Will Butcher

Getty

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.”

————

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

Getty
10 Comments

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: Celebrating genius of McDavid, Bergeron, Karlsson

Getty
1 Comment

Player of the Night: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

Nico Hischier collected two goals and an assist in a blistering effort as the Devils beat the Senators in overtime. Erik Karlsson almost ruined things for New Jersey with three assists. Andrei Vasilevskiy pitched an impressive 43-save shutout as the Lightning edged the Blue Jackets. Ben Bishop narrowly kept Clayton Keller and Derek Stepan from even bigger nights, yet each player scored two goals and one assist apiece in a slim Stars win vs. the Coyotes.

Even Bergeron’s teammates made some waves.

There were great choices for player of the night, but ultimately, Bergeron’s return to the Bruins lineup stands tallest. He scored a goal and three assists, soothing injury-bummed Bruins fans as part of Boston’s victory against Vancouver.

Bergeron didn’t ease right in. He won half of his draws, fired six shots on goal, and almost logged 21 minutes of ice time. Maybe he can hold things together for Boston?

Highlight of the Night: Connor McDavid‘s ridiculous assist

This post goes into greater detail on that and Edmonton’s win, so we’ll just stick this GIF in here because you need to see it either way:

OK, but to avoid an overly redundant buzzer, check Hischier here, David Pastrnak‘s great goal, and Mikhail Sergachev‘s big night. And, as a bonus, Will Butcher must have nodded to Karlsson after sending this ridiculous outlet pass:

Outstanding.

You know what? Enjoy Bishop robbing Derek Stepan as a bonus bonus.

Misc.

Click here for Erik Gudbranson‘s hit and fight. Zack Kassian‘s hit on Ryan Hartman is mentioned there, but just in case you missed it, here it is one more time:

Factoids of the night

Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators continued their hot streak by blanking the Flyers. Rinne enjoys a milestone moment:

Two impressive bits regarding how dominant McDavid and Karlsson have been:

Scores and more

Bruins 6, Canucks 3 (more)

Devils 5, Senators 4 [OT] (more)

Islanders 4, Rangers 3 [SO]

Predators 1, Flyers 0

Lightning 2, Blue Jackets 0 (more)

Oilers 2, Blackhawks 1 [OT] (more)

Blues 4, Avalanche 3

Hurricanes 2, Flames 1

Stars 5, Coyotes 4

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.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

PHT Morning Skate: Islanders make young cancer patient’s dream come true

NHL.com
5 Comments

–ESPN’s latest power rankings look at each team’s biggest worries this season. The Maple Leafs are number one in the rankings, but they should be concerned that a youngster like Mitch Marner might regress during his sophomore season. (ESPN)

–Earlier this season, Lightning forward J.T. Brown raised a fist during the playing of the American anthem. Now, Brown says he won’t raise his first anymore, but he will get more involved in his community. (Tampa Bay Times)

–Happy belated birthday to Penguins winger Phil Kessel who turned 30 on October 2nd. Unfortunately for Phil, Pens TV caught him struggling to blow out his birthday candles. (BarDown)

–Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman came out with his weekly “31 Thoughts” column on Wednesday. He discussed the pressures of the NHL, the latest in the Matt Duchene saga, the Bruins wanting to re-sign Chara and much, much more. (Sportsnet.ca)

Will Butcher, Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier have grabbed a lot of the headlines in New Jersey this season, but allaboutthejersey.com believes that veteran Adam Henrique has been the most important player on the roster. Henrique wins faceoffs, he’s on the first power play unit, the first penalty-killing unit and he’s been productive. (allaboutthejersey.com)

–The Winnipeg Jets signed Steve Mason during the summer so that he could be their starting goaltender for the next two years. That hasn’t exactly worked out. Connor Hellebuyck has been the better of the two goalies and it’s time to make him the starter. (The Score)

–The Mexican Hockey League unveiled their logos and uniforms. They’re pretty unique to say the least. That Olmec Stone Heads logo is…something! (sportslogos.net)

–Now that we’re two weeks into Golden Knights’ inaugural season in the NHL, we know exactly what hockey in Vegas looks like. “With no laws against open containers, it was a tailgate atmosphere in a downtown setting. Instead of fans holding cans of light beers and sitting in patio chairs next to cars in a parking lot, they were on city benches holding half-priced margaritas and towers of frozen alcohol. If you followed the path of a beanbag being tossed during a game of cornhole, your eye would catch an advertisement for a Lady Gaga show.” Sounds like fun! (Vice Sports)

