NHL Power Rankings: Vanecek helps drive Capitals’ impressive start

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we look at the the Canadiens holding their spot at the top, the Capitals putting together an impressive week, and whether or not we should buy the Panthers’ fast start.

The big story this week is the Capitals, who despite playing various games without Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Ilya Samsonov, Dmitry Orlov, Lars Eller, and Tom Wilson (23 man games lost between that group) have still managed to record at least a single point in each of their first nine games.

The two most impressive developments are the fact that the power play has not really missed a beat without Ovechkin, and the fact that Vitek Vanecek has been sensational in net. Henrik Lundqvist not being able to play this season created a massive question mark in goal, but Vanececk has has been more than capable of being the solution so far. Despite having zero NHL experience when the season began, he has been put into a starting role and put together a 5-0-2 record with a .918 save percentage.

We take a look at all of that and more in this week’s Power Rankings.

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To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Montreal Canadiens. They finally lost a game in regulation, and even then they looked impressive. Just ran into a hot goalie that night.

2. Washington Capitals. A wildly impressive start considering how many top players they were missing for an extended period of time.

3. Colorado Avalanche. Injuries are mounting and their depth will be tested in the short term, but this is still one of the best teams in the league.

4. Boston Bruins. They were already looking great this season and now they have David Pastrnak back in the lineup.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning. Solid even if unspectacular start, and with their next five games against Nashville and Detroit a chance to really stack up some W’s.

6. Toronto Maple Leafs. They are winning a lot of one-goal games while their big-four carry the offense. The question is what happens when those four stars at the top hit a slump?

7. Carolina Hurricanes. They are 5-1 and closed out the week by winning three consecutive games against the two teams that were in the Stanley Cup Final.

8. Vegas Golden Knights. We will go a while without seeing them due to schedule changes, but when we do the goalie situation is going to be the story. Marc-Andre Fleury has had the better of the play this season.

[Related: Your 2020-21 NHL On NBC TV Schedule]

9. Dallas Stars. Denis Gurianov getting real ice-time this season is going to be fun to watch. All the guy does is score goals when they put him out there.

10. St. Louis Blues. Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas are going to give them some exciting young talent at the top of an already good lineup.

11. Florida Panthers. They are doing what they are supposed to do and beating the teams they should beat. They are 5-0-1, but their only six games have come against Chicago, Columbus, and Detroit. Not exactly an NHL murderer’s row here. And of those five wins three of them are in overtime or shootout. Their next four are against Nashville and Detroit, so there is a chance to bank even more points here. But let’s see what happens when the competition gets tougher.

12. Philadelphia Flyers. They don’t usually look good, but they keep winning. Results over process right now. James van Riemsdyk is off to a great start.

13. Winnipeg Jets. Nikolaj Ehlers is one of the most overlooked players in the league.

14. Pittsburgh Penguins. Defense injuries are mounting and they have barely held a lead all season, but the points keep coming. It is working for now, but the process has to get better.

15. Vancouver Canucks. They needed to take advantage of those three games against Ottawa, and wow did they ever do that. Brock Boeser is unstoppable right now.

16. Columbus Blue Jackets. No matter what chaos seems to be unfolding around them they always manage to stay in the hunt and be competitive.

17.  Minnesota Wild. Players like Jordan Greenway and Joel Eriksson Ek having breakout years would be a significant development for the short-term and long-term outlook of this team.

18. Edmonton Oilers. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are on pace for over 100 points in a 56-game season, and the team still has a losing record and a negative goal differential. Ladies and gentlemen, the Edmonton Oilers.

[NHL On NBCSN: Pierre-Olivier Joseph shining for Penguins

19. New Jersey Devils. Jack Hughes, Ty Smith, and Michael McLeod all making impacts. Great sign for the future.

20. Los Angeles Kings. They have been surprisingly competitive this season. Not sure it is enough to make the playoffs, but they are not a cakewalk right now.

21. Buffalo Sabres. They are only 2-4-1 in games not decided by a shootout, and the schedule is going to get really tough here over the next couple of weeks.

22. Nashville Predators. I don’t think they are playing horribly, but the results are just not there right now and the offense has been a struggle.

23. Calgary Flames. The best sign for them so far this season is that Jacob Markstrom has been exactly what they wanted.

24. New York Islanders. Things have unraveled a bit here over the past week with an 0-3-2 skid that resembles the way they finished the 2019-20 regular season (before getting white hot in the bubble).

25. San Jose Sharks. It is starting to look like the 2019-20 season was not a fluke, and simply a sign of where this team is headed.

26. Chicago Blackhawks. Kevin Lankinen has been a very pleasant surprise so far this season in goal.

27. Arizona Coyotes. They have allowed only six goals in their past four games. They have won only two of those games. This was always going to be the concern here. They can keep the puck out of their own net. But there is not enough offense.

28. Anaheim Ducks. John Gibson can only do so much on his own.

29. New York Rangers. They can not hold leads, they can not defend, and they have a Tony DeAngelo problem.

30. Detroit Red Wings. The best hope here is still young players developing and veterans playing well enough to be traded.

