Marcus Johansson

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Devils aim to ‘get some respect back’ around NHL

VANCOUVER — Travis Green made an astute observation about the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday.

“They’re not the Devils of old,” said the Canucks coach, hours before his team faced the Devils at Rogers Arena.

For the past few years, the Devils have been mired at or near the bottom of the NHL in scoring, and the results have been a team out of the playoff conversation in the Eastern Conference.

This season, however, the Devils are off to a good start in the East, leading the Metropolitan Division heading into Wednesday’s game in Vancouver. Not only have they been winning games, but New Jersey has been doing so with an offense that ranked third in the league with 3.80 goals-for per game, which is surely one of the bigger surprises to this point.

A transformation of the roster has helped.

It started with the acquisition of Taylor Hall in the summer of 2016 and continued with the good fortune of winning the draft lottery this spring, resulting in the first overall selection of Nico Hischier a few weeks later. They added Marcus Johansson, and Jesper Bratt — yes, 19 year old Jesper Bratt, a sixth round pick from 2016 — has enjoyed quite the beginning to his NHL career with 10 points in his first 10 games.

College free agent signing and defenseman Will Butcher was averaging just over a point per game through 10 appearances this season, with seven of his 11 assists coming from the power play.

The addition of youth to the lineup has paid off nicely. Early on against the Canucks, the Devils were aggressive, quick and confident with the puck before eventually holding on for a 2-0 victory. Cory Schneider was sensational in net making 37 saves for the shutout. The bad news, though, was that Johansson took a nasty fall into the end boards early in the first period, left the game and didn’t return due to an upper-body injury.

What Green’s comments may reflect is a change in the perception around the league for how the Devils play now and the challenge they are starting to pose.

“I don’t know if we’re trying to change the perception around the league,” said Devils coach John Hynes.

“I know we’re trying to play a certain way and we want to be an aggressive team. We want to be a team that can play with lots of pace. And I feel with the group of players we have, we’ve been able to do that. We feel within our team we have guys that are quick, they’re fast, they’re tenacious on the puck, they’re very competitive and those are things we want to have.

“And we’re scoring as a result of playing with those attributes.”

Hischier, 18, has made a seamless transition from the top pick into the NHL as a rookie. Bratt, on the other hand, was taken 162nd overall in 2016. He won’t turn 20 years old until July 30, 2018.

Fascinating tidbit about his ascension: There are still 16 players taken during the first round of that 2016 draft that still haven’t played their first NHL game, and yet Bratt is not only on the Devils roster but he’s among the team leaders in points.

Here’s a sample of his work:

“He’s got a high, high hockey intelligence,” said Hynes of Bratt. “He can think his way through the game.”

Then Hynes went through a more detailed checklist.

— Tenacious? Check.

— Fast? Check.

— Consistent? Check.

“The focus coming in for us was trying to get a team that was going to be hard to play against and get some respect back for ourselves, our team and organization,” said Hynes.

“We’re just proud of the fact that some of the younger guys on our team have come in and been very consistent. They’ve been able to play to the identity we want to play with, and good results have followed that process.”

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

NHL Power Rankings: Kings climb to top spot

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When we last checked in with our Power Rankings we were trying to make sense of the early season standings, and in a lot of ways we still kind of are. The first month is a little crazy sometimes and this season is no exception (New Jersey in first place? Vegas with wins in eight of its first nine games? Edmonton stinks again?).

One of the more surprising results last time was the fast start by the Los Angeles Kings.

Two weeks later, it has not stopped.

What is perhaps most surprising about it is the fact they are currently seventh in the league in goals scored with largely the same roster that has been near the bottom of the league over the past couple of seasons. Also surprising: They have done it while getting just six games from Jeff Carter, one of their best, most consistent and most important offensive players.

Anze Kopitar, a seemingly reborn Dustin Brown and Adrian Kempe (already with six goals) are helping to pace the offense for a Kings team that is 9-1-1 to open the season.

They are the new top team in our Power Rankings.

Have a look at the rest of the rankings as we get ready to move into the second month of the NHL season.

1. Los Angeles Kings — It took Dustin Brown 24 games to record his 11th point last season. He has 11 in 11 games as of Monday.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning — Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos are the two most dominating offensive players in the NHL right now. It is still early, but it is very clear that the 2016-17 season was the fluke for the Lightning.

3. St. Louis Blues — Vladimir Tarasenko gets all of the headlines (rightfully so) but Jaden Schwartz has been the straw stirring the drink this season for the Blues. Where would they be without him?

4. New Jersey Devils — A trio of rookies (Nico Hischier, Will Butcher and Jesper Bratt) has the Devils at the top of the Metropolitan Division for the time being and gives their fans a lot of hope for the future.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets — The offense still probably has another level it can get to but Sergei Bobrovsky is following up his second Vezina Trophy with another stellar start to the season with a .938 save percentage.

