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NHL Power Rankings: Jets offense can be scary good

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When we talk about the top Stanley Cup contenders in the Western Conference the first team that comes to mind would have to be the Nashville Predators. They were in the Stanley Cup Final a year ago, made significant additions to the roster, and are still in a position to make at least one more this week before the NHL trade deadline.

The expansion Vegas Golden Knights, currently the top team in the West, also have to be in that conversation as well. They have a great offense, strong goaltending, and seem to have that intangible chip on the shoulder with something to prove.

But after that who do we have next?

Well, it might just have to be the Winnipeg Jets thanks in large part to an offense that has become ridiculously good in a short period of time. After finishing sixth in the league in goals a season ago, the Jets have come back this season and entering play on Monday are third in the league in goals per game.

Now that Mark Scheifele is back in the lineup that are clicking on all cylinders.

They not only have high-end talent like Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Scheifele, and Nikolaj Ehlers, it is a deep, balanced offense that really does not have many weak links.

Entering the week they have the top spot in the Central Division (though Nashville is only two points back with two games still in hand) and are just two points back of Vegas for the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference.

This is an organization that is still searching for its first ever postseason victory, and how well Connor Hellebuyck holds up in net will determine how many wins they will be able to get in the playoffs once they get there, but this offense is going to give them a chance against anybody.

They reach the No. 3 spot in this week’s power rankings.

Let us take a look at where everyone else sits this week.

The Elites

1. Boston Bruins — They were blown out by Vancouver recently but that is just a small blip on the radar. They are still 20-3-3 in their past 26 games.

2. Vegas Golden Knights — Entering play on Monday the Vegas Golden Knights have the best points percentage in the NHL. That means they are on track to win the Presidents’ Trophy. In their first season.

3. Winnipeg Jets — They are a fun team to watch. The rebuild has been slow, but it is finally paying off.

4. Nashville Predators — They have to be considered one of the top favorites in the NHL at this point and you have to assume they are going to make a big addition before the trade deadline. Rick Nash seems perfect.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning — With four losses in their past seven games that qualifies as a little bit of a slump. Still not much to worry about big picture. This team is legit. Slumps like this happen over 82 games.

6. Pittsburgh Penguins — Matt Murray and Carl Hagelin starting to round into form is a pretty big deal for the Penguins. Could be game-changers.

The Rest Of The Contenders

7. Toronto Maple Leafs — They lost four games in a row in mid-January. Since then they are 11-4-0 and scoring a ton of goals. They are never boring.

8. Dallas Stars — Remember just a couple of years ago how their games were just defense optional goal scoring surges? The Stars are fifth in the NHL in goals against this season. The Ken Hitchcock effect.

9. Philadelphia Flyers — They are winning an awful lot but with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth injured who is going to play in goal?

10. Washington Capitals — The results are there, but the more I watch them the more doubts I have about them. Still very good. Still a dangerous team. Just not sure about them.

All Of These Teams Seem The Same

11. San Jose Sharks — Have to give the Sharks a lot of credit for getting through some pretty significant injuries and still finding ways to score goals and win. Not easy to be without a player like Joe Thornton.

12. New Jersey Devils — Just when it looked like they were in danger of really falling out of the playoff race they go on a four-game winning streak. Taylor Hall is making a strong MVP argument for himself.

13. St. Louis Blues — A three-game losing streak, as well as a surging Dallas team, has pushed the Blues back into a Wild Card spot and a little closer to the playoff bubble. They are still in pretty good shape so concern shouldn’t be too high. Yet.

14. Minnesota Wild — Eric Staal is quietly having a better season this year than he did last year. His performance last year was completely unexpected, too. If they make the playoffs he will be a big reason why.

15. Calgary Flames — Along with the Kings and Ducks, the two teams that follow them in this week’s rankings, they could either finish in the top-three of the Pacific Division or just as easily miss the playoffs. They have only won five of their past 14 games.

16. Los Angeles Kings — They don’t have a ton of talent and could probably use a bit of a reset in terms of how they build their team. They could make the playoffs, but even if they do, do they seem like a threat to go far?

17. Anaheim Ducks — Right in the thick of that jumbled Western Conference playoff race, but everyone they are competing with has games in hand on them, giving them a slightly steeper mountain to climb with less margin for error than some of the other teams they are competing with.

