PHT Power Rankings: No one is close to Lightning right now

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The 2018-19 NHL season is almost at its halfway point and the Tampa Bay Lightning are rolling into the holiday break with what has been the best team in the league this season.

There is no one really close to them, either.

A quick look at where they stand compared to the rest of the league…

  • They have a six point lead over every other team in the league, one of the largest leads any team has had at this point in the season in recent history
  • They are on pace for 128 points this season. The NHL’s second best team at the moment is on pace for 115.
  • Their plus-48 goal differential is 11 goals better than any other team in the league, while there is only one team (the Toronto Maple Leafs) that is within 20 goals of that mark.
  • Their 28 wins are tied for the most of any team through the first 37 games of a season in the salary cap era.
  • Over the past 25 years only two teams (the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins and 2005-06 Ottawa Senators) have scored more goals than Tampa Bay’s 154 through 37 games.

Needless to say, they are in the top spot in this week’s PHT Power Rankings.

On to the rest of the rankings!

The Elites

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — Just a stunningly great hockey team right now. An offense that no one can slow down, an outstanding defense, and great goaltending. Put it all together and you have a team that is 16-2-1 in its past 19 games and is six points ahead of every other team in the league heading to the holiday break.

2. Winnipeg Jets — The Jets have one of the best records in the NHL and they haven’t really received great goaltending from Connor Hellebucyk yet. Kind of scary to think about how good they could be if he starts to get back closer to the level he showed a year ago.

3. Washington Capitals — After winning just seven of their first 16 games the Capitals have gone on a 15-4-0 run in the 19 games that followed and Alex Ovechkin is scoring goals at a pace that is ridiculous even for him.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs —  Talk of them losing any of their young stars to an offer sheet is a waste of time (it is not going to happen) but they are still heading toward a truly fascinating offseason with Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews. Both players have been absolutely sensational this season, with Marner already topping the 50-point mark just 36 games into the season.

The Playoff Teams/Contenders

5. Columbus Blue Jackets — Sergei Bobrovsky has won his past four decisions with two shutouts. That is just what the Blue Jackets need right now.

6. Calgary Flames — The biggest surprise on one of the biggest surprise teams is still the play of Elias Lindholm. With 17 goals and 39 points on the season he has already matched his career high in goals and is just five points away from matching another career high.

7. Nashville Predators — The injuries are really starting to catch up to them, but it is nothing to worry about at the moment.

8. Pittsburgh Penguins — They are starting to look like the Penguins again. Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel are scoring almost every night, Kris Letang is playing at a Norris Trophy level on defense, and the goaltending is starting to perform like they need it to.

9. Vegas Golden Knights — Early on it looked like the Golden Knights were headed for a big year two regression. Even though they are unlikely to match their year one point total they have gone 12-5-3 in their past 20 games. They are just three points out of first place in the Pacific Division.

10. Boston Bruins — They have managed to keep winning and maintain a playoff spot despite some significant injury issues. They are starting to get healthy again with the recent returns of Charlie McAvoy and Patrice Bergeron.

[Related: Patrice Bergeron grabs four points in return to lineup]

11. Colorado Avalanche — The top line is as dominant as it has been at any point over the past two years. At some point, though, the Avalanche are going to need another line to become somewhat of a goal-scoring threat.

12. San Jose Sharks — They went on a roll by winning seven out of eight and looked like they were starting to become the team we expected them to be. Then they dropped three in a row going into the break, including games against the Los Angeles Kings and Arizona Coyotes. Erik Karlsson is starting to look like Erik Karlsson again, which is great news (he also received a two-game suspension … which is not great news).

13. Buffalo Sabres — Jeff Skinner and Jack Eichel have not cooled off, but the rest of the team has. Fortunately for them that early season winning streak and great start gave them a nice cushion so this recent slump has not hurt them too much.

The Bubble Teams

14. Montreal Canadiens — Carey Price had a couple of good games this past week but he is still way below what they need from him. It is actually kind of remarkable they have won as much as they have this season with the level of goaltending they have received from Price and Antti Niemi.

