PHT Power Rankings: The Sabres are back

6 Comments

There is a new team at the top of this week’s PHT Power Rankings, and it is probably not a team you expected to be there at any point this season.

Yes, it is the Buffalo Sabres.

It has been a long time coming for Sabres fans after watching years of terrible hockey. Just for some perspective on where this team was prior to this season, no team in the NHL (Vegas excluded) had won fewer games than Buffalo over the previous five years. And it’s not just that the Sabres were at the bottom of the wins list during that stretch. They were at the bottom by a significant margin, having won 18 fewer games than the next worst team (the Arizona Coyotes). Heck, even the Edmonton Oilers won 30 more games than them. If you are 30 wins behind that organization, you know things are bad.

Thanks to a nine-game winning streak entering this week, the Sabres now have one of the best records in the league, are off to their best start in more than a decade, and with 16 wins in their first 24 games have positioned themselves nicely for a potential run to the playoffs.

During the five-year stretch between 2013-14 and 2017-18 there were 20 teams that won at least 16 of their first 24 games. Only two of them, the 2015-16 Montreal Canadiens and 2017-18 St. Louis Blues, failed to make the playoffs that season. And the Canadiens’ failure to make the postseason was due mostly to a devastating injury to starting goaltender Carey Price.

So, yes, Buffalo, it’s not too early to start believing in your team. It might finally be good again.

As for the rest of the Power Rankings…

The Elites

1. Buffalo Sabres — Do I honestly believe the Sabres are the best team in hockey this season? No, I do not. But for the purposes of this week’s power rankings I have to give some love to a team that as of this moment has one of the best records in the league and has won nine games in a row (and 10 of 11). Buffalo fans, you’ve watched a lot of disgustingly bad hockey over the years. You deserve a fun team to watch, and you have earned it. Enjoy this.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning — They just keep finding more stars in the draft where other teams do not. The latest example is Brayden Point who enters the week as one of the top-five scorers in the league.

3. Nashville Predators — Injuries are starting to mount for the Predators but they have enough depth to overcome them for a short period of time in the regular season.

One step below the elites

4. Boston Bruins — Speaking of great teams and depth, that has always been the big question for this Bruins team. Well, they are currently playing without Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, and Charlie McAvoy and do you know what they are still doing? Winning. Jaroslav Halak deserves a ton of credit for the way he has played this season, but to be without one of the best two-way centers in the league and their top two defenders and still find ways to scratch out two points on most nights is a big accomplishment. Especially in that division. Since Bergeron went down the Bruins have collected seven out of a possible eight points.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs — They are one of the most dynamic offensive teams in the league and have only received 11 total games from Auston Matthews and William Nylander, their second-and third-leading scorers from a year ago. Imagine what they will look like when they both get in the lineup.

6. Minnesota Wild — With 20 points in his first 20 games this has been a great bounce back year so far for Zach Parise.

7. Winnipeg Jets — Remember When Patrik Laine had just three goals in his first 12 games? He now has 16 goals in his past 10 games, including three hat tricks, one of which was a million dollar five-goal game.

Making Their Move

8. Washington Capitals — Here come the Champs! They have won six of their past seven games and are starting to quickly climb the standings.

9. Colorado Avalanche –– I had the Avalanche as a mystery team two weeks ago, and they still kind of are. But that top line is absolutely unstoppable.

10. Columbus Blue Jackets — Cam Atkinson is red hot right now offensively with a seven-game goal scoring streak. This is still one of the more interesting teams in the league to watch from a distance given their status as a likely playoff team, and the fact their two best players are free agents after the season. Not an enviable position for their front office to be in.

11. Vegas Golden Knights — This is a very strange team. As a second-year franchise they are not particularly deep and injuries have crushed them this season, but they are also playing a lot better than their record indicates. They are starting to get the results now. Given the sorry state of the Pacific Division I still think they have a great shot to win it this season. The schedule really softens up for them over the next couple of weeks as well.

[Related: Stanley Cup Finalists are heating up]

The Middle Ground

12. Calgary Flames — Matthew Tkachuk just keeps getting better offensively and, somehow, more annoying for his opponents.

13. San Jose Sharks — Do not like where they are at this point given the talent they have on the roster, but they have got to start getting more out of Martin Jones. Getting him back to his expected level would do wonders for this team.

14. New York Islanders — Their MVP so far is Thomas Greiss. That is not something I expected to be typing at any point this season.

15. Pittsburgh Penguins — It has not always been pretty but with six out of a possible eight points in their past four games they might be starting to get back on track. Their record when they have all three of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Derick Brassard in the lineup is what should be expected of them this season. It is when one of them is out that everything seems to go wrong.