31. Ottawa Senators. The defensive play and goaltending on this team is barely NHL caliber right now. They have a sub-.850 save percentage through nine games. Terrible.

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’ Jonathan Toews returns to ice, hints at retirement

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
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CHICAGO — Longtime Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews returned to the ice but hinted his stellar NHL career could be winding down after 15 years.

Toews, 34, skated with teammates prior to Chicago’s game with the Dallas Stars. It was his first time practicing with them since a game in Edmonton on Jan. 28.

He made a statement through the team on Feb. 19 saying he would be stepping away because of the effects of Chronic Immune Response Syndrome and “long COVID.”

In meeting with reporters, Toews stopped short of saying he hoped to play in any of last-place Chicago’s nine remaining games. His eight-year, $84 million contract is set to expire at the end of the season.

Toews said he’s feeling stronger, but isn’t sure if he’ll be able to play again for the Blackhawks or another team.

“Both if I’m being fully honest,” Toews said. “I feel like I’ve said it already, that I’ve gotten to the point where my health is more important.

“When you’re young and you’re playing for a Stanley Cup and everyone’s playing through something, that means something and it’s worthwhile. But I’m at that point where it feels like more damage is being done than is a good thing.”

Toews, the Blackhawks’ first-round draft pick (third overall) in 2006, joined the team in 2007 and was a pillar of Stanley Cup championship clubs in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

At the peak of his career, he was one of the NHL’s top two-way centers, winning the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward in 2013.

In 1,060 regular-season games, Toews has 371 goals and 509 assists. In 139 playoff games, he’s posted 45 goals and 74 assists, and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2010.

Toews missed the entire 2020-21 season with Chronic Immune Response System, which caused debilitating inflammation and fatigue.

He appeared in 71 games in 2021-22, then started this season with renewed energy before slowing and eventually shutting himself down.

Entering this season, it looked as if Chicago might deal him, as it did fellow star Patrick Kane, before the March trade deadline. But Kane went to the New York Rangers and Toews to injured reserve.

Toews believed he was progressing before a relapse in January left him so sore and tired that he could barely “put on my skates or roll out of bed to come to the rink.”

Toews said his progress over the past month has been “pretty encouraging” and he’s delighted to be back among his teammates. He has no timetable beyond that.

“We’re just going to go day by day here,” Chicago coach Luke Richardson said. He deserves anything he wants to try to achieve here.”

Richardson hoped Toews “can take that next step later in the week and hopefully (he) gives us the green light to go in a game.”

But Toews emphasized his long-term health and ability to lead a “normal life” is most important. He wants to go out on a positive note and not hit the ice for a game playing through excessive pain and dysfunction.

“It’s definitely on my mind that this could be my last few weeks here as a Blackhawk in Chicago,” Toews said. “It’s definitely very important for me to go out there and enjoy the game and just kind of soak it in and just really appreciate everything I’ve been able to be part of here in Chicago.”

Budding Wild star Matt Boldy more willing to shoot, and it shows

Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Matt Boldy was unable to resist a smile in the aftermath of his second hat trick in five games for the Minnesota Wild, a young right wing and reluctant star trying to make sense of a remarkable hot streak.

Does the puck feel as if it’s automatically going in the net these days each time he shoots?

“Yeah, it does,” Boldy said in the locker room after leading the first-place Wild to a 5-1 win over Seattle. “My linemates are playing great. Hopefully you guys are giving them a lot of credit. You look at some of those goals – just putting it on a tee for me.”

This non-attention-seeker has found himself squarely in the NHL spotlight. Boldy has 11 goals in nine games since Wild superstar Kirill Kaprizov was sidelined with a lower-body injury to raise his goal total to 28, in part because he’s been more willing to shoot. With vision and stickhandling as strengths and the humility of being a second-year player, it’s easy to be in a pass-first mindset.

“Everybody kind of took turns talking to him. But it’s not that he didn’t want to. A lot of times a situation like that where a guy’s got that skillset, it’s a real unselfish quality, right?” coach Dean Evason said. “But I think he gets now that he helps the team a lot when he scores goals.”

The Wild were confident enough in Boldy’s scoring ability to commit a seven-year, $49 million contract extension to him earlier this winter, after all.

“I think I’ve always had that mentality, but sometimes you just get into spots and it comes off your stick good,” Boldy said. “When things are going well, the puck goes in the net.”’

The Wild are 6-1-2 without Kaprizov. Boldy is a big reason why.

“You go through the slumps, you learn what you need to do to score. I think he’s found a good way to be in the right spot and shoot the puck when he had a good opportunity,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said.

The Wild have only won one division title in 22 years, the five-team Northwest Division in 2007-08. They’re leading the eight-team Central Division with eight games to go, with both Colorado and Dallas too close for comfort. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2015.

With Kaprizov due back before the postseason and Boldy on this heater, a Wild team that ranks just 23rd in the league in goals per game (2.93) ought to have a better chance to advance. Eriksson Ek and Marcus Johansson have been ideal linemates for the Boston College product and Massachusetts native.

Since the Wild entered the league in the 2000-01 season, only five NHL players have had more hat tricks at age 21 or younger than Boldy with three: Patrik Laine (eight), Marian Gaborik (five), Steven Stamkos (five), Alex DeBrincat (four) and Connor McDavid (four). Boldy turns 22 next week, so there’s still time for one or two more.

“He’s big. He controls the puck a lot. He’s got a good shot, good release. He’s smart. He switches it up. He’s got good moves on breakaways. He’s a total player,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. ”Fun to watch him grow this year.”

Pezzetta scores shootout winner; Canadiens beat Sabres 4-3

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Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports

BUFFALO, N.Y. ⁠— Brendan Gallagher and the Montreal Canadiens rallied back to avoid playoff elimination with less than three weeks left in their season. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, are running out of chances to stay in the Eastern Conference wild-card hunt.

Gallagher forced overtime by scoring his 200th career goal, and Michael Pezzetta scored the decisive shootout goal in a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Monday night.

“It’s one of those things I think we earned that chance. We weren’t fantastic but we did enough on the road tonight to get a win,” Gallagher said. “Smiles all around.”

The Canadiens could laugh, especially after Pezzetta celebrated his goal by putting his stick between his legs and riding it like a wooden horse — much like former NHL tough guy Dave “Tiger” Williams did during his 14-year NHL career spanning the 1970s and 80s.

“I’m not sure we’ll see that again. One of a kind,” said Gallagher. “I’d be worried about falling over.”

Pezzetta scored by driving in from the right circle to beat Eric Comrie inside the far post. Buffalo’s Jack Quinn scored in the fourth shootout round, but was matched by Montreal’s Jesse Ylonen, whose shot from in tight managed to trickle in through Comrie.

Jordan Harris and Alex Belzile also scored for Montreal, and Jake Allen stopped 30 shots through overtime, while allowing one goal on six shootout attempts.

Montreal would have been eliminated from playoff contention for a second straight season – and two years removed from reaching the Stanley Cup Final – with any type of loss.

The Sabres squandered a 3-2 third-period lead to drop to 3-6-3 in their past 12. Buffalo also blew a chance to move to within four points of idle Pittsburgh, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot.

“Just a little hesitation,” forward JJ Peterka said of the Sabres third-period lapse. “We didn’t play with much energy and we didn’t play that aggressive as we played the two periods before. I think that was the difference.”

Buffalo’s Lukas Rousek scored a goal and added an assist while filling in for leading scorer Tage Thompson, who did not play due to an upper body injury. Peterka and defenseman Riley Stillman also scored, and Comrie stopped 38 shots through overtime, and allowed two goals on six shootout attempts.

Montreal blew two one-goal leads to fall behind 3-2 on Stillman’s goal at the 8:31 mark of the second period.

Gallagher scored on the fly by using Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin as a screen to snap in a shot inside the far left post. With the goal, Gallagher tied Bobby Rousseau for 24th on the Canadiens career scoring list.

“I liked the way we corrected ourselves, it’s a sign of maturity, in the way we stayed on task,” Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said, in recalling how the Canadiens recently unraveled in an 8-4 loss two weeks ago to Colorado, which plays a similar up-tempo style as Buffalo.


The Sabres hosted their third Pride Night, with Russian D Ilya Lyubushkin electing not to participate in warmups by citing an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Moscow, where he has family and visits in the offseason. The remainder of the team wore dark blue jerseys with the Sabres logo on the front encircled by a rainbow-colored outline.

During the first intermission, the Sabres broadcast a video in which GM Kevyn Adams said: “This is about recognizing someone’s humanity and true identity. We know there are people out there struggling with who they are, and we want them to know that they have an ally in the Buffalo Sabres.”


Canadiens: At the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.

Sabres: Host the New York Rangers on Friday night.

Flyers chairman Scott to retire; Hilferty becomes successor

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA — Dave Scott will retire as chairman of the Philadelphia Flyers’ parent company Comcast Spectacor and be replaced by Dan Hilferty.

Hilferty, who was recently named CEO of Comcast Spectacor, will succeed Scott as chairman of the company on April 17 and as the team’s governor on July 1.

Scott joined Comcast Spectacor in December 2013 and the Flyers have struggled under his reign. They will miss the playoffs for a third straight season and haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1975.

“Our number one goal for the Flyers will be to consistently compete for the Stanley Cup,” Hilferty said. “It is going to be a process that will take time to get on that path, but I’m confident we are headed in the right direction with Danny Briere as interim GM, Coach Tortorella, and our hiring of a President of Hockey Operations soon. Our leadership team will be fully focused to deliver on this for our fans while also continuing to make the sports complex the best location for sports and entertainment in the nation.”

As Chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, Hilferty will lead the company’s entire portfolio, including the Philadelphia Flyers. Spectacor Sports and Entertainment CEO Valerie Camillo will continue to work directly with Hilferty, overseeing the Wells Fargo Center, including its continued transformation, and lead the Flyers’ business operations.