PHT Power Rankings: Early season NHL surprises and disappointments

3 Comments

In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we take a look at the league as a whole and where everyone sits nearly one month into the season.

Who are the early season elites? It is a lot of the usual suspects. Who are the early season surprises? Carolina, Arizona and Buffalo are all extremely competitive, and dare we say … good. Who are the early disappointments? Look no further than Philadelphia and St. Louis. Who are we just not sure about? Everyone from Edmonton, to Chicago, to Montreal, to even Colorado.

All of that and more!

To the rankings!

The Elites

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — I know, I know. They just got clobbered by Arizona. Tough way to end the week. But that loss ended what had been a seven-game point streak and they are still 7-2-1 on the season. And they still haven’t really gotten much of anything out of players like Steven Stamkos or Ondrej Palat yet. The fact they are still piling up wins when they have not really started to click yet is a testament to how good and deep this team is.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins — They just completed a four-game road trip through Canada where they went 4-0-0 and outscored their opponents by a 23-6 margin. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel are firing on all cylinders right now.

3Nashville Predators — They were the Western Conference champions two years and the Presidents’ Trophy winners this past season. They have shown no signs of slowing down and might be even better this season.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs — There are real questions about their defense and goaltending that need to be answered, and losing Auston Matthews for a month is going to hurt in the short-term, but when you still have John Tavares and Nazem Kadri to center your top two lines in his absence they are going to be just fine. We know they will pile up wins in the regular season and that they are going to make the playoffs. We just don’t know how far they will go once they get there.

Great start, but still skeptical

5. Colorado Avalanche — They have a great record, one of the best lines in hockey that is driving one of the highest scoring offenses in the league, and as of Monday a plus-14 goal differential that is tied for the best in hockey. Why the skepticism: They are still a bottom-10 possession team and they really haven’t had a daunting schedule yet having only played three teams that finished in the top-12 of the standings a season ago. They are 1-2-0 in those games.

[Related: Is the line of Rantanen, MacKinnon, Landeskog the NHL’s best?]

6. Minnesota Wild — The Wild remain a fascinating team when it comes to quality vs. quantity in the shots department. They are once again one of the bottom teams in the league in shot attempt differential. They are one of the best teams in scoring chance differential. There are not many teams that can pull that off. The Wild did it a year ago and, so far, are doing it again.

7. Montreal Canadiens — Of all the teams in this tier this might be the one I am most skeptical of because, well, I just don’t think they’re that good. They have, however, played pretty well so far this season and have the one X-factor that can really elevate them if he is on top of his game. That X-factor: Carey Price. He hasn’t consistently been at that level this season, though he has shown flashes of it. Max Domi has also been a huge surprise having already scored five goals in 10 games after scoring nine in each of the past two seasons.

8. Edmonton Oilers — Two games into the season it looked like Todd McLellan had one foot out the door and the team was doomed to be awful again. And who knows, maybe it will all still play out that way. But they are 6-1-1 in the eight games since and some people other than Connor McDavid are starting to provide some offense. Up is down. Down is up.

9. Chicago Blackhawks — Like the Canadiens I’m not really sure how good this team actually is but they do have some players that can be difference-makers and carry them a long way. Patrick Kane is off to a great start offensively, Alex DeBrincat is emerging as a star, and Corey Crawford is a massive upgrade over Cam Ward and the goalies they were using a year ago. They are not the team they once were. They might still be … decent?

10. New Jersey Devils — They have cooled off considerably from their four-game unbeaten streak to open the year and that concerns me, because this was a very average team a year ago outside of Taylor Hall and the top line. Still reason to think they can be good, but maybe not as good as the 4-0-0 start.

Teams that are better than this

11. San Jose Sharks — In the category of “teams that are not going to be this low in the standings (or the power rankings) for much longer,” the Sharks are at the top of that tier. After winning just two of their five five games the Sharks have now won five out of six and have at least a point in six consecutive games. Erik Karlsson has not been the player they expected … yet. He will be. When he is, look out.

