Alex Ovechkin

NHL Power Rankings: Stanley Cup contenders entering second half

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In this week’s edition of the PHT Power Rankings we take a look at where things stand around the league as the second half of the 2019-20 NHL season is set to begin.

The top Stanley Cup contenders, the teams making a big move to climb the standings, the teams still on the playoff bubble, and the teams that are already looking ahead to next season (and probably beyond).

Where does every team currently sit? To the rankings!

TOP CONTENDERS

The teams that stand out above the rest as Stanley Cup Contenders right now…

1. Washington Capitals. Alex Ovechkin and Co. are in position to win another Presidents’ Trophy and have all the ingredients to win another Stanley Cup.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning. They are flat out dominating teams again. Two years ago the Capitals finally broke through after years of disappointment. Last year it was the Blues. Maybe this year it is the Lightning.

3. St. Louis Blues. Winning it all two years in a row is an extremely difficult task in the NHL (it has only happened three times in the past three decades) but this Blues team looks just as good as the championship version from a year ago, and is doing it without its best offensive player (Vladimir Tarasenko).

4. Pittsburgh Penguins. They simply look and play like the team that won the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017 and they still have some key players to get back in the lineup.

5. Boston Bruins. One of the best lines in the league and two outstanding goalies. Could use a tweak or two to their depth lines and a little more from Charlie McAvoy and some of their defensemen, but they will be there when it counts.

6. Colorado Avalanche. They are positioned for a run of dominance in the Western Conference for years to come.

TEAMS MAKING A BIG MOVE RIGHT NOW

Maybe not Stanley Cup contenders at the moment, but these are some of the hottest teams in the league …

7. Columbus Blue Jackets. Superb goaltending can mask a lot of flaws and carry a team to places no one expected it to be.

8. Florida Panthers. The highest scoring team in the league and one that could be a real sleeper in the Eastern Conference if they can just get a little more out of their goalies and defense.

9. Vancouver Canucks. One of five teams separated by just one point in the Pacific Division, but also probably the hottest with 11 wins in their past 14 games.

THE MIDDLE GROUND AND PLAYOFF BUBBLE

10. Dallas Stars. Ben Bishop is playing his way toward another top-three finish in the Vezina Trophy voting. He might even win it this season. He probably should.

11. New York Islanders. They had an amazing start with a 17-game point streak but have struggled ever since. They should still be a playoff team, and a good one, but they still need another scorer.

12. Chicago Blackhawks. Even with their great play recently they are still three points out and there is no guarantee they keep playing at this pace. I’d say it’s more likely they miss the playoffs than make it, but if they get in they are the type of team that could cause problems due to their top-line talent and goalie situation.

13. Edmonton Oilers. A few weeks ago they looked like they were falling out of it, but a 6-1-1 in their past eight has brought them right back into the Pacific Division race. It would be nice to see Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl play meaningful hockey games.

14. Philadelphia Flyers. Still the hardest team in the league to get any kind of a feel for. Not even sure they know what they have or what they are.

15. Carolina Hurricanes. This is a great young team with a bright future, but they slumped going into the break and losing Dougie Hamilton is going to be a big problem in the short-term.

16. Toronto Maple Leafs. How big of a hole did the start under Mike Babcock put them in? They are 16-7-3 since the coaching change — the sixth-best record in the league during that stretch — and one of the hottest teams in the league, and they are still four points out of a playoff spot at the moment. October and November games count, too. A lot more than people realize.

17. Calgary Flames. A big second half from Johnny Gaudreau could swing this mess of a division in their favor.

18. Vegas Golden Knights. I would expect this team to make a big push and rapidly climb the standings over the next month or two, especially if Marc-Andre Fleury gets on a roll (and he can). They are too good and too talented not to.

19. Arizona Coyotes. Taylor Hall has been just what they needed, but the wins haven’t been there very consistently. At least not yet.

20. Winnipeg Jets. They are hanging on as best they can given the state of the defense, but eventually the lack of talent on the blue line is going to be too much to overcome.

21. Nashville Predators. Their biggest advantage in the playoff race right now is the number of games they still have remaining. The key is going to be actually winning those games.

