeg Jets — They have cooled off a bit recently, but let’s not panic just yet. That offense is still great.

Stuck In The Middle

11. New Jersey Devils — A little bit of a fall from where they were two weeks ago, but the young talent on this team is still worth watching and giving Devils fans a lot of reason to believe, both for this season and the future.

12. Boston Bruins —  With wins in eight of their past 10 games the Bruins are really starting to put it together. David Pastrnak is becoming a star and looking to improve on his 34-goal, 70-point performance from a season ago.

13. New York Islanders — After scoring 34 goals a season ago Anders Lee is doing everything he can to show it was no fluke. With 17 goals in his first 34 games entering the week he is now on pace for 41 goals this season.

14. San Jose Sharks — If you like goals, their games are not the games to watch. The enter the week 26th in the league in goals scored and second in the league in goals against.

15. Calgary Flames — Johnny Gaudreau‘s brilliance has kind of overshadowed the fact that Sean Monahan is having a career year offensively (he has five more goals than Gaudreau) and is also starting to post dominant possession numbers.

The Mystery Teams: Are They Good Or Not? 

16. Minnesota Wild — Are they good or not is a question that we seem to be able to ask about the Minnesota Wild every season.

17. Chicago Blackhawks — An aging team that is pretty dependent on its goaltender at this point. Sometimes they look great. Sometimes they don’t. Is this the new normal for the Blackhawks?

18. Dallas Stars — After what was a mostly up-and-down 2016-17 season John Klingberg looks like he has back to being one of the NHL’s most dynamic and dominant defensemen.

19. Pittsburgh Penguins — On any given night they can look like the team that has won back-to-back Stanley Cups. They can also look like a team that has no idea what it is doing.

20. Vancouver Canucks — Whether the Canucks maintain their early season success and actually make the playoffs is secondary to the fact the two best players on this team are under the age of 23 and look to be like legitimate building blocks.

21. Montreal Canadiens — The ultimate “are they good or not?” team this season. One night they are winning 10-1. Another night they are getting routed by the Oilers. Who knows what team is showing up when the puck drops.

22. Carolina Hurricanes — They are once again breaking hockey math.

23. Philadelphia Flyers — They snapped their 10-game losing streak by rolling through Western Canada, beating the Flames, Oilers and Canucks by a combined score of 13-5. Jakub Voracek is very quietly putting together a dominant season offensively, at least as far as his playmaking is concerned.

24. Anaheim Ducks — Adam Henrique has been pretty outstanding since coming over in the big trade with the New Jersey Devils. Given their injury situation down the middle it has been a much-needed addition.

25. Florida Panthers –– Losing Roberto Luongo could be a devastating blow to a team that really can not afford one. He has been spectacular when in the lineup while his backups have been … well … anything but spectacular.

The Basement

26Colorado Avalanche — They overachieved for a while at the start of the year but with losses in 10 of their past 15 games they are starting to become the Avalanche again.

27. Edmonton Oilers — The deeper we get into the season the more likely it seems they are going to miss the playoffs and waste one of Connor McDavid‘s prime years. That remains astonishing.

28. Detroit Red Wings — In the past week they’ve lost games by scores of 10-1 and 6-1. They’ve also lost seven out of eight overall and are quickly falling down the standings. There just is not a lot to be excited about here.

29. Ottawa Senators — Not only is the team on the ice losing games with regularity, Erik Karlsson‘s future with the team has never been more in doubt. Other than that everything is great.

30. Arizona Coyotes — The travel schedule has not been kind to them. The good news? Ten of their next 12 games are at home. The bad news? Three of those first four games are against the Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

31. Buffalo Sabres — The Sabres had a stretch where they were shutout three games in a row and were about 10 minutes away from a fourth. Since November 1 they have played 18 games. They have scored more than one goal in only nine of them.

Jaden Schwartz’s ankle injury derails career-year pace

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Jaden Schwartz was on pace to flirt with a triple-digit point total this season.

‘Was’ is the keyword here because, for the second time in three years, Schwartz will miss a significant chunk of time with an ankle injury.

How long he will be on the shelf this time around is undetermined, but Schwartz won’t be evaluated for six weeks after blocking a shot off his right ankle in a 6-1 rout of the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.

