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NHL Power Rankings: Here come the Flames

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Expectations were high for the Calgary Flames entering this season.

They have a promising young core of talent centered around Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Dougie Hamilton, then spent a bunch of money to bring in Travis Hamonic and Mike Smith over the summer. Hamonic, along with Hamilton, Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie seemed to give them one of the better defensive units in the NHL (at least as far as the top-four is concerned) and Smith was expected to solidify a goaltending position that had been a pretty big sore spot the past couple of years.

When we last checked in with our power rankings two weeks ago the Flames were looking like one of the bigger disappointments in the league. They were on the outside of the playoff picture and looking like they were running out of time to make a big move in the standings.

But a six-game winning streak can change a lot.

Entering the week the Flames find themselves in the No. 2 spot in the Pacific Division and have built a four-point cushion over the first non-playoff teams in the West. One of those teams (San Jose) still has four games in hand on them, but the Flames are finally starting to resemble the team they were expected to be over the summer. They are 9-2-1 in their past 11 games.

Gaudreau is blossoming into a superstar while Smith has been on a roll in net over the past few weeks.

They made one of the biggest jumps in this week’s rankings.

Here is a look at where everyone else falls this week.

The Elites

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — Losing Victor Hedman for 3-6 weeks is going to hurt in the short-term, but the Lightning have their bye week for the first week of that timetable and have given themselves a huge cushion in the standings. They have the offense and goaltender to withstand that loss for a couple of weeks.

2. Vegas Golden Knights — Yes. Somehow Vegas gets included in the elites now, too. I only saw somehow because this story is still insane. An expansion team. A legitimate Stanley Cup contender more than halfway through the season. Madness. Entering Monday the Golden Knights are 14-1-2 in their previous 17 games, a stretch that includes games against Anaheim, Nashville (twice), Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, St. Louis and Washington. They are going to get a big test here with a four-game road trip including games against Nashville and Tampa Bay.

The Rest Of The Best

3. Washington Capitals — After losing a lot this offseason it was supposed to be a step back this season. That step back still has them on pace for 109 points and another Metropolitan Division title. As the NHL standings sit today, their reward for that would be a first-round matchup against … the Pittsburgh Penguins.

4. Boston Bruins — Given the offseason seasons for Mathew Barzal and Brock Boeser it is going to be tough for him to get a lot of attention in the Calder Trophy race, but Charlie McAvoy has been just as impactful as both. If not more impactful.

5. Nashville Predators — P.K. Subban should be one of the leaders in the clubhouse for the Norris Trophy at this point. His defensive play right now is laughably underrated.

6. Winnipeg Jets — It is really impressive how much offensive talent the Jets have, and how much of it is still young. Kyle Connor is scoring at a 30-goal pace over 82 games as a 20-year-old rookie and nobody even really mentions him much. If the goaltending can hold it together they will be a fascinating team to watch.

7. Los Angeles Kings — Jonathan Quick has at times been a little overrated in his career, but his performance this season has matched the reputation he has built. It’s almost as if he’s been a little underrated this year.

Just A Step Below

8. St. Louis Blues — The Blues need more from Jake Allen. A lot more. Carter Hutton has been really strong in a backup role this season and it’s probably time to give him a few more starts and ride the hot hand.

9. Calgary Flames — What a difference a couple of weeks can make in a team’s outlook for the season.

10. Columbus Blue Jackets — Jack Johnson wants a trade, but it is hard to see him bringing much of a return. Not only because every team knows he wants out, but because he is probably best suited as a third-pairing defenseman. There doesn’t seem to be a lot for Columbus to gain here and it’s hard to see Johnson getting more playing time on a team that will give him a better chance to win than Columbus will.

11. New Jersey Devils — They enter the week on a six-game losing streak. Time to panic, or just a small speed bump during  a long season full of peaks and valleys? They are still scoring goals so that is a good sign they can turn things around again.

12. Toronto Maple Leafs — They still have flaws, but it is amazing they are a top-five team in goals scored while getting only 14 goals from William Nylander and Mitch Marnrer and with Auston Matthews missing 10 games. Crazy depth up front.

13. Colorado Avalanche — One of the hottest teams in the NHL at the moment. Six game winning streak and 11-3-1 in their past 15 games. They are currently on the outside of the playoff picture, but they are only two points back and have two games in hand on the team they are chasing.

