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Jets vs. Golden Knights: PHT’s Western Conference Final preview

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If you were to tell me your Western Conference Final pick at the start of the season would have involved the Winnipeg Jets and the Vegas Golden Knights the only logical response would be to tell you that you are a rotten liar and nobody believes you.

A first-year expansion team. A team that until this season had never won a single postseason game and had made the playoffs just once in the previous 10 years. Each on their own an improbable success story this season. Yet here they are together, each just four wins away from a completely unexpected trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

It may not be the matchup we expected at this point, but given the way these two teams play and are built it could be a fast-pace, back-and-forth series. They both have great offenses, they both have great goalies, and they both offer an incredible storyline with Vegas trying to reach the Stanley Cup Final as a literal expansion team, and the Jets trying to bring Winnipeg its first ever Stanley Cup.

Here is how the matchup looks as the series begins on Saturday night.

Schedule

Saturday, May 12, 7pm: Golden Knights @ Jets | NBC
Monday, May 14, 8pm: Golden Knights @ Jets | NBCSN
Wednesday, May 16, 9pm: Jets @ Golden Knights | NBCSN
Friday, May 18, 8pm: Jets @ Golden Knights | NBCSN
*Sunday, May 20, 3pm: Golden Knights @ Jets | NBC
*Tuesday, May 22, 9pm: Jets @ Golden Knights | NBCSN
*Thursday, May 24, 8pm: Golden Knights @ Jets | NBCSN

Offense

Jets: The Jets have been one of the top offensive teams in the league over the past two years and are absolutely loaded with top-line talent. Then they added to at the trade deadline by picking up Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues, and he has been absolutely incredible in the playoffs. The scary thing about them right now in the playoffs? They are still scoring goals and really haven’t gotten Patrik Laine (three goals in 12 games) and Nikolaj Ehlers (zero goals in 11 games) going yet. They have front-line talent, they are deep, they are fast, they have skill. They pretty much have it all up front.

Golden Knights: Even though they had a bunch of players have great years — including a couple of career years — they don’t really have the superstar individual talent the Jets have. That doesn’t mean they are not a threat. They are fast, they play fast, and they don’t really have a glaring weakness as pretty much all four of their lines is legitimate first or second line NHL quality. No matter who is on the ice they can hurt you. They got a lot of help from the NHL’s other general managers in the expansion draft process (Hello, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Erik Haula, Alex Tuch, David Perron, and William Karlsson) and they were able to take advantage of that by building an exciting, fast team that head coach Gerard Gallant has been more than happy to turn loose. The most dangerous thing about them? They never let up depending on the score.

Advantage: The Jets, but it is close. These are two of the top-five offenses in the league and they can both go three-and four-lines deep when it comes to getting balanced scoring. The Jets get a little bit of an edge because they have more of the front-line superstar talent that can take over a game (Laine and Mark Scheifele specifically).

Defense

Jets: They’ve been missing some key players at different times this postseason, but this is a pretty good unit with Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, and Tobias Enstrom leading the way. Byfuglien is the one that is playing truly outstanding right now  with 13 points in 12 games and logging more than 26 minutes of ice-time per night. So much was made of their offense during the season it was maybe easy to overlook the fact they were also a top-five team in goals against.

Golden Knights: Entering the season this was probably expected to be the weakest part of the Golden Knights’ roster, and while a lot of their goal prevention success comes from the goaltending they did do an excellent job during the season of limiting shots and chances against. A lot of the young players (Nate Schmidt, Shea Theodore, Colin Miller) have taken a pretty big step forward right away. Still, the goaltending is what drives this team defensively and they’ve actually given up quite a bit of shots in the playoffs.

Advantage: The Jets. These are two of the three best goal prevention teams in the playoffs (and the other team in the top-three only played four playoff games … so let’s just say they are the two best) but the Jets have the higher end talent and I don’t think they are as dependent on their goalie to keep teams off the board as the Golden Knights have been.

Goaltending

Jets: The Jets were probably good enough as a team to make the playoffs in recent years more than they have only to be completely sabotaged by bad goaltending. This year they finally had the goaltending to go with everything else and it has not only made them a great team, it has made them what is right now the leading favorite to win the Stanley Cup. Connor Hellebuyck finally solidified the position and turned in a performance that earned him a top-three spot in the Vezina Trophy voting.

Golden Knights: Then there is Marc-Andre Fleury. He has been downright dominant all season for Vegas and has to be considered the front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy at this point. For a few years in Pittsburgh he was objectively one of the least productive playoff goalies in the NHL and probably the biggest liability standing in front of his own team. The past few years, however, he has probably been his team’s greatest strength in the playoffs.

