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NHL Power Rankings: Bruins contenders again

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If you were starting to get worried that sports fans in Boston didn’t have enough good things to be happy about lately I am here to bring you some good news: Their hockey team is looking like a legitimate contender again. Especially now that they are healthy.

The Bruins enter play on Tuesday on a 15-3-2 run over their past 20 games, are one of the best possession teams in hockey, and have three of the best forwards in the league (Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak) at the top of their lineup to drive the offense.

One of biggest developments though are the fact they have rebuilt their defense over the past couple of years with an infusion of young talent, including one of the league’s top rookies in Charlie McAvoy. He is not only playing more than 23 minutes per game, but is also playing them at an extremely high level. Once the strength of their roster, the Bruins defense took a significant hit in recent years due to age, the salary cap, and some trades that depleted their depth. With Torey Krug taking a big step forward and the development of McAvoy and Brandon Carlo that unit is once again a formidable one for a contender.

Then there is the resurgence of starting goaltender Tuukka Rask.

It’s not that Rask was necessarily bad the past two seasons, but he wasn’t really the same player we saw when he was helping lead the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final in 2013 and was one of the top goalies in the league. After posting some league average numbers the past two seasons Rask is back to performing like one of the top goalies in the league and has been nearly unbeatable during the Bruins’ recent hot streak.

Entering play on Tuesday he is 10-0-1 in his past 11 decisions, a stretch where he has allowed just 15 goals. He has allowed more than two goals just once during that stretch and more than one goal just four times.

The Bruins crack the top-five in our power rankings this week.

Let us check in and see where everyone else fits in.

The Best Of The Best

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — The Lightning are running away with the top spot in the Eastern Conference. They enter Tuesday with a seven-point lead over the Capitals and have still played two fewer games. What is not to love about this team right now? They deserve their own category at the moment.

The Elites

2. Vegas Golden Knights — At this point they are not just the best expansion team in NHL history, they are on their way to becoming the best expansion team in any of the four major sports. Another long winning streak, 9-0-1 in their past 10 games. Simply the best NHL story in decades.

3. Washington Capitals — Here come the Capitals. After winning just 10 of their first 20 games they have stormed back over the next 20 by going 14-4-2. They enter Tuesday a point ahead of the Devils in the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

4. New Jersey Devils — If it wasn’t for what Vegas is doing these guys would probably be the biggest surprise in the league this season. The biggest individual player surprise? Brian Gibbons is tied for the team lead in goals at the moment.

5. Boston Bruins — Starting to look like a contender for all of the reasons mentioned above.

6. Los Angeles Kings — Still having a great season but have cooled off a bit since we last checked in on the power rankings. The top of the roster is great, but still some questions about the bottom half.

The Strong Contenders

7. Nashville Predators — Their depth is going to be tested for a bit here without Filip Forsberg. He was on pace for another 30-goal season before he landed on injured reserve.

8. Winnipeg Jets — I feel like Patrik Laine isn’t getting enough attention this season. He is on pace for 37 goals and if he gets there would have two 35-goal seasons before his age 20 season in the NHL. That has only been done by four players in NHL history: Brian Bellows, Jimmy Carson, Sidney Crosby and Dale Hawerchuk.

9. St. Louis Blues — They have hit their first slump of the season, winning just three of their past 10 games.  Not time to panic yet. It happens over the course of an 82-game season.

The Rest Of The Best

10. New York Rangers — They don’t always look great, but they keep stacking up points. Their upcoming schedule though is absolutely brutal and is going to be a huge test.

11. Toronto Maple Leafs — We’re back the wild, high-scoring games that have to be driving Mike Babcock crazy. Their recent road trip was not particularly kind to them, but they get a lot of home cooking over the next few weeks.

12. Columbus Blue Jackets — They have given up at least four goals in six of their past 10 games, including five games where they have surrendered at least five. Not what we are used to seeing from this team the past couple of seasons.

The Middle Ground

13. San Jose Sharks — Joe Pavelski is on pace for what would be (on a per-game basis) the worst goal-scoring season of his career. Shot volume has taken a bit of a dip, but not as big as the drop in shooting percentage. Little bit of bad luck at play? If that corrects itself could be a huge development or the Sharks in the second half.

14. Carolina Hurricanes — They are right on the playoff bubble with what is, once again, one of the worst team save percentages in the NHL. How does this keep happening every single season no matter who the goalie is? They are so, so, so close. It is almost painful how close they are.

15. New York Islanders — Josh Bailey is on pace for more than 100 points. This probably is not getting the attention it deserves.

16. Dallas Stars — Very hot and cold team. Still should probably expect more given what the top of their roster looks like and how many big moves they make every summer.

17. Minnesota Wild — They are finally getting Zach Parise back. Getting him back healthy, as well as Nino Neiderreiter, could make this a interesting team. They have hung around despite those two major injuries.

18. Chicago Blackhawks — Corey Crawford‘s injury problems are starting to become a concern, especially as the team has only won two games this season with him out of the lineup.

19. Philadelphia Flyers — Very quietly Claude Giroux is on pace for what would be a career high in points. His career high was 93 points (in 77 games) in 2011-12. He is currently on track for 99 if he is able to play in all 82 games this season (and maintain this same pace).

Running Out Of Time To Make A Move

20. Florida Panthers — The Panthers have won five in a row and are trying to make a little bit of a move in the Eastern Conference. But is that winning streak a case of too little, too late? Even with it they are still five points out of a playoff spot with four teams ahead of them.

21. Anaheim Ducks — Getting their centers back healthy might make a pretty big difference. They have won four out of five and are, as of Tuesday, back into a playoff position.

22. Calgary Flames — Johnny Gaudreau is amazing but this really is not the way the Flames envisioned this season going, especially after their big offseason moves.

23. Colorado Avalanche — Exciting offense plus bad defense and goaltending can at least make for some fun hockey. If you’re going to miss the playoffs again you should at least be entertaining. Nathan MacKinnon alone has been worth the price of admission this season.

24. Pittsburgh Penguins — The “played a lot of hockey the past two years” excuse is starting to get old. It is simply a flawed team that has too many empty roster spots (like, for example, the entire fourth line and a big part of the third line) at the moment. Out of their 13 games in December they only won two of them in regulation.

25. Edmonton Oilers — They showed some signs of life with a four-game winning streak in mid-December but then followed it up with a three-game losing streak. That gap between them and a playoff spot really is not getting any smaller.

Not Too Early To Start Looking To Next Season

26. Detroit Red Wings — At this point it’s just a matter of watching to see when — or if — they start making trades. Mike Green would probably be an attractive player. Could they find a taker for Jimmy Howard?

27. Montreal Canadiens — Don’t trade Max Pacioretty at his lowest value. Don’t trade Max Pacioretty at his lowest value. Don’t trade Max Pacioretty at his lowest value. Don’t trade Max Pacioretty at his lowest value. Don’t trade Max Pacioretty at his lowest value. Don’t trade Max Pacioretty at his lowest value. Don’t trade Max Pacioretty at his lowest value. Don’t trade Max Pacioretty at his lowest value.

28. Vancouver Canucks — It was fun for a little bit in Vancouver this season, but it is just not their time yet.

29. Buffalo Sabres — Hey, at least the Bills are going to the playoffs!

30. Ottawa Senators —  Since starting the season 8-3-5 the Senators have gone 4-14-3 and completely fallen apart. Things are looking grim.

31. Arizona Coyotes — Tough situation. Extremely young team that has some talent that you should be excited about but is just overmatched on most nights.

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.

Injuries exposing Golden Knights’ lack of depth

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We are not even a quarter of the way through the 2018-19 NHL season and it is already clear that things are not going anywhere near as well for the Vegas Golden Knights as they did in their inaugural season.

They enter Wednesday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) tied for the second-worst record in the Western Conference, ahead of only the Los Angeles Kings, and have quite a bit of work to do to get themselves back into a playoff position. Regression from a Stanley Cup Final appearance in year one was inevitable, but this might be even more than should have been expected given just how good they looked a year ago.

Goaltending has been a major culprit in the fall, but injuries and a 20-game suspension to one of their top defenders (Nate Schmidt) have also ruined what little depth the team had.

Even last year when Vegas was rolling through the Western Conference it was a very top heavy team that had some question marks after its top line. The complete dominance of the Jonathan MarchessaultWilliam KarlssonReilly Smith line, as well as a career year from Marc-Andre Fleury, helped mask whatever flaws may have existed on the roster.

[Related: Golden Knights look to get back on track on Wednesday Night Hockey]

Keep in mind this team a year ago had a minus-17 goal differential at 5-on-5 when its top line was not on the ice (it plus-24 with the the top line on the ice).

But with those top players coming back, and Erik Haula coming off of a breakout season with his first real look in a significant role, and the offseason additions of Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty to hopefully — at least in theory — form what could have been a second dominant scoring line, there was plenty of reason think Vegas could at least be a playoff team once again, if not an actual contender.

Things have quickly gone awry from that plan.

Especially as injuries have mounted and the goaltending has collapsed on itself.

Pacioretty missed four games due to injury earlier this month and has yet to make the expected impact when they acquired him from Montreal for a trade package centered around Tomas Tatar (who has been great in Montreal) and 2017 first-round draft pick Nick Suzuki. As of Wednesday, he has just two points (both goals) in 14 games.

Stastny, their big free agent acquisition, has been sidelined since Oct. 8 and has only played in three games this season. In the words of coach Gerard Gallant on Wednesday, he is “not even close” to returning.

He and Pacioretty have spent just 43 minutes on the ice together this season.

As if that has not been enough, they recently lost Haula — 29 goals a year ago — to an ugly looking injury that required him to be stretchered off the ice and is going to keep him out of the lineup on a month-to-month basis.

Sprinkle in some additional injuries to the likes of Alex Tuch, Cody Eakin and Deryk Engelland (who was one of the many pleasant surprises on the team a year ago) and the lineup has been consistently depleted this season.

General manager George McPhee was recently on Fan 590 in Toronto and talked about the situation, saying “we aren’t deep enough yet to not have everybody in.”

Via The Sin Bin.

I’d like to get healthy, for one game. just to see what we are. We just haven’t been. You know we rebuilt our second line and I think they’ve played two and half games together. Stastny’s been out most of the year, Pacioretty was out, Haula’s out, Tuch’s been out. We aren’t deep enough yet to not have everybody in.

If there is any good news on the horizon it’s that Schmidt will be eligible to return from his suspension on Nov. 18, which should give a boost to the defense.

But when it comes to everything else their options may be limited to just simply waiting. And hoping.

They have to wait for Stastny and Schmidt to get back in the lineup.

They have to hope Pacioretty breaks out of this early funk.

They have to hope Fleury’s early struggles are just that — early struggles — and not the beginning of the end for a 34-year-old goalie that just signed a long-term contract extension this summer.

Beyond that, what are the other logical options here? Vegas still has a lot of draft pick capital at its disposal, but at some point there has to be a big picture outlook where it has to remember that even with its year-one success this is still an expansion team building an organization from the ground up. It can not keep shipping away draft picks and prospects and ignoring the future.

All of that salary cap space the Golden Knights had at their disposal in future years has also quickly started to go away with several long-term contracts signed over the past few months (Marchessault, Smith, Fleury, Pacioretty, Tuch, Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, and Colin Miller are all signed through at least the 2022 season, while Stastny is locked in through 2021.  Karlsson will once again be a restricted free agent after this season and is currently doing enough to show he, too, is worth a long-term deal).

Everything went right for Vegas in year one, and it produced an incredible, almost too good to be true story. They are going to need everything to go right the rest of the way this season if they are going to come close to repeating because, so far, everything has worked against them. It all has them facing quite a deficit in the standings.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Tristan Jarry makes some history with goalie goal in AHL

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Take a break from your work day and enjoy one of the great — and extremely rare! — joys that hockey has to offer: The goalie goal.

This one comes to us from the American Hockey League on Wednesday afternoon where Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry became the first goalie in franchise history, and only the 14th goalie in AHL history, to score a goal.

He did it late in the third period of the Penguins’ 5-1 win over the Springfield Falcons, and you can see it in the video above.

Jarry was selected by the Penguins in the second-round of the 2013 NHL draft (No. 44 overall) and has spent most of the past four seasons playing in the AHL. He has also appeared in 27 NHL games during that time, almost all of them coming a season ago. He lost out on the backup job behind Matt Murray in Pittsburgh to Casey DeSmith this preseason.

Some more goalie goal history for you: Jarry’s goal is the first by a goalie in the AHL since Charlotte Checkers goalie Alex Nedeljkovic scored one in March of this past season.

There have been 11 different goalies to score a goal in an NHL game, the most recent of which was scored by Mike Smith, then of the Arizona Coyotes, during the 2013-14 season. Martin Brodeur (three) and Ron Hextall (two) are the only ones to have scored more than one.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Penguins trade Carl Hagelin to Kings for Tanner Pearson

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Jim Rutherford said changes could be coming to the Pittsburgh Penguins if things didn’t turn around. Things have not turned around yet, and on Wednesday he made his first change.

Just a couple of hours after the team announced that Rutherford had signed a new contract extension to remain the team’s general manager, he completed a trade with the Los Angeles Kings in an effort to shake up his struggling roster.

The trade: Sending Carl Hagelin, a two-time Stanley Cup-winner in Pittsburgh, to the Los Angeles Kings for Tanner Pearson.

Rutherford said after the trade this could be the start of more changes and that, “with the way things have gone, it’s obvious that we had make a change.”

On the surface there’s really not much separating these two players through the first two months of the season as both have struggled offensively.

Hagelin has just three points in 16 games even though he has spent the bulk of the year playing alongside one of the league’s top players in Evgeni Malkin. Pearson, who is usually good for 15 goals and 40 points over a full season, has just one point in 17 games for a Kings team that has sent offense back to the dead puck era.