12. Vegas Golden Knights — Everything went right for them a year ago, and so far this season their puck luck has changed. Don’t let that make you think this team is going to keep regressing. They are controlling 60 percent of the 5-on-5 shot attempts in their games and have the second best scoring chance differential. It is a weird thing to say about a team in its second year, but they are somewhat of a sleeping giant early in the season.

13. Winnipeg Jets — They need to get Patrik Laine going, and they will, but the bigger concern might be the fact that Connor Hellebuyck‘s early save percentage is only .907. His play a year ago is a big reason why they went from middle-of-the-pack, bubble playoff team to legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

[Related: What is wrong with Patrik Laine?]

14. Boston Bruins — There is quite a gap between what their top line is doing offensively and what the rest of the team is doing offensively. That is going to be a problem if it continues.

15. Washington Capitals — I don’t believe in Stanley Cup hangovers. I do believe the 2017-18 Capitals were a really good, top-tier team that had everything click and go in their favor at the right time and that so far this season they have not yet hit their stride.

16. Columbus Blue Jackets — I kind of cringe as to what this team might look like if/when Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky are not there. Given the way Bobrovsky has played so far this season we are getting a little preview of that, and it is not promising. But Bobrovsky is still there for now, and he will play better. As long as he does, so will the Blue Jackets.

The upstarts and surprises

17. Carolina Hurricanes — This is definitely the year the Hurricanes realize their potential and become the team we always thought they could be. This is definitely the year the Hurricanes realize their potential and become the team we always thought they could be. This is definitely the year the Hurricanes realize their potential and become the team we always thought they could be.

18. Arizona Coyotes — The Coyotes did not win their fifth game of the 2017-18 season until the end of November. They have not only won four of their past five to get back to .500 through their first 10 games, they have been one of the toughest teams in the NHL to score against.

19. Buffalo Sabres — There does seem to be a different feel around this team this year. Jeff Skinner has always been everything they could have hoped for him to be. Just a matter now of how long he will remain there.

20. New York Islanders — They have not been great, but they have also not yet been the cellar dweller I thought they would be at the start of the year. Given the way their underlying numbers look they still might very well end up there, but so far they have been competitive. Anders Lee is on his way to having the type of season that can make him a lot of money in a few months.

The disappointments

21. Florida Panthers — They are probably playing better than their record indicates as goaltending has really hurt them, but you can not start a season with only two wins in your first nine games and expect to easily make up that ground. Given the way the 2017-18 season played out this team should know that better than anyone.

22. Calgary Flames — This team just seems like it should be … better. I really don’t know what else to say other than that. They are just underwhelming.

23. Dallas Stars — Take what we just said about the Flames and repeat it here.

24. Philadelphia Flyers — At the start of the season I argued this was the NHL’s ultimate boom-or-bust team given the makeup of the roster and the questions on the blue line and in net. So far they are a bust.

25. St. Louis Blues — The Blues were one of the toughest teams in the league to score against in 2017-18 and missed the playoffs because their offense stunk. They spent the offseason throwing money at fixing their forwards and entering play on Monday have the fourth highest goals per game in the league. Success! The problem: Now they can’t stop anybody. You know what it means when one part of the team works and the other doesn’t, and then when the other part works the part that had been working stops working? It means you are probably a mediocre team.

These teams are bad

26. Ottawa Senators — They haven’t been as bad as expected, but they still only have four wins in 10 games and have probably had a few players playing over their heads so far. It would still not surprise me to see them 31st when the season concludes.

27. Vancouver Canucks — They had a really impressive three-game road trip through Florida and Pittsburgh early in the year where they won all three games. But other than that this team has been about what we expected: A couple of good young forwards, a bad defense and only mediocre at best goaltending.

28. Anaheim Ducks — The injuries have not helped, but other than the play of John Gibson and Ryan Miller there is nothing positive about the way this team has played this season. Think about how bad your team has to play to have a pair of goalies with a combined .938 save percentage over 12 games, and only win five of those games. When those two see any sort of a regression the bottom could fall out on this team.