THE PLAYOFFS ARE AN ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE LONG SHOT

These teams are not totally out of it, but are close to it…

22. Montreal Canadiens. They played a little better going into the break, and could get some top players back in the lineup soon, but they have way too much ground to make up. Right now no team in a playoff position in the East is on pace for less than 100 points. Montreal needs 49 points in 32 games to reach that.

23. Buffalo Sabres. Another year of Jack Eichel‘s prime on the verge of being wasted with absolutely nothing to show for it. 

24. New York Rangers. On the plus side, Artemi Panarin is on pace for one of the best offensive seasons in franchise history.

25. Minnesota Wild. The big question here is how bold Bill Guerin gets at the trade deadline. Does he move players with term still on their contracts (Jason Zucker, Jonas Brodin)?

START PLANNING FOR NEXT SEASON

26. San Jose Sharks. The single biggest disappointment in the NHL this season, and no other team is even close. Doug Wilson will get a chance to fix this, but he has his work cut out for him.

27. New Jersey Devils. Nico Hischier getting a chance to shine at the All-Star Game is probably the bright spot for the Devils this season.

28. Ottawa Senators. If you squint really hard and look really closely you can see a path for a successful rebuild here. Some good young players, no long-term commitments of any kind that creates some flexibility.

29. Anaheim Ducks. The lack of anything resembling an offense here is staggering.

30. Los Angeles Kings. Not even a bounce back season from Anze Kopitar could make a difference here.

31. Detroit Red Wings. Instead of planning for next season, planning for 2022 and beyond might be a more reasonable and realistic goal.

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.

Ovechkin sits as Caps return to ice against Canadiens

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The Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals own a one-point lead over the Boston Bruins in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy as they return from a nine-day break to face the Canadiens in Montreal on Monday night.

The Capitals, who went into their bye week and the All-Star Game break on a three-game win streak, will be without Alex Ovechkin for the contest. Ovechkin must serve a mandatory one-game suspension for skipping the All-Star Game in St. Louis to rest up for the second half of the season.

Ovechkin was red-hot before the break, scoring eight goals over a three-game span, including back-to-back hat tricks in a 5-2 win over New Jersey and a dramatic 6-4 come-from-behind victory at the New York Islanders on Jan. 18 in their final game before the layoff.

Washington trailed 4-1 after two periods against the Islanders before exploding for five third-period goals, with Ovechkin scoring two of them — including an empty-netter to seal the win.

Ovechkin is tied with Toronto’s Auston Matthews for second place in the NHL in goals with 34, three behind Boston’s David Pastrnak (37). His last goal was the 692nd of his career, tying Steve Yzerman for ninth place on the NHL’s career goals list.

“It’s something special,” Ovechkin said. “It’s history. It’s pretty cool.

“I just left out there everything I had because I have a week off. Now it’s time to regroup and get ready for the second half of the year.”

Montreal also will be playing its first game in nine days and brings in a two-game winning streak. The Canadiens entered the break off a 5-4 shootout victory over the Vegas Golden Knights with leading scorer Tomas Tatar (17 goals, 26 assists) scoring the winner in the fourth round of the shootout.

Montreal is tied for fifth place in the Atlantic Division with the Buffalo Sabres with 51 points, 10 points behind third-place Florida and also 10 points behind Carolina for the second wild-card spot.

“A little reset here for the mental side of things and also the physical side of things, and now it’s time to hunt,” center Max Domi told NHL.com. “We believe in each other as a group, and we want to win some hockey games. We proved it time and time again and we know we can do it. We’ve just got to find ways put the right foot forward here.”

One Canadien who didn’t get the whole eight days off was All-Star defenseman Shea Weber, who won the hardest shot competition on Friday night with a blast registered at 106.5 mph. Washington defenseman John Carlson was second at 104.5 mph.

“Obviously, the fun’s kind of over with,” Weber said. “It’s time to get back to work in Montreal.”

This is the second of three meetings between the two teams. Montreal, behind a goal and three assists by Tatar and 26 saves by goaltender Carey Price, won the first one, 5-2, in Washington on Nov. 15.

The Capitals enter Monday night’s game with a 18-6-1 road record, best in the NHL. No other team has won more than 14 games away from home.

PHT Face-Off: Frk’s heavy shot; Rough year for Johansen

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At the start of each week, the PHT Face-Off breaks down some of the topics and trends around the NHL. This week’s topics include: A crazy slapshot, four forwards on the power play, and much more.