–Ken Holland was a big reason for Detroit’s run of 25 consecutive playoff appearances, but it sounds like a lot of Red Wings fans think he’s become the problem. (metrotimes.com)

–Brandon Bloom, who is an eight-year-old boy suffering from non-Hodgkin lymphoma, got to hit the ice with the New York Islanders. What an experience for the youngster. “When they brought it to our attention, I think everybody was excited about it,” said Islanders forward Josh Bailey. “I had a chance to meet the Bloom family a while ago. They’re really quality people and they’re going through a tough time.” Great work by the Isles and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. (NHL.com)

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.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Lightning vs. Devils; Canadiens vs. Sharks

Getty
1 Comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues with a doubleheader on Tuesday night. In the early game, the New Jersey Devils host the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7:30 p.m. ET. To watch the game online, click here

The Lightning are coming off a 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night. For the sixth game in a row, Nikita Kucherov managed to find the back of the net (he actually scored twice, including the game-winner).

When injuries were piling up for the Bolts last season, the Russian winger was the guy they relied on to get the job done. This season, that hasn’t changed. The Lightning are healthier than they were a year ago, but he just keeps on rolling.

Another player who’s performed well, is goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. The young netminder became the full-time starter when the Lightning traded Ben Bishop to the Kings last season. Although he had some ups and downs last year, he’s been terrific this season.

His individual numbers might not jump off the page (3.00 goals-against-average and a .914 save percentage), but he’s come up with a number of big saves already in 2017-18. Last night’s game against the Wings was no different.

“He’s our starter for a reason,” head coach Jon Cooper said after the win over the Wings, per the Tampa Times. “If you want to win in this league, you have to check and you need your goaltender to bail you out on occasions. And the times we haven’t been checking, Vasy has bailed us out.”

After missing the playoffs last season, many expected the Lightning to be better now. The same can not be said for the Devils, but they’ve been one of the pleasant surprises so far.

New Jersey has a 4-1-0 record and they own a plus-8 goal differential. This young team has really come together early, and it’ll be interesting to see if they’re able to keep it together.

Rookies Will Butcher and Jesper Bratt have been nothing short of fantastic in the early going. Butcher, who the Devils signed as a college free agent this summer, has eight assists in five games. Bratt has accumulated six points in five contests, which isn’t bad for a 19-year-old drafted in the sixth round.

“He’s a good player,” forward Drew Stafford said of Butcher, per NJ.com. “You guys are seeing that. Doesn’t really surprise me anymore. He’s a heck of a player, so for him to have the success that he’s had so far — granted, it’s power play — but that’s something I feel like he can ride as far as he can.”

In the late game, the San Jose Sharks host the Montreal Canadiens at 10:00 p.m. ET. To stream that game live, click here

It’s been a tough start to the year for the Canadiens, as they’ve managed to come away with one win in their first five contests.

Despite adding Jonathan Drouin this off-season and having Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk and a few others, Montreal is still the only team in the league to has played five games and scored less than 10 goals.

They scored a season-high three goals against the Maple Leafs on Saturday night, but they fell 4-3 in overtime thanks to Auston Matthews‘ game-winner.

“I think our guys are focused on what needs to be done internally, inside the dressing room, and what we’re trying to accomplish here,” Claude Julien said, per the Montreal Gazette. “I think so far they’ve done a pretty good job of that. There’s no doubt when you got some guys that are goal-scorers that haven’t scored yet … it’s a normal thing that they might be squeezing the stick a little bit. But that’s what they got to overcome and that’s what we got to try and do and improve our game as we go along here.”

Pacioretty scored a goal in the season opener against Buffalo, but he hasn’t found the back of the net since. Drouin and Galchenyuk both netted their first goals of the season on Saturday night. Three goals in five games from those three players simply isn’t enough.

This will be the first of a three-game road swing in California that never seems to treat the Canadiens well.

Things haven’t been much better for the San Jose Sharks, as they have just one win in four contests.

“It’s on us as players,” Logan Couture said, per the San Jose Mercury News. “If we’re playing well, then the lines aren’t going to change. If we’re not, then they’re going to change them around. How we play will dictate what the lineup is.

“No one’s scoring. You could say our line’s not scoring and we’re not, but no one is. As a team, we’ve got to find ways to create some more offense.”

The Sharks have scored eight goals, like Montreal, but in one less game. Kevin Labanc has three of the eight markers.

If you’re a betting person, you may want to look at the under in this one, but weird things seem to happen when east coast teams go play out west.

Enjoy the hockey!

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.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS: