Scott Hartnell

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PHT Power Rankings: Making sense of the early standings

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October is a magical time in the NHL.

Teams haven’t yet figured out how to play defense, goaltenders can be a little rusty, goal scoring briefly spikes and the season is still so young that we can’t really get a firm grasp on what teams are going to look like.

Which team off to a fast start is for real? Which slumping team is truly doomed? Should we pay attention to any of this so far because the early season results can lie to us.

That’s what we attempt to look at in our first installment of the PHT Power Rankings: Which teams are as good as they look, which teams are as bad as they look, and which teams have played better than their early terrible records.

At the top of the rankings we have the Toronto Maple Leafs, winners of four out of their first five and the highest scoring team in the league. Is Mike Babcock satisfied with the fact they are giving up nearly as many goals and chances as they score? Probably not. But these young kids can flat out fly and once they get turned loose there are not many defenses in the league that can slow them down.

From there, we break the 31 NHL teams down into four tiers: Teams as good as they look, teams likely to fall, teams likely to rise, and the teams at the bottom that are exactly what they look like.

As good as they look

1. Toronto Maple Leafs — Auston Matthews is better than the pre-draft hype. We knew he was a slam-dunk No. 1 pick. We knew he had All-Star potential. He is still better. And not by a little, either. Five goals and eight points in his first five games to start the season and a 58.6 percent Corsi mark. Just a dominant, dominant, dominant player.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning — Injuries, especially the season-ending one to Steven Stamkos, decimated this team a year ago. Fully healthy this is still a Stanley Cup contender.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets — Artemi Panarin is showing that he doesn’t need Patrick Kane next to him to produce and that is great news for the Blue Jackets. They needed a game-breaking forward up front, and now they have one.

4. Chicago Blackhawks — It has been the Corey Crawford and Brandon Saad show in Chicago this year. Just when you think the Blackhawks might start to slow down or that their run as one of the NHL’s top dogs was starting to come to an end, they find a way to stick around.

5. Los Angeles Kings — Is it possible that they just needed a new voice, a new system and a new approach? I have my doubts, but it is hard to argue with the results thus far … both the record and the underlying numbers.

6. Calgary Flames — If Mike Smith can give them competent goaltending (and so far he has!) this team could be a serious threat in the Western Conference, especially with that top-four on defense.

Fast start, but not as good as they look (Teams likely to fall)

7. St. Louis Blues — Pretty amazing start given the injury situation, but they have been absolutely crushed on the shot chart and you have to wonder how long they can withstand that.

8. New Jersey Devils — Nico Hischier gets all of the headlines as the No. 1 overall pick, but don’t sleep on defenseman Will Butcher. He already has eight assists in his first five games. An improved team for sure, but probably not one that is as good as its early record.

9. Ottawa Senators — The most confusing team in the league? Their run to the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago was a shock. They were a double-overtime Game 7 on the road away from being in the Stanley Cup Final, but it wasn’t really a team that made you think they could do it again. Now, they have started the season with eight out of a possible 10 points without getting a single minute of play from Erik Karlsson. Stunning. They also have the second worst shot attempt numbers in the league. Not an encouraging sign for future play.

10. Detroit Red Wings — After missing the playoffs for the first time in more than two decades expectations were near an all-time low for the Red Wings this season. They are off to a great start, but this roster is still problematic.

11. Colorado Avalanche — That defense will not hold up. It just won’t. Have to be encouraged by Nail Yakupov’s start up front though.

12. Vegas Golden Knights — One of the best starts ever by an expansion team, but how long is it going to last? The best thing about James Neal’s start is what it is doing to his trade value for the deadline.

EDMONTON, AB – OCTOBER 04: Connor McDavid #97, who had a hat trick, celebrates with goaltender Cam Talbot #33 of the Edmonton Oilers, who posted a shutout against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Place on October 4, 2017 in Edmonton, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

Slow start, but better than they look (Teams likely to rise)

13. Edmonton Oilers — Making them one of the odds on favorites to win the Stanley Cup this season is premature. Also premature? Writing them off after a slow start. They are the top possession team in the NHL and they still have Connor McDavid.

14. Pittsburgh Penguins — After dropping their first two games (where they gave up 15 goals!) they have won three out of their next four and seem to be starting to get back on track a little. They still need to make another move or two to fix that center depth.