16. Detroit Red Wings — Give this team some credit, after a miserable start to the season they are 9-3-1 in their past 13 games. Not sure it is going to last, but they have been better than expected.

17. New York Rangers — Henrik Lundqvist in the month of November is 5-1-1 with a .924 save percentage. King Henrik can still dominate at times.

18. Carolina Hurricanes — I feel like the middle of the pack is a good spot for this team. They go through stretches where they look like a team that is going to realize its potential, and then they still have moments like their game in New York on Saturday night where they look like the team they have been for the past seven years. Overall, though, they are 5-2-1 in their past eight games.

19. Dallas Stars — It is awfully difficult to replace one of the league’s best defenders (John Klingberg) and a pretty good starting goalie (Ben Bishop) when they are out of the lineup due to injury.

20. Montreal Canadiens –Tomas Tatar and Max Domi are still massive surprises, but the Canadiens have suddenly lost eight of their past 12 games, including four in a row.

21. Florida Panthers — Starting to look like that five-game winning streak a couple of weeks ago was just a mirage. Probably one of the most disappointing teams in the league, especially when you consider how much Mike Hoffman has produced for them.

22. Ottawa Senators — Their games are the NHL answer to a Big XII college football game. Nobody plays defense. Or shows much interest in playing defense.

23. Philadelphia Flyers — The Ron Hextall era is officially over. Sometimes the Flyers looked great, sometimes they looked awful. Put it all together and you have a completely average team.

[Related: Flyers fire GM Ron Hextall]

24. Anaheim Ducks — Ducks goalies have the fourth best overall save percentage in the league. They are only 15th in goals against average. Do you know what that means? The team in front of the goalies is playing horribly.

The Basement

25. Chicago Blackhawks — Dylan Strome may never be the player he was expected to be when he was selected third overall in 2015, but I love the Blackhawks’ gamble to trade for him. Maybe he and Alex DeBrincat can recapture some of the magic they had during their junior days.

26. Arizona Coyotes — They were starting to look like they were turning a corner, and then they lost eight out of 10 with the most recent two (a 5-1 loss to Colorado, followed by a 6-1 loss to Calgary — both at home) being especially ugly.

27. Vancouver Canucks — The best possible outcome for Canucks fans this season is continued development and highlights from Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser (when he is healthy), and a team around them that still keeps them in the Jack Hughes derby. That is happening.

28. Edmonton Oilers — The Ken Hitchcock era is not off to a great start with back-to-back losses to Anaheim and Los Angeles.

29. New Jersey Devils — The Devils are only 5-10-3 since that 4-0 start.

30. St. Louis Blues — The Ryan O'Reilly trade has worked out great. Unfortunately for the Blues that is the only thing that has worked for them this season.

31. Los Angeles Kings — Ilya Kovalchuk has not recorded a point in nine games and spent Sunday night on the fourth-line, logging just six minutes of ice time. Yikes.

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.

Canucks’ Troy Stecher honors late dad after Game 1 goal

Leave a comment

As he skated around the Blues’ net after firing home the Canucks’ third goal, Troy Stecher pointed to the sky and yelled, “Let’s go!”

The goal was meaningful for two reasons: It gave Vancouver the lead for good in their Game 1 win over St. Louis. But it was also Stecher’s first goal since his father, Peter, died on Father’s Day from complications of diabetes. He was 65 years old.

The Canucks defenseman opened up about the loss of his dad to Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre last month. Peter Stecher was his son’s first hockey coach and wrote Troy a letter during his rookie season that was never sent. Troy found the letter, which was about how proud his dad was that his hard work led to the NHL, while cleaning out Peter’s apartment.

“I miss my dad every day. It was a big goal at a crucial time,” Stecher said afterward. “We’ve talked about trying to get the win in Game 1 and obviously that gave us the lead, and the boys hunkered down.”

The Canucks knew the magnitude of that goal, not just for the game, but also for their teammate.

“What he went through in the summer was just devastating and I just wanted to go and hug him,” said Elias Pettersson.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Zack MacEwan and Jacob Markstrom also lost their fathers this season. Both were there for Stecher in his time of need.

“Very emotional for him,” Markstrom said. “I know what he’s going through and it’s not easy. For him to show that kind of emotion, I was just so happy he got it. I got emotional as well just thinking about it. I gave him a big hug after the game and to get rewarded with a goal in a big game with everything he has been going through that’s huge.”

It’s not been easy for the 26-year-old defenseman this summer. But getting back to his teammates when summer training camp opened helped him while he grieved.

“It’s been tough at certain moments throughout this process,” Stecher said. “I’m thankful to be surrounded by my teammates and I had a couple of seconds there to reflect on my dad. And the biggest thing was everybody showed their support on the bench instantly and just motivated me to keep me going.”

