Cam Atkinson

NHL Power Rankings: Incredible run takes Islanders to top spot

6 Comments

In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we move the New York Islanders to the top spot because it is really the only logical choice.

They have the best record in hockey, they are on an incredible 15-0-2 run that has seen them collect a point in 17 consecutive games, and they continue to prove to any lingering doubter still waiting for them to fail that their 2018-19 turnaround was no fluke.

One of the biggest drivers of their recent stretch has been the play of the Brock Nelson, Anthony Beauvillier, and Derick Brassard line that has been dominant over the past few weeks. They helped keep the point streak alive in Pittsburgh this past week by powering a late third period rally. This season that trio has outscored teams by an 8-2 margin when together during 5-on-5 play while they have been one of the team’s most dangerous lines offensively.

Along with them, Mathew Barzal has been better than a point-per-game player during the streak, the defense has been a rock, and the goaltending duo of Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss has been outstanding (especially Greiss).

Right now they are the only choice for the top spot.

After them, we have a couple of new teams crack the top-five this week.

Where does your team currently sit?

To the rankings!

1. New York Islanders. Lot of under-the-radar contributors for this team but perhaps none more than Brassard who seems to have rediscovered his career here.

2. Boston Bruins. Only five players in Bruins history have scored 50 goals in a season, and no one has done it since Cam Neely during the 1993-94 season. David Pastrnak has 59 games to get 30 goals to accomplish it. He can do it.

3. Dallas Stars. A few weeks ago they looked like a team that needed a coaching change. Since then they are 13-1-1, have rocketed up the standings, and are looking like the team they were supposed to be. Great goaltending helps a lot.

4. Washington Capitals. Would not be a surprise to see this team playing into mid-June and skating around with a big trophy at the end of it.

5. Carolina Hurricanes. That four-game losing streak at the start of November is looking like a distant memory. They have won six out of seven and seem to be back on track.

6. Edmonton Oilers. I give them credit for opening the week with the best record in the Western Conference. I am still having trouble going all in on them, though. After starting the season 7-1-0 they have played 18 games and won nine of them. That is … okay.  They are still entirely dependent on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to be better than everyone else.

7. St. Louis Blues. It is impressive the way they have collected points without Vladimir Tarasenko but the offense is still a big question mark.

8. Tampa Bay Lightning. It seems like this sleeping giant is starting to wake up.

9. Arizona Coyotes. One of the league’s best goaltending duos is turning them into a playoff team.

10. Pittsburgh Penguins. Mike Sullivan is turning in a Jack Adams level coaching performance this season. Everything about the way this team is playing points to a Stanley Cup contender if they can just keep their best players on the ice.

11. Colorado Avalanche. Once Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog return they will be back in the top-five in a very short period of time. Cale Makar, meanwhile, looks like he is ready to start running away with the rookie of the year race.

12. San Jose Sharks. They are finally starting to look like the Sharks again — a great team that can overcome consistently sup-par goaltending.

13. Winnipeg Jets. Connor Hellebuyck is playing the best hockey of his career and is not getting enough credit for it.

14. Florida Panthers. The Panthers are in the same position as they were a year ago where a playoff caliber offense is getting sunk by lousy goaltending. The problem this year is they just gave a goalie $70 million over seven years in an effort to solve the goaltending problem.

15. New York Rangers. They are very quietly hanging around and starting to play better. Artemi Panarin has been worth every penny.

16. Montreal Canadiens. Losing Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron is going to be a lot for this team to overcome right now offensively.

17. Vegas Golden Knights. They still have not won a game this season that Marc-Andre Fleury has not started. That is a problem, because they can not rely on him to play 65 games.

18. Vancouver Canucks. This current road trip is going to be a big test for them. So far it is off to a promising start.

19. Toronto Maple Leafs. It is only two games but they have looked like a completely different team with Sheldon Keefe behind the bench. Do not be surprised if it continues. This team needed a coach that would let them play to their strength. They needed this change.

20. Philadelphia Flyers. We just need to accept this fact this team is capable of winning six games in a row at any time and losing six games in a row at any time. Which team will you get? That is the mystery!

21. Buffalo Sabres. This season is starting to look an awful lot like the 2018-19 season in Buffalo. This team really does not do anything well.

22. Nashville Predators. Viktor Arvidsson is out for more than a month because of a cheap shot, and Kyle Turris can no longer seem to crack the lineup. There are a lot of problems in Nashville right now.

23. Ottawa Senators. They are not a playoff team right now, but they are not rolling over and giving up. They are a tough team to play right now.

