David Pastrnak

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NHL Power Rankings: The Lightning, then everybody else

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A little more than one month into the NHL season and we are starting to see which teams are good and which teams are … well … not.

We are still at a point where one or two teams could emerge from the bottom of the pile or fall from the top, but once the NHL season gets to Thanksgiving there typically is not much change in the standings. At least not much of a significant one.

With that said, there should be no question at this moment as to who the best team in the NHL is. It’s the Tampa Bay Lightning, and really, there might not be anybody close to them.

At times this season the Lightning have looked like an on-ice version of the Harlem Globetrotters and have just been toying with their opponents. Entering the week the Lightning have the best record in the league (three points ahead of the next best team) and own a plus-25 goal differential. That is 11 goals better than any other team in the league.

Two of their four losses have come on the second end of back-to-backs (with one of them coming against a team that had been rested for three days). Their current four-game winning streak includes a perfect road trip through California that saw them beat the Kings, Sharks and Ducks (two of those teams are excellent at the moment) by a combined score of 12-4. The fourth win in that streak is against Columbus, another likely contender in the NHL this season.

They have the NHL’s leading goal-scorer (Nikita Kucherov has a three-goal lead over John Tavares) and the top-two point producers (Steven Stamkos and Kucherov), both of whom are at least seven points ahead of the No. 3 scorer in the league (Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler).

As if the talent up front is not enough, their starting goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy has a .930 save percentage in 15 starts.

Right now in the NHL it is Tampa Bay, then everybody else fighting for second.

So where is everybody else at the moment? Let us take a look.

Positively terrifying

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — They are, quite simply, the best team in the NHL right now for all of the reasons mentioned above.

The rest of the best right now

2. St. Louis Blues — I had little expectation for the Blues heading into this season, largely due to their injury situation, but they still have the second best record in the league, the second-best goal differential, and one of the best lines in hockey.

3. Los Angeles Kings — Dustin Brown has found the fountain of  youth. He has topped 30 points just once in the past five years with 36 being the high point during that stretch. He is pretty much halfway to that total just 18 games into this season.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs — They hit a little bit of a rut a couple of weeks ago but have come back strong with four straight wins. What is truly impressive is three of those wins heading into the new week came without Auston Matthews.

5. New Jersey Devils — The Devils are … fun?! Seriously, what is this? Who is this team? Fifth in the league in goals scored and coming off of a 7-5 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Brian Gibbons, out of the NHL for two years, somehow has eight goals so far.

6. Ottawa Senators — Everybody complains about watching them play but all they do is collect points. It is not pretty, but this is pro sports. Teams don’t have to apologize for doing what they need to do to win.

Teams on the rise

7. Winnipeg Jets — Could this be the year the Jets finally turn all of that individual talent into something good?

8. New York Rangers — What a difference a couple of weeks can make. After a disastrous start the Rangers have ripped off six wins in a row. Big time move in this week’s rankings.

9. Nashville Predators — No team improved more in the big Matt DucheneKyle Turris-Colorado trade than the Predators thanks to the addition of Turris at the expense of nothing significant from their roster. The defending Western Conference Champs enter the week 7-3-1 in their past 11 games.

10. San Jose Sharks — Entering Monday the only team that has beaten them over their past seven games is the Tampa Bay juggernaut. Just when you think the Sharks are going away they always find a way to still be hanging around in the Western Conference.

11. Washington Capitals — Don’t look now but here come the Capitals! After a slow start they are starting to look like the team that has dominated the regular season the past two years. Entering the week 6-2 in their past eight games while only allowing 16 goals during that stretch.

12. Montreal Canadiens — The overall record still stinks, I get it, but like the Rangers the Canadiens are starting to erase all of the memories from a miserable start to the season with wins in seven of their past 10 games. That qualifies as a team on the rise even if there are a lot of teams in the league that still have a better overall record.

Teams still looking good

13. New York Islanders — Nikita Kucherov’s start has kind of hidden the fact that John Tavares is scoring goals whenever he feels like it as well. Mighty fine time for a contract year, eh?