No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Vancouver Canucks (VAN leads series 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Vancouver 5, St. Louis 2
Friday, Aug. 14: Vancouver at St. Louis, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 17: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: St. Louis at Vancouver – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

————

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 Wraparound: Blue Jackets try to bounce back from tough Game 1 loss

Leave a comment

The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down all of the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

• Check out NHL Bubble Wrap to look back at all of Wednesday’s action.

• They only needed two overtimes to decide Game 1 of Bruins-Hurricanes thanks to Patrice Bergeron.

• Rod Brind’Amour was fined $25,000 for calling out referees.

After playing 150 minutes of hockey only to lose in a fifth overtime, the Blue Jackets canceled their Tuesday practice. Wanting to get some rest, John Tortorella had his players meet in the afternoon to watch tape and have the Blue Jackets’ medical team tend to any ailments ahead of Game 2 (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream).

It was only Game 1, but to play that much hockey and not come out as winners? That’s difficult to swallow. Tortorella would only say his players are “fine” in the aftermath of Tampa’s victory. The messaging from players was similar.

“We’re just going to keep going,” said Columbus forward Oliver Bjorkstrand. “Now we just have to be ready for the next game, and I know we will be ready. So we’ve just got to keep going.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It was valiant effort considering it was their fourth game in six days — three of which needed overtime. Columbus played in the final game of the Stanley Cup Qualifying Round and the opening game of the First Round. The Blue Jackets did all they could to take Game 1. Joonas Korpisalo was unreal stopping 85 shots. Seth Jones and Zach Werenski were horses playing 65 and 61 minutes, respectively.

The efforts by Jones and Werenski did not go unnoticed by their teammates and had an affect on those around them.

“Just how easy they make it look even at those minutes, that’s the incredible part,” said Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno. “It just looks like Seth and [Werenski] can just skate forever. We’re lucky to have those guys in our back end. When you look over and you see how they’re not laboring, I think it actually helps your group. I think out of everyone, if they’re not tired, then you’re sure as hell not going to be tired as well. So I think morale-wise it was really good for us. Just unfortunately we didn’t come out on the right side of it.”

NHL GAMES TODAY

Game 2: Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights (VGK leads 1-0) – 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN; livestream: Robin Lehner stopped 19 of 20 shots and Reilly Smith scored twice in the third period to give Vegas a 4-1 win in Game 1. The Golden Knights have outscored their four opponents this postseason 10-1 in the third period, by far the best differential of any team in these playoffs. Their defense has also been stout at the on-set – letting in just one goal in the first period.

Game 2: Hurricanes vs. Bruins (BOS leads 1-0) – 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN; livestream: In a game that was delayed 15 hours due to the length of Game 1 between Columbus and Tampa Bay, just two overtimes were needed to decide Game 1 in the Canes-Bruins series. Patrice Bergeron scored just over a minute into the second extra period to give Boston its first win this postseason and hand Carolina its first loss of these playoffs. For comments made following a failed challenge, Rod Brind’Amour was fined by the league $25,000. He was also assessed a conditional fine of $25K “in the event of similar inappropriate behavior through Aug. 12, 2021,” according to a league statement.

[Full NHL First Round schedule]

Game 2: Flames vs. Stars (CGY leads 1-0) – 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN; livestream: Calgary won Game 1 behind a pair of goals from Dillon Dube and a game-winner from Rasmus Andersson. Dube scored twice in the first period to put Calgary up 2-0 before Denis Gurianov and Jamie Benn scored twice in a span of nine seconds to tie things up in the second. Andersson scored the game- winner with just under four minutes to play in the second period. The Flames have won four of their five playoff games since entering the bubble. Dallas, who ended the regular season on a six-game losing streak, has now lost three of their four playoff games since entering the bubble.

FRIDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 2: Coyotes vs. Avalanche (COL leads 1-0) – 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 2: Canadiens vs. Flyers (PHI leads 1-0) – 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 2: Canucks vs. Blues (VAN leads 1-0) – 6:30 p.m ET – NBCSN
Game 2: Islanders vs. Capitals (NYI leads 1-0) – 8 p.m ET – NBCSN
Game 3: Stars vs. Flames (CGY leads 1-0) – 10:30 p.m ET – NBCSN

PHT’s 2020 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Flyers vs. Canadiens

Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Capitals vs. Islanders
Bruins vs. Hurricanes

Golden Knights vs. Blackhawks
Avalanche vs. Coyotes

Blues vs. Canucks
Stars vs. Flames

First Round predictions
Power Rankings: Best First Round matchups
Conn Smythe Watch: Korpisalo, Aho leading entering First Round
Roundtable: NHL playoff surprises; vulnerable top seeds

NHL schedule for First Round of 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs

2020 nhl playoff schedule
Getty Images
4 Comments

The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on Tuesday, Aug. 11 in the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto. The league has released the 2020 NHL playoff schedule for the First Round.