Advantage: Golden Knights. Another close one, but this one probably goes to Vegas. Hellebuyck got a top-three spot in the Vezina Trophy voting but Fleury could have easily been there alongside him had he not missed so much time due to injury earlier in the year.

Special Teams

Jets: The Jets’ power play has been lethal in the playoffs, converting on 25 percent of its chances, continuing what was a strong regular season performance. They were also a top-10 team on the penalty kill during the season but have seen that number drop a bit in the playoffs.

Golden Knights: Vegas’ power play has been very hit-and-miss this postseason. It has had games where it has dominated (a 3-for-10 game in Game 1 against the Sharks; a 2-for-6 game later in the series) but has also had lengthy stretches without scoring. Their penalty kill has been one of the best units in the playoffs, though a lot of that probably comes from the fact they also have the best goalie in the playoffs.

Advantage: The Jets, simply because their power play has been a bit more consistent and they might be able to get to Fleury and the Vegas penalty kill in a way that the Kings and Sharks were totally incapable of doing. The Jets are by far the most talented team Vegas will have faced this postseason.

X-Factors

Jets: Nikolaj Ehlers has become one of the key building blocks for the Jets organization, and even though he just turned 22 years old a few months ago already has a pair of 25-goal seasons in the NHL on his resume. He is an outstanding player but has been mostly quiet for the Jets this postseason, having yet to find the back of the net. If the Jets can get him going along with everyone else there may be no stopping them.

Golden Knights: Like Ehlers with the Jets, David Perron has been a huge part of Vegas’ success this season, and like Ehlers has yet to score a goal in the playoffs. His line is still producing (he does have seven assists, after all) but he has managed just eight shots on goal in eight games. He has another level he can get to offensively.

Prediction

Jets in 6. Vegas’  year one success has been one of the most improbable stories in North American sports history, but this is where it comes to an end. The Jets are going to be by far the best team they have played in the playoffs and will present a challenge unlike the ones San Jose and Los Angeles presented (they 11th and 12th best teams in the league, giving Vegas what was by far the easiest path to the Conference Finals round). The Jets are just on a roll right now and look like they can carry that all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

MORE:
• Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• PHT 2018 Conference Finals Roundtable
• PHT predicts NHL’s Conference Finals
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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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.

Oilers shuffle more deck chairs, waive Spooner and Rattie

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Following a dreadful weekend that saw them lose consecutive blowouts to Calgary and Carolina (getting scored by a 12-6 margin), the Edmonton Oilers made a few more changes to their roster on Monday by placing forwards Ryan Spooner and Ty Rattie on waivers.

The noteworthy name here, of course, is Ryan Spooner because of what he represents. What he represents is the type of roster management that has resulted in the Oilers wasting the first four years of a generational talent in Connor McDavid.

Follow along for a minute just to recall how we got here:

  • The Oilers just acquired Spooner a couple of months ago from the New York Rangers in exchange for Ryan Strome.
  • That trade came just one year after they acquired Strome in a one-for-one deal with the New York Islanders for Jordan Eberle.
  • That means in less than a year-and-a-half the Oilers managed to turn a consistent 20-goal, 50-point winger in Eberle into a player they are placing on waivers. The only natural winger on the Oilers roster this season that is on track to even come close to that sort of production is Alex Chiasson. That is … not good.

Let us not forget how that sequence of trades started just one year after Taylor Hall was traded to New Jersey straight up for Adam Larsson.

Spooner still carries a $4 million salary cap hit through the end of next season.

Rattie spent the 2017-18 season split between Edmonton and the AHL and has appeared in 29 games with the big club this season, scoring two goals to go with six assists. He was a preseason standout this year with five goals and three assists while mostly playing on a line with McDavid. That success never translated over to the regular season.

Whether or not the Oilers make any other moves to accompany these waiver transactions this still has the look of an organization that doesn’t really have any kind of a set plan in place and is just making it up as it goes along.

Related: Oilers add two defenders, including McDavid nemesis Manning

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.

 

Hurricanes sign Teravainen to a five-year, $27 million extension

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The Carolina Hurricanes don’t have many forwards under contract next season, but they managed to secure one more on Monday, as they signed Teuvo Teravainen to a five-year, $27 million contract extension ($5.4 million AAV).

The 24-year-old is currently second on the team in points, with 39. He also finished second on the team in scoring last year, when he amassed 64 points in 82 games.