15. Washington Capitals — Are they going to win the Presidents’ Trophy again? No. But they have three of the top offensive players in the NHL and Alex Ovechkin is still the best pure goal scorer in the league.

16. Nashville Predators — Filip Forsberg looks like he is well on his way to another 30-goal season and Scott Hartnell has looked like a steal of a pickup.

17. Montreal Canadiens — They have some question marks, but they have played significantly better than their early season record indicates. A true test of process vs. results. If the same process continues, the better results are going to come.

18. Minnesota Wild — They have earned at least one point in three of their first four games and Nino Niederreiter, arguably their best two-way player, has yet to hit the score sheet. He will be fine and so will they.

19. Boston Bruins — They are a top-heavy team, but the guys at the top of the roster can be some of the best in the league. Let’s see how they look when Patrice Bergeron and David Backes get back in the lineup.

20. Philadelphia Flyers — There is a lot of young talent on this team and they can be really good, really fast … if they get the goaltending.

21. Florida Panthers — Their possession numbers look fantastic so far and having a full season of a healthy Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov will be game-changing for them. Last season might have been the fluke.

22. Carolina Hurricanes — Only three games to go by at this point, but the roster looks good, the young talent seems to be for real. If they do not contend for a playoff spot this season something is very, very wrong.

23. San Jose Sharks — Four games into the season and Brent Burns and Joe Thornton have combined for only two assists. That will not continue.

24. New York Rangers — The results (1-5-0) are lousy, but like Montreal and Edmonton ahead of them they have played much better than that record indicates. Mika Zibanejad has been a real bright spot so far, already scoring five goals.

25. Anaheim Ducks — I know, they were in the Western Conference Finals. They have had back-to-back 100-point seasons. But they have just looked lousy so far. That can not continue, can it?

Exactly what they look like

26. Dallas Stars — Still not entirely sold on this team, even after another offseason of blockbuster moves. Sometimes you need to actually just win.

27. New York Islanders — Once John Tavares starts to get going things will get better, and Joshua Ho-Sang can be a fascinating player if they turn him loose. But after that it’s a pretty dull team.

28. Winnipeg Jets — This should be a good team. This looks like a good team on paper. They have great individual talent up and down the lineup But it never materializes on the ice.

29. Vancouver Canucks — Rebuilding team that isn’t really rebuilding and doesn’t have anybody that is truly exciting as a long-term building block. Bo Horvat is good, but with all due respect to him and his ability if he is your player and top scorer that is probably not a good situation to be in.

30. Buffalo Sabres — Five games into the season and an eight-year contract and Jack Eichel is already frustrated with losing. That is not a promising start.

31. Arizona Coyotes — Better days are ahead, but when you have a team with his many young players and so many new faces there are going to be some pretty fierce growing pains along the way. The Coyotes are experiencing that so far this season. First-year coach Rick Tocchet already had to apologize to the fans.

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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.

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PHT Morning Skate: 5 toughest opponents Mark Scheifele has ever faced

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–Check out the highlights from Wednesday’s game between the Capitals and Penguins. Pittsburgh beat Washington in the playoffs last season, and they did it again last night. (Top)

–Surprisingly enough, Matt Duchene is still a member of the Colorado Avalanche. But how long before his teammates become as fed up of the current situation in Denver as he is? GM Joe Sakic has to pull the trigger on a move before this thing spirals even further out of control. (scottywazz.com)

–The Vegas Golden Knights are off to a strong 3-0-0 start, but their power play has been ineffective since the preseason. On top of not having the best talent at their disposal, they also don’t get to dangerous areas of the ice enough. (knightsonice.com)

–Goal scoring has been at a premium since the last lockout. On average, teams have been combining for 5.34 to 5.45 goals-per-game. It might be a small sample size, but teams are scoring 6.22 goals-per-game. Also, 15 teams are averaging three goals per game. (Fanragsports.com)

–Despite missing a number of key players like Alex Steen, Patrik Berglund, Robby Fabbri, Zach Sanford and Jay Bouwmeester, the Blues have managed to start the year 4-0-0. “I would say our veterans have really stepped up their game, and not allowed any type of adversity to creep in and give us any type of excuses,” head coach Mike Yeo said. “Our group is a competitive group, and we believe despite having some guys out of the lineup, we’re still capable of winning hockey games.” (Sporting News)