The Middle Ground

14. Pittsburgh Penguins — The Penguins are really on to something with this Sidney Crosby, Daniel Sprong, Dominik Simon line. It has also added a lot more balance to their forward lines. With Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel all rolling now the Penguins look like the Penguins again.

15. Dallas Stars — Alexander Radulov isn’t getting enough attention this season. He is on track for a career year offensively, is driving possession, and has generally been pretty outstanding for the Stars.

16. San Jose Sharks — Still having a hard time getting a feel for the Sharks. They are not bad, they are not really anything special, they are currently on the outside of the playoff picture … but they also have only played in 41 games and have multiple games in hand on everyone. They are not out of it by any stretch.

17. Minnesota Wild — Eric Staal‘s resurgence in Minnesota the past two years has been a pretty stunning development. He looked like he was done toward the end of his time in Carolina.

18. Philadelphia Flyers — Sean Couturier is on pace for 47 goals while playing dominant, shutdown defense. The goal scoring might end up being a bit of an outlier in his career (he is not a 19 percent shooter every year) but it is still a remarkable season for him.

19. New York Rangers — They have always been dependent on Henrik Lundqvist but right now they are taking that to an entirely new level. The defensive strategy just seems to be “pray that Lundqvist stops everything.”

20. Chicago Blackhawks — Like the trade for Anthony Duclair. Fresh start on a talented team might be good for him, and the Blackhawks could certainly use another young forward to fly around and create offense. But is the defense good enough to get them in the playoffs, especially with Corey Crawford‘s status still in question?

21. Anaheim Ducks — If they get healthy — and stay healthy — they could still be a team to watch out for in the second half. As of Monday they are two points back of a playoff spot. The challenge will be overcoming the five teams ahead of them at the moment.

22. Carolina Hurricanes — Just when it looked like they were ready to make a big move in the East they dropped six out of eight. Still a lot of intriguing talent and the new owner seems like he is fired up and can bring plenty of excitement. There is a core here you can win with.

23. New York Islanders — They might not make the playoffs, they still have to re-sign John Tavares and Josh Bailey, but Mathew Barzal looks dynamite. They fall so low because they are really cold right now and have lost a lot of ground in a short period of time. Still very much in the playoff race, but trending in the wrong direction.

Better Luck Next Season

24. Detroit Red Wings — They enter the week 5-2-0 over their past seven games, trying to show some signs of live. That is good news. The bad news: Even with that nice little run they are still probably out of the playoff race.

25. Florida Panthers — Aleksander Barkov got a much deserved spot on the Atlantic Division All-Star team. A true bright spot for the Panthers and a foundational player to build around for a long, long time.

26. Edmonton Oilers — They won two in a row heading into the bye week but the mountain standing in front of them for a playoff spot is still a massive one.

27. Montreal Canadiens — Don’t look now but Max Pacioretty is starting to turn it around. He has points in four consecutive games, including three straight with a goal.

28. Vancouver Canucks — It’s still the Brock Boeser show in Vancouver.

29. Ottawa Senators — After scoring at least 15 goals in each of the past four seasons Erik Karlsson has only three goals in 37 games this season. That is by far the worst goal-scoring pace of his NHL career. The only other time it was that low was his rookie season when he only played in 60 games as a 19-year-old.

30. Buffalo Sabres — The big thing worth watching now is where does Evander Kane end up before the trade deadline?

31. Arizona Coyotes — The Coyotes are on track to be one of the worst teams in recent memory. Only 27 points through 45 games and a minus-55 goal differential.

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.

Watch Tyler Seguin beat the Bruins in OT with incredible individual effort

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This one has to sting a little bit for Boston Bruins fans.

The Bruins fell to the Dallas Stars in overtime on Monday afternoon by a 3-2 margin after scoring a pair of goals to erase what had been a two-goal deficit. It helped the Bruins pick up a point in the standings for the 13th consecutive game and 16th time in the past 17.

They were unable to get a win, however, because Tyler Seguin did this in overtime.

Oh man. He literally skated around all three Bruins defenders, left them all in the dust, and then scored his 22nd goal of the season to win the game.

This one has to be a little painful for Bruins fans because, if you remember, the Bruins traded Seguin to the Dallas Stars just a few years ago for a package of players that included Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith, and Joe Morrow. Today, the Bruins have none of those players remaining in the organization and nothing to show for any of them. All for a player signed to a bargain contract that is just now entering the prime of his career.

