Eric Staal

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NHL Power Rankings: Here come the Golden Knights

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So let’s talk about the Vegas Golden Knights for a little bit.

At this point they are no longer just a fun story at the start of the season. They might actually be a legitimately good hockey team that is getting better.

They enter the week riding their second five-game winning streak of the season and what makes this one so impressive is the fact they are starting to carry the play in games. It is not just a matter of of them winning games with some percentage based success. During their current winning streak the Golden Knights have attempted 54 percent of the 5-on-5 shot attempts in its games and has outshot every single team during the streak by a a 180-120 margin. That includes two absolutely dominating performances against the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings.

What makes all of this even more astonishing is the fact they are still doing it with their third, fourth and fifth string goalies.

The driving force behind Vegas’ success has clearly been the play of their forwards, with James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, David Perron and William Karlsson all putting up huge numbers.

The Golden Knights are already off to the best start of any expansion team in NHL history, so now we really have to start asking if this team is a legitimate threat to make the playoffs.

Recent history suggests they just might be.

As of Monday they have 31 points in their first 22 games. Over the past five seasons there have been 23 teams that had a similar start. Twenty-one of those teams went on to make the playoffs.

Early on Vegas’ success seemed to be more of an unsustainable, percentage driven run of good luck producing unexpected results.

Now the process is starting to match the results.

We have them among the elites in this week’s edition of the power rankings, as well as new teams at the top and bottom of the rankings.

The best of the best

1. St. Louis Blues — We have a new team in the top spot, and it is still incredible what this team has accomplished this season given the injury situation it has dealt with at times.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning — Still a terrifying team, but it was only a matter of time until they hit a little bit of a cold snap. That has happened this past week with two regulation losses in a row. The first time all season that has happened.

3. New Jersey Devils — Simply one of the biggest surprises in the NHL this season and it is a lot of young players (Nico Hischier, Will Butcher) making a big impact. Taylor Hall is also having what could be a career year.

4. Vegas Golden Knights — If the Devils are one of the biggest surprises, then Vegas is most definitely the biggest surprise.

5. Nashville Predators — Kyle Turris has already made a huge impact since his arrival in Nashville. With that center depth this is going to be a fierce team to contend with.

The second tier

6. Columbus Blue Jackets — They are not scoring goals at the same pace they did a season ago but Sergei Bobrovsky looks like he is putting together yet another Vezina Trophy caliber season in net.

7. Winnipeg Jets — Connor Hellebuyck has been quite a pleasant surprise this season. His play in net is a big reason the Jets have climbed to the top of the standings.

8. New York Islanders — Goaltending could be a concern, but this is an offense that is clicking on all cylinders right now. For as great as John Tavares has been the team’s leading scorer as of Monday is … Josh Bailey.

9. New York Rangers — The overall record is not great but since starting the season 2-6-2 the Rangers have won 11 of their past 14 games including four in a row entering the week.

10. Washington Capitals — They may not win the Presidents’ Trophy for a third consecutive season but this is still a dangerous team. Alex Ovechkin is currently on pace for close to 60 goals this season.

11. Toronto Maple Leafs — They tend to run really hot and cold, which is probably what should be expected of a young team with a ton of talent but still a couple of weaknesses that need to be addressed.

The middle ground

12. San Jose Sharks — The duo of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell has been tremendous in net this season and has helped the Sharks become one of the toughest teams in the league to score against.

13. Los Angeles Kings — After an incredible start the Kings have won just two of their past nine games and are back to having trouble finding the back of the net. This looks familiar.

14. Calgary Flames — Johnny Gaudreau has taken the leap from “good young player” to “one of the most dominant offensive players in the NHL.”

15. Chicago Blackhawks — More than a quarter of the way through the season and I am still not sure what to make of the Blackhawks. Sometimes they look like a contender again. Sometimes they look like the top-heavy team that lacks depth on paper.

16. Boston Bruins — When they are healthy they can be an extremely dangerous team. Still need a little more depth. But the top of the lineup is strong.

17. Carolina Hurricanes — Teuvo Teravainen is starting to put it together. This has the makings of a breakout season for him.

18. Vancouver Canucks — Brock Boeser has been everything the Canucks have needed in a young player. Currently leading all NHL rookies (and the Canucks as a team) in scoring.

19. Minnesota Wild — Eric Staal is proving that last season’s bounce back year in Minnesota was not a fluke.

20. Pittsburgh Penguins — Great showing against Tampa Bay, but still a team that has a lot of holes that need to be addressed before it can make another Stanley Cup run.