15. New York Islanders — They keep hanging around, especially impressive when you consider Mathew Barzal and Josh Bailey have only combined for 12 goals at this point.

16. Anaheim Ducks — They occupy a playoff spot at the moment but I am still skeptical they will hold on to it. The team is too dependent on goaltending and has been outscored by 14 goals on the season. Not a good sign!

17. Edmonton Oilers — After the initial surge that followed the coaching change the Oilers have started to look like, well, the Oilers again. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl can only carry this team so far on their own.

18. Vancouver Canucks — They have put together a little run here in recent weeks to get back closer to a playoff spot. They’ve been an extremely hot and cold team this season, but the two constants have been the play of Brock Boeser (when healthy) and rookie forward Elias Pettersson. They are great building blocks.

19. Dallas Stars — They backed into the break by losing six out of eight. Getting John Klingberg back will help a lot in their push for a playoff spot, though.

20. Minnesota Wild — The offense has dried up and now they are without one of their top defenders in Mathew Dumba for the foreseeable future.

[Related: Bad news for Wild as Dumba to miss significant time]

The Lottery Teams

21. Carolina Hurricanes — Andrei Svechnikov looks like he has a bright future ahead of him. Sebastian Aho is a star right now. These are the positives for the Hurricanes at the moment. They also played really well in the Hartford Whalers uniforms.

22. Philadelphia Flyers — The Carter Hart era has officially started. Will he be the one to finally solve the decades long problem in net, or will he be doomed to whatever it is that happens to goalies once they put on a Flyers uniform? He has won two of his first three decisions. The Flyers have already used six different goalies this season.

23. Florida Panthers — Aleksander Barkov finally got whistled for his first penalty of the season this past week. He has drawn more than 20. He has taken one. Just one of the under-the-radar things that makes one of the league’s most under-the-radar stars so dominant on the ice.

24. St. Louis Blues — I still wonder what this season would have looked like for the Blues with better goaltending. A flawed team for sure, but they should not be this far down in the standings.

25. Los Angeles Kings — Points in five out of their past six and a three game winning streak to head into the break. Ilya Kovalchuk is back in the lineup and played his best hockey of the season with three points, including an overtime goal, in his first two games back.

26. Chicago Blackhawks — They had their first three game winning streak of the season with wins over Nashville, Dallas, and Colorado. A nice little stretch, but not enough to make much of a dent in the deficit they face for a playoff spot.

27. New York Rangers — It has been a tough month for the Rangers with just two wins, and only one of them coming in regulation. Kevin Hayes is having a strong season and could be an attractive trade chip as we get closer to the trade deadline later in the season.

28. Arizona Coyotes — After a promising start to the season the Coyotes have really struggled in recent weeks with losses in seven of their past 10 games.

29. Detroit Red Wings — What will this team look like if — or when — they trade Jimmy Howard? He has been one of the few bright spots on the roster this season.

30. Ottawa Senators — Just what the Colorado Avalanche, owners of the Senators’ 2019 first-round pick, want to see happening this season.

31. New Jersey Devils — Other than Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri there just is not much going on here with this team. Goaltending is a massive issue right now as it looks like Cory Schneider might be completely done.

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.

Players hope US-Canada rivalry game helps spawn pro league

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The United States women’s hockey team beat Canada 4-1 on Saturday night, with players hoping the first in a series of five games between the international rivals will help kindle the public’s interest in both their sport and their fight off the ice for better professional opportunities.

Canada’s Victoria Bach and the Megan Keller of the U.S. traded power-play goals in the first period, before Amanda Kessel put the U.S. on top for good with a player advantage in the second. Abbe Roque’s backhand in the period gave the US a 3-1 lead and Alex Carpenter beat Genevieve Lacasse for the final goal 1:15 seconds later.

More than 7,000 fans showed up for the international competition, which comes after more than 200 members of what has since become the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association announced in May they would not play professionally in North America during the 2019-2020 season.