14. Calgary Flames — Mike Smith is giving the Flames exactly what they need in net. If he can continue to do that they are going to be a tough out in the Western Conference with that defense and that young talent up front.

15. Dallas Stars — I may have underrated them a bit a couple of weeks ago. They are solid, and in a bizarre twist from recent Stars teams are 20th in the league in goals scored and third in goals against. John Klingberg is playing fantastic hockey right now.

Teams on the decline

16. Columbus Blue Jackets — I still like this Blue Jackets team an awful lot and think they can be right there at the end of the season when it comes down to winning the Eastern Conference, but they have slipped a bit in recent weeks with just five wins in their past 12 games.

17. Vegas Golden Knights — Being down to their fourth and fifth goalies is not helping, but they are starting to expansion team results in recent weeks. They still have a lot of forwards playing really well and producing.

18. Philadelphia Flyers — Brian Elliott has started to look better in his recent starts. With their top forwards going the way they are this could still be an interesting team if they can get that goaltending spot solidified.

19. Chicago Blackhawks — After starting the season 3-0-1 with 21 goals in their first four games the Blackhawks are just 5-8-2 with only 32 goals in the 15 games since.

20. Anaheim Ducks — Injuries have decimated this team this season and they just keep getting worse with Ryan Getzlaf being sidelined for another two months.

Still need some work

21. Pittsburgh Penguins — The schedule with all of these back-to-backs is hurting them. So is the bottom of the roster. The depth problems that plagued them from 2010 through 2015 are back in a bad way.

22. Minnesota Wild — It has been the Jason Zucker and Devan Dubnyk show lately, but other than them nobody else is really doing much of anything to help the cause.

23. Carolina Hurricanes — Everything about this team looks good. They are exciting. They play hard. They once again have dominant underlying numbers. But there is still something missing.

24. Vancouver Canucks — They had a great start to the season that seemed to have them exceeding expectations but things are starting to return to normal for the Canucks. The early start was a mirage.

25. Boston Bruins — A very top-heavy roster. Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are great, but where else is the offense going to come from?

26. Detroit Red Wings — Anthony Mantha has been a nice bright spot so far this season with a team-leading 16 points. He has been especially strong lately with eight points, including four goals, in his past seven games.

27. Colorado Avalanche — They picked up some intriguing young players in the Matt Duchene trade but an already bad team ended up getting worse in the short-term.

28. Buffalo Sabres — They have scored more than two goals just twice in the past seven games.

29. Edmonton Oilers — Not to keep hitting this same point over and over again, but Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle have more points than every player on the Oilers not named Connor McDavid.

30. Florida Panthers — Only two wins in their past nine games with 37 goals against.

31. Arizona Coyotes — In their first 19 games of the season the Arizona Coyotes have exactly zero wins in regulation. Their only two wins, as of Monday, coming by way of overtime or a shootout. That is … really something.

Red-hot Rangers within range of Metro lead after beating Bruins

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As of Oct. 19, the New York Rangers were spinning out of control at 1-5-2. As of tonight, they’re two points behind the Penguins for the Metropolitan Division lead.

Riding a hot first period from youngsters Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey, the Rangers maintained a 3-1 lead to an eventual 4-2 win against the Boston Bruins. The B’s made things interesting for some time in the third, but New York won, giving the Rangers an impressive five-game winning streak.

They’ve also won six of eight, moving to 8-7-2 on the season.

The good news is that they’re now in the thick of things in the Metro. The bad news is that, even with this hot streak, they still have a lot of work to do:

Metro standings as of Wednesday night

Penguins: 9-6-2, 20 points, 17 games played
Devils: 9-4-1, 19 pts., 14 GP
Blue Jackets: 9-6-1-, 19 pts., 16 GP
Islanders: 8-5-2, 18 pts., 15 GP
Rangers: 8-7-2, 18 pts., 17 GP
Capitals: 8-7-1, 17 pts., 16 GP
Flyers: 7-6-2, 16 pts., 15 GP
Hurricanes: 5-5-3, 13 pts., 13 GP

So, yes, the Rangers are in the mix, and with some other Metro teams stumbling, things are looking up. At the same time, you can see that things are very tight. One can’t count Carolina out, as while the Canes are five points behind the Rangers, they have played four fewer games.