–Carolina isn’t a traditional hockey market and they haven’t made the playoffs in a while, so it’s not surprising that their attendance is low, but the fact that they had just 7,892 fans for their home opener is mind-boggling. “I talk to our sales staff all the time (that) winning or losing doesn’t stop us from doing our job,” president Don Waddell said. “If we win, it’s going to make our job a little easier to sell more tickets. But we don’t use that as an excuse.” (Charlotte Observer)

–Lightning forward J.T. Brown was the first player to protest during the anthem this season. Commissioner Gary Bettman might not want to see protests from his players because the league isn’t political in his mind, but that’s not exactly true. (fiveforhowling.com)

–The Vancouver Canucks should be in rebuild mode, but the fact that they have so many veteran players is a problem for their NHL and AHL team. Top prospect Brock Boeser hasn’t been able to get into an NHL game yet, while Anton Rodin and Patrick Wiercioch have been scratched in AHL games. (vancourier.com)

–Jets forward Mark Scheifele describes himself as a “hockey nerd”. He watches hockey all the time, he thinks about hockey all the time, and now he’s even writing about hockey for The Players’ Tribune. In this story, Scheifele identifies the five most difficult players he’s ever played against. One of the players in the list is Montreal’s Carey Price. Scheifele had no problem admitting that Price has made him look silly before. (Players’ Tribune)

–A few years ago, the NHL decided to force every player that had under 26 games of experience to wear a visor when they got to the league. Today, 94 percent of NHLers have a visor in, which means that only 34 players don’t have one. That’s remarkably low. (Associated Press)

–Hockey has clearly become a young man’s game. A good number of superstars in the league are 23 years old or younger, which isn’t surprising considering what we saw from Team North America at last year’s World Cup. Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Filip Forsberg, Johnny Gaudreau and many others are still incredibly young, but also dominant. (NHL.com)

Scott Hartnell was bought out by the Blue Jackets this offseason, so he made his way back to Nashville where his career began. It’s early, but he looks rejuvenated now that he’s back with his old team. He’s scoring, contributing and causing problems for the other team in front of their net. (Tennessean)

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.

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Predators complete ‘crazy comeback’ against Flyers

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The banner went up and the home team came back to win in a thrilling finish. All in all, a perfect night for the Nashville Predators and their fans.

Filip Forsberg scored his second goal with 35.6 seconds left and the Predators rallied by scoring twice in the final 1:17 to beat the Philadelphia Flyers 6-5 on Tuesday for their first victory of the season.

“This season, being down 0-2, it was a huge game for us,” Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne said. “Good start to the game and then let it slip a little bit and then a huge comeback. I feel like we’ve done that many times. It’s a pretty hard way to play. Emotionally and everything, it was a big win for us.”

On the night they raised their Western Conference championship banner, the Predators blew a 3-0 lead as the Flyers scored five straight goals.

Read more: Nolan Patrick’s first career NHL goal helps spark Flyers comeback

But then Forsberg scored his first of the game 50 seconds after the Flyers took a 5-3 lead, and Scott Hartnell jammed in his second goal tying it with 1:17 left on a 5-on-3 that was actually 6-on-3 with Rinne pulled. When Philadelphia coach Dave Hakstol challenged for offside and lost, the Predators had the man advantage, and Forsberg scored the winning goal top shelf.

Hakstol was surprised he lost the replay review.

“Otherwise, I wouldn’t have made the challenge,” he said.

Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said the team practiced the 5-on-3 situation Monday, with the sixth attacker a bonus.

“Our guys did a really good job,” Laviolette said.

Craig Smith and Nick Bonino also scored, and P.K. Subban had three assists for Nashville. Forsberg also had an assist on Hartnell’s tying goal as Nashville won its fifth straight home opener.

Valtteri Filppula scored twice for the Flyers, and Andrew McDonald, Nolan Patrick and Travis Konecny each added a goal. Philadelphia finished 2-2 on its first four-game road trip to open a season since 1971.

The Predators, losers at Boston and Pittsburgh, raised the banner 19 years to the day of the first game in franchise history.

Mike Fisher , the captain who retired in August , joined current captain Roman Josi in unveiling the banner before it was raised to the rafters. Then country star Trace Adkins performed the national anthem, and Nashville’s mayor came out to wave a towel as the Predators continued their playoff tradition for at least the home opener.

Then the Predators gave their fans reason to keep cheering, with Smith scoring a power-play goal with a wrister past Brian Elliott at 4:17 of the first period. That gave Nashville its first lead this season, and the Predators took eight of the first 10 shots.

Nashville scored first in the second period, too. Hartnell beat Elliott with a slap shot off the rebound of teammate Pontus Aberg‘s shot at 3:08 for a 2-0 lead. Mattias Ekholm skated across the crease, and his backhand shot went off Elliott to Bonino, who easily tapped the puck in for a 3-0 lead and his first goal since leaving Pittsburgh for Nashville this offseason .

Then the Flyers turned the celebration into a game. McDonald scored his first goal on a slap shot at 10:19, and Patrick, the second overall pick in the June draft, got his first career goal 16 seconds later on a wrister. Philadelphia took advantage of its third power play in the period when Filppula scored on a wrister at 15:05, tying it at 3.

Konecny scored on a breakaway at 5:03 followed by Filppula’s power-play goal for a 5-3 lead that seemed safe until Forsberg pulled Nashville within a goal 50 seconds later to set up the amazing finish.

“Obviously, a crazy comeback,” Forsberg said.

The Flyers picked up two penalties on the same play with 2:41 left, giving Nashville a 5-on-3 advantage. Hakstol lost his challenge for offside, and a delay-of-game penalty gave Nashville the man advantage.

“We gave it away,” Elliott said.

 

It took Ryan Reaves three games to become a fan favorite in Pittsburgh

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When the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Ryan Reaves at the NHL draft general manager Jim Rutherford basically said that he was tired of seeing his team get pushed around every night.

That comment — and the trade itself — came just a few weeks after he was highly critical of the league’s treatment of star players by saying this to Ken Campbell of the Hockey News.

“I hear year after year how the league and everyone loves how the Penguins play. ‘They play pure hockey and they skate.’ Well, now it’s going to have to change and I feel bad about it, but it’s the only way we can do it. We’re going to have to get one or two guys…and some of these games that should be just good hockey games will turn into a sh—show. We’ll go right back to where we were in the ’70s and it’s really a shame.”

Translation: If the league won’t protect our guys, we will find somebody to do it for us.

Enter Reaves, one of the biggest, strongest, and most physical players in the NHL.

On Saturday night, just his third game with his new team, he instantly became one of the most popular players in the city by getting into two fights, scoring a goal, trash talking the Predators bench, being named the game’s No. 1 star, and then conducting his post-game locker room interview while wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers helmet. During the game, a 4-0 Penguins win in a Stanley Cup Final rematch with the Nashville Predators, his name echoed throughout PPG Paints Arena after each of his fights and after a late-game dust up with long-time Penguins nemesis Scott Hartnell.

If he puts Brandon Dubinsky in a headlock the next time the Penguins play Columbus they might already have the statue in the place.

Overall, the game was a case study in what a player like Reaves can do.

And also what he can not prevent.

At the end of the night pretty much everybody saw what they wanted to see from the game.

If you’re a Penguins fan, Penguins management or most especially a Penguins player you saw retribution. You saw a player stand up for your stars and get a pound of flesh in return. It was a message, and it was probably satisfying, especially in a win.

But, on the other side of it, the only reason he had to distribute some retribution and get that pound of flesh in return is because chippy stuff was still happening on the ice to your star players.

If you belong to the school of thought that fighters don’t deter violence and cheap shots (the side I fall on) you still saw Sidney Crosby get punched in the head during a scrum. You still saw him take the butt-end of a stick to the face during a face-off. You still saw Evgeni Malkin get run behind the net and then later in the game get held down behind the play. You saw Hartnell high-stick Crosby while Reaves was skating on his wing, and after Reaves had previously attempted to draw Hartnell into a fight earlier in the game.

Those two fights — one with Cody McLeod and another with Austin Watson) and one attempted fight didn’t make anybody on Nashville think twice about doing anything.

There is an argument to be made all it did was make the game nastier (the aforementioned sh–show that Jim Rutherford talked about last postseason) than it otherwise would have been.

 

As Saturday night showed teams are still going to try to push the Penguins around if they want to. They are still going to have Crosby, Malkin and Kris Letang in their crosshairs. That will never change and there isn’t a single player in the league that can make them stop.

The wild thing about Reaves’ game on Saturday is that he actually played a really good game. He only played seven minutes, but they were an effective seven minutes. When he wasn’t fighting, he was physical, but in a useful sense. He was aggressive on the forecheck, he skated well, and yes, he scored a goal, too. If he can provide something like that every single night he would absolutely be a useful fourth-line addition. But that doesn’t seem to be the expectation for him. That isn’t what anybody wants to see. They want to see the gloves off and skulls getting crushed whenever Sidney Crosby gets hit.

