NHL Power Rankings: The quiet dominance of the Capitals

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Maybe it is because we are so used to seeing them at the top of the NHL standings.

Maybe it is because they already won their Stanley Cup and there is no longer any pressure on them to shake their postseason disappointment label.

Or maybe it is because there are so many other intriguing stories around the NHL that are dominating headlines (Edmonton and Vancouver off to surprising starts, the Islanders winning 10 in a row, Boston and St. Louis looking like they can get back to the Stanley Cup Final).

Whatever the reason, it seems like the Washington Capitals are getting a little overlooked this season and it is kind of amazing given just how dominant they have been. Entering the week they are 13-2-3 for the season, are one of the highest scoring teams in the league, have the best points percentage in the league, and have recorded at least a point in 11 consecutive games (10-0-1). What stands out the most about this start is they are doing it while getting mostly sub-par goaltending from Braden Holtby. If he gets back on track there is the potential for another championship parade in Washington D.C..

Because of all of that the Capitals climb to the top spot in this week’s PHT Power Rankings.

Where does every other team sit this season?

To the rankings!

1. Washington Capitals. Alex Ovechkin at 34 years of age is off to the second best goal scoring start of his career. He just keeps going and completely disregarding the normal aging curve of players.

2. St. Louis Blues. The defending champs were 3-2-3 after eight games and lost their best player for what will probably most — if not all — of the regular season. All they have done is go 9-1-0 in their past 10 games. Lot of overtime luck in there, but they are building themselves a nice cushion.

3. New York Islanders. After starting the year 1-3-0 they are entering the week on an 11-0-1 run, with the only loss coming in overtime after surrendering a three-goal third period lead.

4. Boston Bruins. Eventually somebody other than David Pastrnak or Brad Marchand will have to start scoring some goals. They have time to figure it out.

5. Philadelphia Flyers. Very quietly the Flyers have one of the top points percentages in the NHL (sixth best) and have won five out of their past six. Five of those six games have gone to overtime or a shootout so they are not really decisive wins, but their underlying and possession numbers paint the picture of a team that might have the right process.

6. Edmonton Oilers. Connor McDavid and Leon Drasaitl are doing exactly what is expected and exactly what they always do. The big difference-makers this season, though, are Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen playing great in net. Those two are the players that will determine what this team is able to do.

7. Colorado Avalanche. They slumped recently but am going to give them the benefit of the doubt due to the injury situation. When healthy they showed they can dominate, and they showed against Nashville and Columbus they can still score goals even without Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog.

8. Pittsburgh Penguins. Just when it looked like they were starting to get fully healthy Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Patric Hornqvist all exited the lineup with injuries. They are still playing extremely well despite all of the players they have been missing but the absence of Crosby will be a huge test.

9. Montreal Canadiens. Shea Weber can still be a great player and change a game when he is healthy.

10. Florida Panthers. If Sergei Bobrovsky would start playing like the goalie they paid him to be they would really be on to something this year. There is still plenty of time for him to turn it around and if/when he does this could be a sneaky dangerous team.

11. Nashville Predators. Filip Forsberg has five points in five games since returning to the lineup. The offense has been great, but they need more from the goalies, specifically Jusse Saros.

12. Dallas Stars. Ben Bishop got back on track and so did the Stars. They still need to do something to find some more offense because no goalie is great enough to allow one goal every game.

13. Winnipeg Jets. Paul Maurice deserves a lot of credit for keeping this team competitive given the state of the defense. But do you know who deserves more credit? Goalie Connor Hellebuyck.

14. Tampa Bay Lightning. They are starting to show some signs of getting back on track, but something still seems a little off here.

15. Toronto Maple Leafs. Everybody wants the Maple Leafs to change the way the play, but what if the change they need to make is to become more aggressive offensively, and not less?

16. Calgary Flames. They are starting to get back on track after a slow start. Matthew Tkachuk is the engine driving this machine right now.

17. Arizona Coyotes. They are definitely on the right track but still need to learn how to finish games.

18. Vancouver Canucks. The offense has gone cold during their four-game losing streak, but there are still a lot of encouraging signs here with this team.

19. Vegas Golden Knights. They have lost five out of six and still have not found a competent backup goalie to give Marc-Andre Fleury some rest. That is an under the radar problem that is going to need to be addressed.

20. Carolina Hurricanes. I still believe when all is said and done this season they will be a contender in the Eastern Conference, but they look out of sorts right now across the board.

21. Buffalo Sabres. The competition has started to get tougher and the losses have become more frequent. Not a good sign. After starting the year 8-1-0 the Sabres are 1-5-1 since with the only win coming against a lousy Detroit Red Wings team.

22. New York Rangers. Adam Fox has been the most impressive rookie on this team. That is not a knock on No. 2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko, just a statement on how good Fox has been.

23. San Jose Sharks. Starting to show some signs of life, but how far are they really going to go with that goaltending?

24. Chicago Blackhawks. They are finding ways to collect points every other game, but there is not really anything impressive about their play.

25. Ottawa Senators. They may not have a ton of talent but they play hard and are not throwing in the towel on this season.

26. Anaheim Ducks. If John Gibson and Ryan Miller are not flawless this team has no chance. Both goalies are having outstanding years and the team is still trending toward the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

27. New Jersey Devils. Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, is starting to look more comfortable.

28. Minnesota Wild. Their big rally against Arizona was a nice break from the overall disappointment that has been the 2019-20 season.

29. Columbus Blue Jackets. My sleeper team for the season is turning out to be exactly what everyone thought it would be.

30. Detroit Red Wings. After losing 12 out of 13 they managed to beat Boston and Vegas in back-to-back games. Even with those two wins they are still just 3-11-1 in their past 15 games. That is bad. What is not bad? Robby Fabbri scoring two goals in his first game with the team.

31. Los Angeles Kings. Time to start selling off whatever they can.

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.

Kevin Shattenkirk finds redemption after unlucky bounce

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As the Dallas Stars celebrated the tying goal with 8:25 remaining in the third period, Kevin Shattenkirk was experiencing a sinking feeling.

Joe Pavelski’s shot from the faceoff circle was stopped by Andrei Vasilevskiy, but the puck deflected off Shattenkirk’s knee and into the Tampa Bay Lightning net. Tie game, and any momentum gained from Alex Killorn’s go-ahead goal five minutes earlier was gone.

Despite the unlucky bounce, Shattenkirk was trying to keep a positive mind.

“In my head, I was thinking I deserved some sort of good karma after that,” he said after Game 4.

Karma would find him a little while later. 

On the power play in overtime, Shattenkirk took a pass from Victor Hedman in the Stars’ zone. He then skated into the same face-off circle where Pavelski took his shot that led to the tying goal. With Dallas defenseman Jamie Oleksiak and Lightning forward Pat Maroon providing the screens, Shattenkirk wired home his second career playoff overtime goal to put Tampa on the brink of a second Stanley Cup title.

“He’s been scoring some big ones for us all playoffs,” said forward Brayden Point. “He’s so steady for us. He works so hard. He’s great in the room. He’s a great leader for us, he keeps us even-keel. To see him bury one, it’s awesome.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It’s been almost 14 months since Shattenkirk signed a one-year deal with the Lightning. He was on the free agent market after being bought out by the Rangers, who signed him to a four-year, $26.65M deal in 2017. The end of his tenure with his hometown team wasn’t how he originally pictured it. A bad knee affected his play and ultimately factored into the decision, but time became an asset.

Time allowed Shattenkirk to get back to 100% health, and signing with Tampa put him on a blue line where he didn’t have to feel the pressure to produce or live up to a big contract. He scored eight goals and recorded 34 points during the regular season, his highest totals since the 2016-17 season. Carrying a chip on his shoulder kept his focus on a bounce-back season.

“I never kind of forget what happened last summer,” Shattenkirk said after Game 4. “I’ve used that to fuel me and just not get comfortable.”

Shattenkirk has two goals and four points in the Lightning’s three Cup Final wins. Friday night was his second game winner of the series after scoring Tampa’s third goal in a 3-2 win in Game 2.

[3 Takeaways from Lightning-Stars Game 4]

The universe has a way of evening out as Shattenkirk discovered this season. A year ago he was looking to get his NHL career back on track. Now he’s one win away from being a Stanley Cup champion.

“We’ve got a job to do here, it’s still not finished,” he said. “Anyway that I can contribute, whether it’s scoring goals or playing solid defensively, whatever the team asks, that’s what I aim to do every night. It’s been a great team effort so far. Looking forward to tomorrow night because then it could all come really full circle.”

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

————

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.

3 Takeaways: Lightning beat Stars in Game 4 of 2020 Stanley Cup Final

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Through the first three games of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, the adage “No lead is safe” felt a bit unsafe. Leads worked out pretty well for both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars.

But Game 4 ended up being a wilder affair. Ultimately, the Lightning beat the Stars 5-4 in overtime of Game 4, leaving Tampa Bay one win from a Stanley Cup with the two teams turning around to play Game 5 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET on NBC: (livestream).

1. Fans, we have some controversies

Death, taxes, and complaints about penalties. When it comes to hockey, and really all professional sports, there aren’t many big games that go without fans griping.

Even by those standards, controversies abounded in Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

In what is probably the least surprising development ever, the Stars weren’t happy with the tripping penalty Jamie Benn got whistled for after tangling with Tyler Johnson. Joe Pavelski griped in the most entertaining way.

Frankly, while Benn wasn’t guilty of tripping, it’s not outrageous to call some sort of obstruction penalty for that exchange.

And, let’s also be honest: officials might have been looking for a chance to whistle a “makeup call.” Brayden Point drew what could have been an honest penalty for some, er, stick work on Corey Perry. Instead, officials made a very questionable embellishment call on Point to even things up. From there, Tyler Seguin drew a penalty call when Mikhail Sergachev obstructed him greatly, giving the Stars a power play that was one part 4-on-3, and one part 5-on-4 in overtime.

Here’s the thing. When contests are as frenetic as Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final between the Stars and Lightning, you run into human limitations. Officials will miss things.

2. Seriously, the Stars need to avoid the penalty box as much as humanly possible

Look, if this style of play continues, hockey fans are in for a treat. Especially if the Stars can avoid being eliminated in Game 5.

But you have to wonder if the Stars might want to settle down the pace of this series.

On one hand, they’ve acquitted themselves nicely when things get wild during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Stars were able to hang with the Avalanche, and while they’re down 3-1, Game 4 was far from a certainty for the Lightning.

Faster play can force you to hook someone to slow them down. Or reach for a a puck on a breakaway and instead trip up your opponent. Or merely look like you’re doing things.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

To that end, you wonder if the Stars can somehow find a way to slow things down like they did for the first two periods of Game 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. During the opening 40 minutes, the Lightning didn’t receive a single power-play opportunity. The Stars actually won the shots on goal battle during that frame, opening Game 1 up 18-14.

Of course, the Stars were rested, and the Lightning just finished slugging it out with the Islanders. It’s still worth chasing that if you’re Dallas, in my opinion.

That’s because the Lightning are feasting on the power play. Going 0-for-3 like the Stars did in Game 4? That happens; it’s only disastrous when the other team manages a ridiculous 3-for-4 output. Kevin Shattenkirk‘s OTGWG was the killer, but the Lightning won Game 4 by dismantling the Stars’ PK efforts.

There was some luck, yet the Lightning also moved the puck with confidence and a sense of danger.

Bowness needs to go back to the drawing board and find a way to mitigate what’s been a massive advantage for Tampa Bay. That unit has now scored six goals during this three-game winning streak. Yikes.

3. Tyler Seguin looked like Tyler Seguin again

OK, so Tyler Seguin’s shooting percentage remains … almost tragic?

It feels like his near-miss on a power play from Game 4 is the story of his playoff career, aside from winning a Stanley Cup with Boston when he was still wet-behind-the-ears.

Despite lacking that coveted goal, Seguin was a force for the Stars in Game 4 against the Lightning. Seguin did just about all of the work to set up Corey Perry’s goal.

It looked like Joe Pavelski’s 4-4 tally actually went off of Seguin, but instead it went off of Kevin Shattenkirk. But Seguin created some chaos to make that happen.

Seguin also forced the issue for Mikhail Sergachev, drawing a penalty in overtime. The Stars couldn’t cash in, but that, some near-misses, and two assists all roll up into an argument that Seguin might have his groove back.

(He’s probably dying to score that goal, of course. But at least Seguin looked alive for the Stars vs. the Lightning in Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.)

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 4 [OT]. (recap)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

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 schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Final

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on Saturday, Sept. 19 in the hub city of Edmonton. Now that we are through the conference finals, the full 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule has been announced.  

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.  

Rogers Place in Edmonton will host 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final.  

Here is the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule.

2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

CONFERENCE FINAL RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Lightning beat Islanders (4-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Stars beat Golden Knights (4-1)

***

SECOND ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Lightning beat Bruins (4-1)
Islanders beat Flyers (4-3)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Canucks (4-3)
Stars beat Avalanche (4-3)

***

NHL QUALIFYING ROUND / ROUND-ROBIN RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Philadelphia Flyers (3-0-0, 6 points)
Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-0, 4 points)
Washington Capitals (1-1-1, 3 points)
Boston Bruins (0-3-0, 0 points)

Canadiens beat Penguins (3-1)
Hurricanes beat Rangers (3-0)
Islanders beat Panthers (3-1)
Blue Jackets beat Maple Leafs (3-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Vegas Golden Knights (3-0-0, 6 points)
Colorado Avalanche (2-1-0, 4 points)
Dallas Stars (1-2-0, 2 points)
St. Louis Blues (0-2-1, 1 point)

Blackhawks beat Oilers (3-1)
Coyotes beat Predators (3-1)
Canucks beat Wild (3-1)
Flames beat Jets (3-1)

***

FIRST ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Flyers beat Canadiens (4-2)
Lightning beat Blue Jackets (4-1)
Islanders beat Capitals (4-1)
Bruins beat Hurricanes (4-1)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Blackhawks (4-1)
Avalanche beat Coyotes (4-1)
Stars beat Flames (4-2)
Canucks beat Blues (4-2)

Lightning one win from Stanley Cup after winning Game 4 OT thriller vs. Stars

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After a thrilling, back-and-forth Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, the Lightning grabbed a 3-1 series lead by beating the Stars 5-4 in OT on Friday. The Stars face elimination with little time to gather their thoughts, while the Lightning aim to win the Stanley Cup in Game 5 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET on NBC: (livestream).

Kevin Shattenkirk scored the overtime game-winner on a power play following a polarizing penalty call against Jamie Benn. Hockey fans aren’t likely to debate this point, though: Game 4 of Stars – Lightning was the most thrilling bout of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

So far, at least.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

This time, a strong start wasn’t enough

Throughout the first three games of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, strong starts made way for successful finishes. Game 4, on the other hand, required both the Stars and Lightning to deal with lead changes.

First, the Stars struck early. John Klingberg pounced on a loose puck from his initial (blocked) shot attempt to sneak one past Andrei Vasilevskiy. From there, Alexander Radulov used the power of geometry to break out Jamie Benn, who made a nifty pass to set up a Joe Pavelski goal. With about a minute and a half left in the first period, the Stars were up 2-0.

They wouldn’t go into the first intermission with that two-goal edge, however.

Kevin Shattenkirk sent Ondrej Palat down the ice, then Palat fed Brayden Point with a fabulous pass. On that semi-breakaway, Palat scored a beautiful goal to make it 2-1 late in the first.

Not long into the second, Point scored once again to tie things 2-2. Point cashed in on a wacky bounce, but the Lightning power play looked dangerous before he scored. It wouldn’t be the last time that man advantage made a big play.

Tyler Seguin didn’t score the 3-2 goal, yet he made it happen. Seguin did just about everything but score while creating havoc around the Lightning net, then Corey Perry punched it in.

It looked like the Stars would go up 4-2 on a rebound attempt by Nicholas Caamano, but Vasilevskiy made a save so nice it earned its own post.

Instead of falling behind 4-2, the Lightning power play made it happen again, with Yanni Gourde cashing in on some more fortunate bounces.

Stars and Lightning continue to trade punches as Game 4 goes to OT

So, the two teams entered the third period tied 3-3, and the twists and turns would continue. To start, Alex Killorn put up a prayer of a shot that beat Anton Khudobin. Khudobin received criticism for that 4-3 goal, but it’s also fair to note an accidental screening by John Klingberg.

That could have been a gutting game-winner, but not in this one. Joe Pavelski’s shot took a bounce off of Kevin Shattenkirk (and almost off of Tyler Seguin?) to make it 4-4. Remarkably, Game 4 went to overtime, representing the first contest of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final to need OT.

Heading into overtime, Point drew a penalty on Corey Perry, only officials made an iffy embellishment call on Point. With the two teams at 4-on-4, Tyler Seguin drew what seemed like a fateful penalty on Mikhail Sergachev.

After the Lightning power play dominated during regulation, would the Stars score amid some controversy? Nope, not yet at least.

Following a successful kill by the Lightning PK, Tampa Bay received a power play chance early in overtime, too. That had its own controversy, as some didn’t buy Jamie Benn being guilty of an infraction against Tyler Johnson.

Late in that power-play opportunity, Kevin Shattenkirk continued his rollercoaster of a Game 4 (and couple of seasons, really) with the overtime game-winner. It took until Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final for the Stars to lose in OT for the first time during this postseason.

The Lightning power play kept striking in Game 4, and just like that, the Stars are on the brink of elimination in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 4 [OT].
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

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.