“I think it’s important for people to watch us play and see the level of talent and entertainment that’s out there,” Kessel said. “It’s getting that understanding that we need to help get us a place to play year-round so that people can see us more than five times a year.”

The women are seeking a professional league that provides a living wage, health insurance, infrastructure and support for training. The Canadian Women’s Hockey League shut down in the spring after 12 years of operation, leaving only the five-team National Women’s Hockey League, where most players make less than $10,000 a season.

“The product is there,” Kessel said. “The people to watch it are there. We just need a structure set in place.”

Sarah Nurse, a forward for Team Canada, whose cousin Kia Nurse plays for New York in the WNBA, said players are hoping to get support from the NHL, which has, so far, expressed little interest in investing in a women’s league.

“We can look at (the WNBA) and see that women’s sports have value and they have a place in this world,” said Nurse, who made $2,000 last season playing in the CWHL. “That is definitely a model that we look to.”

The rivalry series was created after the Four Nations Cup in Sweden was canceled when top Swedish players pulled out of national team events due to concerns over their salary and working conditions.

Without a viable pro league, players who are out of college have been training on their own at random rinks across North America in between gatherings of the national teams or training sessions and exhibitions sponsored by the players association.

Canada won two of those over the US in Pittsburgh last month.

But the lack of consistent competition can stunt the players’ development, especially when it comes to be being prepared for world and Olympic competitions, the players said.

“It’s very unfortunate,” Nurse said. “Games are when we truly get better and test out our skills, so it’s unfortunate that we don’t have more games to play.”

Cayla Barnes, who plays defense for the U.S. team and Boston College, said she and the other college players on the national teams understand what is going on and appreciate what the older players are doing.

“They are putting so much on the line for the younger generations,” she said. “Not just for us college kids who are coming up, but for U-8, U-10 girls who are coming up so they have opportunities later on. So I think all of us who are younger are trying to support them in whatever way we can.”

Hundreds of girls wearing their youth hockey jerseys attended the game, chanting “U-S-A” as the final seconds ticked off the clock.

“I want to be like them, like in the Olympics when I get older,” said 14-year-old Leila Espirito Santo, of Glastonbury “I started playing when I was in fourth grade and I wasn’t the best, but watching them play made me want to be better. It showed me I could do it.”

The teams will meet again on Tuesday in Moncton, New Brunswick. Other games part of the 2019-20 Rivalry Series are slated for Feb. 3 and Feb. 5 in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Feb. 8 in Anaheim, California.

The Buzzer: Hats off to Duclair; Staal one point away from 1,000

NHL Scores Eric Staal Minnesota Wild
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Three Stars

1. Anthony Duclair, Ottawa Senators. This had to be a satisfying game for Duclair. He showed John Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets that he does, in fact, know how to play the game by scoring three goals in a 4-3 win for the Ottawa Senators. That performance includes the game-winning goal in overtime. The 24-year-old Duclair now has 18 goals in 33 games this season and is on pace for more than 40 goals this season. Read all about his day here.

2. Bryan Rust, Pittsburgh Penguins. With Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Brian Dumoulin, Nick Bjugstad, and Patric Hornqvist out of the lineup the Penguins have more than $35 million in salary cap space sitting in the press box at the moment. They still keep finding ways to win. They picked up a 5-4 shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings in Saturday thanks to another huge game from Rust. He scored two goals and picked up an assist in regulation, then scored the game-winning goal in the shootout. Rust now has 12 goals and 22 total points in only 19 games this season for the Penguins. He has always been one of their most versatile — and valuable — players, and he is showing why this season.

3. Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild. Staal has been on a roll for the Wild and thanks to his two-goal effort in Saturday’s 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, he now has six points in his past five games and is up to 999 for his career. That means with one more point he would become only the 89th player in NHL history to hit the 1,000 point milestone. The Wild are one of the league’s hottest teams since the start of November with a 12-3-5 record in their past 20 games. They were 4-9-0 before in October.

