Conn Smythe Power Rankings: Pastrnak the early leader

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The second round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs may only be a few days old but it is never too early to start keeping track of the front-runners for the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Throughout the remainder of the playoffs we will be taking a regular look at who is rising and falling in that race.

With still eight teams playing — all of them with a legitimate shot to win the whole thing, nobody is out of place here — there are no shortage of worthy contenders so far with some incredibly dominant individual performances, both from skaters and goaltenders.

So let’s take a look at the early list.

1. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins. The Bruins’ top-line has been the story for this team all season and at any given time it can be either Pastrnak, Brad Marchand or Patrice Bergeron carrying the play and dominating the scoresheet. At the moment it is Pastrnak, entering the week as the league’s top scorer this postseason with 17 points in eight games. He already has a three-point game, a four-point game, and a six-point game this postseason. That six-point game is the first one in a Stanley Cup Playoff game since Jamie Benn back in 2013. It is only the third since 2010.

2. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins. The winner of the past two Conn Smythe Trophies, Crosby is scoring at a significantly higher pace than he did in either of those two playoff runs. Just consider: Through his first eight playoff games in 2016 he had three goals and eight points. Through his first eight games in the 2017 playoffs he had four goals and 11 total points. Through his first eight games in the 2018 playoffs he already has seven goals and 15 points. He was the most dominant player on the ice in their first-round series win against the Philadelphia Flyers, scoring at least two goals against each of the three different Flyers goalies.

3. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. The Washington Capitals are still trying to get over the second-round hump in the the Ovechkin era, but don’t blame him for it not happening yet. All the guy does is produce, and he is doing it again this year for the Capitals. He already has seven goals in their first eight games and has recorded five multi-point games. He is a machine.

4. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights. Remember when this guy was a playoff punchline? After being benched for Tomas Vokoun in the first-round of the 2013 playoffs Fleury has been one of the league’s best postseason goalies, owning the third highest playoff save percentage in the NHL since then. He has been outstanding so far for Vegas with a .967 save percentage and already three shutouts entering play on Monday.

5. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets. Scheifele has become one of the centerpieces of the Jets’ dynamic offense and been one of the league’s most productive players over the past three years without much fanfare. He is on an absolute tear right now with goals in four consecutive games, including three two-goal games.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

 6. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. Since entering the NHL Kucherov has been one of the most dominant playoff scorers in the league. He is quite literally the league’s point-per-game playoff leader over that stretch. He is producing again this year with five goals and 10 total points through the Lightning’s first six games entering play on Monday. He already has a pair of three-point games.

7. Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators. He probably has the two best goals of the playoffs after making a mockery of the Colorado Avalanche defense in the first-round. He is also Nashville’s leading scorer and had a huge three-assist performance in their Game 2 overtime win against the Winnipeg Jets to even that series.

8. Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks. He was lit up in the first game of the second-round against Vegas, but that game was a pretty colossal failure on the part of everyone in San Jose. Before that, however, Jones was probably the biggest reason the Sharks were able to sweep the Anaheim Ducks in the first round, allowing just four goals in the four-game series. He has been money for the Sharks in the playoffs during his time with the team.

9. Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins. You could make the argument that Guentzel should maybe be higher on this list given his production. He is one of the top scorers in the league (both in terms of goals and total points). He already has a pair of game-winning goals. He now has 20 goals in the first 33 playoff games of his career. It is also a situation where it is difficult to separate him from Crosby because they are both playing on the same line and doing their damage together. Only one of them could potentially win the award, and for as good as Guentzel is — and he is legitimately good — Crosby is probably the one driving the bus on this one. And when I say probably, I mean that he definitely is.

10. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. Like Guentzel he could probably be a little higher, but you are again stuck with trying to separate players on the same line, and in this case I think Pastrnak is just a little bit ahead of Marchand in terms of driving things for the Bruins. That should not take away from Marchand’s performance because he has been incredible all over the ice and in all situations. Just wish he would stop doing that extra nonsense away from the play and after the whistles because it overshadows and takes away from just how good and productive he is.

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.