“Teuvo has improved every year of his NHL career and has established himself as a cornerstone forward for the Hurricanes now and into the future,” president and general manager Don Waddell said in a release. “He has shown that he is capable of adapting and expanding his role with our team, becoming a key penalty killer for Rod this season. He’s still just 24 years old and we believe he will only continue to grow as a player.”

Teravainen was set to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

This signing is a no-brainer for the Hurricanes, especially because Teravainen has been productive and they’re lacking it the scoring department. He’s improved his point production in each of the last three seasons and he’s on pace to surpass last year’s point total, too.

The ‘Canes now have Teravainen, Nino Niederreiter, Andrei Svechnikov, Warren Foegele and Lucas Wallmark as forwards under contract next season.

Carolina will now turn their attention to Micheal Ferland, who is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. Ferland is reportedly looking for a long-term deal that would pay him $6 million per season. Even though he hasn’t been as productive as Teravainen, Ferland has more leverage because he’s eligible to hit the open market.

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.

NHL on NBCSN: Blues look to keep rolling against lowly Kings

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between theSt. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

It wasn’t too long ago that the Blues’ season appeared to be over. They weren’t scoring much, they couldn’t get a save and the losses just kept piling up. But since the start of January, they’ve managed to get their season back on the rails. Things started to change for the Blues when they inserted rookie goalie Jordan Binnington into their lineup.

Binnington has allowed two goals or fewer in each of his five decisions. He gave up two goals on 30 shots in Saturday’s victory over the Ottawa Senators. Even though the 25-year-old’s been rolling, it sounds like interim head coach Craig Berube will continue to use Binnington and veteran Jake Allen.

“I’m going to use both of them right now. I truly believe that’s the way to go,” Berube said. “Then we’ve got the break coming up and it gets really busy again, so we’ll need both of them ready.”

Since the start of the new year, the Blues have gone 6-3-1. This recent surge has allowed St. Louis to pull within five points of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

David Perron, who missed Saturday’s game against Ottawa, has been red-hot of late. Before getting hurt, Perron picked up at least one point in 13 consecutive games. The 30-year-old has 17 goals and 35 points in 45 contests.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 3 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Another player that’s turned his season around, is Vladimir Tarasenko. The 27-year-old is having a down year, but he’s been relatively productive over the last nine games, as he’s picked up eight points during that stretch.

As for the Kings, they’re currently in last place in the NHL standings. Los Angeles is coming off an embarrassing 7-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

“It was just a pathetic second period,” defenseman Drew Doughty said after the loss. “I really don’t even know what to say. Yeah, they played well but we just played poor. And we left our goalies out to dry again. And we’re sick of doing that. When we win games, we leave them out to dry. When we lose games, we leave them out to dry. It’s about time we play for them.”

The Kings have picked up just 42 points in 49 games this season. Since the start of the month, the Kings have gone 1-3-1 on the road, but they’re 2-2-0 at home. Even though they’re in the basement of the West, they’re still “only” 10 points back of the final Wild Card spot. By comparison, the Detroit Red Wings, who are last in the East, are 15 points back of the final Wild Card spot in their conference.

But let’s be honest, there’s no way the Kings can overcome a 10-point deficit. On top of being 10 points out, they’d have to leap over seven teams to make the postseason. That’s not happening.

You have to think that they have a full rebuild coming in their future.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Ideal Stanley Cup matchups; trade deadline preview

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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.

Dougie Hamilton has heard all the stories about why he was traded by the Calgary Flames, but he’s not letting that get to him. (Calgary Sun)

• A special needs hockey team got to play their first game at Gila River Arena in Arizona last week. (Fox10Phoenix.com)

• The NHL has gotten faster over the last few years, so players are turning to weight loss and nutrition to succeed. (NHL.com)

• The Hockey News breaks down 10 Stanley Cup matchups that they’d like to see this spring. (The Hockey News)

• Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck has proved so many people wrong on his journey to the NHL. He’s become one of the best goalies in the league. (Sportsnet)

• The Columbus Blue Jackets are a fun team to watch. (The Cannon)

• What’s an empty-calorie scorer? Raw Charge explains and identifies which scorers don’t really help their teams win all that much. (Raw Charge)

• ESPN previews what each of the 31 teams might do at next month’s trade deadline. (ESPN)

Braydon Coburn got to meet NASCAR driver Aric Almirola. (Tampa Times)

• What does Colin Miller‘s return to the Vegas lineup mean for the team? (SinBin.Vegas)

• A lot of the high-profile teams in the NHL haven’t been very good this season. (USA Today)

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.