PHT Power Rankings: Red Wings hit rock bottom

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For two decades the Detroit Red Wings were on top of the NHL (or at least consistently close to it) and one of the elite franchises in the league. Always in the playoffs, usually a legitimate threat to win it all, and a Stanley Cup Finalist six times between 1995 and 2009, more than any other team in the league during that stretch.

Eventually that run was going to end, and in recent seasons you could kind of see the slide slowly starting to begin. They stopped winning in the playoffs. They had become a team that would get into the top-eight but never really go anywhere once they got there. Core players got older. The scouting staff and farm system wasn’t finding and developing Hall of Famers in the back half of the draft anymore.

The team was clearly starting to descend down the mountain.

That descent has now turned into a complete collapse, and they may have hit rock bottom over the past couple of weeks.

At least for this season. Who knows how much deeper this can go in future seasons.

After being systematically dismantled by Nathan MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday, the Red Wings enter the week having lost 10 games in a row, have one of the worst records in the NHL, and just look … bad.

The most concerning thing of all, though, is that this is not just a bad team this season, it is one of the oldest teams in the NHL, one of the most expensive teams in the NHL, and 15 of the players on the roster are under contract for next season with more than $58 million in cap space committed to them.

Even worse: Who on this team is a player that can be the centerpiece of any sort of a rebuild or offer legitimate hope for the future?

Dylan Larkin is still only 21 years old and has shown flashes of being an impact player at various times in his young career. But he has also 23 goals … over the past two years. Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou look like they could be useful players, but they are not franchise building blocks. Gustav Nyquist is going to be 29 next season and has topped 50 points once in his career. There is not one player on the defense right now that is under the age of 27 and other than Mike Green all of them are signed through at least next season.

All of that, including the recent 10-game losing streak, has them sitting in the No. 31 spot in this week’s PHT Power Rankings.

Where does everyone else sit?

To the rankings!

The Elites

1. Nashville Predators — These guys have not lost a game in regulation since Feb. 17 and have only lost two in regulation since the beginning of February. Best record in the league, hottest team in the league, where else are they going to be in the standings?

2. Boston Bruins — Maybe the wrong Bruin has been getting MVP buzz this season. Instead of Patrice Bergeron it might be Brad Marchand that is driving the bus.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning — They have not played their best hockey lately … and they are still 10-2-1 over their past 13 games. Insanity.

4. Winnipeg Jets — Patrik Laine is still an unstoppable force right now. Ovechkin-like in his recent dominance.

The rest of the contenders

5. Toronto Maple Leafs — They have not had Auston Matthews, their best player, since Feb. 22 and are still 6-2-2 in 10 games without him and enter the week riding a four-game winning streak.

6. Vegas Golden Knights — They are only 7-6-1 in their past 14 games and starting to cool off just slightly. Still have a firm grip on the Pacific Division and William Karlsson is going to score more than 40 goals this season. What a season.

7. Washington Capitals — Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s injury could be a big deal in the short-term. Also sort of a big deal: What is going on with the goalie situation where Philip Grubauer is taking some starts from Braden Holtby. And playing really, really, really well.

8. Minnesota Wild — Eric Staal is two goals away from what would be his third 40-goal season. Only six other active players (Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Gaborik, Rick Nash, and Marian Hossa — technically he is still active) have at least three such seasons.

9. Pittsburgh Penguins — Goaltending is still a huge question mark with Matt Murray sidelined, but he seems to be getting closer to a return. The Penguins need him if they are going to win a third consecutive Stanley Cup.

The middle ground

10. Columbus Blue Jackets — With seven wins in a row they have not only solidified their playoff position, they have a real chance to get back into the top-three in the Metropolitan Division. Would that give them the best possible matchup in the first-round, though (potentially playing Pittsburgh instead of Washington)?

11. San Jose Sharks — Not many people are talking about the Sharks but they are going for home-ice in the first-round and have won seven of their past nine games. All of this without Joe Thornton for most of the season.