18. New York Islanders — They already have seven players with at least 14 goals this season. Imagine them with a halfway decent defense and goaltending situation.

19. Carolina Hurricanes — Let’s take a look at how things have gone for the Hurricanes over the past month. Lost two. Won three. Lost three. Won three. Lost three. Consistently inconsistent.

20. Florida Panthers — They have won a lot recently, they still have a ton of games in hand on everybody, but it still seems like that gap is still too much to make up. But we will give them credit for the way they have played recently and bump them up a few spots.

21. Colorado Avalanche — Nathan MacKinnon returned, and that is good. Then they lost to Edmonton at home. That is … not good.

22. Columbus Blue Jackets — They are trending in the wrong direction at the wrong time. They should be better than this. They might be better than this. They need to start getting some results though.

Buy A Lottery Ticket

23. New York Rangers — Henrik Lundqvist looks completely exhausted and totally worn out. The team in front of him is lousy defensively and is probably only going to get worse over the next week when players get traded.

24. Detroit Red Wings — Bad time for Mike Green to be injured. Unless they are just keeping him out of the lineup to preserve him for a trade?

25. Chicago Blackhawks — The eight-game losing streak got a lot of attention but it is actually much worse than that. They have won just five of their past 17 games entering play on Monday.

26. Ottawa Senators — Who is going to go over the next week? Derrick Brassard? Mike Hoffman? Jean-Gabriel Pageau? Dare we ask … Erik Karlsson?

27. Vancouver Canucks — When you are rebuilding and out of the playoff race you just have to re-sign Eric Gudbranson. Well, no, no you don’t, but the Canucks seem determined to make that happen anyway.

28. Arizona Coyotes — They still have the worst record in the league but give them a lot of credit for playing the way they have recently and stringing some wins together.

A Level Of Their Own At The Bottom

29. Edmonton Oilers — Updating a stat from a week ago. Since Feb. 1, a stretch of nine games, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have combined to score 16 goals. The Edmonton Oilers have won two of those games. Keep boosting those draft lottery odds.

3o. Buffalo Sabres — They were lousy with Jack Eichel. They are even lousier without him. Perhaps the low point of the season came over the weekend against the Los Angeles Kings when they gave up three goals on three consecutive shots.

31. Montreal Canadiens — Only 4-11-1 in their past 16 and one of the worst records in the NHL overall.

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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.

WATCH LIVE: Minnesota Wild at St. Louis Blues

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[Click here for the Live Stream]

Projected Lineups and starting goalies

Minnesota Wild

Forwards

Jason ZuckerMikko KoivuMikael Granlund
Nino NiederreiterEric StaalTyler Ennis
Zach PariseMatt CullenCharlie Coyle
Marcus FolignoJoel Eriksson EkDaniel Winnik

Defense

Ryan SuterJared Spurgeon
Jonas BrodinMatt Dumba
Gustav OlofssonNate Prosser

Starting Goalie: Devan Dubnyk

[NHL On NBCSN: Wild Look To Put Road Struggles Behind Them In St. Louis]

St. Louis Blues

Forwards

Jaden SchwartzBrayden SchennVladimir Tarasenko
Vladimir SobotkaPaul StastnyAlexander Steen
Ivan BarbashevPatrik BerglundDmitrij Jaskin
Scottie UpshallKyle Brodziak

Defense

Carl GunnarssonAlex Pietrangelo
Jay BouwmeesterColton Parayko
Joel EdmundsonVince Dunn
Robert Bortuzzo

Starting Goalie: Carter Hutton

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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.

Wild dominate lethargic Golden Knights in 5-2 win

It was always going to be a tough ask for the Vegas Golden Knights to come into Minnesota after playing nearly 65 minutes against the Winnipeg Jets 24 hours earlier and give the Wild a run for their money.

Thursday’s game eights hours north of Minneapolis was a battle between two of the top three teams in the NHL. And it didn’t disappoint as Vegas set a new NHL record for wins by an expansion team in its inaugural season.

What it did do, however, was empty Vegas’ tank.

So it wasn’t surprising, then, when the final score at Xcel Energy Center read 5-2 after 60 minutes, with the host Wild taking advantage of a cumbersome team unable to leave the starting post.

Vegas appeared flat from the get-go. Eric Staal scored his 21st on a nifty finish (which included this goal call on NBCSN https://twitter.com/NHLonNBCSports/status/959601903134040065) and Charlie Coyle doubled the score to lead 2-0 after 20 minutes.

