Leon Draisaitl

Getty

The Buzzer: Rinne hits 300, glorious Gaudreau, Matthews scare

3 Comments

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Players of the Night:

Barzal scored a goal and two assists in this game, pushing him to 65 points in 62 games during this sensational rookie campaign. He’s been all-or-nothing lately, generating three points in two of five games and then zero in the three other contests.

Going to go out on a limb and say the Islanders will take it …

  • Johnny Gaudreau matched Barzal’s output on Thursday, collected a goal and two assists as well. Gaudreau moved to second in the NHL in points with 73, a distant-but-impressive second to Nikita Kucherov‘s 80 points. Gaudreau is on pace to clobber his previous career-high of 78 points, set in 2015-16. Kinda staggering to realize he’s just 24.

Gaudreau’s surely had a hand in Sean Monahan rapidly changing his descriptor from “boring” to “clutch.”

Pekka’s 300th

Sure, the Predators probably didn’t need a ton from him on Thursday, what with a 7-1 caging of the Sharks, but Pekka Rinne‘s great work – not to mention great season – includes another milestone in his 300th win. Apparently he’s the eighth European-born goalie to hit that mark.

Tough to blame Rinne for becoming emotional when you consider his path to the NHL. Nashville selected him in the eighth(!) round in 2004, making him the 258th overall pick that year and the last pick of that round.

(Remarkably, there were some very solid NHLers who went in the ninth round of that draft: Mark Streit, Daniel Winnik, and Jannik Hansen.)

Good and bad for Matthews

Auston Matthews helped the Toronto Maple Leafs grab an eventual shootout win against the Islanders, continuing a run of even-strength dominance that really cements his beyond-his-years play:

Unfortunately, late in regulation, Matthews was sandwiched by two Islanders players and did not return, with people wondering if he suffered a shoulder injury.

Highlights of the Night

Hey, the Oilers aren’t gearing up for a playoff run during this trade deadline, but at least Leon Draisaitl reminded people of his profound skills.

Twice. The first move is flashier, but the second likely makes defenders feel just as hopeless.

Speaking of large hockey humans doing preposterous things, I give you Victor Hedman and the Lightning:

Scores

Maple Leafs 4, Islanders 3 (SO)
Wild 4, Devils 2
Flyers 2, Blue Jackets 1
Canadiens 3, Rangers 1
Lightning 4, Senators 3
Sabres 3, Red Wings 2 (OT)
Panthers 3, Capitals 2
Predators 7, Sharks 1
Oilers 3, Avalanche 2 (OT)
Flames 5, Coyotes 2
Stars 2, Kings 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.

NHL Power Rankings: Jets offense can be scary good

Getty
7 Comments

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

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.

————

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.

Are you ready for the Oilers to win another draft lottery? It could happen

Getty
20 Comments

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

There has been no greater disappointment in the NHL this season than the pathetic showing put forward by the Edmonton Oilers organization. It has been a collective effort from everybody involved, from the general manager that seems to thinks he is building a team in 2002, to the coach that has not figured out how to fix his team’s garbage special teams, to the owner that put all of these people in power, to the players on the ice.

They all own it.

This is a team that entered the season with the second-best odds to win the Stanley Cup. it is now positioned near the bottom of the standings and already has virtually no chance to make the playoffs with still a quarter of the season left to be played.

They may have been a little overrated at the start of the year, but there was almost nobody that saw this sort of season coming.

Following their loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday afternoon, their sixth loss in a row and eighth in the past 10 games, the Oilers now find themselves with the third-worst record in the NHL and are only six points ahead of the Coyotes when it comes to having the worst record in the league.

For a team that has Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl at the top of its lineup it is an inexcusable waste of young talent. In the case of McDavid, it is a waste of MVP talent. Generational talent.

Only three teams in the history of the league has ever missed the playoffs with the reigning league MVP on its roster.

The Edmonton Oilers are not only going to do join them, they are going to miss the playoffs by miles.

With an MVP that has a cap hit of less than a million dollars in a salary cap league.

[Related: Connor McDavid could author one of the NHL’s greatest wasted seasons]

What this raging dumpster fire of a season has done is put the Oilers in a great position to do the only type of winning they’ve become accustomed to over the past decade — the NHL Draft Lottery.

Entering play on Sunday the Oilers would have the third-best odds to land the No. 1 overall pick with a 10.5 percent chance winning. That would give them the opportunity to select Swedish phenom defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, a prospect that is pretty much the exact player they need.

Those odds are … somewhat favorable, and high enough to probably drive hockey fans that are tired of watching the Oilers waste these picks insane.