The injury bug hasn’t been kind to Schwartz’s ankles. During the 2015-16 season, he was limited to just 33 games after sustaining a broken ankle in practice.

The fresh diagnosis is a frustrating blow for Schwartz and the Blues, who have watched his line with Brayden Schenn and Alexander Steen turn into one of the top trios in the NHL this season.

Through 30 games, the 25-year-old had 14 goals and 35 points, placing him second on the Blues, behind Schenn, and ninth in league-wide scoring, tied with Connor McDavid.

At his current pace, Schwartz, playing roughly 20 minutes a night, would have hit 98 points. And a little lucky bounce or two here and there might have propelled him above the century mark, setting career highs along the way.

For the Blues, dealing with devastating injuries is all-to-familiar this season.

But what’s probably most impressive about how successful the Blues have been this season is how they’ve been able to exceed all reasonable expectations despite dealing with a hefty number of major ailments.

The injury bug has been more akin to a foul beast in the Gateway to the West. From Robby Fabbri gone for the season with a torn ACL and Zach Sanford sidelined for months with a shoulder problem to Jay Bouwmeester missing 20 games to start the year and Steen missing the first six.

Not many predicted the Blues to be where they are in mid-December: second place the Western Conference standings with 42 points, just two back of top spot in the league.

And now the Blues, in the midst of a three-game winning streak, will have to navigate another injury to a key piece of their lineup.

They’ve shown the ability to overcome injury adversity before, but losing a key piece of your top six and a top scorer is never easy.

If anyone has the formula down, however, it’s the Bluenotes.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

PHT on Fantasy: Backup plan

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A lot of things baffle me about the NHL, but like many, you just eventually let it wash away for the sheer sake of enjoying the game.

While I consider myself both bemused and annoyed by Matthew Tkachuk, essentially the Bart Simpson of the NHL, it feels like the NHL doesn’t even ask him to write things on chalkboards with these slap-on-the-wrist suspensions. Boosts in scoring almost always come down to a) young talent forcing improvements by sheer skill and will and b) actually calling a handful of infractions that should have always been penalties in the first place. And, of course, the debilitating normalcy of work stoppages.

Yeah, there’s a lot of things you just need to do the shrug emoji toward and just keep moving along.

The things that still baffle me, though, are the decisions that cost teams wins and, arguably, money. NHL GMs sometimes skimping on backups has regularly confounded me, to the point that I can’t just look away.

Consider this. Aside from the Oilers turning Cam Talbot into the hockey equivalent of a running back who received too many carries or a pitcher who logged too many innings last season, most teams pencil their starting goalies in for about 60-65 regular-season games per year. Things get fuzzy when you add postseason starts, especially when you remember that the repeat champion Penguins started at least two goalies for significant chunks of their runs both times.

That generally leaves your backup starting 17-22 games per season, and that’s if you’re lucky with your number one guy’s health.

So, it boggles my mind a bit that the pursuit of a backup is frequently treated with the indifference you’d show in acquiring a bottom-pairing defenseman or depth forward.

[Rotoworld: Looking at the week ahead with Michael Finewax]

Sure, “goalies are voodoo” and maybe there’s even more noise with number two guys, but it still bewilders me that the Pittsburgh Penguins would really think Antti Niemi was a likely fit last summer, and that all these teams with shaky backups didn’t even bother claiming Calvin Pickard. And so on.

Before this devolves from rant to hyper-rant, allow me to shift to the point of this column: a lot of starters are on the shelf right now, so how have their backups been doing, and how much should you trust them to continue to succeed?

In this latest fantasy column, I’ll look at goalies who are currently thrust into situations, and maybe sprinkle in a few scenarios that just ended or experienced quite a bit of disruption.

Note: This isn’t a comprehensive list. Also, this column ended up running long. Sorry.

***

Coyotes – So, it looks like Antti Raanta is healthy, but it’s been a bumpy ride.

Raanta’s played 13 games, Scott Wedgewood appeared in 12, Louis Domingue was banished after seven, and others have picked up some scraps. While I believe the Coyotes are more competitive than their record indicates, I also think that it’s better to travel the road of least resistance in fantasy.

There are a lot of bumps on this desert road.