24. Chicago Blackhawks. That four-game winning streak made things a little interesting in Chicago, but they have followed it up with three consecutive losses and their schedule over the next five games is brutal (Dallas, Colorado twice, St. Louis, and Boston).

25. Columbus Blue Jackets. Cam Atkinson only having four goals through the first 22 games of the season is a big problem. He has been one of the most underrated goal-scorers in the league and they need him to get rolling again.

26. Calgary Flames. You had to expect some regression this season, but this is a little much.

27. New Jersey Devils. They made all of those moves this summer and ignored the biggest weakness on the team (their goalies). Very strange.

28. Minnesota Wild. They were two minutes away from putting together their first three-game winning streak of the season, only to completely fall apart against Boston.

29. Los Angeles Kings. Anze Kopitar is having the bounce-back season the Kings needed him to have. Jonathan Quick is not.

30. Anaheim Ducks. Even the goaltending is not there to bail them out right now.

31. Detroit Red Wings. The only good news for the Red Wings is they have a great head start on getting the best draft lottery odds.

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.

NHL on NBCSN: Shattenkirk finds perfect fit in new role with Lightning

Getty Images
1 Comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

There were four days between the Rangers buying out the final two years of Kevin Shattenkirk’s contract and the Lightning signing the 30-year-old defenseman to a one-year deal. Despite how swift his fortunes changed, there was a period of anger and frustration at not being able to make the “hometown boy returns” story work out.

Shattenkirk hails from New Rochelle, N.Y., which is about 20 miles outside of New York City. When he became an unrestricted free agent in 2017, it was clear that the Rangers would be atop his preferred destinations list. He would sign a four-year, $26.6 million deal to head home, but nothing went right during his two-season stop in the Big Apple.

During training camp in 2017 Shattenkirk suffered a meniscus tear in his left knee, an injury that would bother him during his entire tenure in New York. He played only 46 games in 2017-18, with surgery ending his season that January. Last season he managed to get into 73 games, but it was clear he wasn’t himself. He scored only two goals and recorded 28 points and was healthy scratched while trying to fight through the knee issue.

When the Rangers made the buyout official on August 1, he felt plenty of emotions.

“On a personal level, for not being able to make it work from my end, and when a team makes that decision you want to prove them wrong,” Shattenkirk told NBC Sports on Monday. 

Shattenkirk was at a low point and began to question himself. But then the phone started to ring. Considering he’d been bought out, a team looking to add to its blue line wouldn’t need to shell out major bucks to sign him, and would be banking on a bounce-back season from the now-healthy defenseman. It was a rollercoaster few days, but the interest level from other NHL teams helped restore his confidence.

“All of a sudden you start to realize that there are a lot of teams out there that could use you and may value you,” he said. “In my mind, it was something I was able to move through pretty quickly and it allowed me to focus on the season again. I was pretty driven this summer to have a big bounce-back season regardless of where I was. I think being able to know I was coming to Tampa and being on this calibre of a team, I wanted to make sure I was ready to go when the time training camp started.”

The knee injury is in the past now and the results show it. Shattenkirk, who’s been mostly paired with Victor Hedman, is third on the Lightning in minutes played, averaging 20:30 a night, and he’s tied for fourth on the team in points with seven, which includes four goals. The pressures of having to perform in your hometown or having to play like a No. 1 defenseman and produce on a regular basis is absent now in Tampa.

“There’s a lot of guys who are above me in that role and it just allows me to fit in to my role perfectly,” he said. “It’s been comforting, it’s been nice to be here. Great group of guys, great fans, and I think they all appreciate for what I bring to the table. It’s up to me to not try to be more than they need me to be.”

Shattenkirk spent this past summer training in Connecticut with Ben Prentiss, who has worked with NHLers James van Riemsdyk, Jonathan Quick, Cam Atkinson, Charlie McAvoy, and Jack Eichel, among many others. He also focused on edge work in his skating with skills coach Erik Nates, whom Shattenkirk has used in the past.

“When you have an injury like [my knee], you tend to overcompensate and you don’t realize you’re losing a lot in your stride,” he said. “I had a lot of bad habits in there I needed to break. It helped me out tremendously.”

A healthy Shattenkirk returns to New York City Tuesday night for the first time as a member of the Lightning. Because Tampa’s games this week are at the Rangers, Devils, and Islanders, family and friends in the area won’t descend upon one specific game, they’ll instead spread out among the three, and others will be watching from Mustang Harry’s, a sports bar not far from Madison Square Garden.