But there is a delicate balance between being the guy to stand up for your teammates and the guy that crosses the line and puts your team shorthanded because you’re trying for vigilante justice.

It did not hurt the Penguins on Saturday, and, admittedly, it all made for a pretty entertaining spectacle inside the building.

But there might come a time where it does hurt them because there is a fine line between standing up for yourself and letting things get out of control. (Remember, the Blues lost a playoff game last season in large part because Reaves took an extra penalty during a scrum, leading to a power play goal against in what would go on to be a one-goal loss).

One of the biggest flaws the Penguins had toward the tail end of the Dan Bylsma era was that they were too easy to rile up and they would become too preoccupied with getting even when somebody wronged them on the ice. They would become maniacs and lose sight of the task at hand (winning) because they had to respond physically. Remember that 2012 playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers? Total disaster.

Over the past two seasons they let that stuff go, not only because they didn’t have anyone on the team to answer it, but also just the overall mindset of the team.

Did that mean teams would push them around a bit? It sure did. But do you know what teams didn’t do? Beat them when it count.

Predators eager to return after team’s shortest offseason

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Nashville Predators couldn’t be happier to return to work after their painful loss in the Stanley Cup Final , a deep playoff run that made for the shortest offseason in franchise history.

“I feel like it’s been enough time,” goaltender Pekka Rinne said Thursday. “I had a good few months in Finland, close to my family, my friends. Enough time to get ready, enough time to work, train and be off the ice and get your body recovered and also ready. So I think it was enough time.”

Many of the Predators have been skating together for the past three weeks, and 20 of them helped the NFL’s Tennessee Titans kick off their season last weekend as the honorary 12th Titan.

They reported Thursday to Bridgestone Arena for the start of training camp, and they spoke in a hallway outside the visitors’ locker room with renovations to their own dressing room not finished yet for the Western Conference champs. They hit the ice Friday for testing followed by the first practice Saturday.

Center Ryan Johansen said it feels awesome to get back to work and see teammates again with the offseason over after a painful loss to Pittsburgh in six games in June .

“Everyone’s always looking forward to a fresh start, new season,” Johansen said. “Looking forward to get things going.”

FULLY RECOVERED: Johansen, knocked out of the Western Conference finals with acute compartment syndrome in his left thigh, said he’s completely healthy. Same with forward Kevin Fiala, who broke his left femur in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against St. Louis. Johansen signed an eight-year, $64 million deal in late July, perhaps the biggest sign of confidence from the Predators that their first-line center recovered nicely.

But center Nick Bonino, a free agent addition from the Pittsburgh Penguins, is recovering from surgery in July to add a couple screws in the foot he broke during the Stanley Cup Final. He said he remains on track for his goal of playing in the season opener Oct. 5 in Boston.

CAPTAIN, WHO’S CAPTAIN: Mike Fisher announced his retirement in August after 17 NHL seasons , leaving the Predators looking for his replacement. Not that Nashville is in a big hurry to name the eighth captain in franchise history. Defensemen Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis are among the options, and it was Josi who had the honors among the Predators of plunging a sword into the field before the Titans’ season opener last weekend. Johansen said the Predators all know who their leaders are. “That’s just something coaches will announce I’m sure when they’re ready,” Johansen said.

WAITING ON ELLIS: The Predators announced last week that Ellis, who was at his best in the playoffs with 13 points, will be out until late December or maybe even January as he recovers from offseason knee surgery. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Ellis played with Josi down the stretch before being hurt during the Stanley Cup Final.

Nashville traded for Alexei Emelin, a move general manager David Poile said was made knowing they would need help while Ellis recovered. Now Predators coach Peter Laviolette has to decide whether to play Emelin with Josi or break up the pairing of All-Star P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm. Subban played with Emelin in Montreal and said obviously he developed great chemistry with Ekholm. “It’s going to come down to what’s best for the team, and if it’s best for us to play together still,” Subban said. “If not, we’re going to have to be positive about the situation we’re in.”

NOT SO NEW FACE: A year ago, the Predators had to work Subban into their mix. Now there’s Bonino, Emelin and Scott Hartnell. The 35-year-old-veteran isn’t a stranger to Nashville, drafted by the Predators sixth overall in 2000. He signed a one-year contract for $1 million in July.