21. Dallas Stars — They won the offseason again, but the results still are not what they should be on the ice given all of the roster movement and preseason hype.

22. Anaheim Ducks — Injuries, particularly to centers Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, have absolutely devastated this team’s ability to score goals.

23. Ottawa Senators — Okay maybe we had them a little too high in recent editions of the power rankings. They enter the week with six losses in a row and have won just eight of their first 22 games. This is starting to become a concern.

24. Montreal Canadiens — Just when it looked like Montreal was starting to turn it around they go and drop six of their next eight games.

25. Detroit Red Wings — They have probably overachieved a bit to this point and it is kind of amazing they open the week in a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. Still, their points percentage is 24th in the NHL. This is not a good team.

26. Colorado Avalanche — Nathan MacKinnon is having a breakout season for the Avalanche, while Mikko Rantonen and Alexander Kerfoot look like they can be players to maybe build around. It is not much, but it is a little progress.

The Basement

27. Edmonton Oilers — Connor McDavid‘s defense has been called into question. Why is it that when a team underachieves or fails to meet expectations the blame always shifts to the best players and not, say, the management team that put together a flawed roster around the game’s best player?

28. Philadelphia Flyers — With wins in just three of their past 15 games it is a big fall in the rankings for the Flyers. They enter Monday on a seven-game losing streak.

29. Florida Panthers — This team could really use a couple of forwards like Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith at the moment.

30. Arizona Coyotes — With wins in four of their past six games the Coyotes are able to finally climb out of the bottom spot in the power rankings. This team was never as bad as its early record indicated. How good is it? Still a mystery. But it was never that bad.

31. Buffalo Sabres — Such a disappointing situation. This team should be so much better than it is at this point and it only seems to be taking steps backwards.

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.

The Buzzer: Red-hot lines, Murray’s tremendous save

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Lines of the Night: With combinations of forwards running wild in many cases, it might be best to break things down by the lines that dominated Thursday.

Let’s start with the painfully obvious one.

Vladislav NamestnikovSteven StamkosNikita Kucherov

Will the Lightning’s top line ever cool down? Probably, but right now they’re basically unstoppable; they didn’t even take it easy on Ben Bishop as he made his return to Tampa Bay. Instead, the Lightning beat the Stars 6-1 thanks to that top trio.

Stamkos scored two goals and two assists to boost his points total to 35 (!) in 19 games, while Nikita Kucherov scored his league-leading 17th tally and also produced two assists. Names grabbed an assist and apparently fought Dan Hamhuis.

Gabriel LandeskogNathan MacKinnonMikko Rantanen

Some Colorado fans might have uttered “Matt WHO-chene?” for at least one night, as this top trio was ridiculous. Landeskog recorded his first career hat trick, Rantanen collected four points (1G, 3A), and MacKinnon generated one goal and four helpers.

This might just be the breakout season people were hoping to see with MacKinnon, as he has 20 points in 17 games.

It was a landslide from Avalanche captain Landeskog, if you will.

Brayden Schenn continues to ride high for the Blues, as he collected two goals and an assist. His point streak is honestly a little ridiculous:

Eric Staal (1G, 2A) had the better night, but his linemate Jason Zucker is on a tear of his own:

To keep this from getting unwieldy, we’ll leave it at that, but there are worth honorable mentions, such as top scorers for the Golden Knights (who just keep winning).

Highlight of the night: Matt Murray‘s save

There were some other great stops, goals, and hard hits on Thursday, but wow, Murray.

More factoids:

The Maple Leafs make a little history in their 1-0 OT win, which was their fifth straight W.

Roberto Luongo shuts out the Sharks for the first time in his career. You’d think San Jose would have been a victim of one of the previous 73 goose eggs …

And some relief:

More on that Coyotes win here and the Habs’ angry reactions here.

Scores

Leafs 1, Devils 0 (OT)

Islanders 6, Hurricanes 4

Coyotes 5, Canadiens 4

Penguins 3, Senators 1

Lightning 6, Stars 1

Wild 6, Predators 4

Jets 3, Flyers 2 (SO)

Avalanche 6, Capitals 2

Golden Knights 5, Canucks 2

Blues 4, Oilers 1

Bruins 2, Kings 1

Panthers 2, Sharks 0

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.

Fantasy Adds and Drops: A Zucker for goals

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Every week, PHT will look to help its readers by providing them with some fantasy advice. This column will focus on players that should be added and dropped in fantasy leagues. Every name in the “add” section will be owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues, while each player in the “drop” section will be owned in less than half of leagues.

So, here we go!

Adds:

Jason Zucker-LW/RW-Minnesota Wild (owned in 49 percent of Yahoo leagues)

Zucker has been a popular add over the last week. It’s hard to argue with those who scooped him up on waivers, as he’s found the back of the net six times in his last three games. Obviously, he won’t have able to keep up that pace, but he seems to have found some chemistry with Eric Staal and Nino Niederreiter.

David Perron-LW/RW-Vegas Golden Knights (30 percent)

Perron comes into the week having recorded at least one point in four consecutive games. He leads the team with 14 points in 16 games. He should continue to get plenty of opportunities to produce offense. Like Zucker, Perron is eligible to play both wing positions, which makes him a little more valuable.

Josh Anderson-RW-Columbus Blue Jackets (12 percent) 

Since ending his holdout earlier this season, Anderson has been a valuable piece for the Blue Jackets. He hasn’t picked up a point in three straight games, but he’s still on pace to score 30 times in 2017-18. Anderson should be added in deeper fantasy leagues.

[More Fantasy: Check out RotoWorld’s In the Crease article]

Alex Kerfoot-C/RW-Colorado Avalanche (14 percent)

The Avalanche are a rebuilding team that has been willing to give youngsters a chance to play. Kerfoot was a college free agent signing that has paid immediate dividends for the them in 2017-18. He comes into this week with three straight multi-point efforts and he 13 points in 16 contests.

Yanni Gourde-C/RW-Tampa Bay Lightning (24 percent)

The focus in Tampa has been on Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov (for good reason), but Gourde has been relatively productive too. Even though he saw his five-game point streak come to an end on Sunday, he’s still on pace to score close to 20 goals and over 50 points.

[Fantasy Podcast: RotoWorld analyzes the Matt Duchene trade]

Drops:

Sebastian Aho-LW/RW-Carolina Hurricanes (56 percent)

Aho had a terrific rookie season that saw him score 24 goals and 49 points in 82 games with the ‘Canes last season. This year, things haven’t been as smooth. He still hasn’t scored a goal in 15 games and he’s managed just eight assists during that span. Feel free to hold onto him in dynasty leagues, but he can be cut in most re-draft leagues.

Patrick Maroon-LW-Edmonton Oilers (57 percent)

Maroon had a solid season playing next to Connor McDavid last year, but his numbers have dropped off over the last little while. The Oilers forward has no points in his last five games and no goals in his last seven contests. He’s been firing more pucks on net lately, but you can find more productive players on the waiver wire.

Semyon Varlamov-G-Colorado Avalanche (54 percent)

Yes, I fully realize that Varlamov is 2-0-1 in his last three games, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that he’s allowed three goals or more in six straight games. Of course, that isn’t all his fault. It’s still tough ignore those numbers. A short-term add of Montreal’s Charlie Lindgren could help teams that need to pile up goalie wins.

Wild get key weapon back in Nino Niederreiter

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The Minnesota Wild have been on an upward trend lately, with three wins in four games. Even so, their 4-3-2 record tells the fuller story that Bruce Boudreau’s bunch haven’t always been able to navigate some significant injury challenges early in 2017-18.

On the bright side, they’re calling in a key reinforcement on Tuesday, as Nino Niederreiter has been activated from injured reserve before tonight’s game against the Winnipeg Jets.

The 25-year-old hasn’t appeared in a game for the Wild since Oct. 12. Even with that in mind, this must be an antsy time for “El Niño,” who has yet to score his first point in 2017-18 after signing a five-year, $26.25 million contract during the summer.

MORE: Niederreiter expects the Wild to break through in the playoffs

Even with Charlie Coyle sidelined and Zach Parise dealing with some disturbing back problems, Niederreiter suddenly gives the Wild some balance on offense. These were their lines earlier today:

Nino Niederreiter – Eric StaalLuke Kunin

Jason ZuckerMikko KoivuMikael Granlund

Marcus FolignoJoel Eriksson EkChris Stewart

Tyler EnnisMatt CullenDaniel Winnik

Not bad, and you can imagine that group climbing to explosive with Coyle and (ideally) a semi-healthy Parise in the mix.

Niederreiter was already showing some promise early in his Minnesota career (three straight 20+ goal seasons), but 2016-17 seemed to signal a breakthrough to another level. The Swiss-born winger generated career-highs in goals (25), assists (32), and points (57), while also continuing to be a fancy stats darling with outstanding possession numbers.