The Wild managed 19 shots in the first.

By the time the second period was 1:11 old, Minnesota led by three through Tyler Ennis.

Erik Haula continued a trend of Golden Knights players smashing former career highs.

Haula recorded his 20th goal of the season in the second period, Vegas’ first of the game. Haula’s previous best was 15 last year with the Wild.

Vegas has shown plenty of resiliency in their inaugural season, and the goal may have sparked them to further markers on another night, but Jared Spurgeon put them right back into a three-goal hole 10 minutes later.

Minnesota limited Vegas to just five shots in the second.

Nate Schmidt would add his fourth of the season in the second half of the third period. Minnesota’s lead never really look in jeopardy, however, and Staal sealed the deal with his team-leading 22nd into an empty net — quite possibly the easiest of his career — with 89 seconds left.

Devan Dubnyk turned aside 22-of-24 he faced for his 20th win of the year. Malcolm Subban gave Marc-Andre Fleury a night off, allowing four goals on 35 shots.


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

WATCH LIVE: NHL All-Star Game

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CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE AT 3:30 ET

Atlantic Division

Forwards:

Steven Stamkos
Nikita Kucherov
Brayden Point
Auston Matthews
Aleksander Barkov
Brad Marchand
Jack Eichel

Defensemen:

Erik Karlsson
Mike Green

Goalies:

Andrei Vasilevskiy
Carey Price

[Best, funniest, most heartwarming 2018 Skills Competition moments]

Metropolitan Division

Forwards:

Alex Ovechkin
Brian Boyle
Sidney Crosby
Josh Bailey
John Tavares
Claude Giroux

[Alex Ovechkin fires hardest shot at 2018 All-Star Skills Competition]

Defensemen:

Zach Werenski
Noah Hanifin
Kris Letang

Goalies:

Henrik Lundqvist
Braden Holtby

[Brian Boyle ‘thankful’ to be a part of NHL All-Star Weekend]

Central Division

Forwards:

Patrick Kane
Nathan MacKinnon
Blake Wheeler
Brayden Schenn
Eric Staal
Tyler Seguin

Defensemen:

P.K. Subban
Alex Pietrangelo
John Klingberg

Goalies:

Pekka Rinne
Connor Hellebuyck

[NHL All-Star Game returns to thriving Tampa Bay market]

Pacific Division

Forwards:

Connor McDavid
Johnny Gaudreau
Brock Boeser
James Neal
Rickard Rakell
Anze Kopitar

[2018 NHL All-Star Skills Competition Fastest Skater: Connor McDavid]

Defensemen:

Drew Doughty
Brent Burns
Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Goalies:

Mike Smith
Marc-Andre Fleury

[Coolest hair wasn’t enough, Boeser wins accuracy competition]

Coolest hair wasn’t enough, Boeser wins accuracy competition

Let’s be honest, it’s fun to watch great players do difficult things.

When it comes to aiming at small targets in front of an arena full of people, it’s especially fun. You get a taste of very different scenarios: virtuosic displays of accuracy and those moments where near-misses start to stack up, frustration builds, and the cringe-worthy comedy kicks in.

The tweaked passing challenge provided both ends of the spectrum.

Passing

Nikita Kucherov struggled to start things off, but Drew Doughty really hit his head against the wall, showing his frustration in a pretty funny moment while finishing last.

Alex Pietrangelo, meanwhile, was the virtuoso, winning the passing competition under one minute:

Eric Staal was excellent as well, the other passer to finish under one minute:

Accuracy

Brock Boeser‘s hair and accuracy were too much for the targets during the accuracy shooting.

If only we could all be this cool.

Brian Boyle was awfully close to winning it, too.

[Boyle thankful to be part of All-Star weekend.]

What did you think about the targets lighting up, thus adding to the challenge? Brad Marchand probably didn’t love it, as he ages to finish, and the fans let the agitating winger know it.

The accuracy competition is the best, isn’t it?

Really, the toughest question is: would Boeser win coolest hair at the All-Star Game if William Karlsson made it? Maybe we’ll get that answer in San Jose.

More on the Skills Challenge

Great moments in the past.

Alex Ovechkin wins hardest shot; Marc-Andre Fleury takes save streak.

Connor McDavid shocks no one in winning fastest skater; Johnny Gaudreau shows off puck control.

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.