NHL Power Rankings: Bruins, Wild peaking at right time

NHL Power Rankings
Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images
1 Comment

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings the Boston Bruins and Minnesota Wild continue to inch their way closer to the league’s elite thanks to their great play in recent weeks. While they may not be on the same level as Colorado, Florida, or Carolina in terms of overall record for the season, they are definitely starting to hit their stride at the right time.

The Bruins have been one of the hottest teams in the league for more than a month now and are shaping up to be a brutal opening round matchup for one of the division winners in the Eastern Conference.

In the West, the Wild have been on a 9-0-1 run over their past 10 games and have received a boost from Marc-Andre Fleury who is 3-0 with a .958 save percentage in his first three appearance with the team. Do not sleep on these two as the Stanley Cup Playoffs approach.

We look at those teams and more in this week’s rankings.

Where does your team sit?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Colorado Avalanche (Last week: 1). Just a total buzzsaw of a hockey team. Expectations will rightfully be through the roof. Anything less than the conference finals would be a massive, massive disappointment.

2. Florida Panthers (LW: 2). The best offense we have seen in the NHL in nearly 30 years. They can embarrass anybody on any given night.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (LW: 3). So good, so deep, so well rounded, and still such a young team. With the goaltending moves paying off there is no obvious weakness to exploit here.

4. Tampa Bay Lightning (LW: 5). Steven Stamkos is still a beast, and they are still a serious contender.

5. Boston Bruins (LW: 6). They are 16-3-1 in their past 20 games. Starting to peak and hit their stride at the right time. Not a team you want to play in a best-of-seven series right now.

6. Minnesota Wild (LW: 9). Marc-Andre Fleury is off to a fantastic start here. This could make them scary.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs (LW: 10). Just need to hope that goaltending situation is okay. That is a game-changer that could go either way.

[Related: Marner, Gaudreau, Crosby and the top scorers of 2022 so far]

8. Calgary Flames (LW: 4). They have cooled off a little bit over the past two weeks, but that defensive play, that goaltending, and that top line should still make them a fierce playoff opponent.

9. Pittsburgh Penguins (LW: 7). Jason Zucker‘s injury could be a pretty big deal given how much they are hoping for him to round out their second line with Evgeni Malkin and new trade deadline acquisition Rickard Rakell.

10. New York Rangers (LW: 8). This is Igor Shesterkin‘s most significant slump of the season. This is not the right time of the year for that.

11. St. Louis Blues (LW: 14). They already have six 20-goal scorers this season. Incredibly deep offensive team.

12. Edmonton Oilers (LW: 16). Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are both over 100 points again (already) and the team itself looks dramatically better after the coaching change. Still some concerns on the back end and in goal.

13. Dallas Stars (LW: 15). Jason Robertson is becoming a star (no pun intended) here. A fantastic player that deserves more attention.

14. Washington Capitals (LW: 11). Vitek Vanecek‘s play has not been good since they did not address goaltending at the trade deadline. Not good.

15. Vegas Golden Knights (LW: 17). Just when it looked like their season was probably finished they won five in a row and seven out of nine games. A healthy Golden Knights team in the playoffs will be a problem.

16. Los Angeles Kings (LW: 13). Can not say enough good things about the acquisitions of Philip Danault and Viktor Arvidsson. Huge pickups that really transformed this team in the short term.

17. Nashville Predators (LW: 15). They have never had a 40-goal scorer in their entire existence, and they might have two (Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene) this season.

[Related: Josi, Shesterkin and the top goalies and defensemen in the NHL]

18. New York Islanders (LW: 19). Do not be surprised if they are back in the playoffs next season.

19. Winnipeg Jets (LW: 18). The thing to watch for here is if Kyle Connor can reach the 50-goal mark this season.

20. Columbus Blue Jackets (LW: 20). They really need a bounce back season from Elvis Merzlikins next season.

21. Buffalo Sabres (LW: 23). Is Tage Thompson a late-bloomer or is he just the guy that gets the most ice time and scores all of the goals on a bad team? If it is the former that would be a very positive development for the Sabres.

22. Vancouver Canucks (LW: 21). It is not going to result in a playoff spot but they really do look better under Bruce Boudreau. That should get him a new contract extension.

[Related: Canucks turnaround should lead to Boudreau extension]

23. San Jose Sharks (LW: 22). They just seemed destined to be stuck in mediocrity for a while.

24. Montreal Canadiens (LW: 24). Cole Caufield might still end the season with 20 goals, which would be amazing given the way he started.

25. Ottawa Senators (LW: 30). Their jump has more to do with what everybody else has done lately.

26. Detroit Red Wings (LW: 26). Such a promising start to the season followed by such a disappointing finish. Still some great pieces in place.