But let’s try to dig a little deeper than that and see what this means for both teams.

[Related: Rutherford signs contract extension with Penguins]

First, let’s start with the Kings because this is a tough one to read. Really tough. The Kings are an old, bad offensive hockey team that managed to somehow get older (Hagelin is 30; Pearson is 26) and worse offensively. Even though Pearson is having a miserable year, he is still, in big picture terms, a better offensive player than Hagelin and will probably continue to be in future seasons.

Hagelin has speed to burn, but simply doesn’t have the hands to match it. It leads to a lot of chances that ultimately fizzle out in the offensive zone. That is not what the Kings need. At all.

The key here for the Kings is, most likely, in the dollars. Hagelin is a free agent after this season and has his $4 million salary cap hit coming off the books, while Pearson is still on the hook for $3.75 salary cap hit through the 2020-21 season. If they don’t see Pearson as a long-term fit in what should be an upcoming rebuild, it makes some sense to jettison the salary. Though, it certainly does make you wonder if there was a better return out there than this. It is not that Hagelin is a bad player, because he is outstanding defensively and on the penalty kill and every line he is a part of tends to play better. He just doesn’t seem to have much of a purpose on this particular Kings team or address any of their needs, short-term or long-term. It is entirely possible, if not likely, he gets traded again before the deadline.

The Penguins, meanwhile, needed a boost offensively, especially when it comes to their bottom-six, a group that has been completely nonexistent this season. After their 4-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night you have to go back nine games to find the last time they received a goal from their third-or fourth-line, and Pearson, in theory, could be an upgrade there.

It is also possible that coach Mike Sullivan could simply slot him into the opening left by Hagelin’s departure.

While he is not likely to be an impact player, he does seem like a pretty good buy-low candidate for the Penguins to take a chance on. His career track record suggests he is significantly better than he has shown this season, and now he gets a fresh start on what should be a good team with top-tier talent around him. It wouldn’t be the first time such a trade worked out for the Penguins.

Remember, they originally acquired Hagelin in the middle of the 2015-16 season when he was struggling in Anaheim in a similar change of scenery swap involving David Perron. Hagelin immediately rediscovered his game in Pittsburgh and played a key role in turning their season around and helping them win the Stanley Cup.

It is not likely to play out that perfectly again for the Penguins, but as Rutherford said on Wednesday, they had to try something.

MORE: Obviously unhappy GM rips Penguins’ slow start

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.

 

Skidding Blackhawks odds favorites hosting Blues on Wednesday

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The Chicago Blackhawks will win a hockey game under new coach Jeremy Colliton at some point, but they don’t offer a sterling track record as a slight favorite on home ice.

Despite an eight-game losing streak, the Blackhawks are -120 moneyline favorites against the +100 underdog St. Louis Blues on the NHL odds for Wednesday night with a 6.0 total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Chicago, which is going into its fourth game since Colliton took over as coach after the ouster of Joel Quenneville, is just 5-13 in its last 18 home games as a favorite of 100 to -125 on the moneyline. The Blues, who come into the United Center on two days of rest to the Blackhawks’ one, are 6-3 in their last nine road games against Chicago according to the OddsShark NHL Database.

The Blues are 6-6-3 this season, having won four of their last six games with both losses coming against the Minnesota Wild. Center Ryan O'Reilly helms a strong first line in between wings Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz, while the Blues power play ranks fourth-best in the NHL at 27.6 percent. Their penalty killing is also ninth at 82.4 percent.

Believing in the Blues bucking a trend of being 4-11 in their last 15 road games against Central Division teams comes down to trusting their goaltending. Backup Chad Johnson has been picking up the slack for struggling Jake Allen.

The Blackhawks are 6-8-4 overall including an 0-2-1 mark in three games under Colliton. The top line of center Jonathan Toews and wings Patrick Kane and Nick Schmaltz is coming off a high-chance night in a defeat against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday, while their three-line attack might be firmer now that Colliton has created a new third line led by David Kampf, in between Alex DeBrincat and Dominik Kahun. Chicago will also be getting Brandon Saad back after missing two games with an arm injury.

While the Blackhawks might be worth a hunch play – all losing skids end – it would also mean downplaying the fact they are 29th in power-play efficiency at 12.5 percent and are also 25th in penalty-killing efficiency.

The total has gone OVER in four of the Blues’ last five road games against the Blackhawks. The total has gone OVER in five of the Blues’ last seven games against Central Division teams. The total has gone UNDER in nine of the Blackhawks’ last 12 games as a favorite of 100 to -125 moneyline.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.