Maybe the Wild lack outright superstars, but players such as Niederreiter are difference-makers at forward, and you can bet that he’s been sorely missed.

Considering the firepower on hand for the Winnipeg Jets, the Wild could really use the boost, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the two teams traded blows in a fun affair.

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.

The most important question to ask yourself in any fantasy hockey league

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In many cases, the most pressing questions you’ll ask yourself as a young fantasy hockey manager – when you have all that glorious time – is “How do I finally win this league?”

(Sometimes, you’ll be more specific, asking “How do I beat my best friend/colleague/frenemy/potential romantic partner/all of the above?”)

Time can change a lot of things, and sometimes life foists different priorities upon your mind. You might find yourself more interested in less glorious things like taking care of debts or aiming for promotions. This pivots, then, to what I believe is the most important question a potential fantasy GM must ask: “How much work do I really want to do in this league?”

Every week, PHT plans on running at least two fantasy-focused columns, and the beauty of these is that they can appeal to fantasy owners of all types. Joey Alfieri’s add/drops can be helpful to those who crunch spreadsheets like potato chips, but it can also be a one-stop guide for those who don’t have time to go deep on every Rotoworld column.

Speaking of Rotoworld, it’s a fantastic resource for fantasy hockey and other sports. Check out Gus Katsaros’ bit on struggling forwards such as Joe Thornton as just one great example.

This Thursday space is going to serve as an open-ended discussion of fantasy hockey: the narrow triumphs, crushing and seemingly arbitrary defeats, and tactics that may lie a little outside of the box.

In this specific case, here are a few suggestions if you possess the rare (but valuable) self-awareness to realize that you might not always be able to give your team(s) your maximum attention.

Lean on workhorse goalies

In many cases, it’s wise to fight the urge to take big name goalies in fantasy. Instead, you are often better off loading up on true difference-makers, whether they be the true high-scoring defensemen like Brent Burns or game-breaking forwards who still might be around in, say, rounds 3-5.

It’s a little different if you know you’re not going to monitor every goalie battle, or merely want to keep things simple.

A workhorse such as Braden Holtby shoots up your rankings in this case. On the other hand, someone facing a backup threat (say Steve Mason vs. Connor Hellebuyck) might not be worth the hassle.

Old over new

It’s exciting to identify the next breakthrough stars. Young players can be exciting because they have the chance to make those quantum leaps. The lockout that knocked out the 2004-05 season was memorable in that way:

Eric Staal in 2003-04: 31 points in 81 games

Eric Staal in 2005-06: 100 points in 81 games

Being able to forecast those leaps provides one of the most precious sensations in fantasy: feeling smart.

On the other hand, that takes its fair share of research, aside from instances where you’ve specifically keyed on prospects that interest you. Rookies can be big risks in fantasy drafts because of the threat of them only getting a “nine-game audition” before their teams avoid burning years off entry-level deals.

(Note: this might not apply to the Edmonton Oilers.)

If you know you don’t have time to make contingency plans and/or don’t want to study points per minute to try to find the next Viktor Arvidsson, you might just want to stick with more stable, established veterans.

Rotoworld Podcast: Can’t Stop Kucherov

Avoid the Gaboriks

Injuries can be random in sports, hockey included. Just ask Steven Stamkos, whose poor luck seems borderline freakish. Hockey history is dotted with painful “What if?” questions about icons like Bobby Orr and Mario Lemieux down to nice scorers such as Ales Hemsky and Marian Gaborik.

(Sami Salo, meanwhile, likely often asked “Why me?”)

Injuries can be especially deflating for less-hands-on types, so maybe shy away from, say, Kris Letang.

Find some quick references

Following PHT is a good start to stay abreast of some of the largest developments in the NHL.

If you’re trying to make quick decisions, Rotoworld’s injury page can provide a quick reference so you know if someone might come back soon versus a case that might be murkier.

There’s a solid chance of a future column discussing some resources that might help those in a bind in drafts or even setting lineups. Stay tuned.

***

It’s possible to win your league even if you’re not making weekly tweaks like some of your more obsessive competitors.

The key is to be practical … and lucky. Yeah, luck is a pretty nice thing to have in fantasy, and life. Here’s to a fun 2017-18 from a fantasy perspective, regardless of your level of commitment.

(Although, don’t be that person who totally abandons a team, leaving a bunch of players with season-ending injuries in your starting lineup. That’s bad form.)

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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