Other notable performances from Saturday

  • David Pastrnak extended his lead in the NHL goal-scoring race with a pair of goals in the Boston Bruins’ 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers. He now has 28 goals on the season and is five ahead of Jack Eichel.
  • Warren Foegele scored two goals for the Carolina Hurricanes, James Reimer stopped all 32 shots he faced and Dougie Hamilton scored against his former team in a 4-0 win over the Calgary Flames.
  • Anthony Beauvillier was the overtime hero for the New York Islanders as they topped the Buffalo Sabres.
  • The New Jersey Devils gave Alain Nasreddine his first NHL win as a head coach while the Taylor Hall watch continues. Read all about it here.
  • Frederik Andersen stopped 36 out of 37 shots as the Toronto Maple Leafs sent the fading Edmonton Oilers to their fourth consecutive defeat. It is the 200th win of Andersen’s career.
  • Jonathan Bernier backstopped the Detroit Red Wings to their second consecutive win as they hold off the Montreal Canadiens.
  • Mika Zibanejad‘s two goals are not enough for the New York Rangers as they drop a 4-3 shootout decision to the Anaheim Ducks.
  • Ben Bishop turned aside 37 out of 38 shots to help the Dallas Stars crush the Nashville Predators.
  • Evander Kane and Logan Couture both record two points as the San Jose Sharks get a much-needed win over the Vancouver Canucks. It is the first win for Bob Boughner as head coach of the Sharks.
  • Tyler Bozak scored two goals as the St. Louis Blues stunned the Chicago Blackhawks. Read all about it here.

Highlights of the Night

Timo Meier finishes a great passing play for the San Jose Sharks with an absolute rocket of a shot to beat Jacob Markstrom.

Jonathan Quick has really struggled the past two years, and it came in a losing effort in Pittsburgh on Saturday, but this series of saves in overtime is pretty ridiculous.

Garnet Hathaway score with some style for the Capitals.

Give this fan a contract

This is a $50,000 shot between periods in Montreal.

Factoids

  • The Blues’ comeback is just the second time in franchise history they erased a three-goal third period deficit to win. [NHL PR]
  • Zibanejad’s first goal for the Rangers came just 10 seconds into the game, the fastest goal for the Rangers since the 1985 season. [NHL PR]
  • Jack Eichel extended his point streak to 16 consecutive games, making it the fourth longest in Buffalo Sabres franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • The Wild have earned a point in 12 consecutive home games, the second-longest streak in franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • Brad Marchand hit the 50-point mark for the season, the first Bruins player since Adam Oates during the 1995-96 season to reach that mark in 34 or fewer games. [NHL PR]
  • Marc-Edouard Vlasic played in his 1,000th career game on Saturday night, making him the 340th player in NHL history to reach that milestone. [San Jose Sharks]
  • Foegele’s two goals for the Hurricanes both came while shorthanded, making him the fifth Hurricanes player to ever accomplish that in a game. [NHL PR]

Scores

Ottawa Senators 4, Columbus Blue Jackets 3 (OT)
New York Islanders 3, Buffalo Sabres 2 (OT)
Anaheim Ducks 4, New York Rangers 3 (SO)
Carolina Hurricanes 4, Calgary Flames 0
Dallas Stars 4, Nashville Predators 1
Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Edmonton Oilers 1
Minnesota Wild 4, Philadelphia Flyers 1
Detroit Red Wings 2, Montreal Canadiens 1
Washington Capitals 5, Tampa Bay Lightning 2
Boston Bruins 4, Florida Panthers 2
Pittsburgh Penguins 5, Los Angeles Kings 4 (SO)
New Jersey Devils 2, Arizona Coyotes 1
St. Louis Blues 4, Chicago Blackhawks 3
San Jose Sharks 4, Vancouver Canucks 2

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.

Devils give Nasreddine first win as Taylor Hall trade watch continues

Devils Taylor Hall Trade Watch
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For the second game in a row the New Jersey Devils held star forward Taylor Hall out of the lineup as they continue to work toward a trade.

They were still able to give interim coach Alain Nasreddine his first win as an NHL coach by defeating the Arizona Coyotes, 2-1, thanks to a late goal from Kyle Palmieri.