The top four teams during the regular season in both conferences played a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The eight winners of the best-of-5 Qualifying Round advanced to the First Round. The losing teams from the Qualifying Round have been entered into Phase 2 of the NHL Draft Lottery.

Below is the 2020 NHL playoff schedule.

Note: Teams are re-seeded after each round.

EASTERN CONFERENCE (Scotiabank Arena)

No. 1 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No. 8 Montreal Canadiens (PHI leads 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Philadelphia 2, Montreal 1 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Montreal at Philadelphia, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Philadelphia at Montreal, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
Tuesday, Aug. 18: Philadelphia at Montreal, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Montreal at Philadelphia – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: Philadelphia at Montreal – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Montreal at Philadelphia – TBD

No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 7 Columbus Blue Jackets (TB leads 1-0)

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Lightning 3, Blue Jackets 2 (5OT) (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Columbus at Tampa Bay, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 15: Tampa Bay at Columbus, 7:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 17: Tampa Bay at Columbus, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Columbus at Tampa Bay – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: Tampa Bay at Columbus – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Columbus at Tampa Bay – TBD

No. 3 Washington Capitals vs. No. 6 New York Islanders (NYI lead 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Islanders 4, Capitals 2 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: NY Islanders at Washington, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Washington at NY Islanders, 12 p.m. ET – USA Network
Tuesday, Aug. 18: Washington at NY Islanders, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Thursday, Aug. 20: NY Islanders at Washington – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Washington at NY Islanders – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: NY Islanders at Washington – TBD

No. 4 Boston Bruins vs. No. 5 Carolina Hurricanes (BOS leads 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Bruins 4, Hurricanes 3 (2OT) (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Carolina at Boston, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 15: Boston at Carolina, 12 p.m ET – NBC
Monday, Aug. 17: Boston at Carolina, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Carolina at Boston – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Boston at Carolina – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Carolina at Boston – TBD

*if necessary

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WESTERN CONFERENCE (Rogers Place)

No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 8 Chicago Blackhawks (VGK leads 1-0)

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Golden Knights 4, Blackhawks 1 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Chicago at Vegas, 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 15: Vegas at Chicago, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
Sunday, Aug. 16: Vegas at Chicago, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Tuesday, Aug. 18: Chicago at Vegas – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Vegas at Chicago – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Chicago at Vegas – TBD

No. 2 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 7 Arizona Coyotes (COL leads 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Colorado 3, Arizona 0 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Arizona at Colorado, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 15: Colorado at Arizona, 3 p.m. ET – CNBC
Monday, Aug. 17: Colorado at Arizona, 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Arizona at Colorado – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: Colorado at Arizona – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Arizona at Colorado – TBD

No. 3 Dallas Stars vs. No. 6 Calgary Flames (CGY leads 1-0)

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Flames 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Calgary at Dallas, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 14: Dallas at Calgary, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Dallas at Calgary, 2 p.m. ET – CNBC
*Tuesday, Aug. 18: Calgary at Dallas – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Dallas at Calgary – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Dallas at Calgary – TBD

No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Vancouver Canucks (VAN leads 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Vancouver 5, Blues 2 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Vancouver at St. Louis, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 17: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: St. Louis at Vancouver – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD

*if necessary

2020 nhl playoff schedule

————

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.

Hockey Culture: Ryan Reaves on race, social justice in NHL

Leave a comment

NBC Sports has launched Hockey Culture, a multi-platform content offering dedicated to bringing equality and inclusion to the sport of hockey. Led by NBC Sports NHL analyst Anson Carter, Hockey Culture will address contemporary topics within the sport, aim to promote diversity around the game and on the ice, and increase community engagement with hockey.

In this episode of “Hockey Culture,” Vegas Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves joins Anson Carter to talk about positive change inside the hockey community and his role in the NHL’s fight against racism.

Carter and Reaves also discuss the Golden Knights forward’s role on the ice, his family’s history working in law enforcement, and his newest off-ice endeavor: owning a craft brewery

Upcoming episodes will feature J.T. Brown(Minnesota native, current Wild forward, and a leading activist for racial equality), Eustace King (a prominent Black NHL player agent), Kelsey Koelzer (the first Black female head coach in NCAA hockey history), Harnarayan Singh (Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabibroadcaster), and much more.

Subscribe to NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

MORE: Introducing ‘Hockey Culture,’ an NBC Sports multi-platform content series