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.

4 U.S. women’s team members play in ECHL All-Star Classic

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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The visor on Annie Pankowski’s helmet gave her significant pause before the ECHL All-Star Classic.

“That is the first time me and the other women have worn visors,” said the three-time wold champion who has always worn a full cage. “When I saw that, it was the first time I got nervous. I started telling some of the guys like, you know, I’m not going to play defense.”

Not to worry, no one else was playing much defense, either.

Pankowski was one of four members of the U.S women’s team taking part in the event played in collaboration with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association.

Dani Cameranesi, Kali Flanagan and Gigi Marvin also played on the 2018 U.S. Olympic gold medal team.

The ECHL event featured four teams playing short games against each other. There was one female player on each team in the nationally televised showcase.

“It’s an opportunity for our league to celebrate our players but also to highlight hockey everywhere for our fans to enjoy,” ECHL commissioner Ryan Crelin said.

But while the women were competing with some of the better players in minor-league hockey, the games barely resembled normal competition. It was 3 on 3 with no stoppages – and almost no defense other than an occasional stick in the passing lane.

“I was really nervous about how it would go, how the guys would accept us,” Flanagan said. “But they made us feel like one of them.”

Flanagan played for the Eastern Conference All-Stars, who won the event. She scored a goal in the final, though it went into a wide open net after the puck went off a referee’s skate. That earned her some good-natured teasing in the hallways.

“Got lucky there,” she said, laughing, “but you could tell by the time we got to the final, the guys wanted to win.”

Wichita Thunder forward Stefan Fournier said the women were a welcome addition for the all-star festivities.

“They integrated right in,” he said. “I think, for us, it was about respecting all hockey players. Sure, the size of the players might be different between men and women, but mentally, we are all just hockey players.”

For Flanagan, the event was particularly special as her uncle, Joe Flanagan, played in the ECHL All-Star Game more than 20 years ago.

“I was thrilled to be part of that,” she said. “And I’m really happy the ECHL is fighting for women’s hockey.”

Pankowski, playing with a team comprised of host Wichita Thunder players, scored a backhanded goal in the night’s third matchup, getting a big cheer from the crowd.

Cameranesi and Marvin also scored goals during the round-robin portion of the tournament.

Pankowski was thrilled to see each of the women score, but she said one of her favorite moments came after the sharp-shooting competition when she was just yapping with other players.

“I told them I was worried about taking too long, that they might just turn the lights out on me if it took too long to hit the targets,” she said. “And they were all like no, you did fine, look at what this guy did or whatever. It was nice to be so relaxed like that, just joking player to player.”

The Buzzer: Blue Jackets hold on for six wins in a row

Blue Jackets six wins in a row the buzzer
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Three Stars

1. Pierre-Luc Dubois, Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets continue their run of resiliency by fighting back from three deficits (1-0, 2-1, and 3-2) to win in regulation. Their narrow victory against the Jets pushes the Blue Jackets to six wins in a row. With that, they tie the Panthers for the hottest streak entering the All-Star break.

Dubois ended up as Wednesday’s only three-point player, collecting them all on assists. That outburst leaves Dubois with 38 points in 51 games this season.

While those aren’t astronomical numbers, his strong all-around play confirms to me that PLD isn’t just a product of Artemi Panarin.

Now, does Panarin boost the numbers of about everyone he plays with, though? Sure, but Dubois is proving that he can stand on his own.

2. Oliver Bjorkstrand, Columbus Blue Jackets

Bjorkstrand merits an argument as the top star of the day. If nothing else, the winger is hotter than PLD — and plenty of others — if you zoom out.

Bjorkstrand scored two goals for Columbus for the third game in a row. In all three cases, Bjorkstrand collected the game-winning goal. Hmm … maybe Bjorkstrand really deserves that top star nod?

Watch out for a possible strong finish to 2019-20. Last season, Bjorkstrand scored more goals (16) and points (22) in 34 games after the 2019 All-Star break than he did in 43 games before it (seven goals, 14 points). While I’d chalk quite a bit of that up to linemates — wait for it, Bjorkstrand enjoyed some nice Panarin reps, and some Matt Duchene ones too — Bjorkstrand is also one of those snipers who can get on a hot streak. If he repeats history, it could be a big difference-maker for a Blue Jackets team forced to scratch and claw.

3. Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild

Flip Zadina might deserve the nod more than Staal. Zadina, like Bjorkstrand, generated his two points by way of goals. The rookie also affected the game in other ways, firing seven shots on goal and drawing a late penalty that gave Detroit a slight chance for a comeback.

The Wild won, however, and that strikes me as a tiebreaker. That said, even choosing the best Wild skater is tough. I’m giving Staal the edge because both of his points (1G, 1A) were of the primary variety. (Mats Zuccarello‘s 1G, 1A includes a secondary helper). Mathew Dumba makes a strong argument with his two assists and +3 rating, so really, it’s a matter of taste.

Either way, it’s surreal that Staal recently reached 1,000 points. It might even make some of us feel old.

