NHL Rink Wrap: Playoffs are no guarantee for Golden Knights

NHL Rink Wrap: Playoffs are no guarantee for Golden Knights
Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Sunday’s top NHL players

Roman Josi, Predators

Most of all, Roman Josi and the Nashville Predators want to make the playoffs. The fights for the West’s final playoff spots could be fierce, so they shouldn’t take anything for granted.

In the Wild, the Predators have an opponent that opens the door for higher ambitions. With Minnesota slipping lately, the Predators have a shot at climbing into the Central Division’s top three.

Winning on Sunday didn’t hurt that cause. If Juuse Saros isn’t leading the way for the Predators, then you can make a safe bet Roman Josi is doing the work. In this case, he impressively piled up two goals and two assists to help Nashville outlast Minnesota 7-4.

With plenty of time left in the season, Roman Josi’s already set new career-highs for goals (17) and points (66). Not bad for someone who’s already won a Norris Trophy.

Cole Sillinger and Oliver Bjorkstrand, Blue Jackets

In the Sunday NHL Takeaways, we’ll dive into some of the Golden Knights’ problems. But let’s not totally take away from what the Blue Jackets brought to the table. While a playoff bid is unrealistic, this team’s looking like one of the more dangerous spoiler threats in the East.

Sometimes that boils down to Patrik Laine heating up. During the NHL action on Sunday, it was about Cole Sillinger (hat trick) and Oliver Bjorkstrand (1G, 3A) lighting it up. Max Domi might help his trade deadline value with two assists, as well.

Still just 18, Sillinger’s generated a solid 21 points in 57 games this season.

Could the Blue Jackets build a future worth getting excited about? They still need to make the right moves, but there are at least moments of promise.

Darcy Kuemper, Avalanche

For a portion of the season, it felt like the Avalanche were winning despite Darcy Kuemper. Watch out if he maintains what’s been a promising stretch of confidence-boosting play.

Against a strong Flames team, Kuemper pitched an impressive 46-save shutout. That marks Kuemper’s third shutout in about a month, and leaves him with four on the season.

Now Kuemper presents a strong record (28-8-2) and save percentage (.922). That’s the sort of production Colorado was hoping for when they needed to cough up a first-rounder to land Kuemper.

Sunday NHL highlights

Check out that Cole Sillinger hat trick, the first of his young career:

You can read more about Mikko Koivu becoming the first Wild player to have their number (9) retired here, or just watch the ceremony below.

Watch highlights of the Sabres upsetting the Maple Leafs in the 2022 Heritage Classic. Really, though, so much happened — including Auston Matthews scoring, but also warranting a hearing for going after Rasmus Dahlin — that you should read more about it here.

Pierre-Luc Dubois scored the OT game-winner as the Jets beat the Blues:

The Cole Caufield rejuvenation continues with this OT tally that put the Habs over the Flyers:

One of Claude Giroux‘s last points with the Flyers could be his 900th:

Sunday NHL Takeaways

Golden Knights’ playoff hopes take another hit after fourth loss in a row

No, the Vegas Golden Knights aren’t certain to miss the playoffs. But the threat of missing out entirely is rapidly devolving from “unlikely” to “approaching a terrifying coin flip.”

Simply put, there’s no way this was part of the plan for a team that keeps going all-in. Truly, you may need even more analogies and/or metaphors for dangerous gambling for what’s happening. This is the part of the gangster movie where a goon starts threatening to break something.

They’ve now lost four in a row after falling to Cole Sillinger and the Blue Jackets. All four of those games ended in regulation, so no “charity points” to salvage some feelings. They’re also 4-9-1 in their last 14 games.

This latest lost followed certain patterns. All things considered, Jack Eichel has been contributing. (He scored a power-play goal.) It wasn’t enough. The banged-up Golden Knights started Logan Thompson in net, while Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone rank among the injured.

You can’t just assume goaltending is the issue, or a lack of luck. Beyond injury luck, at least. Through the first two periods, the Blue Jackets outshot the Golden Knights 30-15. Columbus probably “deserved” this win, something this Natural Stat Trick chart might hint at:

NHL Rink Wrap: Playoffs are no guarantee for Golden Knights Natural Stat Trick
via Natural Stat Trick

Not good. Not good at all.

Latest slips should make Ducks obvious trade deadline sellers

Around the NHL, teams are making curious decisions not to sell at the trade deadline. Extending Rasmus Ristolainen instead of trading him? Very curious, very Flyers. The Stars extending Joe Pavelski makes more sense with their solid playoff odds, and the short-term, manageable price … but it’s not guaranteed to be the best choice overall.

If anything, the Ducks should be emboldened. A thinner market only makes someone like Rickard Rakell more desirable. The smart move would be to sell high on Hampus Lindholm, among others, as well.

But we’re pretty much at the point where any argument for keeping players can only be rooted in the long-term.

Put simply, the Jets match the Ducks’ 64 standings points this season, yet Winnipeg has two games in hand. The Canucks hold significant advantages over the Ducks, too.

And those two teams don’t really seem to have the greatest hopes of making the playoffs. So, time to take your medicine, and hope that trade deadline selling translates to a better, bolder future.

Maple Leafs goaltending is a mess, and Matthews risks suspension

Again, read up on that mess of a Heritage Classic for the Maple Leafs vs. the Sabres. Did Auston Matthews cost himself and his team a suspension on top of a bad loss? The Bruins might be licking their chops, as they could squeeze into the Atlantic top three if Toronto trips and falls. [UPDATE: Matthews has been suspended two games.]

Monday’s big story

Coyotes, Senators players can boost trade deadline value

Monday’s lone game is one with little bearing on this season’s standings: the Coyotes visit the Senators. You could argue the winner might be the team improving 2022 NHL Draft Lottery odds.

Yet, with the trade deadline a week away, plenty in the hockey world might imagine various Coyotes and Senators fixing their problems. That, along with being the only NHL game on the Monday docket, could have people watching.

It also could be fun to see if Nick Schmaltz stays hot. Schmaltz can extend his point streak beyond five games, as it’s already been a doozy (5G, 9A for 14 points). Considering the term on Schmaltz’s contract ($5.85M cap hit through 2025-26), my guess is that he won’t factor into a ton of trade deadline talks.

Although, if someone wanted to do something bold, and anti-rental, then who knows?

Sunday NHL scores

Penguins 4, Hurricanes 2
Sabres 5, Maple Leafs 2
Canadiens 4, Flyers 3 (OT)
Blue Jackets 6, Golden Knights 4
Jets 4, Blues 3 (OT)
Predators 6, Wild 2
Islanders 4, Ducks 3
Avalanche 3, Flames 0
Lightning 2, Canucks 1
Kings 3, Panthers 2 (SO)

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.

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