6. Vegas Golden Knights — Is their success sustainable? Probably not! But it is a heck of a lot of fun to watch right now. We know they can win at home. Now we get to see what happens when they have to play a few road games.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs — Still the most exciting team in the league. They will score more than any team in the league … and they will give up more than just about anybody.

8. Ottawa Senators — If you are going to lose, lose in overtime when you can collect points and that is exactly what Ottawa has done this season. With only one regulation loss this season the Senators have managed to collect point in 10 of their first 11 games.

9. Vancouver Canucks — The Canucks were supposed to be one of the worst teams in the league, and given their roster they still might end up there when all is said and done. But with wins and five of their past six, including four in a row into Monday, they are one of the biggest surprises in the NHL so far.

10. New York Islanders — In his past four games heading into Monday John Tavares has seven goals and 10 total points, including a pair of hat tricks. Consider his slow start officially over.

11. Anaheim Ducks — If he stays healthy John Gibson can be a top-tier goaltender in the NHL for a long time. He has been downright dominant in his past five starts.

12. Pittsburgh Penguins — The Penguins still don’t look great, they still have some depth issues and they have won just one game in regulation in more than two weeks. They have been absolutely blown out three times this month. Not encouraging.

13. Chicago Blackhawks — After scoring 15 goals in their first two games the Blackhawks have managed to score only 23 in the 10 games that have followed. There were depth concerns at the start of the season. Maybe they are starting to show now.

14. Philadelphia Flyers — The Flyers wanted to see Sean Couturier take a step forward this season offensively and he has given them exactly that, averaging more than a point-per-game through the first 11. Put that production with his defensive game and you have one heck of a top-line center.

15. Winnipeg Jets — On paper this is still a pretty talented team that just needs to get some consistent goaltending. So far Conor Hellebuyck has given them that in his starts. How long that continues will determine how far the Jets are able to go this season.

16. Calgary Flames — This has the look of a breakout season for Johnny Gaudreau. Not only is he pacing the Flames with 15 points in 12 games but he is also sporting a dominating 55 percent Corsi mark. He is doing it all.

17. Minnesota Wild — The Wild are hanging around at the start of the season thanks to the stunning offensive performance of … *checks papers* … Chris Stewart? Well that is unexpected. After scoring just 13 goals in 79 games a year ago Stewart already has six in his first nine games this season. He has always been a streaky scorer and the Wild are getting one of those hot streaks at the right time.

18. Washington Capitals — It hasn’t been the offense that has been hurt by the offseason departures of Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams, it is the defense that has been the problem. Entering the week the Capitals are 26th in the league in goals against and 25th in shots against.

19. Nashville Predators — Pekka Rinne has been a question mark in recent seasons but so far this season he has been the Predators’ best, most valuable player. They somehow have six wins while getting just one combined goal from Ryan Johansen and P.K Subban.

20. Boston Bruins — With seven goals in his first nine games Brad Marchand has scored 83 goals since the start of the 2015-16 season. That is the fifth best mark in the NHL behind only Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko.

21. San Jose Sharks — After winning just three of their first four games the Sharks have won four out of their past six games, including a wildly successful five-game road trip.

22. Dallas Stars — So far this Stars season is going about as should have been expected. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are carrying the offense and everything else is just kind of … average. Against playoff teams from a year ago they are only 1-3-0 so far this season.

23. Carolina Hurricanes — Here is a story you have almost certainly heard before: Goaltending has been an early season problem in Carolina. In his first taste as an everyday starter Scott Darling has an .897 save percentage.

24. Colorado Avalanche — Another team that has been hit by a sharp dose of reality after an early season surge. That 7-0 loss to an expansion team is going to leave a mark.

25. Edmonton Oilers — They are still better than their record indicates but the lack of secondary scoring is going to be a real problem. Maybe trading Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle for Adam Larsson and Ryan Strome wasn’t the best idea.

26. Florida Panthers — They have four players at the top of the lineup all averaging a point-per-game but things are not going well defensively or in net where Roberto Luongo remains sidelined.

27. Detroit Red Wings — A fast start has quickly turned into disappointment thanks to a six-game losing streak. This is more of what should have been expected from this team.

28. Montreal Canadiens — It has been the perfect storm of chaos in Montreal so far this season. A bad start, some off ice drama, the captain has just three goals (zero assists) in his first 11 games.

29. New York Rangers — At this point it is not quite clear if the defense is still an issue or poor goaltending performances are still clouding things. Either way, the Rangers probably did not expect to be near the bottom of the standings at any point this season. This team should not be this bad.

30. Buffalo Sabres — Jason Pominville has played well in his return to Buffalo and Jack Eichel is great. Everything else is lousy.

31. Arizona Coyotes — You really do not need to say anything when you look at the standings to see 0-10-1.

The Buzzer: Backstrom dominates, another shutout for Anderson

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Player of the night: Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals

Before the Washington Capitals took the ice in New Jersey on Friday night there was some doubt as to whether or not Nicklas Backstrom would play after he left warmups after taking a puck to the head (he was initially listed as a scratch).