/makes old man noise just from shifting in seat

Highlights

Wednesday provided us with a scant two games, so why not just enjoy clips from both? If you want a standout moment, I’d argue Seth Jones‘ goal was the pick:

Here are the highlights for Minnesota dominating the second period to beat Detroit:

Factoids

  • Again, the Blue Jackets extended their winning streak to six by coming back. It’s apparently their 15th comeback win of 2019-20, second only to the Capitals’ 16 for the most in the league, according to NHL PR.
  • Bjorkstrand became the first Blue Jackets player to score multiple goals in three games or more, via NHL PR. I’m a little surprised Rick Nash never managed that when he was their go-to guy and a premiere power forward.
  • Wednesday marked the first multi-goal game of Zadina’s career. The 20-year-old joins select Red Wings company.
  • Kyle Connor collected his 15th goal since Dec. 1. Auston Matthews is the only player with more (18) during that span, according to NHL PR. Connor has 25 goals overall in 2019-20.
  • Sportsnet stats notes the Jets are 1-6-0 in their last seven, and other numbers are disturbing.

Scores

CBJ 4 – WIN 3
MIN 4 – DET 2

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.

Wild avoid Red Wings upset, now five points from playoff spot

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If the Wild want to make a playoff push, they can’t afford being upset by a team like the Red Wings. Detroit gave Minnesota a scare by going up 2-1 in the first period, but the Wild ultimately won 4-2 on Wednesday.

Wild move within five points from playoff spot

Losing against dreadful Detroit would have been brutal for Minnesota. Instead, the Wild improved to 23-21-6 on the season, or 52 points in 50 games played.

Wild fans searching for optimism will find a mixed bag. The Wild hold an advantage over the two wild-card teams in games in hand, yet the Predators have a bigger advantage in that regard (Nashville: 47 GP) while sitting at 51 points. Take a look at the races for the wild-card spots:

Wild playoff wild card race

Not great, but it could be worse, too.

The larger plus is that, so far, the Wild have mostly taken advantage of a long stretch of home games, as originally discussed here.

Jan. 16: vs. Tampa Bay (3-2 win)
Jan. 18: vs. Dallas (7-0 win)
Jan. 20: vs. Florida (5-4 loss)
Jan. 22: vs. Detroit (4-2 win)
Feb. 1: vs. Boston
Feb. 4: vs. Chicago
Feb. 6: vs. Vancouver
Feb. 7: at Dallas
Feb. 9: vs. Colorado
Feb. 11: vs. Vegas
Feb. 13: vs. Rangers
Feb. 15: vs. San Jose

Three out of four wins is a pretty good start (but a bad “Meatloaf” cover). Once the Wild get back into the groove on Feb. 1, it’s key to exploit that stretch of seven of eight in Minnesota.

Minnesota gutted Wednesday out, dominating the second period in goals (3-0) and shots on goal (14-4). Jason Zucker, Eric Staal, Mathew Dumba, and Mats Zuccarello triggered the rally:

Wild need Dubnyk to rebound

Bruce Boudreau deserves credit for molding the Wild into a dominant defensive team. While their scorers won’t terrify opponents, they’ve generally been competent enough.

But if the Wild are going to complete a difficult push into the playoffs, they need Devan Dubnyk to rebound.

Dubnyk came into Wednesday with a troubling .892 save percentage, versus a .915 mark for his career. Just about every metric points to the Wild providing a nurturing atmosphere for their goalies, so the results need to start rolling in.

Granted, sometimes luck just isn’t on your side:

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.

Brady Tkachuk replaces Auston Matthews at 2020 NHL All-Star Game

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Due to what the Toronto Maple Leafs are calling a lingering wrist injury, Auston Matthews will not participate in the 2020 NHL All-Star game this weekend in St. Louis, the league announced on Wednesday.

He will be replaced on the roster and in the skills competition by Ottawa Senators forward Brady Tkachuk.

Even though he will not participate in any of the events or the game itself, Matthews will still travel to St. Louis for the weekend.

Matthews is in the middle of a career year for the Maple Leafs and has already scored 34 goals and 57 points in his first 49 games of the season. He has scored at least 34 goals every year he has been in the league and is already just six goals away from matching his career high. The only thing that has kept him from hitting the 40-goal mark every season is injuries. It is not yet known if this injury will sideline him for any games when the Maple Leafs return from the break, but he has not missed any games as of yet this season. According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, Matthews’ agent said the injury has been bothering Matthews for the past three weeks. The Maple Leafs have not played since Jan. 18 when they lost at home, 6-2, to the Chicago Blackhawks. Their next game is on Jan. 27 against the Nashville Predators.

The Maple Leafs will still be represented by forward Mitch Marner and goalie Frederik Andersen.

As for Tkachuk, the 2018 No. 4 overall pick is in his second year with the Senators. In 48 games he has 15 goals and 27 points.

He will join teammate Anthony Duclair at the game, as well as his older brother, Matthew Tkachuk, who will be there representing the Calgary Flames.

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.