It remains to be seen what kind of salute the Rangers have in store for Shattenkirk. The defenseman said he wasn’t sure what kind of reception he would receive from the Garden faithful, but knowing the area as well as he does, he’s ready for anything.

“I had a great time playing there. They were very supportive of me and obviously knowing what I was going through,” he said. “But it’s New York, and if you don’t perform in New York they have something to say about it. I’m sure there’ll be a couple of boo birds out [Tuesday] night, but that’s New York, and that’s something I’m accustomed to growing up there and being a New York fan. In a way, it’ll probably make me laugh a little bit on the inside, but that’s how you’ve got to approach it and we’ll see how it goes.”

Brendan Burke and Pierre McGuire will call Lightning-Rangers from Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y. Paul Burmeister will anchor tonight’s studio coverage with Jeremy Roenick and Patrick Sharp.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Blue Jackets haven’t fallen apart without Panarin, Bobrovsky

4 Comments

After Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and Matt Duchene all walked in free agency, outside expectations for the Columbus Blue Jackets weren’t very high. Why would they be? Panarin was their most talented player and Bobrovsky was a two-time Vezina Trophy winner. But through 10 games, they’ve found a way to keep their head above water.

The Jackets head into this weekend with a 5-3-2 record, which is good enough to put them in a Wild Card spot right now. Yes, we’re 10 games into the season, but that little factoid is important when comparing their work to the rest of the Eastern Conference.

Without Panarin, the offense has produced exactly the way you’d imagine. They don’t have anybody that’s scored more than six points in 10 games, but they have received plenty of contributions from different players. As of right now, nine players on the roster have scored at least two goals and 14 players have found the back of the net at least once.

Pierre-Luc Dubois leads in the team in goals, with 4, and he’s tied for the scoring lead with six points. That puts the 21-year-old on pace to score a solid 33 goals and 49 points this season. The only way to have success when your leading scorer is on pace for under 50 points is for everyone behind him to contribute too. So far so good in that respect.

The fight this team has shown has been nothing short of impressive. For example, in last night’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus found themselves down 3-1 after the first period. Thanks to goals by Ryan Murray and Sonny Milano, they managed to even the score before Cam Atkinson won it in OT.

“It was another opportunity presented to us as far as not blowing up starting that second period,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said after the game, per NHL.com. “We need to stay patient, not try to score. We just need to stay above the puck. It’s such a fast team over there.

“So we kept our patience, played above the puck and probably played, out of all the minutes we’ve put in this year, probably the fastest we’ve played as far as our transition.”

The other pleasant surprise is Joonas Korpisalo, who has done a good job between the pipes for the Jackets this year. The 25-year-old has won four of his last five games. If he can continue to keep them in games, they’ll be one of the teams fighting for a playoff spot near the end of the season.
It’s important to note that this is a small sample size, but 10 games isn’t insignificant either. Most of the hockey world may have been guilty of overlooking players like Dubois, Atkinson, Seth Jones and Zach Werenski coming into this season, so it’s up to them to continue to prove people wrong.
Even though the Blue Jackest are a middle-of-the-pack team when it comes to goals scored (16) and goals against (32), they’re finding the way to get the job done with a committee of contributors. That’s definitely not a the sexy approach, but if it’s effective enough to get them back into the playoffs, that’s what they’ll continue to do.
“I don’t know what we are yet,” Tortorella said via The Athletic. “It’s 10 games. You can’t say ‘You are this’ after 10 games, but we certainly have shown some resilience here.”

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.

The Buzzer: Samsonov shines in Capitals’ debut; Konecny’s big day

Getty
3 Comments

Three Stars

1. Travis Konecny, Philadelphia Flyers. After signing a new six-year contract a couple of weeks ago, Konecny was able to get off to a great start for the season when he scored a pair of goals in the Flyers’ 4-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. He opened the scoring early in the first period then added a highlight reel backhander (see below) later in the game to pad the Flyers’ lead. He has scored 24 goals in back-to-back seasons and they are expecting even bigger things from him this season.

2. Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals. It was a big night for the Capitals’ rookie goalie as he made his NHL debut and stopped 25 of thee 26 shots he faced in a 2-1 win over the New York Islanders. With Braden Holtby‘s contract situation unsettled beyond this season it is entirely possible that this is the first of many wins for the rookie netminder. He made a couple of highlight reel saves in the win, while the only goal he allowed was a complete fluke of a play.