[Related: Ducks ask too much of Gibson and Getzlaf is not happy]

29. New York Rangers — This season is all about which young players will show some progress and which veteran players will play well enough to get traded for a nice return before the deadline later in the year. Brett Howden has been impressive.

30. Los Angeles Kings — The window on this team as a Stanley Cup contender has been emphatically slammed shut. A slow, dull, boring team that needs overhauled.

31. Detroit Red Wings — It took them until game No. 11, but they finally have a win in regulation. That is how things are going for the Motor City’s hockey team so far this season.

(Shot attempt and scoring chance data provided is via Natural Stat Trick)

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.

LA Kings set Guinness World Record for ‘Largest Laser Show’

Los Angeles Kings/Juan Ocampo
1 Comment

The Los Angeles Kings may have dropped their third in a row Thursday night and fell to 2-5-0 on the season, but they set a world record during the first intermission.

The Kings’ game presentation department used 642 lasers as part of the Guinness Book of World Records “Largest Laser Show” at STAPLES Center. So, yeah, they were shutout, but they made history.

For the record, the first-period goals by Casey Mittelstadt and Conor Sheary did not, in fact, count toward the final laser total.

With Thursday being the 20th anniversary of the opening of the arena, which featured a Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band concert back in 1999, the Kings wanted to do something special, so they went and shattered the previous record of 342, per the team.

Now, if only one of those lasers could have destroyed the “cursed” Taylor Swift banner

————

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.

Kempny returns to Capitals’ blue line for first time since March

Leave a comment

Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer doing the ceremonial puck drop honors won’t be the only thing Capitals fans can look forward to Friday night. Defenseman Michal Kempny will make his long-awaited return to the ice against the Rangers after tearing his hamstring in March.

Kempny, who was paired with Radko Gudas during Friday’s morning skate, was given a four-to-six month timeline after undergoing surgery right before the end of last season.

“Yeah, I’m playing tonight. It’s been a long time. I’m very excited,” Kempny said. “There was a lot of hard days, especially from the beginning of the rehab, small steps make me happy. I think it’s part of rehab and all the bad is behind me and I’m just focusing now [on] today’s game.”

Kempny knows he won’t be logging heavy minutes just yet and wants to focus on getting back into the normal routine of a regular player. How his ice time is managed will be something his head coach has to worry about.

“We have a range we’d like to have him in and we’ll see how the game goes,” said Todd Reirden. “Obviously he’s fresh, he’s skating really well, he’s in unbelievable condition, so now it’s just to see how it transfers into game action and how his wind is and his conditioning.”

Braden Holtby is back between the pipes are being given a one game “reset,” as Reirden put it. How he fares against the Rangers will either pause the goalie controversy talk with Ilya Samsonov for now or only add more fuel to the fire.

————

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.

Goaltending ‘legend’ Tre White tests hockey knowledge of Bills’ teammates

Bills
1 Comment

Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White was bit by the hockey bug after attending a Sabres game last season. He became a big fan of goaltender Carter Hutton, who he mistakenly called “Sutton” at first, and Tweeted out support for the team.

White tried to test the level of his Bills teammates’ hockey knowledge during this week’s episode of “Chill with the Bills.” It features White quizzing his teammates, who weren’t quite up to par. Though, Ed Oliver nailing the butterfly technique after failing at the rest of the test was quite the twist.

A “Louisiana hockey legend”, White was a “hockey All-American” and the “best player in Louisiana history” after not allowing a goal during his high school career, and he was an “inspiration” for Hutton, as the Bills documented earlier this month. White’s love of hockey was first promoted last December when the Bills created a video showcasing his goaltending abilities with a spoof ad for “The Tre’Davious White Goalie Academy of Louisiana at Buffalo.”

It’s quite good.

A Shreveport, La native, White’s hometown team, the Tier II junior Mudbugs, honored him last season during a February game.