12. Colorado Avalanche — They have earned at least a point in 12 of their past 14 games and Nathan MacKinnon is playing like the league MVP. They are quietly making a push at a top-three spot in the Central Division.

13. New Jersey Devils — After going five consecutive games without a point, No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischer has bounced back with five points in his past five games. He may not be Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews as a No. 1 overall pick, but he is the second-leading scorer on a playoff team as a 19-year-old. That is impressive.

14. Philadelphia Flyers — Petr Mrazek has not been good since arriving in Philadelphia, carrying an .888 save percentage with the Flyers into the week.

15. Anaheim Ducks — Rickard Rakell is making a run for the title of “NHL’s most underrated player.” He is currently in the middle of his second straight 30-goal season.

16. St. Louis Blues — It is kind of amazing they are still hanging around. They looked finished a week ago but four wins in five games has kept their playoff hopes alive.

17. Los Angeles Kings — They are clinging to a playoff spot but their inconsistency has made it impossible for them to put any distance between them and the rest of the pack.

Fading fast

18. Florida Panthers — All of that work to get back into the playoff race then they lose home games to Ottawa and Edmonton and now have to play seven of their next eight games on the road.

19. Calgary Flames — Mike Smith had a great season prior to his injury and his absence was a big part of their late season slide. His return has not yet made an impact as he has given up 10 goals in his first two starts.

20. Dallas Stars — There is never a good time to lose eight out of 10, but the worst possible time to do it is late in the season when you are in the middle of a tight playoff race with five other teams. They are spending way too much money to be this mediocre.

The Lottery

21. Edmonton Oilers — Connor McDavid is trying to win the scoring title for the second year in a row, and with the way he is going right now it would probably not be wise to bet against him. It is appalling that the team around him is so bad.

22. New York Rangers — Alexandar Georgiev has played well down the stretch, and Ryan Spooner has put up a ton of points since being acquired in the big trade with the Boston Bruins. So there is that.

23. Carolina Hurricanes — This season has been the past few years of this organization in a nutshell. Just enough to build up excitement, seem like they are getting close, then fell apart.

24. Chicago Blackhawks — Alex DeBrincat has three hat tricks this season and is tied for the team lead in goals as a rookie. He has been a bright spot in a lost season.

25. Ottawa Senators — They had a chance to play spoiler with three wins in a row recently, including two over playoff hopefuls Florida and Dallas.

26. Arizona Coyotes — They still have the worst record in the league, but as we said a week ago they haven’t played like the worst team in the league for a few weeks. And have you seen the teams below them lately? Yikes.

27. Buffalo Sabres — Jack Eichel is back which should give Sabres fans something worthwhile to watch down the stretch.

28. New York Islanders — They have won five of their past 22 games and only one of their past 12. What else is left to say? The only win for this team this season is they own Calgary’s first (and second) round draft pick which should give them two shots at the draft lottery.

A tier all their own at the bottom

29. Montreal Canadiens — An already mediocre team without three of its top players (Carey Price, Shea Weber, Max Pacioretty) and the recent results are reflecting that.

30. Vancouver Canucks — Sometimes it seems like we have not really paid much attention to just how bad the Canucks have been over the past three seasons.

31. Detroit Red Wings — Ten. Games. In. A Row.

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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.

Crosby boosts Penguins to unlikely 14-goal weekend

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If someone told you that the Pittsburgh Penguins exploded for 14 goals in just two games on back-to-back nights, you might have assumed that key players like Evgeni Malkin returned to action. Failing that, maybe you’d ask if Sidney Crosby had been superhuman.

While Crosby was indeed fantastic during Saturday’s 7-4 win against the Wild (good enough to be one of the three stars on a busy day) and Sunday’s stunning 7-2 drubbing of the Jets, it wasn’t all him. Instead, it was a combination of a red-hot Crosby and a seemingly ragtag group of players coming together.