3. Neal Pionk, Winnipeg Jets. The Jets’ defense is a big point of concern this season and if that unit is going to make a positive impact they are going to need Pionk to have a big season. He had a huge game on Friday with two points, including the game-tying goal in the third period to help complete the Jets’ late rally as they spoiled Jack Hughes‘ NHL debut.

Highlights of the Night

There were a couple of incredible goals on Friday, starting with Travis Konecny’s highlight reel goal against the Blackhawks.

Auston Matthews continued his fast start to the season with this absolute rocket of a shot in the Maple Leafs’ 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The goal of the night, however, belonged to Devils forward Blake Coleman, scoring his second goal of the game on a completely ridiculous one-handed shot.

Blooper of the Night

The only goal Samsonov surrendered on Friday night was this wild mess of a play that saw the puck bounce off multiple Capitals’ player skates. This goes in the books as a goal for Islanders defender Devon Toews, but he needed a lot of help.

Factoids

  • Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury became the 16th goalie to appear in 800 regular season NHL games. [NHL PR]
  • Friday night was just the second time Jets franchise has overcome a 4-0 deficit to win. [NHL PR]
  • It came in a losing effort, but Columbus Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson scored in his sixth consecutive season opening game. [NHL PR]
  • The Golden Knights became just the 14th team in NHL history to record a shorthanded goal in each of their first two games of a season. They scored two shorthanded goals in their rout of the Sharks. Tomas Nosek scored two goals in the win, including one of the shorthanded tallies.  [NHL PR]
  • New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz told Al Arbour for third on the NHL’s all-time games coached list. [NHL PR]

Scores

Philadelphia Flyers 4, Chicago Blackhawks 3

Washington Capitals 2, New York Islanders 1

Winnipeg Jets 5, New Jersey Devils 4 (SO)

Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Columbus Blue Jackets 1

Vegas Golden Knights 5, San Jose Sharks 1

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Blue Jackets look to Swedish players for scoring punch

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Columbus Blue Jackets are looking to Sweden to help fill the scoring void left by departed star forward Artemi Panarin.

More specifically, the Blue Jackets are relying on a quartet of Swedes – two of them rookies who haven’t played in North America before – for some scoring punch as they open the season Friday night against Toronto at Nationwide Arena.

Twenty-year-old Emil Bemstrom and 26-year-old Jakob Lilja played together on the same Swedish elite league team last year, and both made the Blue Jackets’ opening night roster out of coach John Tortorella’s notoriously rigorous training camp.

Bemstrom, a fourth-round pick of the Blue Jackets in the 2017 draft, was a scoring machine in Sweden. Lilja was signed as a free agent and impressed the Blue Jackets in the prospects tournament in Michigan. Both could end up skating together on the fourth line on either side of veteran Riley Nash.

”It’s a really different game,” Lilja said. ”Smaller ice, so like if you lose the puck in the wrong places it’s creating scoring chances right away. The players are really skilled, so you don’t want to lose the puck to them. Overall, it’s like a high-speed game. Even at the pro level in Sweden it’s really defensive. So just better players and smaller ice, so everything goes a little bit faster.”

The other two members of the Swedish coalition will be expected to bear more of the burden as the Blue Jackets try to return to the playoffs for the fourth straight season.

Center Alexander Wennberg, 25, will try to fulfill the great promise he showed three seasons ago when he put up 59 points for Columbus and seemed poised to break out. Veteran Gustav Nyquist is a solid top-six forward who was signed as a free agent after registering 60 points last season with Detroit and San Jose. The two are slated to skate together on the second line.

Rookie Alexandre Texier is expected to take Panarin’s place on the top line with center Pierre-Luc Dubois and winger Cam Atkinson . Team veterans including captain Nick Foligno, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Boone Jenner and Josh Anderson all will have to step it up to compensate for the loss of Panarin’s team-leading 87 points a season ago.

No worries about the blue line, though.

Zach Werenski and Seth Jones continue to make up one of the best defensive pairings in the NHL, and there is some good depth behind them.

Joonas Korpisalo will be given a chance to be the everyday goalie after the free-agent departure of Vezina Trophy-winning stopper Sergei Bobrovsky, who is now with Florida. Rookie Elvis Merlikins also will see time in the net.

Last season was filled with drama surrounding the pending departures of Panarin and Bobrovsky. Tortorella said none of that is hanging in the air anymore.

”I think as the season begins here and all the questions start coming our way, I think there’s an inner camaraderie about the definition of guys wanting to be here,” he said. ”I think that’s really important, to have a team that’s going to try to be competitive in this league and stay competitive, is people wanting to be here. We have that. I think they’re rallying around that. This will grow as the season goes on.”