PHT Power Rankings: Sharks are one player away

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We need to talk about the San Jose Sharks this week because they are looking awesome this season.

They do not have a single player in the top-20 in the league in scoring, and only one (Brent Burns) that is in the top-40. Despite that, they have seven different players that have already topped the 40-point mark this season (putting each of them on at least a 65-point pace for the season), an eighth that is already over 30 points, and then Joe Thornton casually hanging back with 26 points in only 44 games and still being a dominant one-man wrecking crew when it comes to driving possession (nearly a 60 percent Corsi rating this season).

So they are loaded at forward.

Their two Norris Trophy winning defenders in Burns and Erik Karlsson are playing at an elite level and they have at least one of them on the ice for nearly 45 minutes per night. So for more than two-thirds of the game their opponents are going up against probably one of the five-best blue-liners in the league. If Marc-Edouard Vlasic ever gets back on track and plays to his expected level the defense would look even scarier.

Overall, the Sharks enter the week with the sixth-best points percentage in the NHL (third best in the Western Conference) and look every bit like they contender we expected them to be at the start of the season.

They have almost everything they could possibly need.

The one thing they are missing? Goaltending. That has been the Achilles’ heel of this team this season as neither Martin Jones or Aaron Dell have played well at all.

Together, they have an .891 save percentage, a mark that is the third-worst in the league ahead of only the Florida Panthers and Philadelphia Flyers.

Do you have any idea how dominant and great the rest of your team has to be to get goaltending that bad and still be one of the best teams in the league? Just look at it this way: Of the 10-worst teams in save percentage this season the Sharks are the only one that occupies a playoff spot. Among the bottom-15 teams they are one of only three that is currently in a playoff spot, joining the Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks, and the Canucks are a fringe team that is only really still in the race because the bottom half of the Western Conference playoff field isn’t any good.

The Sharks are as good as it gets in the NHL and have everything they could possibly need to win it all except for, at the moment, a goalie. Whether it comes from Jones improving or a trade they are going to need to hope it gets figured out because that is the worst possible position to have a weakness at come playoff time.

The Sharks sit in the No. 4 spot in this week’s Power Rankings. Let us see where everyone else sits.

To the rankings!

The Elites

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — They have cooled off the smallest bit, but until someone does something to close the gap on them even a little bit they have earned their spot at the top of the list.

2. Calgary Flames — There is nothing to suggest that they are not for real. A legitimate Stanley Cup contender with an exciting young core that might be around for a while.

3. Winnipeg Jets — They haven’t been playing their best hockey lately, but they keep winning. That counts for something. I feel like I’ve been saying this for a while now but imagine how good they could be when Patrik Laine gets back on track

4. San Jose Sharks — Imagine how great they could be with better goaltending.

The Second Tier Elites

5. New York Islanders — They are 15-3-2 in their past 20 games! It is not always pretty, but they just keep on winning and collecting points. There is no way that Barry Trotz does not win the coach of the year at this point. There are still some red flags that exist here, but you can’t take away what they have done and the position they have put themselves in.

6. Nashville Predators — When they are healthy they are as good as it gets. Viktor Arvidsson has only played in 30 games this season and already has 21 goals. Filip Forsberg has only played in 37 games and is playing some of the best hockey of his career. Keep them healthy and this team can go far.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs — If you were one of the people arguing they would need to trade William Nylander for defense what was your reaction to them getting a top-pairing defender in Jake Muzzin without having to trade Nylander? Or any other key player in the organization? What a perfect fit for what the maple Leafs need both this season and next season.

8. Montreal Canadiens — The surprising success of the Flames and Islanders has overshadowed the job Claude Julien has done in montreal. With Carey Price starting to get back to being Carey Price this team could be a real headache for somebody in the first round of the playoffs. Or maybe the second.

Still Contenders, But Going Through a Slump

9. Pittsburgh Penguins — They are so laughably hot and cold this season, but when they are at their best they beat anybody as they did when they rolled over the Tampa Bay Lightning this past week. They can also lose to anybody, as their 2-6-2 record against last place teams this season reflects. They really need Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann to solidify their depth, though.

10. Vegas Golden Knights — I am still pretty high on this team and think that in some ways they are a bit better than their first season. They are not as reliant on goaltending, the first line has not been as good but the improved second line makes up for it. Little bit of a slump here recently but when you have rarely struggled in your first season-and-a-half in the league it is going to stand out when you do.

11. Boston Bruins — The top of the lineup is fine and the goalies have been great, but they have got to find some scoring depth to give them a shot in the stacked Atlantic Division playoff field.

12. Washington Capitals — Losing nine out of 10 games is not something we are used to seeing from this franchise in the Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom era. I still think it’s just a temporary speed bump and not yet a cause for real concern.

The Bubble Teams

13. Dallas Stars — They have only allowed 14 goals in their past nine games but are still only 5-4-0 during that stretch because they can’t consistently score and have gotten next to nothing offensively after Tyler Seguin and John Klingberg during that stretch.

14. Minnesota Wild — I still don’t fully know what to make of this team. I kind of like their roster, but I also kind of don’t. They are kind of good sometimes, they are kind of not good other times. Zach Parise is having a great bounce back season, and that certainly helps given that Eric Staal has regressed a bit. They will probably make the playoffs, but they will probably not go anywhere. Actually, when you look at all of that and put it together this is the perfect Minnesota Wild season.

15. Vancouver Canucks — Let’s be honest, their current position in a playoff spot is entirely due to the mediocrity that is surrounding them in the Western Conference. That is a fact. They are not even on pace for 90 points this season. But, they are there. They are in it. And they are in it despite Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, their two best players, combining to miss 24 man-games due to injury. That has no doubt robbed them of at least a couple of points in the standings.

16. St. Louis Blues — Every year we see a team that gets crushed early in the year and then plays like a contender for the last five months of the season only to fall just short because of that terrible start. This might be that team this season. But they are certainly playing well right now.

17. Columbus Blue Jackets — It wasn’t that long ago that I was telling you not to sleep on the Blue Jackets this season and then … everything fell apart. They lost a bunch of games, Artemi Panarin might be on his way out, and wow did all of that escalate quickly.

[Related: Is it time for struggling Blue Jackets to make a move?]

18. Carolina Hurricanes — Nino Niederreiter has been exactly what they needed.

19. Philadelphia Flyers — If Carter Hart keeps playing like this he is going to make Flyers fans start to believe they have a goalie. Maybe they have reason to believe that. He has certainly helped them in the short-term.

20. Arizona Coyotes –– They deserve a ton of credit for hanging in this thing as long as they have given the injury situation they have had to deal with this season.

21. Florida Panthers — It is going to be intriguing to see what they can do this offseason with the newfound salary cap space they have created for themselves. Will the Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky duo be heading to Miami soon?

22. New York Rangers — They are playing hard, but the talent just isn’t there.

23. Buffalo Sabres — Being just a few points out of a playoff spot is progress from where they are coming from in recent seasons. Based on where they were just a couple of months ago it is bitterly disappointing. They are fading fast and just got lit up at home by a Blackhawks team that is going nowhere this season.

24. Colorado Avalanche — One line, again, can only take you so far. They are 7-15-3 in their past 25 games and falling fast in the standings. Such a promising start, too.

25. Chicago Blackhawks — The Western Conference playoff field being as weak as it is creates the illusion they might still be in it, but they need to start dumping as many contracts as they can to try and still get something out of the Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane era.

26. Edmonton Oilers — Five losses in a row, three of them to teams out of the playoffs. A rudderless ship going nowhere.

The Lottery Teams

27. Detroit Red Wings — With three wins in a row and five in their past seven games they clearly have not quit on the season. Just too little, too late. Do not ruin your Jack Hughes chances!

28. Los Angeles Kings — Finally, the rebuild seems to be underway.

[Related: Muzzin trade should be start of Kings’ teardown]

29. New Jersey Devils — With Taylor Hall a year away from free agency you have to wonder what his future in New Jersey is. He spent the first part of his career surrounded by nothing in Edmonton, then spent the second part of his career in a similar situation in New Jersey. Have to imagine he wants to take advantage of free agency to get to a team that won’t surround him with nothing.

30. Ottawa Senators — They might get a first-round pick or two for trading Matt Duchene and Mark Stone, but it’s not going to be the potential Jack Hughes pick they sent to Colorado to get Duchene in the first place. That is unfortunate.

31. Anaheim Ducks — I know the overall record for the season does not reflect this, and technically speaking they are still very much alive in the Western Conference wild card race, but somebody needs to tell me why they do not deserve the No. 31 spot this week. They have the worst goal differential in hockey at minus-39. They just lost 9-3 in a game where they gave up six goals in the first 18 minutes. They are an abysmal possession team and get absolutely caved in when it comes to allowing shots. They are boring offensively. This team stinks. Stinks!

More: Ducks fans call for Carlyle’s firing

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.

The Buzzer: Eichel explodes for Sabres; More history for Caps’ Carlson

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Three Stars

1. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres

The Sharks ended the first period up 2-0 against the Sabres, so it took quite the surge from Eichel & Co. to win that one 4-3 in OT.

Eichel was involved in all four of Buffalo’s goals, scoring two goals and two assists. That included the game-winner in overtime for the Sabres. The American-born forward ended the night with six shots on goal, a +2 rating, and went 12-10 on faceoffs.

The 22-year-old went two games without a point, but he’s still off to a hot start in 2018-19, as Tuesday pushed Eichel’s totals to 14 points in 10 games.

2. Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild

Minnesota’s showing some signs of life with a two-game winning streak, but some of the joy was muted thanks to Devan Dubnyk leaving the game with an injury after a bad collision.

As ominous as that seems, it has to be a relief for the Wild to see Eric Staal finally have a breakthrough night on Tuesday. Staal scored two goals (including the 1-0 tally, thus the game-winner) and an assist, with those two goals being Staal’s first of the season. The 34-year-old’s been a revelation in Minnesota (peaking with 42 goals and 76 points in 2017-18), and he seemed to give the Wild a pretty sweet deal with his latest contract. Well, it’s a sweet deal if Staal’s game doesn’t sink too much; otherwise, you wonder if they’d be better off moving on and getting younger.

Anyway, this was a nice overall effort from Staal, who also had a +2 rating, five SOG, and went 8-7 on draws.

3. Bo Horvat, Vancouver Canucks

Like the Sabres, the Canucks fell behind early on Tuesday. The Red Wings opened up a 2-0 lead against Vancouver, only for the Canucks to explode with five unanswered goals in the third period.

Horvat contributed three of those goals. While Staal gets the higher star because all of his points came against a goalie (Horvat’s third tally was an empty-netter), it was still a strong night from Horvat.

Similarly to Staal, Horvat came into Tuesday on a quiet start, as Horvat only had two goals and one assists for three points through eight contests. He managed his first career NHL hat trick on Tuesday, pushing him to six points in nine games.

Highlight of the Night

It was already covered here (alongside a fun blooper), but it has to be David Pastrnak‘s between-the-legs goal, right?

Factoids

  • John Carlson cemented his spot alone atop the NHL’s scoring leaders list by generating two goals, pushing him to 20 points on the season as Washington beat Calgary. NHL PR points out some impressive history for Carlson, including that he joined Bobby Orr (twice) and wonderfully old-timey-named Baldy Northcott (in 1932-33) as the only defensemen to lead the league outright in scoring through 20 days. Carlson reached 20 points in 11 games, tying Orr (in 1974-75) as the second-fastest surge to 20 points for a defenseman. Only Paul Coffey hit 20 faster, doing it in 10 games in 1988-89. Sportsnet notes that Carlson’s already off to one of the best Octobers for a defenseman, and the Capitals have three more games left in the month.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury earned his 446th NHL win, breaking a tie with Terry Sawchuk for seventh all-time. Henrik Lundqvist is at sixth with 450, while Curtis Joseph ranks at fifth with 454. It should be interesting to see if MAF ends up higher than Lundqvist when they’re both done — which hopefully isn’t anytime soon.
  • Sabres wunderkind Rasmus Dahlin has 10 points through his first 10 games, landing on a short list of defensemen who managed such a short at 20 years old or younger. Another Sabres stat: Eichel scored his sixth overtime goal, already tying the franchise record at 22.

Scores

BOS 4 – TOR 2
BUF 4 – SJS 3 (OT)
FLA 4 – PIT 2
ARI 3 – NYR 2 (OT)
VAN 5 – DET 2
NSH 6 – ANA 1
MIN 3 – EDM 0
LAK 3 – WPG 2
VGK 2 – CHI 1 (SO)
WSH 5 – CGY 3

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Two goals, two extremes: Pastrnak beauty and Murray blunder

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You don’t often hear the phrase “keep your eyes on the puck.” Greg Wyshynski basically wrote a hockey book about watching how things develop away from the puck, for instance.

Tuesday presented one great highlight reel moment, and one for the bloopers, and you may note that the key figures involved either kept their eye(s) on the puck or couldn’t quite manage it.

To start, you have Boston Bruins star David Pastrnak in the moment that will probably linger in the memories of more hockey fans beyond Tuesday. After being robbed of an impressive goal thanks to an offside review early against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Pastrnak made a tremendous between-the-legs move to score for Boston, and add to his gaudy goal-scoring start.

Also notice that Pastrnak was able to keep his eye on the puck as it went into the net, as he gestured as such while others seemed bewildered — maybe by him being audacious enough to make that move.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray. He allowed a goal he’ll undoubtedly want back against Noel Acciari of the Florida Panthers, and it’s about as close to hockey’s version of “losing a baseball in the lights” as I think you’ll see:

It’s hard not to feel for Murray there, and one cannot help but feel pity for any goalie facing Pastrnak lately.

Pastrnak’s Bruins ended up beating the Maple Leafs 4-2, while Murray’s Penguins fell 4-2 to the Panthers.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL over/under: How many goals will Pastrnak, Neal finish with?

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Entering play on Tuesday night David Pastrnak (Boston) and James Neal (Edmonton) sit on top of the NHL’s goal scoring leaderboard with nine goals each. They have been two of the hottest players in the league to start the season and are in action on Tuesday looking to increase their lead.

Pastrnak’s climb to the top isn’t all that surprising given how good he has been the past few years. He is coming off of his third consecutive 30-goal season and is part of one the league’s top lines alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. He scored 38 goals in just 66 games last season, a pace that would have had him pushing the 50-goal mark had he stayed healthy. Including his start this season, he has scored 52 goals in his last 82 regular season games played dating back to the end of the 2017-18 season.

He is simply one of the best finishers in the league and is just now entering what should be his peak years for offense.

Neal’s early success is a little more surprising.

He has always been a good goal scorer, but was coming off by far his worst season in the league in Calgary, scoring just seven goals in 63 games. He has already blown past that number this season.

With both players pacing the rest of the league so far, let’s try to project what they might be capable of for the entire season.

Let’s start with Pastrnak — As already mentioned, he has a recent track record of being a lethal goal scorer and is surrounded by two elite players in Boston. Their line is driving all of the offense in Boston right now and Pastrnak is at the center of it. He entered the season looking like a lock for at least 35 goals as long as he was able to stay healthy. Nothing he has done so far has shaken that belief. As is the case with most players on a nearly goal-per-game hot streak, he is carrying a shooting percentage well north of 30 percent, a number that is no doubt going to drop as the year goes on. Even the best players don’t shoot above 20 percent (and even that is an outrageously high number for a full year) for a full season, while Pastrnak himself has consistently settled around the 14 percent mark.

So let’s use some simple math here: If Pastrnak maintains his current 3.38 shots per game average (he easily could) and shoots at his normal 14 percent on those shots, that would be an additional 35 goals on top of what he already has this season. That would give him 44 goals, just shy of the pace he was on last year without the injury and that seems like a pretty fair projection.

Can he hit that? Or exceed it? And can he continue to make a run at knocking Alex Ovechkin from his goal scoring throne?

What about Neal? — Everything disappeared for Neal in Calgary last season. His shot volume plummeted, his shooting percentage cratered, he seemed like a player that was just totally out of it and had seen his career wash out. But given his track record there was always a chance he could rebound, and the Oilers are the team that is benefitting from it.

He is back to averaging close to three-and-a-half shots per game (up a full shot from Calgary) and so far is riding the same shooting percentage wave that Pastrnak is in Boston. He also has the added bonus of getting to play on Edmonton’s power play (an area he has always excelled) alongside Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. That is going to help a lot, but not so much that he keeps scoring on 30 percent of his shots.

The Oilers have 72 games remaining on their schedule. With his same shot rate and career average shooting percentage that would put Neal on a 35-goal track for this season, a number that the Oilers would have almost certainly signed up for in the preseason when they made the trade.

Can he get there? Or will he exceed it?

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.

Flyers remain one of NHL’s biggest mysteries

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General manager Chuck Fletcher spent his entire offseason overhauling the Philadelphia Flyers organization.

New coaching staff, new players, big trades, a big free agent signing, and everything else the team’s ownership was looking for when it wanted a “bias for action” in its new GM. Even with all of the changes the Flyers remained a gigantic mystery because it wasn’t entirely clear if they were actually any better than before all of the movement started. If anything, it seemed like a perfect representation of everything the Flyers have come to represent over the past decade where they have enough high-end players on the roster to make you want to buy into them, but just enough questions to give you pause in doing so because there were so many “ifs” attached to their success.

If Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere can rebound and take big steps forward as top-pairing defenders.

If Carter Hart can be a star in goal.

If Kevin Hayes is actually worth $7 million per year.

If Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun still have something left in the tank.

Usually the more “ifs” you throw at a team the worse it tends to turn out for them because pro sports is rarely kind enough for every “if” to work out in a team’s favor. Through the first seven games of the season there still isn’t much clarity on what the Flyers are. On Monday night they snapped a four-game losing streak with what was perhaps their best all-around performance of the season, completely demolishing one of the league’s best teams — the Vegas Golden Knights — in a 5-2 win to bring their record to 3-3-1, the type of record you might expect from the type of mediocre team you expect the Flyers to be. Still, there are some early signs that maybe this team has played better than its early record might indicate and that there could be some hope here.

The process has been good — And by “process” I mean there are strong signs that they are controlling games even if they are not yet turning into wins. They are third in NHL in shots on goal per game, they are allowing the fewest shots on goal, they are the NHL’s best team in both shot attempt differential and scoring chance differential at 5-on-5 (via Natural Stat Trick), and they dictating the pace of almost every game they have played. This is, at the very least, a positive sign because the most important part of scoring goals is generating shots, and the most important of preventing goals is preventing shots. It’s common sense, and if you can keep doing that over a full season the odds are going to be in your favor. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that they might be a little unlucky at this point. And not to make too big of an excuse here, but their early schedule was about as brutal as it could have possibly been playing three games, in three different countries, in three different time zones (going from Switzerland, to Philadelphia, to Vancouver for a three-game Western Canadian road trip) across the stretch of one week.

Hart hasn’t been all that good (yet) — This was always the big wild card for this Flyers team. He is supposed to be the savior of the position and the one to finally stabilize the position long-term. His rookie season was extremely promising and expectations were high entering the season. Through his first five starts, he hasn’t yet found his game yet with an .890 save percentage. The fact the Flyers are still 2-2-1 in those games is kind of accomplishment. He can be better, he needs to better, and there is every reason to believe that he will be better. Once that happens, and if the Flyers are still able to play in front of him the way they have, this could be an interesting team.

Some of their top forwards have been unlucky. There are three forwards in the NHL this season that have recorded at least 24 shots on goal and failed to score — two of them (Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk) play for the Flyers. Add Jakob Voracek (two goals on 17 shots) and three of the team’s top offensive players have scored on two of their first 76 shots on goal this season. That is a shooting percentage of just 2.6 percent. All three may be on the wrong side of 30, but none of them have completely fallen off a cliff yet as players and are still capable of producing like first-liners (as they did as recently as a year ago).

Basically, everything that could have gone for the Flyers right now has gone wrong. Their travel schedule has brutal, their starting goalie and arguably their most important player has struggled, and their best forwards have been unable to find the back of the net. Through all of that they have still managed to collect points in four of their first seven games and continue to tread water.

In the end, it still leaves the Flyers right where they were when the season started — a team that has given us plenty of reason to buy into them, yet one that we still don’t fully know anything about with a lot of “ifs” following them around.

Such is life with the Flyers.

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.