Let’s revisit this history, just in case you’ve forgotten:

Between 2010 and 2015 the Oilers picked first overall four times in six years, landing picks that brought them Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, and McDavid. That includes a run between 2010 and 2012 where they picked first overall three consecutive years. In the years between 2012 and 2015 they picked seventh (Darnel Nurse) and third (Draisaitl). Four No. 1 picks in six years is a run unlike anything we had ever seen in the history of the NHL draft.

And they didn’t always need to finish with the worst record to get there. It was the perfect combination of being a lousy organization and getting some fantastic luck.

When they won the draft lottery in 2010 to get Hall the Oilers won it with the worst record in the league.

The next season (the Nugent-Hopkins pick) the Oilers again finished with the worst record in the league and were able to maintain that pick when the New Jersey Devils won the lottery and moved up four spots from No. 8 to No. 4 (this was when winning the draft lottery meant you could only move up four spots). The Devils winning that draft lottery would turn out to be significant for the Oilers down the line because the Devils used that pick to select defenseman Adam Larsson. In the summer of 2016 the Oilers traded Hall to the Devils in a one-for-one swap for … Adam Larsson.

The next year they won the draft lottery to move up from the second spot to the top pick where they selected Nail Yakupov.

In 2015, they finished with the third-worst record and won the Connor McDavid lottery.

So, in other words, it’s happened before. There is nothing stopping it from happening again.

The closest we ever came to a draft pick run like the Oilers have had was when the Quebec Nordiques picked first overall three years in a row between 1989 and 1991. That was before the draft lottery was put into place and the team with the worst record just simply picked first.

Even though none of the players the Nordiques picked first overall (Mats Sundin, Owen Nolan, Eric Lindros) won a championship with the team, those picks helped set the stage for what would become two Stanley Cup winning teams. Sundin was eventually traded for Wendel Clark, who was later traded for Claude Lemieux. Nolan was traded for Sandis Ozolinsh, one of the most productive defensemen in the league and a member of the 1996 Stanley Cup championship team. The Eric Lindros trade … well … that trade turned out to be historic.

The expansion Ottawa Senators had a run of three No. 1 overall picks in four years between 1993 and 1996 when they picked Alexandre Daigle, Bryan Berard and Chris Phillips. Daigle turned out to be a bust and Berard was traded (for a package that included Wade Redden, a long-time staple on the Senators’ blue line), but Phillips played more than 1,100 games in Ottawa over 17 seasons. Starting in 1996, the year of the third and final No. 1 pick, the Senators went on an 11-year run where they made the playoffs every year (with Redden and Phillips playing significant roles). It never resulted in a championship, but they made the Conference Finals twice and the Stanley Cup Final once.

What’s so maddening about the Oilers, even as a completely neutral observer, is how they have completely wasted this draft pick bounty.

It’s certainly possible they could come back next season and be decent. When you have Connor McDavid that chance always exists. But he can’t do it alone, and we have to trust an organization that has made the playoffs three times in 16 years (and only once in 12 years) can figure out what the hell it is doing.

Especially when it has a proven track record of, again, wasting the talent it has been lucky enough to get.

Yakupov simply did not work out, not really anything anybody can do about that. Arguing that he was a bad pick would be 20/20 hindsight. Sometimes picks just don’t work out and there weren’t many people arguing against his selection at the time.

But after that it’s a story of waste.

Hall, one of the best left wingers in the league and a player that has a pretty compelling MVP argument this season (he won’t win, but there is an argument to be made), was traded for an okay-but-nothing-special defenseman.

Don’t be shocked if Nugent-Hopkins, another talented and productive player that probably gets underrated because he’s been stuck on a lousy team for his entire career, gets moved in a similar deal in the next year or two.

They traded another of their top forwards, Jordan Eberle, for a lesser player in Ryan Strome that will not ever come close to matching Eberle’s production.

They signed Milan Lucic and Kris Russell for a combined $10 million per season for at least the next … four years?!

They managed to get one playoff appearance out of McDavid’s entry level contract, and as I said a couple months ago, the front office that could not build a competitive team around him making the league minimum now has to figure out a way to build a competitive team around him while he is making $12 million per year (with Leon Draisaitl riding shotgun making $8 million per year).

At this point their reward for all of this incompetence could be anything from an 8.5 percent chance (fifth worst record) to an 18 percent chance (if they should happen to collapse enough to finish with the worst record — and I’m not betting against that) to land one of the best defense prospects to enter the NHL in years. Those odds are way too high. Those odds are too much in their favor. They do not deserve odds that high.

If their is some sort of just and loving draft lottery deity floating around in the hockey world it will not allow this to happen. It can not happen.

For the sake of Rasmus Dahlin’s career.

For the sake of hockey fans outside of Edmonton.

Heck, just for my own personal sanity, the Edmonton freaking Oilers can not be rewarded with another top draft pick. Especially one that could be this good at a position where they have a desperate need.