(The Rangers have also played 12 of 17 games at home so far.)

Regardless, the Rangers end the night in the East’s final wild card spot, which stands as a pretty startling turnaround when you consider how dire things looked mere weeks ago.

Looking at this five-game winning streak, the Rangers have simply found different ways to win. Their power play has been hot some nights, as they’ve scored six times on the man advantage during this run, with three of those PPGs coming against Columbus. This time around, the Rangers didn’t need their power play, going 0-for-1 in that regard.

On other nights, the Rangers needed to grind out overtime wins and rally from a tough deficit against Vegas. In this case, the defense-challenged group showed that they could protect a lead, even one that they built early on.

That has to be a promising sign for Alain Vigneault, Henrik Lundqvist & Co., even if the Bruins are dealing with some serious injury issues. Credit Boston for a strong push late in this game, but this team obviously needs some supplementary scoring beyond Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, the source of their two goals. (Maybe they need to work the trade market?)

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.

WATCH LIVE: Bruins – Rangers, Wednesday Night Rivalry

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Heading into November, things were looking pretty glum for the New York Rangers. Now things are looking up, as they host the Boston Bruins while on a four-game winning streak.

It began on Halloween as the Rangers rallied for a flawed-but-fun win against the Vegas Golden Knights. They also beat the Lightning and Panthers in overtime and the Blue Jackets, so it’s not like the Rangers are merely taking advantage of a “cupcake” schedule.

The Bruins are often a formidable opponent, but you could argue that the Rangers should make it five in a row; Boston is busted-up by injuries with Brad Marchand, David Backes, and David Krejci all sidelined. Patrice Bergeron is expected to play tonight, yet he’s dealt with issues of his own.

That said, it’s rarely wise to count out Bergeron and David Pastrnak, not to mention Tuukka Rask and Charlie McAvoy (who must be jazzed to play at Madison Square Garden for the first time as an NHL player).

You can watch on NBCSN, online, and via the NBC Sports App.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Also, for an extended preview, check out this post.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Youth hockey coach fired for giving profanity-filled pre-game speech

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–The Ottawa Senators will be visiting Erik Karlsson‘s home country of Sweden this week, as they prepare to play the Avalanche on Friday and Saturday. Karlsson is pretty pumped about being able to show his teammates the country he grew up in. (Ottawa Sun)

–After he lost his good friend Rick Rypien to suicide, Kevin Bieksa started a website called mindcheck.ca, which is dedicated to raising awareness about mental health. On Nov. 5, Bieksa got a message from a fan on Twitter that told him she was able to see the signs that suggested her daughter was planning to kill herself, because of the information made available on the website. (Vancouver Sun)

–The Carolina Hurricanes are remarkably bad in overtime. Over the last two season, they rank third in the NHL in games played in overtime, but rank 27th in OT winning percentage. Why are they so bad in the extra frame? Head coach Bill Peters has to shoulder a lot of the blame. (canescountry.com)

–The Los Angeles Kings made an interesting hire when they added Pierre Turgeon as an offensive coordinator. He’s been a valuable addition to the team. “Your ability to connect with him as a human first and foremost is his strongest asset,” Kings forward Brooks Laich said. “He’s very personable, very light, always keeps it very enjoyable around the rink and making sure guys are having fun and then his knowledge obviously pours out from that connection.” (NHL.com/Kings)

–Since his holdout ended, Josh Anderson has been an important piece of the puzzle for the Blue Jackets. Anderson has been able to do a number of important things for his team, which means that other veterans on the roster could become expendable. (thehockeywriters.com)