Here it is:

• What a Frkn shot

Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber won the Hardest Shot Event at the NHL Skills Competition on Friday night. Weber actually fired the two hardest shots of the night, with the fastest one coming in at 106.5 mph. That’s impressive. But we can’t ignore what Martin Frk did at the AHL All-Star Skills Competition over the weekend, either.

Frk set a new record by blasting a puck into a net at 109.2 mph. The 26-year-old forward has played four games with the Los Angeles Kings this year and he’s found the back of the net three times. Maybe it’s time for the Kings to give him another look? He’s also put up 20 goals and 30 points in 33 games with AHL Ontario this year.

The record previously belonged to Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara, who registered a 108.8 mph shot on the radar gun in 2012. Hockey players seem to be getting bigger, faster and stronger every year, so we’ll see how long Frk’s record holds up. Are we really going to see a human being shoot at over 110 mph in the near future?

• Four forwards on the power play becoming a trend

Over the last few seasons, we’ve seen the number of four-forward power plays increase significantly. Obviously, teams that have more high-end skill up front will use four forwards more frequently. As you can tell from the tweet below, the Capitals and Avalanche use four forwards on the man-advantage 95 percent of the time.

For what it’s worth, the Caps have the 14th ranked power play in the NHL at 20.3 percent. The Avs have the 21st ranked power play in the league at 18.6 percent. Those are two really talented teams, so how much of their power play “struggles” are based on personnel and how much is on the scheme? It’s hard to say.

But it’s interesting to see just how much of a copy-cat league the NHL is today:

Alex Killorn‘s killer season

When the Tampa Bay Lightning were looking to off-load some salary during the summer, it was reported that general manager Julien BriseBois was unwilling to part ways with Killorn. That was interesting news considering the fact that he’s not really part of the core. He’s an important part of the team, but he’s not Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman or Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Killorn is making $4.45 million per season through 2022-23. It would’ve been easy to ship the veteran forward elsewhere. Instead, they decided to hold on to him. How has it worked out?

Pretty well, so far.

The 30-year-old hit the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career right before the All-Star break. He’s now on pace to find the back of the net 35 times and he’s flirting with a 70-point season right now. Whether they want to continue holding on to him or not, there’s no doubt that his trade value has increased.

Interestingly enough, Killorn’s advanced numbers are down from previous seasons, but he’s been more productive than ever. His CF%, his XGF% and his FF% are all down from the last few seasons.

• Tough year for Ryan Johansen

Johansen is the Nashville Predators’ highest paid forward at $8 million per year (tied with Matt Duchene), but he’s certainly not producing up to expectations.

Over his last 12 games, the 27-year-old has just two points in his last 12 outings. That’s nowhere close to being good enough. Prior to the start of this season, Johansen 60-plus points in two of his last three campaigns. This year, he has just 10 goals and 27 points in 47 games.

“When Ryan’s playing his best, he’s moving his feet and playing with speed,” Predators coach John Hynes said, per The Athletic. “I’ve seen pockets of it here, where he’s had the puck coming up the middle of the ice and through the neutral zone with speed and then making good decisions. He should be a very competitive player on the puck with his size and his skill to be able to be a hard player to play against offensively.”

Hynes mentions that he’s seen his centerman play well in spurts, but the Predators need him to be way more consistent. If the playoffs started today, they’d be on the outside looking in. That’s a problem. They’re currently six points behind Vegas for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. They’re seven points back of Dallas in the chase for the third seed in the Central Division.

They need him to step up.

What’s coming up this week?
Matt Tkachuk vs. Zack Kassian, Wed. Jan. 29, 10 p.m. ET and Sat. Feb. 1, 8 p.m. ET.
• Battle of Pennsylvania resumes as Penguins host Flyers, Fri. Jan. 31, 7 p.m. ET.

NHL on NBC
Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby for the 50th time, Sun. Feb. 2, 12:30 p.m.