Somebody else — literally, anybody else — needs to get the chance to make something out of Rasmus Dahlin.

Anybody but the Edmonton Oilers.

————

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: Blackhawks may have hit rock bottom

Getty
20 Comments

It can only getter better from here, right?

The Chicago Blackhawks entered play on Monday night having lost five games in a row and 10 of their past 13 to fall 10 points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Things did not get much better in Arizona where they were blown out, 6-1, by a Coyotes team that had won just 13 of its first 55 games. The Blackhawks’ losing streak now sits at six games (with losses in 11 of their past 14 games) as they failed to gain any ground on any of the teams ahead of them in the standings.

They remain 10 points out of a playoff spot with still four teams ahead of them.

Not great.

It was another ugly night for the goaltending situation as starter Anton Forsberg had to be benched after giving up three goals on 13 shots, including a really ugly goal from a terrible angle by Tobias Reider to make it 3-1.

That performance came after Jeff Glass allowed three goals on 19 shots in their previous loss to the Minnesota Wild over the weekend. Glass did not do much better in relief of Forsberg on Monday by giving up three goals on the nine shots he faced.

Corey Crawford‘s absence has obviously been a huge issue for the Blackhawks. The defense is not very good and Forsberg and Glass could never be expected to adequately replace one of the best goalies in the league, and arguably Chicago’s most important player at this point. But even if Crawford returns to the lineup there just does not seem to be much chance for the team to make up all of this ground. For as much as of an upgrade as Crawford would be in net, the team in front of the goaltenders is still shaky defensively and has not exactly been an offensive powerhouse lately.

Lot of problems in Chicago right now.

Player(s) Of The Night: William Nylander and Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs have some flaws but holy cow are they a fun team to watch.

They played a wildly entertaining game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night that saw their young superstars dominate early, then let a 3-0 lead slip away, then get a game-winning goal from James van Riemsdyk to help them improve to 9-2-0 in their past 11 games.

Nylander and Matthews were the big stars of the night for the Maple Leafs.

Nylander scored a pair of goals while Matthews added three assists in the win.

How far can the Maple Leafs go playing this style of hockey with that defense? That is up for a lot of debate, but with that group of forwards and Frederik Andersen playing the way he is (and he was very good once again on Monday night, even while giving up three goals) they will have a chance against anybody.

Player Of The Night Part 2: Vincent Trocheck, Florida Panthers

The Florida Panthers offense came through in a big way on Monday night with seven goals, with five of those goals coming from Vincent Trocheck and Evgeny Dadonov.

Trocheck was the big star by recording a hat trick in the win.

Highlight Of The Night

Aaron Ekblad opens the scoring for the Florida Panthers in their win over the Edmonton Oilers with a bank shot from an impossible angle.

Factoid Of The Night

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have combined to score 12 goals for the Edmonton Oilers over the past six games.

The Edmonton Oilers record in those six games: 1-4-1.

If a team has two players combine for that many goals over that many games it seems almost statistically impossible to only get one win out of that stretch.

Scores

Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 3

Arizona Coyotes 6, Chicago Blackhawks 1

Florida Panthers 7, Edmonton Oilers 5

————

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: Ups and downs for Islanders

Getty
1 Comment

Players of the Night:

Do you go with the guy who collected a hat trick with the overtime game-winner, or the rookie who generated five assists for yet another five-point night?

Nelson’s the fellow who generated the hat trick, and he’s been hot lately. Maybe 24 points on the season is a little disappointing for Nelson, but he’s really heating up, collecting four goals and three assists for seven points during a four-game run. Impressive.

Mathew Barzal collected five assists, giving him 58 points in 56 games in 2017-18. It’s already his third five-point night of his rookie campaign.

He probably gets the nod if you can only choose one player of the night, as he’s achieved something that hasn’t been reached in 100 years:

  • Three helpers: Jamie Benn and Derek Forbort aren’t players you’d picture in the same breath, yet here they were, generating three assists tonight. Remarkably, it’s Forbort that is the player who was a first-rounder (15th overall in 2010), while Benn went 129th(!) in 2007.

Highlights

Curtis Lazar‘s struggled to score at the NHL level more than the hype suggested, but at least this was a cool one:

Wait, there’s a turbo button in this game? Apparently Carl Hagelin can still fly.

Alexander Radulov + Tyler Seguin + Jamie Benn = glorious.

Factoids

C’mon, it has to be Islanders related, right?

The not-so-good side of the Isles:

Leon Draisaitl is quietly heating up:

Scores

Islanders 7, Red Wings 6 (OT)
Rangers 4, Flames 3
Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 2
Kings 3, Panthers 1
Hurricanes 4, Canucks 1
Blues 5, Jets 2
Stars 4, Penguins 3 (SO)
Ducks 3, Oilers 2

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.