Entering play on Saturday the Devils had been 0-4-1 since firing John Hynes and replacing him with Nasreddine.

The win also snapped a seven-game losing streak.

The big story, though, continues to be where Hall ends up as trade talks continue between the Devils and several teams around the league. Trade speculation has followed Hall and the Devils all season and reached a boiling point on Friday night when he was made a late scratch in Colorado for what the team called “precautionary” reasons. The fact he did not play again on Saturday seems to further drive home the point that a trade could be imminent.

At this point it simply a matter of where he ends up.

While the Avalanche remain the odds on favorite to land him, several other teams have reportedly emerged as possible destinations. One of those potential teams: Saturday’s opponent in Arizona.

Other teams that have been rumored to be interested include St. Louis, Florida, and Edmonton.

The Coyotes are an intriguing option because it would be a pretty clear sign that they are ready to try and win right now. Even with Saturday’s loss to the Devils they remain in first place in the Pacific Division and are off to one of their starts in years. They have a good young roster, but are still lacking impact forwards. Phil Kessel was supposed to help address that over the summer, but he is off to a slow start (only one even-strength goal) and has not yet been a difference-maker.

Adding Hall would be a huge win for the Coyotes not only because of the impact to their own roster, but it would also keep him away from a division rival In Edmonton.

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.

 

Blackhawks self destruct, blow 3-goal third period lead to Blues

Blackhawks Blues third period rally
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Just when it looked like the Chicago Blackhawks had hit rock bottom they found a way to keep digging.

Their disastrous three-game road trip came to a brutal end on Saturday night in St. Louis when they allowed a three-goal lead with 16 minutes to play turn into a 4-3 regulation loss to the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues.

The meltdown began when St. Louis’ Tyler Bozak scored just 30 seconds after Patrick Kane had given the Blackhawk a 3-0 lead, capitalizing on a terrible turnover by Alex Nylander.

The Blues completed the comeback with three goals in the final six minutes of regulation, including a pair of goals just 12 seconds apart to tie the game.

Just three minutes after that sequence Justin Faulk scored his second goal of the season for the game-winner.

1. The Blackhaws’ problems remain the same

It’s the defensive zone play. It has been the defensive zone play. It continues to be the defensive zone play.

At times the Blackhawks look like a team that has never had to play in the defensive zone before. Turnovers, missed assignments, blown assignments, and just about every possible defensive calamity that can happen to a team in the defensive zone happens to this team on a near nightly basis. All of that was on display in the final 16 minutes on Saturday and it once again left their goalie — in this case Corey Crawford — all by himself on an island.

2. Where they stand now

In last place in the Central Division and next-to-last place in the entire Western Conference, just one point ahead of the Los Angeles Kings. Needless to say, that is a brutal position for a team with one of the league’s largest payrolls to be in.

They are 3-8-2 in their past 13 games (only one of those wins in regulation), are nine points out of the second Wild Card spot and 12 points back of the top-three teams in the Central Division.

They were outscored by a 14-6 margin on their three-game trip that took them through Arizona, Vegas, and St. Louis.

At this point the season is not only getting away from them, it appears to be completely gone.

3. What happens next?

This is the type of stretch, and this is the type of game, that leads to change.

Or at least starts the ball rolling toward change.

Head coach Jeremy Colliton has been on the job for just one year, and firing him that quickly after he replaced a future Hall of Fame, three-time Stanley Cup winning coach would make it seem like the Blackhawks don’t really have much of a plan and don’t really know what they’re doing.

But do you know what? Maybe they don’t know what they’re doing, and maybe they don’t have a plan. General manager Stan Bowman gambled big on his core and that its strong second half a year ago was a sign of what the team was still capable of. That it maybe just needed a few tweaks to compete again. With every passing game this season, and with every defensive meltdown that seems worse than the previous one, it is becoming increasingly clear this team just isn’t very good and the right changes were not made.

In the end something is very wrong with this team and there does not seem to be much light at the end of the tunnel.

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.