NHL Rink Wrap: Playoffs are no guarantee for Golden Knights

NHL Rink Wrap: Playoffs are no guarantee for Golden Knights
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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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    LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

    Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
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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

    Kris Letang Penguins
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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

    Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
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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.

    Deal for Coyotes’ proposed arena approved by Tempe council

    David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports
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    TEMPE, Ariz. — The Tempe City Council has unanimously approved a proposal for a new Arizona Coyotes arena and entertainment district, clearing the way for a public vote on the project next year.

    The City Council approved the proposal 7-0 after a lengthy meeting that included NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

    The $2.1 billion project would include a 16,000-seat arena, practice rink, 1,600 apartments, two hotels and a theater. Approval of the project was the final step before it goes to referendum on May 16.

    The team is currently playing at Arizona State’s 5,000-seat Mullett Arena, by far the NHL’s smallest arena.

    The Coyotes have been searching for a permanent home since the city of Glendale pulled out of a multimillion-dollar lease at Gila River Arena. Arizona had been playing on an annual lease until Glendale said it would not be renewed for the 2022-23 season.