 

 

Ovechkin, and Ovi Jr., take the ice at All-Star skills night

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SUNRISE, Fla. — When you’ve got the second-most goals in NHL history, you’re evidently permitted to bring a guest onto the ice for the All-Star Skills competition.

That’s why there were two No. 8 Washington jerseys out there Friday night.

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin took the ice with his Metropolitan Division teammates – and his oldest child, 4-year-old Sergei.

Sergei, named for Ovechkin’s late brother, was wearing an Ovi Jr. jersey. The kid has built a bit of a following in recent weeks, after scoring a goal at a Caps practice in December and playing a role in helping the Washington crowd celebrate his dad’s 800th goal.

It was Ovi Jr.’s first chance at being part of an All-Star weekend. His father hasn’t participated at All-Star since 2018, either because of COVID-19 or injuries. The last time his dad played in an All-Star event, Sergei hadn’t been born.

Alex Ovechkin has 812 goals. He only trails Wayne Gretzky’s 894 in NHL history.

And later in the night, Ovi Jr. got to center a line alongside his dad and Pittsburgh great Sidney Crosby. They each got an assist on a goal that Sergei scored – beating Roberto Luongo, the Florida great who came out of retirement for All-Star weekend.

Said Ovechkin after his son scored: “I think he’s really enjoying it.”

WELCOME HOME, LU

Luongo got to be part of one more All-Star competition.

In a building where a banner bearing his No. 1 jersey hangs – he’s the only former Panthers player to have that distinction – Luongo was a celebrity goaltender during the Breakaway Challenge during the Skills Competition on Friday night.

He stopped his lone shot in the breakaway, off the stick of Toronto’s Mitch Marner. On one hand, Marner is the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer this season. On the other hand, he was also wearing a white suit, sunglasses and a light blue T-shirt to keep with a “Miami Vice” theme.

Luongo was up to the challenge. Marner tried to beat him to the glove side, but Luongo got enough of it to make the save – then flopped forward to cover up the rebound, the smile clearly seen through his mask.

“You got too close,” Luongo told Marner.

Later, Luongo told ESPN during the telecast of the event that “this is my house. This is my home right here. The crease is my home.”

Luongo’s pads paid tribute to his career – the design paid tribute to his time both as a member of the Panthers and the Vancouver Canucks.

He also took part, and scored a goal, in a Florida alumni game on Wednesday night.

REMEMBERING JIMMY

Sergei Ovechkin – who knocked a shot into an open net during a stoppage of the skills events – wasn’t the only child who got a great view of the night.

Philadelphia forward Kevin Hayes has his 3-year-old nephew Beau with him for All-Star weekend. Beau’s father was Jimmy Hayes, Kevin Hayes’ brother.

Jimmy Hayes was 31 when he died in 2021 with fentanyl and cocaine in his system. He played for four NHL teams, including Florida.

Kevin Hayes is part of an All-Star weekend for the first time.

ANTHEM POISE

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by the South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus, and group crushed it – never minding that the crowd, representing several different fan bases, was going to shout some term specific to their team at various points in the lyrics.

Florida fans shout along with “red” and “Knight,” one a nod to one of the team’s primary colors, the other for goaltender Spencer Knight. There also were some shouts from other fan bases; some St. Louis fans, for example, could be heard singing “home of the Blues” instead of “home of the brave” to close the song.

And “O Canada” performer Hannah Walpole had some shouting as she sang as well, particularly when she reached the “true North” portion of those lyrics – something typically heard at Winnipeg games.

SLAP SHOTS

Cale Makar, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, was the first participant in the Fastest Skater event – the opening competition of the night. He fell coming around the second turn. … Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon, one of the broadcasters on the event, reported that he was “freezing” by working at ice level. “I’m used to the gear,” said Maroon, who was in a blazer and open shirt Friday night. … A big hit for those used to the regular colors of FLA Live Arena – and basically all other hockey arenas – was the ocean-water-shade of blue used for the blue lines and the creases. The faceoff dots at the circles on either end of the ice aren’t the standard solid red this weekend, but depict an image of the sun instead.

Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

“Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.