Following back-to-back shutouts for Hutton this week and a 5-0-0 record to start the year, White surely has to be proud of his former goaltending protege.

————

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.

What’s wrong with the Dallas Stars?

3 Comments

The Dallas Stars were an overtime goal away from playing in the Western Conference Final last year. Unfortunately for them, the St. Louis Blues got a goal from Patrick Maroon in double OT during their second-round matchup last spring and the Stars were sent packing.

But heading into this season, expectations were sky-high for Dallas partly because they managed to sign Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry in free agency. Let’s just say they haven’t lived up to the hype so far.

Through eight games, the Stars have gone 1-6-1. Only the Minnesota Wild have collected fewer points (two) than Dallas (three) so far this season.

Look, it’s early enough that head coach Jim Montgomery could get this figured out, but they have to at least be concerned about where this season is heading.

“As frustrated as we are right now, there’s 90 percent of the season left,” goalie Ben Bishop told NHL.com after Wednesday’s loss to Columbus. “There’s still time to fix this ship, but there’s got to be more urgency from everybody from start to end. We’ve got to find ways to get [wins], no matter how it is.”

So what’s gone wrong for Dallas through eight games? What can they correct?

• Where are the Stars’ stars?

Alexander Radulov (four points in eight games), Tyler Seguin (four points in eight games) and Jamie Benn (two points in eight games) simply aren’t producing enough right now. Again, the sample size is small, but it’s hard for teams to win when their three most important offensive players aren’t putting the puck in the net.

That trio has spent a good amount of time together and it should be the best line the team has. There’s no way the Stars can have success if the all three players don’t produce at a 70-plus point clip. Even though it’s encouraging to see a youngster like Roope Hintz take the next step in his development, they still need their three veterans to come through for them.

The Stars are averaging less than two goals per game (they have 15 goals in eight contests) and their 4.2 percent power play isn’t striking fear in anybody. Is the power play being bad tied to their stars’ lack of production? Probably. No matter what the reason is, everyone involved has to get this figured out as soon as possible.

• Where are the new guys? 

The Stars invested big money in Pavelski and smaller dollars on Perry. Let’s just say that the return on investment hasn’t been there for them yet. In Perry’s case, it’s not really his fault. He was forced to miss the first seven games of the year because of a foot injury, but he was finally able to make his season debut on Wednesday night. The 34-year-old finished the game with an even rating and one shot on goal in just under 14 minutes of ice time. He was a nice addition, but not one the Stars were counting on to dominate offensively.

Pavelski is in a different boat. The 35-year-old changed teams for the first time in his career and he’s clearly not as effective as he was as a member of the San Jose Sharks. Pavelski scored his first goal as a Star late in Wednesday’s game against the Blue Jackets. Is that something he can build on? We’re about to find out. But they brought him in to be a secondary scorer behind Benn, Seguin and Radulov. Not only are those three not scoring, but Pavelski is also failing to do his part in that department.

They better hope the veteran figures it out because there’s still another two years left on the free-agent contract he signed in July.

The encouraging thing for Dallas, is that they rank ninth is high danger chances for percentage and they’re 13th in expected goals for percentage. Does that guarantee that the offense is coming? Probably not. But it’s something positive. (Stats provided by Natural Stat Trick)

• Bishop needs to get back to Vezina form

Bishop didn’t necessarily have the heaviest work load last season, but he managed to put himself in the Vezina Trophy discussion thanks to a solid season. Yes, the Stars did a great job of limiting high-quality scoring chances, but he still managed to step up when called upon.

Blaming him for the early-season struggles his team is having isn’t necessarily fair. It’s not so much that it’s Bishop’s fault, it’s more that he has to take his game to another level while the offense in front of him is struggling. It’s hard to imagine Dallas winning many games when they score less than two goals per game. The only way they can do that is if their goalie stands on his head.

The 32-year-old has a 1-4-1 record with a 2.84 goals-against-average and a .899 save percentage this season.

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.