NHL on NBCSN
• Lightning vs. Stars, Mon. Jan. 27, 8 p.m. ET
• Lightning vs. Kings, Wed. Jan. 29, 10 p.m. ET
• John Hynes returns to New Jersey as Predators visit Devils, Thu. Jan. 30, 7:30 p.m. ET

Wednesday Night Hockey
• Predators vs. Capitals, Wed. Jan. 29, 7:30 p.m. ET

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: NHLers remember Kobe; Who will Bruins acquire?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• People in the hockey world remember Kobe Bryant. (NHL.com)

• WEEI breaks down potential trade candidates for the Boston Bruins. (WEEI)

• Will Nico Hischier be the Devils’ next captain? (All About the Jersey)

• The Hurricanes might use Erik Haula as a trade chip before the deadline. (Cardiac Cane)

• The Leafs could use a right-handed defenseman with some term left on his contract. (Pension Plan Puppets)

• Kyle Dubas might be looking for work if the Leafs don’t turn the season around. (Toronto Star)

Mike Hoffman started off his second half of the season on a good note. (Rat Trick)

• The women’s 3-on-3 game during All-Star weekend was a success. So, now what? (St. Louis Game-Time)

Jacob Markstrom needs to be really good for the Canucks in the second half of the season. (Canucks Army)

• Here’s three trade deadline options the Predators should explore. (On the Forecheck)

• Check out the top 10 moments from All-Star weekend. (NHL)

Alex Ovechkin reacted to the death of Kobe Bryant:

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

NHL All-Star Game 2020: Pacific wins, Pastrnak MVP, Laila shines

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The Pacific Division edged the Atlantic in the NHL All-Star Game final for 2020, with Connor McDavid setting up Tomas Hertl for the game-winner in St. Louis.

There was quite a bit else beyond that game though.

Fan-favorite Laila Anderson introduced the hometown Blues players, while Patrick Kane even got some cheers from Blues fans. There’s a complete rundown of the feel-good and exciting moments here.

As for the first two games of the night, the Atlantic beat the Metropolitan, while the Pacific ran away from the Central.

Format, rules for NHL All-Star Game

Four teams (one representing each of the Atlantic, Central, Metropolitan, and Pacific Divisions) square off in a two-round tournament. The three 20-minute games will be played 3-on-3.

In round one, the two Eastern Conference teams (Atlantic vs. Metropolitan) face off, while the two West teams (Central and Pacific) meet in the other bracket. The winners face off in round three.

Teams change ends at the 10-minute mark of each game. Shootouts decide any games that are tied after 20 minutes.

NHL All-Star Game jerseys

The NHL publicized those a few weeks ago. The goal was “to pay homage to the original sweaters of the St. Louis Blues and to transform the city’s acclaimed rhythm and blues history into a tangible form, the 2020 Honda NHL® All-Star Game jersey’s striping mimics a musical staff along the front and sleeves of the jersey. As another nod to the host city, the stitching elements are conducted in an eye-catching silver thread, inspired by the iconic Gateway Arch.”

Anyway, here’s what they look like:

All-Star Skills event

That was Friday night and, it seems a good time was had by all. Click here for a recap of the event, or watch the video below.

Recent NHL All-Star Game history: MVPs and winners

This represents the fifth time an NHL All-Star Game will go with this 3-on-3 format. Before that, the most recent format involved an entertaining (but maybe too embarrassing?) “fantasy draft” format. Since 1947, the NHL has gone with several other formats including Stanley Cup champions versus All-Stars, your typical clash of conferences, and North America vs. “The World.”

Here are the All-Star Game-winning teams in recent years. The events haven’t happened every season, as the Olympics and lockouts sometimes intervened.

2019: Metropolitan 10 – Central 5
2018: Pacific 5 – Atlantic 2
2017: Metropolitan 4 – Pacific 3
2016: Pacific 1 – Atlantic 0
2015: Team Toews 17 – Team Foligno 12
2012: Team Chara 12 – Team Alfredsson 9
2011: Team Lidstrom 11 – Team Staal 10
2009: East 12 – West 11 (OT)
2008: East 8 – West 7
2007: West 12 – East 9

Also, consider recent All-Star Game MVPs:

2019: Sidney Crosby
2018: Brock Boeser (quite memorably)
2017: Wayne Simmonds
2016: John Scott (also very memorably)
2015: Ryan Johansen
2012: Marian Gaborik
2011: Patrick Sharp
2009: Alex Kovalev
2008: Eric Staal
2007: Daniel Briere

NHL All-Star Game rosters

Here are the latest rosters from the league, which account for injuries and other absences.

Atlantic Division

David Pastrnak, BOS (2nd appearance) — captain

Tyler Bertuzzi, DET (1st)

Anthony Duclair, OTT (1st)

Jack Eichel, BUF (3rd)

Jonathan Huberdeau, FLA (1st)

F Mitchell Marner, TOR (1st)

Brady Tkachuk, OTT (1st)

Victor Hedman, TBL (3rd)

D Shea Weber, MTL (7th)

Frederik Andersen, TOR (1st)

Andrei Vasilevskiy, TBL (3rd)

Tuukka Rask, BOS, has chosen not to play. F Auston Matthews, TOR, will attend but not participate in on-ice activities because of a wrist condition.

Metropolitan Division

Kris Letang, PIT (6th appearance) — captain

Mathew Barzal, NYI (2nd)

Nico Hischier, NJD (1st)

Travis Konecny, PHI (1st)

T.J. Oshie, WSH (1st)

Chris Kreider, NYR (1st)

John Carlson, WSH (2nd)

Jaccob Slavin, CAR (1st)

Seth Jones, CBJ (3rd)

Braden Holtby, WSH (5th)

Tristan Jarry, PIT (1st)

Jake Guentzel, PIT, F Kyle Palmieri, NJD, D Dougie Hamilton, CAR, G Joonas Korpisalo, CBJ, and F Artemi Panarin, NYR, were replaced because of injury. F Alex Ovechkin, WSH (captain), has chosen not to play.

Central Division

F Nathan MacKinnon, COL (4th appearance) — captain

Patrick Kane, CHI (9th)

Ryan O’Reilly, STL (3rd)

David Perron, STL (1st)

Mark Scheifele, WPG (2nd)

Tyler Seguin, DAL (6th)

Eric Staal, MIN (6th)

Roman Josi, NSH (3rd)

Alex Pietrangelo, STL (2nd)

Jordan Binnington, STL (1st)

Connor Hellebuyck, WPG (2nd)

Pacific Division

F Connor McDavid, EDM (4th appearance) — captain

Leon Draisaitl, EDM (2nd)

Tomas Hertl, SJS (1st)

Anze Kopitar, LAK (5th)

Max Pacioretty, VGK (1st)

Elias Pettersson, VAN (2nd)

Matthew Tkachuk, CGY (1st)

Mark Giordano, CGY (3rd)

Quinn Hughes, VAN (1st)

Jacob Markstrom, VAN (1st)

David Rittich, CGY (1st)

Jakob Silfverberg (personal), ANA, F Logan Couture (injury), SJS, and G Darcy Kuemper (injury), ARI, were replaced. G Marc-Andre Fleury, VGK, has chosen not to play.

Elite Women’s 3-on-3 breakdown, rosters

The two teams will feature nine skaters and one goalie made up of U.S. and Canadian players who are part of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association — a group that is boycotting playing this season as they push for a sustainable professional league. The game will go by IIHF women’s rules and feature two 10-minute periods with running time. Penalties will result in penalty shots for the fouled team.

Here are the rosters:

American All-Stars (Coach: Cammi Granato)
F Alex Carpenter
F Kendall Coyne Schofield
F Brianna Decker
F Amanda Kessel
F Hilary Knight
F Jocelyn Lamoureux-Davidson
F Annie Pankowski
D Kacey Bellamy
D Lee Stecklein
G Alex Rigsby Cavallini

Canadian All-Stars (Coach: Jayna Hefford)
F Meghan Agosta
F Mélodie Daoust
F Rebecca Johnston
F Sarah Nurse
F Marie-Philip Poulin
F Natalie Spooner
F Blayre Turnbull
D Renata Fast
D Laura Fortino
G Ann-Renée Desbiens

Referees Kelly Cooke and Katie Guay and lineswomen Kendall Hanley and Kirsten Welsh will officiate the game.

The 2020 NHL All-Star Skills Competition will take place on Friday, Jan. 24 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2020 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 25 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

MORE NHL ALL-STAR GAME COVERAGE:
• All-Star Game rosters
• NHL All-Star Game captains
• All-Star Game coaches
• Pass or Fail: 2020 All-Star Game jerseys
• Alex Ovechkin will not play in 2020 All-Star Game
• NHL Skills Competition to feature women’s 3-on-3, pucks shot from stands

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.