You can see the highlights of Sunday’s win in the video above, and check out Saturday’s score-fest against Minnesota here:

Pittsburgh’s games against the Jets seem to be all about subverting expectations. Earlier this season, Winnipeg won despite a ton of injuries to their defense; this time around, expectations were that Pittsburgh’s list of ailments would mean bad things, but instead the Pens won. In each case, the results were remarkably lopsided, too.

87 is on fire

Crosby’s strong play should not go unnoticed.

With two assists against Winnipeg, Crosby now has a three-game multi-point streak going, generating two goals and four assists for six points during that streak. The 32-year-old’s also scored at least one point during his first six games of 2019-20, collecting three goals and seven assists to total 10 points.

If the star center is slowing down with age, you have to really strain your eyes to see where he’s in heavy decline.

Not just Crosby

That said, 10 of those 14 goals didn’t involve Crosby points, so obviously it’s not just 87.

Sam Lafferty’s arguably had an even better weekend than Crosby. The 24-year-old is rapidly becoming more than a relative unknown who was a fourth-rounder (113th overall) from 2014. Lafferty scored two goals on Sunday after generating a three-point night (his first NHL goal, plus two assists) against the Wild on Saturday. So, yes, Lafferty generated five points to Crosby’s four on the weekend.

Managing five points in less than 27 minutes of total ice time is just kind of ridiculous, and ventures an argument that the Penguins should give Lafferty more opportunities to prove himself, particularly as injuries linger for more prominent players.

Zach Aston-Reese made an argument for player of the game on Sunday, though, generating a three-point night against the Jets (two goals, one assist).

It’s a testament to the Penguins’ knack for finding the occasional gems in the draft or in free agency, as for all we know, all of those injuries might open the door for someone to be a more regular contributor. Such a thing happened for Matt Murray, and to some extent, Jake Guentzel.

Speaking of finding ways to win, judging from this Natural Stat Trick heat map, you wonder if the Penguins might have scouted out a weak spot for Laurent Brossoit, attacked an especially weak spot of Winnipeg’s defense, or maybe it was just a coincidence that so many chances and goals came from the same general area?

via Natural Stat Trick

One wouldn’t expect the lesser-known Penguins to stay so hot for too long, but little bursts like these can make a difference between missing or making the playoffs, or for a team with greater ambitions like Pittsburgh, maybe earning a round or two of home-ice advantage. Piling up points in games that look like losses on paper may also help the Penguins gain enough breathing room to give Crosby some rest down the line. As great as Crosby was in 2018-19 (with his underlying stats inspiring some to wonder if he deserved more Hart buzz), there were signs that he was wearing down for a Pittsburgh team that needed to battle to make the postseason. In an era of sports where teams are more interested in “load management,” the Penguins might want to work a little harder to earn that luxury for Crosby and others.

Either way, the Penguins are showing some moxy, so don’t count them out when they face the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday (a game you can watch on NBCSN at 7 p.m. ET).

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Kings are covering up Taylor Swift banner despite risk of bad blood

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Sometimes you come across things so silly, it’s honestly tough to shake them off. The Los Angeles Kings accomplished that recently, as they’ve announced that they will cover up a Taylor Swift banner for sold-out performances during Kings home games.

For all the talk of eyesores, don’t you think it’s weird that they’re forcing a blank space over the pop star’s already-goofy banner?

Before we ridicule the Kings too much, let’s let them finish. It seems that this is a response to fans’ general disdain, as the Los Angeles Times’ Arash Markazi reported.

“The connection to our fans is our highest priority and through our engagement they have made it clear that the banner shouldn’t be part of their Kings game experience,” Kings/AEG Sports executive Michael Altieri said. “We didn’t see an issue in covering it for our games and in fact see it as an opportunity to show our fans that we hear them.”

Because hockey fans are involved, this isn’t a purely aesthetic argument, as extremely silly superstitions also seem to be involved.

Yes, some Kings fans think that the team’s colossal plummet down the standings isn’t about a bunch of players hitting the aging curve beyond their wildest dreams; instead, it’s about Taylor Swift.

Riiiight.

There’s just something about Swift that brings out the illogical and petty in people, from Kanye West to the Kings. If nothing else, this goofy update draws some attention away from the Kings’ evergreen gloating about Jonathan Quick, who might just be losing his starting job to Jack Campbell.

This situation actually brings up some other interesting details.

Before reading about this, I personally hadn’t realized that the Los Angeles Clippers cover up Los Angeles Lakers banners during their games at Staples Center, which is such a profound gesture of insecurity that I find it kind of charming. It would be like covering up a sibling’s trophy chest during a high school date, or something. But it’s a reminder that the Kings aren’t the only sports team being weird about banners — even in their own building.

Then again, considering Ye’s journey to the deep end after crossing T-Swizzle, I’m not sure if the Kings should really encourage such bad blood.

(Also: Matthew Tkachuk and the Calgary Flames need to get on this by aligning with Swift. Maybe bring 1989 throwbacks full circle? Perhaps the Flames could play a bunch of Swift songs, like a happy version of the Miami Dolphins passive aggressively playing Jay Z songs to mock Kenny Stills?)

Anyway, hopefully you enjoyed this extremely hockey story, and it begs the question: what other NHL team – pop star feuds would you like to see? Prediction: the New Jersey Devils will not take on Bruce Springsteen … or even Bon Jovi.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Petr Cech marks hockey debut with winning shootout save

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Legendary soccer goalkeeper Petr Cech traded in soccer cleats for ice skates this week after joining up with the Guildford Phoenix of the United Kingdom’s National Ice Hockey League.

The 37-year-old made his debut on Sunday, leading the Phoenix to a 3-2 win over the Swindon Wildcats after a shootout. Sporting a mask designed by the great Dave Gunnarsson which featured a tribute to fellow Czech Dominik Hasek and the logos of Arsenal and Chelsea, the two Premier League soccer teams he played for (and in Chelsea’s case, his current employer).

With the score tied at two, the Phoenix and Wildcats entered the shootout and Cech made two stops, including the final one of the game in front of a record crowd of 909.

For his part, Cech was named man of the match.

“I wanted to win, that was the main thing, and I’m glad we did,” Cech said afterward. “I was surprised that I wasn’t more nervous. I didn’t know what to expect so it was nice how quickly my body switched into matchday mode.”

Now, it’s back to work for Cech at Chelsea as the club’s technical and performance advisor until his next appearance in net for the Phoenix.

MORE: Petr Cech trades soccer goal for hockey net, signs with Guildford Phoenix

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Namestnikov’s revenge game; Crosby keeps dominating

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Three Stars

1. Vladislav Namestnikov, Ottawa Senators. Two years ago Namestnikov was skating on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s top line alongside Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. After boosting his value, he was then used as a trade chip for the team to land defender Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers before the 2017-18 trade deadline. After a mostly disappointing stay on Broadway, he was traded to Ottawa this past week for another fresh start. So far, so good, and it came at the Lightning’s expense. Namestnikov scored two goals — including the game-winner — for the Senators on Saturday to help his new team get its first win of the season. On paper, this game should have been a mismatch, but the Senators drastically outplayed the Lightning in what was probably the biggest surprise of the day.

2. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. After scoring 50 goals and 100 points a year ago and finishing in the top-four of the league in both categories, Draisaitl is picking up where he left and is once again looking like a superstar. He finished with three points on Saturday afternoon — including two goals — to help the Oilers improve to 5-0 on the season. He and Connor McDavid (two more points on Saturday) are carrying the offense again.

3. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins. With the Penguins’ forward lineup dealing with a ton of injuries they are going to need their captain and his line to dominate for them to have a chance to win. Right now, they are dominating. Crosby was great once again on Saturday night, picking up two more points in a 7-4 win over the Minnesota Wild, including a highlight reel backhand goal off the rush. He has recorded at least one point in every game this season and already has eight in the Penguins’ first five games. The Penguins also received some surprising production from their recent call-ups with Adam Johnson and Sam Lafferty both recording their first NHL goals.

Other notable performances on Saturday

  • Brendan Gallagher finished with three points for the Montreal Canadiens as they handed the St. Louis Blues their first regulation loss of the season.
  • Rookie goalie Ilya Samsonov was amazing again for the Washington Capitals as they defeated the Dallas Stars. In his first two NHL starts Samsonov has allowed a total of two goals. He is the future of the position in The District.
  • Ilya Kovalchuk continued his strong start with another goal in the Kings’ 7-4 win over the Nashville Predators.
  • The Winnipeg Jets overcame an early 2-0 deficit against the Chicago Blackhawks to win in overtime on Mark Scheifele‘s second goal of the season. The Blackhawks remain winless.
  • Mark Stone, Will Carrier, and Max Pacioretty all had two points for the Vegas Golden Knights in their big 6-2 win over the Calgary Flames.
  • Semyon Varlamov picked up his first win as a member of the New York Islanders by stopping all three shootout shots against the Florida Panthers. He also made 35 saves through regulation and overtime.
  • Tanner Pearson scored a goal in regulation and then added the game-winning goal in the shootout for the Vancouver Canucks in their win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
  • The Boston Bruins’ top line was once again dominant as Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron both scored goals in a 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils to keep them winless. Tuukka Rask was also brilliant again and has stopped 90 of the first 94 shots he has faced this season.

Highlights of the Night

It may have come in a losing effort but Kaapo Kakko‘s first NHL goal for the New York Rangers was a beautiful play.

Jacob De La Rose had one of the few highlights of the night for the Detroit Red Wings with this nice looking goal.

The Columbus Blue Jackets handed the Carolina Hurricanes their first loss of the season thanks to this great effort from Pierre-Luc Dubois.

The Colorado Avalanche improved to 4-0-0 on the season and it was new addition Andre Burakovsky scoring the game-winning goal for the second game in a row.

Blooper of the Night

There is really no other choice here, it has to be Jimmy Howard‘s gamble in Detroit that turned into a rather easy goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Rest in Peace

Factoids

  • The Capitals’ win against the Stars was their first regulation win in Dallas since the 1995 season. [NHL PR]
  • Phil Kessel played in his 1,000th NHL game on Saturday night, making him the third youngest active player to play in 1,000 games. [NHL PR]
  • Penguins goalie Matt Murray recorded his 100th career win on Saturday night, making him just the eight goalie since the 1966-67 season record 100 wins in 166 games or less. [NHL PR]
  • The Los Angeles Kings set a franchise record for fasted three goals, scoring three goals in 30 seconds during their win over the Nashville Predators. [NHL PR]
  • The Oilers are the first team in NHL history to come-from-behind to win each of their first five games of the season. [NHL PR]

Scores
Edmonton Oilers 4, New York Rangers 1
Ottawa Senators 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 2
Los Angeles Kings 7, Nashville Predators 4
Winnipeg Jets 3, Chicago Blackhawks 2 (OT)
Boston Bruins 3, New Jersey Devils 0
Montreal Canadiens 6, St. Louis Blues 3
Toronto Maple Leafs 5, Detroit Red Wings 2
New York Islanders 3, Florida Panthers 2 (SO)
Columbus Blue Jackets 3, Carolina Hurricanes 2
Washington Capitals 4, Dallas Stars 1
Pittsburgh Penguins 7, Minnesota Wild 4
Colorado Avalanche 3, Arizona Coyotes 2 (OT)
Vegas Golden Knights 6, Calgary Flames 2
Vancouver Canucks 3, Philadelphia Flyers 2 (SO)

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 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.