It is not all bad for the Bruins because they still have one of the best teams in the NHL right now, but just try to imagine what they would look like with Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin down the middle.

Scary.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Best line combinations this season; Vanek on the move?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Up top, check out the highlights from the Penguins’ win over the Rangers on Sunday night.

J.T. Brown will begin a new adventure now that he’s been claimed off waivers by the Anaheim Ducks. (NHL.com/Ducks)

• Don’t be surprised if Tampa Bay hosts an outdoor game in the near future. (Tampa Times)

• If Jake Allen doesn’t put his struggles behind him soon, the Blues’ season could end in disappointment. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

• The South Korean women’s hockey team would like to invite players from North Korea to join their squad. (NBC Sports)

Nathan MacKinnon is grabbing all the headlines in Colorado, but Mikko Rantanen has been huge for the Avs this season. (Mile High Hockey)

• How is each team’s minor league affiliate handing out ice time? Is it mostly going to youngsters or minor-league veterans? (faceoffcircle.ca)

Thomas Vanek has been a pleasant surprise for the Canucks, which means he could be on his way out the door before the trade deadline. (The Province)

• Speaking of the Canucks, Derrick Pouliot has quietly been effective defensively with his new team. (Nucksmisconduct.com)

• Which line combinations have been solid for their respective teams this season? (Fan Rag Sports)

• Former NHLer Emerson Etem has signed a contract with HC Lugano of the Swiss League. (Swiss Hockey News)

Brian Elliott‘s wife, Amanda, has always given back to her community and country. She served as a intelligence officer in the United States Air Force in 2007. She also started a program called “Operation Shower” which is “a nonprofit geared toward hosting baby showers for military members who can’t be with family, friends and loved ones while on deployment.” (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• Mike Babcock not using Auston Matthews on the Leafs’ first power play unit is pretty puzzling. (National Post)

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.

The Buzzer: Mike Smith on fire for Flames

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Player of the Night: Mike Smith, Calgary Flames

While Petr Mrazek pitched a 27-save shutout as the Red Wings lulled the Blackhawks to sleep, Smith deserves recognition for another strong game, but beyond that for defying expectations in 2017-18. He’s been red-hot in particular lately.

This marks Smith’s sixth consecutive win, and he’s faced 30+ shots on goal in all of those victories. Sunday represented one of his best performances of that stretch, stopping 38 out of 39 shots against the frustrated Carolina Hurricanes.

It’s not just a flash in the pan, either. Smith is now 20-13-3 on the season with a sparkling .924 save percentage.

Confession: few of us expected this level of work, and such durability, from the massive 35-year-old.

Highlights of the Night

Pretty sweet stuff from Michael Grabner for the Rangers in a loss to the Penguins.

It’s probably worth seeing Phil Kessel‘s 700th point again, even if it was typical, at least by Kessel’s sniping standards. More on Kessel’s milestone here.

After missing 21 games, Brandon Sutter scored the overtime game-winner for the Canucks against the Wild.

Factoids

Another Kessel tidbit:

Tyler Bertuzzi, like Dominik Simon, scored his first NHL goal. He gets the edge because of this great, very “hockey” photo.

Scores

Red Wings 4, Blackhawks 0
Flames 4, Hurricanes 1
Penguins 5, Rangers 2
Canucks 3, Wild 2 (OT)

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.

Skate blade grazes Milan Lucic’s neck in scary incident

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It was a tough night for gruesome injuries on Saturday.

If Phillip Danault‘s puck to the head of a slap shot from Zdeno Chara wasn’t enough, Edmonton Oilers forward Milan Lucic came within millimeters of his life being in severe jeopardy.

Lucic appeared to fall in the neutral zone and when he did, he took Vegas Golden Knights forward Tomas Nosek with him.

In the video below — and in a very serious event that wasn’t all that noticeable during the broadcast — Nosek’s skate grazed Lucic’s neck.

Lucic tweeted a picture of the cut following the Oilers 3-2 overtime win over the Golden Knights. As you can see, s some stitches were required to repair the wound.

In the tweet, he said, “Close call… but ok,” along with the hashtag. “#skategrazedjugular.”

Close call, indeed.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck