NHL Power Rankings: Flames on the rise

NHL Power Rankings Calgary Flames
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In this week’s NHL Power Rankings the Metropolitan is still the league’s most dominant division, the defending champs are still picking up wins, while the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers both hit a little bit of a slump to fall a few spots.

One team on the rise has been the Calgary Flames as they have collected at least one point in 10 of their past 11 games and are finally starting to make a move in the standings. They are 6-1-0 since Geoff Ward took over behind the bench, Johnny Gaudreau is starting to break out of a slump that saw him go 10 consecutive games without a goal earlier this season, and even Milan Lucic has chipped in offensively after going 27 consecutive games without a goal to open the season.

Given the lack of a truly dominant team in the Pacific Division this season they are still right in the thick of that race even after their slow start.

They make a move up to No. 7 this week.

Where does every other team sit this week?

To the rankings!

1. Colorado Avalanche. The league’s best top line is united again, they have scoring depth, they have a young superstar on defense, and they have earned a point in 14 of their past 17 games. The best team in hockey.

2. Washington Capitals. John Carlson is still putting up absurd numbers and one of the most impressive offensive seasons ever for a defenseman.

3. New York Islanders. They will not score a lot of goals, but they give up nothing. It is working for them. Again.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins. They just keep finding ways to win and looking really good while doing so. Tristan Jarry has been their big star in recent weeks as he continues to earn playing time over Matt Murray.

5. St. Louis Blues. David Perron has stepped up in a big way to help fill the void offensively left by the absence of Vladimir Tarasenko.

6. Carolina Hurricanes. His performance is getting overshadowed by Carlson’s points production in Washington, but Dougie Hamilton is putting together a Norris-caliber season for the Hurricanes.

7. Calgary Flames. They have collected 19 out of a possible 22 points in their past 11 games to climb to within two points of first place in the Pacific Division. They are one of the hottest teams in the league.

8. Boston Bruins. Over an 82-game regular season even the very best teams are going to go cold on occasion. The Bruins hit one of those stretches lately. Nothing to be concerned about.

9. Winnipeg Jets. Every year there is that one team whose success comes out of nowhere and makes no sense. The Jets are that team this season.

10. Dallas Stars. No team in the league gives up fewer goals per game than the Stars. Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin are having outstanding years in net.

11. Minnesota Wild. Eric Staal recorded his 1,000th career point over the weekend, a testament to his longevity and productivity. But it’s not just about playing for a long time, either. He was a truly dominant offensive player early in his career. You might think this spot is too high for the Wild, but they have been one of the league’s best teams for the past month-and-a-half.

12. Arizona Coyotes. They have the defense and goaltending. They just need a little more offense.

13. Vegas Golden Knights. They were always better than their early record indicated. Now the results are starting to show up to prove it.

14. Philadelphia Flyers. The most hot-and-cold team in the league. They enter the week having lost four out of five while being outscored by a 20-10 margin.

15. Tampa Bay Lightning. Do you know what would really help here? If Andrei Vasilevskiy started to play like the Vezina caliber goalie that he is.

16. Toronto Maple Leafs. They had a great west coast road trip that saw them take six out of eight points. Thankfully for them the Atlantic Division has been so bad this season that their slow start did not totally bury them.

17. Buffalo Sabres. They enter the week in second place in the Atlantic, have one of the league’s best players who is playing the best hockey of is life, and have still lost more games (18, including overtime and shootout games) than they’ve won (16). If they make the playoffs Jack Eichel will be in the MVP discussion. He should be even if they do not.

18. Vancouver Canucks. Quinn Hughes is going to be a superstar, but he needs a lot of help on the blue line if the Canucks are going to take the next step in their rebuild.

19. Montreal Canadiens. Shea Weber is having an absolutely monster season and can still be an impact player.

20. New York Rangers. Artemi Panarin just keeps getting better and more productive. He is worth the price of admission all by himself.

21. Edmonton Oilers. They are trending in the wrong direction as this season starts to look disturbingly similar to the 2018-19 season.

22. Nashville Predators. They really miss Viktor Arvidsson. But will his return be enough to salvage what is one of the league’s most disappointing teams?

23. Florida Panthers. Joel Quenneville and Sergei Bobrovsky have not yet solved their goal prevention issues. When it comes to the former there is only so much a coach can do with the talent they have to work with. When it come to the latter, they have a lot of reason to be concerned given that contract.

24. San Jose Sharks. They clearly needed to change something, but a goalie is still probably the bigger priority over the coach.

25. Ottawa Senators. Anthony Duclair has been an incredible find for them and is showing what he can do with a real chance.

26. Anaheim Ducks. They have used eight players age 22 or younger this season, with six of them playing in at least 18 games. It is not a particularly good team, but at least they are giving their future a chance to play.

27. Chicago Blackhawks. They are a long way from contending again, and that loss on Saturday may have been rock bottom for them this season.

28. Los Angeles Kings. Jonathan Quick put together a couple of decent games for the first time this season. Does he have more of that in him?

29. Columbus Blue Jackets. John Tortorella was livid with his team’s effort against an undermanned Penguins team this past week, and for very good reason. It was bad. Then they followed it up by losing to Ottawa in overtime the next day. 

30. New Jersey Devils. Maybe it was time for a new voice behind the bench. That could be true. It is also true that the team given to him wasn’t good enough to compete.

31. Detroit Red Wings. They are four points behind New Jersey, the second-worst team in the league, even though they have played in three more games.

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.

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    Penguins plot a way forward as Letang recovers from stroke

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    Kyle Ross/USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang returned to the ice on Thursday, just three days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

    The “twirl” the longtime Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman took at the club’s practice facility was approved by team doctors, a spin designed to help Letang’s mental health and nothing else. While the 35-year-old remains upbeat, it remains far too early to put a timeline on when his familiar No. 58 will return to the lineup.

    Though Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall indicated this stroke isn’t as severe as the one Letang endured in 2014 – when a hole in the wall of his heart led to a stroke that forced him to miss two months – the six-time All-Star is continuing to undergo tests.

    There are no plans for Letang to participate in any sort of hockey-specific drills anytime soon, with coach Mike Sullivan stressing the club will “err on the side of caution” when it comes to whatever rehab Letang might need.

    While Letang – one of the most well-conditioned players in the NHL – essentially went through the motions by himself, his teammates were 30 minutes south at PPG Paints Arena getting ready for a visit from Vegas and trying to plot a way forward without one of the franchise cornerstones, at least in the short term.

    Letang made it a point to help break the news to the rest of the Penguins following a 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina on Tuesday. Pittsburgh scratched Letang from the lineup with an unspecified illness and he spent a portion of the game watching from the press box next to Hextall.

    Afterward, Letang informed a somber locker room about his condition, a revelation that came as a shock even as he did his best to reassure those around him that he was and is OK.

    “It’s very serious health stuff,” defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “You hear about strokes and it’s never really good so we’re just glad to see he’s doing well and everything is good with him.”

    Sullivan understands it would be practically impossible for any of the other defensemen on the roster to replicate what Letang brings to the ice, so he’s not going to ask any one player to try. There are few players at the position in the NHL who have Letang’s mix of speed, skill and almost bottomless energy.

    The highest-scoring defenseman in franchise history is averaging a team-best 23:54 of ice time and has long been a fixture on the power play and in just about every crucial late-game situation.

    “I just think Tanger is not an easy guy to replace,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think from a tactical standpoint things change drastically. It’s just personnel based. But as you know, personnel can mean a lot in those types of situations.”

    It’s more than that, however. This isn’t a routine injury. There’s an emotional component and an unknown element to Letang’s status even as the Penguins insist they don’t believe his condition is career-threatening.

    “This is a whole different circumstance than an ankle injury or a shoulder injury,” Sullivan said. “This is a very different circumstance.”

    Letang’s on-ice presence is just one aspect of his importance to a team that has never missed the playoffs since he made his debut in 2007. He’s become a mentor to younger teammates like 23-year-old defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who like Letang is French-Canadian and who, like Letang, plays with a graceful fluidity.

    Joseph, who declined to get into specifics about Letang’s message to the team on Tuesday night, believes the best thing the Penguins can do during Letang’s absence is attack the game with the same passion he’s shown for 17 seasons and counting.

    “The way he plays for the team every single night and the way he puts his heart and soul into the game on the ice, it’s the least we can do is have our thoughts of him whenever we get on the ice,” Joseph said.

    Sullivan shuffled the lineup on Tuesday, elevating veteran Jeff Petry and Brian Dumoulin to the top defensive pair. Petry possesses a skillset that’s not too far removed from Letang’s, but it’s also his first year in Pittsburgh. Asking him to provide the leadership that’s innate to Letang is unfair. It’s one of the reasons Sullivan is insistent that it will take a group effort to fill in for a singular presence.

    “We have some diversity on our blue line right now,” Sullivan said. “We feel like we have guys capable of stepping in and getting the job done for us and we’re going to try and do that.”

    LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

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    LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

    Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

    Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

    L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

    Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

    For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

    The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

    “I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

    The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

    Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    “He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

    Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

    “I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

    Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

    Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

    “First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

    Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

    The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

    “The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

    Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

    “It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”

    Ovechkin tops Gretzky for most road goals, Capitals beat Canucks

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Ovechkin scored twice, passing Wayne Gretzky for the most road goals in NHL history, and the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 on Tuesday night.

    Ovechkin has scored 403 of his 793 career goals away from home. Gretzky holds the overall record with 894.

    “It’s always nice when you beat the Great One,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of milestone it is. It’s history.”

    Anthony Mantha added a goal and an assist for the Capitals (10-11-3). John Carlson and Martin Fehervary also scored, and Darcy Kuemper stopped 31 shots.

    Nils Hoglander scored for the Canucks (9-11-3), who had won three in a row. Spencer Martin made 23 saves.

    “Spencer’s been great for us. He’s probably a bit like the other players tonight. They weren’t ready to play and it showed on the scoreboard,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said.

    The 37-year-old Ovechkin nearly netted a hat trick when Vancouver pulled Martin for an extra skater with just over six minutes left, but his rocket of a shot skimmed the outside of the post.

    “I think he has 13 goals this year and I want to say like eight or nine have been like a new record. So it’s been cool,” Washington center Dylan Strome said. “Any time you pass Wayne Gretzky in anything, it deserves a standing ovation, which he got.”

    Fehervary was the one who sealed it, flipping the puck high into the Canucks zone and into the empty net at 15:57 of the third period.

    Ovechkin topped Gretzky 11:52 into the first, firing a one-timer from the left circle past Martin to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead with his 13th goal of the season.

    “On his second goal, it looks like, `Oh, maybe (Martin) should have had it.’ But I’ve seen (Ovechkin) score 100 goals like that,” said Boudreau, who coached the Capitals from 2007-11. “He’s got a shot that finds its way in.”

    The star forward from Russia got his first of the night 5:35 in, taking the puck off the stick of Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes near the net and batting in a quick shot.

    “It could have been 6-1 after the first period, quite frankly, with the amount of chances (Washington) had,” Boudreau said.

    It was Ovechkin’s 135th game-opening goal, tying Jaromir Jagr for the most in NHL history.

    “(Ovechkin) was really good in the first and I thought we were really good in the first so it was nice to get out and get a jump like that,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He certainly led. We knew we needed to have a good first period, have a good game, and you need your best players to do that.”

    Carlson scored the lone goal of the second, chipping in a loose puck from the low hash marks at 18:47 to give Washington a 4-1 cushion.

    “It’s frustrating. Because when you lose games, it should never be about your compete level and battle level,” Canucks center J.T. Miller said. “It’s frustrating because they didn’t out-skill us today, they didn’t out-system us. They literally just outbattled us and created their own chances.”

    NOTES: Washington’s Lars Eller got his 200th career assist. … Miller had an assist, extending his point streak to nine games (four goals, seven assists). … The Capitals swept the two-game season series. … Vancouver assigned winger Vasily Podkolzin and defenseman Jack Rathbone to the Abbotsford Canucks on Monday, then recalled forward Phillip Di Giuseppe from the American Hockey League club on Tuesday.

    UP NEXT

    Washington: At Seattle on Thursday in the second of a five-game trip.

    Vancouver: Host Florida on Thursday in the second of a four-game homestand.