–The San Jose Sharks were giving up a ton of chances to their opposition on the penalty kill last season, but they’ve been able to improve that aspect of their game dramatically in 2017-18. Not only are they better on the penalty kill, they’ve leaned on it so far. (NBC Sports Bay Area)

–Is this the year Alex Pietrangelo finally wins the Norris Trophy? People in the Blues organization hope so. “He’s one of the best defenders,” former Blues defenseman Al McInnis said. “I don’t know if there is a better defender from the top of the circles down. He plays with a long stick. He’s got great reach defending and getting pucks out of battles with that stick, getting it to the forwards.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

–Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere is about to set a new franchise record, as he’s about to reach 100 points faster than any defenseman in franchise history. (Philly.com)

–In previous season, players that have made the jump from the KHL have had success. Guys like Artemi Panarin and Alexander Radulov turned their stellar play into big contract extensions. This season, the Russians that have made the leap to the NHL (Andrei Mironov, Vadim Shipachyov, and Victor Antipin) haven’t been able to stick with their respective teams. (fanragsports.com)

–Vice Sports’ Dave Lozo makes a case to move each one of Canada’s NHL teams to the United States. For example, here’s what he had to say about moving the Maple Leafs: “The longer the Leafs stay in Toronto, the more likely it is the media creates a scandal about Auston Matthews staying out too late or William Nylander eating too much falafel or Morgan Rielly spelling his last name incorrectly all these years out of protest against Justin Trudeau.” (Vice Sports)

David Pastrnak is a very useful player for the Boston Bruins, but he made some questionable decisions with the puck in the third period of Monday’s game against Minnesota. It’s something they have to figure out in the near future to take his game to the next level. (NBC Sports Boston)

–International women’s hockey has been dominated by Canada and the United States, and heading into next year’s Olympics, the two teams will see a lot of each other. Both sides do everything they can to get every little advantage over each other. (New York Times)

–A youth hockey coach was fired after giving his team a profanity-filled pre-game pep talk. The whole thing was caught on video. (Denver Post)

–Lightning defender Victor Hedman came up clutch for his team in a game against Columbus, but not in the way that you might think. Hedman actaully managed to win a face-off against Nick Foligno in a crucial moment of the contest. (Rawcharge.com)

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.

Battered Bruins get mixed updates on Krejci, Rask, Bergeron

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Call it the downside of having a roster brimming with high-mileage veterans or chalk it up to bad luck, but either way, injuries continue to be a frequent headache for the Boston Bruins.

Today’s practice and updates bring about a bevvy of new details on ailing players. Let’s go one by one with some of the most pressing cases.

David Krejci – Bad news here for an underrated center: he’s out through the weekend’s games and will be re-evaluated on either Sunday or Monday with an upper-body injury. The unpleasant “week-to-week” phrase was even floating around.

Tuukka Rask – Contrast that dour news with some optimism about the Bruins’ crucial starter. Rask was heavily involved in drills and seems to be making progress; that said, the experienced goalie needs to go through concussion protocol on Thursday morning.

So, that could still go sideways, but Rask seems to be trending up.

Patrice Bergeron – The all-world two-way center participated in practice, although the Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa reports that he wasn’t involved in “down-low battle drills.” Bergeron’s current ailment is lower-body related.

Kevan Miller – Like Rask, things sound positive for the defenseman. After practicing for a couple days with a no-contact jersey, he shed that today. It sounds positive in his regard:

Phew, that’s quite a bit of injury issues, and it remains to be seen if David Backes is really over all of his issues. The Bruins must be that much more relieved that they hashed out an agreement with David Pastrnak rather than seeing his contract situation drag into the season.

The Bruins are halfway through a four-game homestand and play five of their next six games in Boston. With that in mind, the 3-3-1 team needs to grind out all the points they can get, even if it isn’t always pretty.

That might just end up being how things must go in the near future, although it must be said that their top-end offense can look quite beautiful. At least in that video game dream scenario where they can turn injuries off.

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.

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