27. New Jersey Devils (LW: 27). Goaltending should be at the top of their offseason to-do list.

28. Anaheim Ducks (LW: 25). Trevor Zegras should not have to defend himself or fight for being talented and skilled.

29. Philadelphia Flyers (LW: 29). Nothing wrong with the way they handled Keith Yandle‘s streak. It was time. He has had a great career, the streak is impressive, but it was time for it to end.

30. Chicago Blackhawks (LW: 28). Jonathan Toews deflecting a puck into his own net in overtime, against the worst team in the league, on the night they honored him for playing in 1,000 games is a perfect result for this season.

31. Seattle Kraken (LW: 31). Matt Duchene (likely 40-goal scorer) and Vladimir Tarasenko (59 points in 61 games) were both available to them in the expansion draft. Whoops.

32. Arizona Coyotes (LW: 32). Clayton Keller has been the big positive for this team this season, and then his season ended in a brutal way. That stinks.

Penguins’ Kris Letang returns to practice 10 days after stroke

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang returned to practice with his teammates just 10 days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

The 35-year-old Letang remains out indefinitely, with the club describing him as “day to day.”

Letang said he felt “pretty good” after being greeted by stick taps from his teammates when he skated onto the ice at the team’s practice facility. Still, the married father of two called the experience “scary,” particularly for his family.

“My kids, they don’t care if I’m a hockey player or not,” he said. “They care about having a dad. Same with my wife. She could care less about hockey. She knows there’s so much more. After hockey, there’s a long time and you want to be able to enjoy those moments with your family, with your kids.”

Letang missed more than two months in 2014 after his first stroke, which was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. The condition also led to the second stroke, which Letang suffered on Nov. 28 after dealing with a series of debilitating headaches.

This time, the symptoms have resolved themselves much more quickly, according to team physician Dr. Dharmesh Vyas, who described this stroke as “smaller” than the one Letang endured in 2014.

Letang began skating on his own just two days after the diagnosis and was cleared to return to practice on Thursday though both Letang and Vyas stressed they are in no rush for him to play in games.

“We don’t think this is accelerated in any way,” Vyas said. “We are taking all the right precautions to make sure that it is safe to go out and play and when that time comes we’ll let him go back to playing his sport.”

Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said it was a “relief” to see Letang back at work.

“It’s a great visual that he’s making progress,” Sullivan said. “Our medical team that has monitored him extremely closely feels comfortable with some of the progress that he’s making and the steps he’s taken. Everyone was excited for him to join the group.”

Letang signed a six-year contract extension over the summer that will carry him into his 40s if he decides to play that long. Vyas said the data around strokes is “evolving” though it is unclear if Letang is now more susceptible to having additional strokes now that he’s had a second one.

The six-time All-Star is cautious but optimistic.

“We’ve been through this,” Letang said. “Me and Dharmesh have a clear understanding that we’re going to take all the time we need and make sure the research is possible and it’s no danger for me to keep going.”

The Penguins are 8-1-1 over their last 10 games and have won three straight heading into a home-and-home series with the Sabres. They’re also eager to have Letang’s familiar No. 58 back in the lineup, but only when he’s ready.

“He’s been here for a long time and his experience and everything that he brings on and off the ice, the way he competes (is important),” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “But I think in the (locker) room, (he has) poise and (he’s) somebody who’s been around a long time and whose experience you feel when he’s around.”

Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus

buffalo sabres
Russell LaBounty/USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tage Thompson matched an NHL record by scoring four times in the first period and finished with five goals and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres won their third straight road game, 9-4 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

Thompson is the second U.S.-born player to score five goals in a game. He is the fourth player in NHL history to record four goals in the first period of a regular-season game, joining Peter Bondra (1994), Grant Mulvey (1982) and Joe Malone (1921). He is also the fourth active player to score five goals in a game, joining Timo Meier (Jan. 17, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 5, 2020) and Patrik Laine (Nov. 24, 2018).

“It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Thompson said. “You’ve spent a lot of years working to get to this point and to be rewarded for it is a pretty good feeling and it just leaves you hungrier.”

Thompson’s outburst helped Buffalo score six times in the first 16:40.

“That was an amazing performance by Tage, and really, the whole group set the table,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought the energy, the collective effort, the focus to start was really good and enabled that to happen.”

Alex Tuch had a goal and three assists, Dylan Cozens added a power-play goal and two assists and Rasmus Dahlin finished with a goal and two assists. Peyton Krebs also scored. Jeff Skinner picked up four assists and Jacob Bryson had two. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 20 shots.

Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist each scored twice for Columbus.

Joonas Korpisalo stopped two shots before being pulled in the first in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 15 shots through the second period. Korpisalo returned in the third and finished with six saves.

Columbus has lost six straight home games and five of its last six overall.

“We didn’t have an answer for that one line,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”

Buffalo dominated from the puck drop, scoring four goals on its first six shots.

Cozens put the Sabres on the board at 3:21 of the first, 53 seconds into a Blue Jackets penalty, and Thompson made it 2-0 just 2:09 later. Dahlin scored Buffalo’s third goal at 7:28 of the first, driving Korpisalo from the net in favor of Merzlikins, who gave up Buffalo goal No. 4 to Thompson 32 seconds later.

Thompson’s third career hat trick and second of the season came on a power-play goal at 12:22 of the first. He followed with his fourth goal, also on the power play, at 16:40.

Columbus scored two goals in just over a minute, with Laine at 10:49 and Nyquist at 12:04, before Buffalo reeled off three straight in just over three minutes to end the period, including Thompson’s fifth, and goals by Krebs and Tuch.

Laine and Nyquist scored in the third period for Columbus.

STREAKING

Cozens has 12 points in his last five games and is riding a career-best, five-game point streak. Thompson has eight goals and five assists in his last five games and 10 multi-point games. Dahlin has a five-game point and assist streak, and Gaudreau stretched his points streak to six games.

NOTES: The Sabres joined the Kraken as the second team this season to score nine goals in a game. … Thompson is the second player in Buffalo history to have five goals in a game, joining Dave Andreychuk, who had five goals and an assist on Feb. 6, 1986.

UP NEXT

Buffalo: Hosts Pittsburgh on Friday.

Columbus: Hosts Calgary on Friday.

Ovechkin, Strome lead Capitals past struggling Flyers 4-1

washington capitals
Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

PHILADELPHIA — Alex Ovechkin scored two empty-net goals, Dylan Strome had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night.

T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who finished 3-3 on a six-game trip. Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves.

Kevin Hayes scored for Philadelphia, which has lost 13 of 15 games. Carter Hart made 23 stops.

Strome broke a 1-all tie with 10:41 remaining when he deflected John Carlson‘s shot from long range past Hart.

Hayes had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Philadelphia power play, but Lindgren made a great right pad save on a try from close range with 8:20 remaining.

Ovechkin iced it, scoring into an empty net with 1:35 left and adding another empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left for his 15th of the season. Ovechkin has 795 career goals, good for third all-time. He is six goals away from tying Gordie Howe for second place. Wayne Gretzky, with 894 goals, tops the list.

Hayes scored his ninth goal of the season for his team-leading 28th point with 4:14 left in the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Hayes rushed to the bench after breaking his stick on a slap shot attempt, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with his new stick.

The Flyers had a power-play goal for the third straight game and have four overall in that stretch. Philadelphia, which began play ranked 30th in the NHL in scoring on the man advantage, now has converted 16.7% (14 of 84) of its chances.

Oshie tied it 3:51 into the second on the Capitals’ fourth power play as the Flyers continued to take sloppy penalties. This time, James van Riemsdyk committed Philadelphia’s third tripping minor of the game. Oshie made them pay with his fifth goal of the season when he finished a nifty passing sequence with Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov with a perfectly placed one-timer over Hart’s left shoulder.

NOTES: Van Riemsdyk returned after missing the last 20 games due to a broken right index finger. . Flyers forward Tanner Laczynski was placed on injured reserve after departing midway through the third period of Monday’s 5-3 win over Colorado with what looked like an injury to his left leg. . Washington was without several injured players, including starting goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper body). Kuemper was with the team, but missed his second in a row. . Carlson had two assists. . Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson, out all season with an upper body injury, has been practicing and is close to returning.

UP NEXT

Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

Flyers: Open four-game trip at Vegas on Friday night.

Penguins prospect Sam Poulin taking leave of absence

pittsburgh penguins
Jeanine Leech/Getty Images
0 Comments

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins forward prospect Sam Poulin is taking a leave of absence from the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Penguins general manager Ron Hextall announced on Wednesday that the 21-year-old Poulin, Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2019 draft, is stepping away due to “personal reasons.”

“The Penguins support Sam’s decision to take time away from hockey to focus on himself,” Hextall said in a release. “As with all of our players, our priority is them as individuals first. We look forward to having him back with the team when he is ready.”

Hextall said Poulin will return home to Quebec and continue to work out on his own.

Poulin made his NHL debut in October and had one assist in three games before heading back to the AHL. Poulin had four goals in 13 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the time of his decision.