He not only played, he absolutely dominated in the Capitals’ 5-2 win.

Backstrom finished with four points, scoring a goal and adding three assists to help the Capitals bounce back from a tough loss on Wednesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov are all tied for the league lead in points (10) after Friday’s game.

The Capitals may not have the depth that they did a year ago, especially after losing Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt over the summer, but they still have some elite players that are going to carry them a long way.

Highlight of the night. 

How can it be anything other than Artemi Panarin‘s first goal as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets? It is a thing of beauty.

Factoid of the night. 

Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson recorded the 39th shutout of his career. That puts him in the top-five among American-born goaltenders.

Misc.

— The Vegas Golden Knights have lost a game. With their loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Friday, as well as the New Jersey Devils’ loss to the Washington Capitals, there are now no more unbeaten teams in the NHL.

— Speaking of the Vegas-Detroit game, Henrik Zetterberg was magnificent for the Red Wings with four points. James Neal also continued his incredible start for Vegas with his sixth goal of the season.

Mike Smith had a brutal night for the Calgary Flames, getting benched after giving up five goals on 22 shots.

— The Colorado Avalanche … dominated? Yeah. They did. Not only did they beat the Anaheim Ducks, 3-1, to improve to 4-1-0 on the young season but they also outshot the Ducks by a 39-18 margin. Has to be concerning if you are a Ducks fan. This game was a classic Randy Carlyle game on the shot chart.

Scores and recaps

Washington Capitals 5, New Jersey Devils 2

Columbus Blue Jackets 3, New York Rangers 1

Colorado Avalanche 3, Anaheim Ducks 1

Ottawa Senators 6, Calgary Flames 0

Detroit Red Wings 6, Vegas Golden Knights 3

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.

Devils first-round pick McLeod out 4-6 weeks following knee surgery

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Michael McLeod had hoped to stick around with the New Jersey Devils for this season. But after an injury in the preseason against the New York Islanders, his 2017-18 campaign will be further delayed.

The Devils announced on Thursday that the 2016 first-round pick has undergone arthroscopic surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee.

He’s expected to miss four to six weeks.

McLeod posted 21 goals and 61 points in 57 games for the Mississauga Steelheads of the Ontario Hockey League in 2015-16 and was selected 12th overall by the Devils in the NHL Draft that summer.

McLeod is still only 19 years old and eligible to return to junior for this season.

Meanwhile, the Devils are off to a 3-0-0 start to the season.

It’s not so much the record that is the surprise, but the early goal totals. New Jersey has tried to beef up its offensive attack with offseason moves each of the past two summers, acquiring Taylor Hall from Edmonton and Marcus Johansson from Washington, and getting the No. 1 overall pick, which they used to take Nico Hischier, in June. So far, they’ve scored 16 goals, an average of 5.33 per game.

Those numbers will surely start to come down as we progress through October and into November, but still, for now that average is second only to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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NHL on NBCSN: Caps’ Ovechkin looks to keep rolling in clash with Penguins

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2017-18 campaign tonight when the Washington Capitals host the Pittsburgh Penguins at 7:30 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

A few people predicted that this season would be the begin of the end of Washington’s run of dominance in the NHL. After all, they lost a number of key pieces like Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams during the summer. But so far, the Caps have showed no signs of slowing down.

They’re 2-0-1 through three games, and they’ve managed to find the back of the net an incredible 14 times during that stretch (they’ve scored at least three goals in every game).

Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov are a huge reason why the Capitals have had plenty of offensive success in 2017-18. Ovechkin, who had 33 goals in 82 games last year, is already up to seven goals in three contests this season. Obviously, that won’t continue, but it’s still impressive considering many thought his better days were behind him.

“I think, organizationally, Alex took it to heart that he’s got to keep evolving,” head coach Barry Trotz said, per the Washington Post. “I mean, it’s tougher when you get older. You’ve got to work out harder, you’ve got to do all that stuff. When you’re younger, you could probably cut a couple corners, because the body responds. As you get older, that body has to be the driving force. I think he put a little more work into that area.”

Meanwhile, Kuznetsov has eight assists this season.  He’s also registered an assist on each of Ovechkin’s seven goals.

As for the Penguins, this season has kind of been a mixed bag through three games. They opened the season with a 5-4 overtime loss to St. Louis at home, they followed that up by getting obliterated in Chicago by a score of 10-1 and they responded by shutting out Nashville 4-0 on Saturday night.

“Our schedule’s been tough,” winger Phil Kessel said, per the Pittsburgh Tribune. “We won last year, and we played back-to-back opening nights and three in four. It’s a tough start. But I thought we played well last game. We just gotta move on from there.”

Of course, these two teams met in the playoffs, again, in 2017 with the Penguins coming out on top (again) in seven games.