NHL Power Rankings: Blues sneaking under radar; Kings take care of business

NHL Power Rankings
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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings the Florida Panthers maintain their top spot even though their winning streak came to an end on Sunday against a Tampa Bay Lightning team that might have flipped the playoff switch.

In the Western Conference, the St. Louis Blues continue to inch their way closer to the top with a 16-game point streak that has seen them go 14-0-2 as they continue to fight the Minnesota Wild for home-ice advantage in the First Round. The Blues remain a fascinating team because even with their flaws (defense?) they have some real strengths that could make them a nightmare playoff opponent. Their offense is as good and deep as any team, while Ville Husso has solidified the all-important goalie position. They are getting lost in the shuffle a little bit playing in the shadow of Colorado in the Central Division, but this is not a team to take lightly.

The Los Angeles Kings have also managed to solidify their playoff chances despite some major injury concerns on defense by going on a four-game winning streak and feasting on a favorable schedule down the stretch.

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

Where does your team sit as we enter the final week of the 2021-22 regular season?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Florida Panthers (Last week: 1). They were going to lose eventually and the second half of a back-to-back against a team like Tampa Bay was always going to be a tough task.

2. Colorado Avalanche (LW: 2). They have lost four games in a row, but I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt here and a longer leash because they have everything wrapped up in the West as far as seeding is concerned. Every team slips at some point during the season.

3. St. Louis Blues (LW: 4). They are 14-0-2 in their past 16 games, have one of the NHL’s best records, and are just kind of quietly lurking under the radar.

4. Carolina Hurricanes (LW: 6). The big question for Carolina this season would be if their goalies could A) stay healthy and B) play well. Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta have been outstanding as a duo all year. But health is now a concern.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs (LW: 3). This is a very deep team with a better defense than it gets credit for having. This could be the year they do something in the playoffs. Then you look at the goaltending and see who their likely First Round matchup is (Tampa Bay) and you get worried again.

6. Calgary Flames (LW: 5). You have to like their potential path in the West. The opportunity for an extended playoff run is right there in front of them.

7. Tampa Bay Lightning (LW: 9). It looked like they were developing some questions late in the season and then beat Toronto, Nashville, and Florida by a combined score of 22-7. Guess they got the message that it is time to flip the switch.

8. Minnesota Wild (LW: 8). It is a testament to how good the rest of the top teams in the league are that the Wild only get the eighth spot. Great goaltending duo two dominant scoring lines.

[Related: Wild have to find a way to keep Fiala]

9. New York Rangers (LW: 7). They did so much to improve their depth at the trade deadline, and now they are dealing with injuries to Andrew Copp, Filip Chytil, and Kaapo Kakko.

10. Edmonton Oilers (LW: 10). Mike Smith‘s improved play has been a game-changer. But how long will that continue?

11. Washington Capitals (LW: 12). Another 50-goal season for Alex Ovechkin has overshadowed what has been a strong bounce back season for Evgeny Kuznetsov. Ovechkin’s injury is something to watch, though the team says he is “day-to-day.”

[Related: Ovechkin injured in loss to Maple Leafs]

12. Pittsburgh Penguins (LW: 14). They are going to have to play either Florida, Carolina, or the New York Rangers in the opening round, and none of those matchups look to be a picnic. Especially if Tristan Jarry is not ready to return.

13. Boston Bruins (LW: 12). Getting David Pastrnak back brought the offense a much-needed boost. They have been struggling to score goals again lately.

14. Los Angeles Kings (LW: 17). The injuries could have derailed their season but they took care of business against the teams they were supposed to beat. Huge progress year for the Kings’ rebuild.

15. Dallas Stars (LW: 12). They can deliver a knockout punch to Vegas on Tuesday.

16. Nashville Predators (LW: 16). It is very important that they stay in the first Wild Card spot and avoid getting put into the Colorado/Central playoff bracket.

17. Vegas Golden Knights (LW: 15). If they miss the playoffs this could be an ugly offseason. No excuses for this.

18. Buffalo Sabres (LW: 20). Tage Thompson has 37 goals this season. The most goals Jack Eichel ever scored in a season for Buffalo was 36. No commentary on those numbers. Just two factual numbers.

19. Vancouver Canucks (LW: 18). There are reasons to be optimistic about next season (improved play under Bruce Boudreau, good core players) and reasons to be pessimistic about next season (will Boudreau be back? What changes to the roster and core are ahead this offseason?).

[Related: Pondering 12 NHL coaching decisions for the offseason]

20. New York Islanders (LW: 19). They are almost certain to bring back the same coach and largely the same roster next season. It might not be the worst play.

21. Columbus Blue Jackets (LW: 21). Jakub Voracek is having the best five-goal season ever. I do not mean that as an insult. He is legitimately having a very good season. The puck just will not go in the net for him.

22. Winnipeg Jets (LW: 22). There is some real talent here but this team just seems stale.

23. Ottawa Senators (LW: 25). The Erik Karlsson trade (which produced Josh Norris and the pick that resulted in Tim Stützle) could be a franchise-changer if they could just build around these guys.

24. Detroit Red Wings (LW: 23). Very important offseason ahead here. Pressure is now on.

25. San Jose Sharks (LW: 28). Misery loves company and they really seemed to love ruining Vegas’ playoff chances.

[Related: If 2021-22 season does not inspire Sharks’ rebuild, what will?]

26. New Jersey Devils (LW: 26). Lot of young talent here that needs to stay healthy and get a supporting cast around it.

27. Anaheim Ducks (LW: 24). They have four wins in 24 games since March 2. Those wins have come against San Jose, Arizona, Philadelphia, and Columbus.

28. Philadelphia Flyers (LW: 29). Noah Cates has been a nice bright spot here at the tail end of the season.

29. Seattle Kraken (LW: 30). This is what we remember expansion teams looking like.

30. Chicago Blackhawks (LW: 31). The short-term (and long-term) outlook here is very grim.

31. Montreal Canadiens (LW: 27). Arizona has lost 17 of its previous 19 games and the Canadiens still managed to catch them for worst record in the league based on points percentage. Yikes.

32.  Arizona Coyotes (LW: 32). I know Montreal has the worse record at the moment, but the Coyotes’ season-long tank has been really something. Their remaining games are against Minnesota, Dallas, and Nashville. All playoff teams with something to play for. It would be a surprise if Arizona wins any of them.

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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.