Bruins – Yeah, I know Tuukka Rask is getting older, but it’s still perplexing that Anton Khudobin has objectively been the better goalie with each guy getting 10+ games played. This is weird and not good, but credit Khudobin for rekindling some of his early-Boston magic.

(Honestly, as happy as I was to see David Backes score two goals last night, I’m generally of the mind that the Bruins offer little beyond a terrifying top line and some promising young blueliners. At least in fantasy.)

Flames – Good grief, it’s really Mike Smith or bust, isn’t it?  Enjoy footage of not-Mike-Smith getting a goal scored off of his mask:

Blackhawks – So far, Anton Forsberg is 1-4-3 with a .906 save percentage as Corey Crawford is on the mend.

For so long, Chicago was the place where backup goalies would do so well, they’d often get chances to be full-time starters. Sometimes those guys ended up being legit, while others were propped up a bit. Now the Blackhawks’ leaky defense instead trips their goalies and pushes their faces in puddles. Or whatever the opposite of “propping up” is. Knocking your crutches/walking cane out of your hand? I don’t know, someone help me out.

You really need to be desperate to roll with Forsberg, is what I’m saying.

[The Rotoworld Hockey Podcast]

Stars – Ben Bishop is dealing with a back issue, opening the door for Kari Lehtonen to already eclipse 10 games played before the calendar hits 2018. This should go about as well as things went on this hideous shorthanded goal (which wasn’t really on Lehtonen, mind you).

On a similar note, I like some of the Stars players and generally Ken Hitchcock as a coach, but not together. It’s basically a peanut-butter steak in Dallas.

Oilers – In my head, I thought Laurent Brossoit was doing kind of OK with Cam Talbot on the shelf.

In reality, Brossoit’s been even worse, with an ugly .877 save percentage so far this season. If I didn’t know any better, I’d wonder if the Oilers were pretty bad at everything beyond employing Connor McDavid.

Panthers – Roberto Luongo‘s injury could be substantial, which is bad news since he’s been playing so well and James Reimer‘s been off his game. Still, Reimer’s been a 1B and analytics darling for ages now, so if anyone can run with a chance like this, it’s Reimer.

Considering the comedy of errors that is Panthers management, this isn’t a perfect situation, but Reimer’s a decent enough choice if you’re needing a goalie and have limited options.

Kings – Darcy Kuemper playing well so far might, stealthily, be the most surprising thing about these surprising Kings.

Canadiens – Kudos to Charlie Lindgren, who might be a goalie to monitor, yet we don’t really need to belabor the “Carey Price is important” point, do we?

Islanders – A tricky situation with Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss splitting things like a true platoon, at least so far. Halak’s been getting the reps lately, it seems. While the Islanders seem like they’re a true playoff team, their goalies are probably not worth the trouble, unless one of them is maybe your alternate option.

Note: I’m the type who prefers the ease of certainty instead of the tedium of tinkering.

Penguins – Coming into this season, Tristan Jarry generated strong work in the AHL in 2016-17, managing a .925 save percentage. The Penguins wanted to leave in there to marinate for some time, but with Matt Murray hurt, Jarry’s pressed into action, and he’s shining pretty nicely. He’s 5-1-2 with a nice .921 save percentage in eight games.

As a second-rounder (44th in 2013 vs. Murray, a third-rounder who went 83rd in 2012), you could argue that Jarry might actually have the superior pedigree.

Jarry is currently 59 percent owned in Yahoo, so there’s still a chance you can get him. While the Penguins’ defense might leave him vulnerable at times, Pittsburgh is playing well, Murray might be week-to-week and Jarry is solid. You could do worse than to give him an audition.

Golden Knights – ¯_(ツ)_/¯

With Marc-Andre Fleury showing some progress, there’s risk beyond the already-comical risk of taking on Vegas goalies, but let’s give Malcolm Subban credit for revamping his career prospects.

As with most Golden Knights things, I really don’t know what to tell you, other than “Yes, they seem better than we all expected, and no, I still don’t know what happens next.”

Jets – There are warning signs that the Connor Hellebuyck train will slow or even come to a screeching halt, but sometimes fantasy success is about being willing to laugh and enjoy hot streaks while they last.

Just be careful to look for escape routes in case that tunnel is actually just a painted-on boulder, Roadrunner-style.

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.