Svechnikov making huge impact for Hurricanes

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For the better part of the past decade there have always been two things consistently holding the Carolina Hurricanes back.

The obvious one that always got the most attention was the fact they could never get their goaltending situation quite right.

Cam Ward never recaptured the magic he had during his rookie season Stanley Cup run, and there always seemed to be a revolving door of potential replacements that just could not fill that role.

The other big factor, one that always seemed to get overlooked in an endless barrage of “why can’t this team ever find a goalie,” was the fact that for all of their dominance as a puck possession team on the shot chart, they never really had any forwards that were great finishers. Jeff Skinner was really good for a few years, but he was always the only one and he could never do it all on his own.

The emergence of Sebastian Aho as a bonafide star, as well as the in-season trade for Nino Niederreiter, have helped address that issue in the short-term. But there is another player on the roster that might make an even bigger impact in that area in the future, and he is starting to make his presence felt as the Hurricanes enter the stretch run of the regular season and look to secure their first playoff berth since the 2008-09 season.

That player: No. 2 overall pick Andrei Svechnikov.

When the Hurricanes picked Svechnikov at the top of the 2018 draft there was obviously a great deal of hope that he could become a superstar player for the organization, and maybe the type of elite goal-scorer every contending team needs to win.

His performance as a rookie should give Hurricanes fans — and the team itself — a lot of hope that he can blossom into that type of player.

Perhaps sooner rather than later.

He is not going to win the Calder Trophy because Vancouver Canucks phenom Elias Pettersson seems to already have that award locked up (while goalies Jordan Binnington and Carter Hart are making pretty strong runs of their own), but we should not overlook just how good his rookie season has been. Because it has been outstanding, and probably better than you realize.

His overtime goal on Sunday night, lifting the Hurricanes to another come-from-behind win where they turned what looked to be a frustrating loss into an improbable victory, was his 20th of the season, a mark that is good enough for third on the team behind only Aho and team captain Justin Williams.

That alone is impressive for a rookie, but also consider the fact that he is still only 18 years old.

Hitting the 20-goal mark at this stage of his development puts him in some pretty exclusive company.

First, he is just the 22nd player to ever score at least 20 goals in the NHL as an 18-year-old.

Eleven of those previous instances took place between 1980 and 1993 when goal-scoring in the NHL was at its peak. He is one of just eight players to do it since 1994, a list that includes only Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Steven Stamkos and Patrik Laine.

Not impressive enough?

Consider that his shooting percentage of 11.6 is the second lowest of any of the previous 18-year-olds to top the 20-goal mark, which should really be seen as a positive sign for the future as it indicates that he isn’t really benefitting from a strong run of good luck, or that any of this early success is a fluke. He is generating more than 2.30 shots per game, which is the fourth most of any rookie in the NHL this season regardless of age even though he is only averaging around 14 minutes of ice-time per game.

When you take his ice-time into account his ability to generate shots and chances (and goals) looks even better.

Of the 150 forwards that have played at least 900 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this season, Svechnikov ranks 33rd in total shot attempts per 60 minutes, and 22nd in shots on goal per 60 minutes. The biggest part of scoring goals is actually putting yourself in a position to take shots and having the ability to get them on net. At 18, he is already showing that he has the ability to do that at a top-line level. 

Over Carolina’s past seven games, he has five goals, including Sunday’s game-winner and two in a 3-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche where he had a hand in every goal the Hurricanes scored (he scored two of them himself).

The Hurricanes have been one of the NHL’s best teams for three months now and have an exciting young core of players in place.

Out of their top-12 scorers this season, only four of them (Justin Williams at 37, Michael Ferland, Nino Niederreiter, and Jordan Martinook all at 26) are over the age of 25.

Six of them are age 24 or younger, including the 21-year-old Aho and still 18-year-old Svechnikov.

Together, those two are looking they could be one of the league’s most exciting duos for years to come and be the foundation of a team that might finally put hockey in Carolina back on the NHL’s map.

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.

PHT Power Rankings: Golden Knights emerging as West’s best

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The only thing crazier than an expansion team reaching the Stanley Cup Final in its first year of existence would be that same team showing that it wasn’t a fluke and doing it again in year two.

The Vegas Golden Knights still have a long way to go before they do that, but they are not only starting to look perfectly capable of going on such a run, they are starting to look like they might be the team to beat in the Western Conference.

Overall, their record is not going to be the best one in the West, and they are probably going to win fewer games than they did a year ago. That should not overshadow the fact this team is looking outstanding at the right time of year, and especially after adding Mark Stone at the trade deadline.

Just look at what they have done over their past 20 games dating back to early February.

  • Their 12-6-2 record during that stretch is the second best in the West, trailing only the St. Louis Blues.
  • Their underlying numbers are as good as any team in the NHL since then, currently sitting third in Corsi Percentage (53.7 percent), third in scoring chance percentage (54.1), and first in high-danger scoring chance percentage (57.6).
  • Their newly formed line of Stone, Max Pacioretty, and Paul Stastny has been dominant and gives them three scoring lines that are capable of beating any team on any night.

It is also not just about what they are doing that makes them such a strong contender. It is also about the rest of the teams around them because, honestly, who else is looking great right now in the West?

The San Jose Sharks should probably be the top contender, but their goaltending is a mess and might just be bad enough to sink a potential Cup team.

The Calgary Flames are the only team in the West that has underlying numbers that compare to Vegas’ over the past 20 games, but their playoff chances seem to be resting on the shoulders of a relatively unproven goalie in David Rittich. There is a risk there.

The Nashville Predators have not looked right for more than a month now.

Pretty much every other team in the playoff mix seems to have some sort of major question mark around them.

They may not have the best record, but with the way they are playing right now it is hard to find a team that looks tougher than the Golden Knights.

They reach the third spot in this week’s edition of the PHT Power Rankings.

Where does everyone else sit this week?

To the rankings!

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — Whether they end up winning the Stanley Cup or not they might be one of the best single season teams the NHL has ever seen, at least based on what they have done during the 2018-19 regular season.

2. Boston Bruins — It almost seems like their dominance this season has slid under the radar. They have been one of the best teams in the league despite being consistently crushed by injuries. Maybe their depth is better than we gave them credit for at the start of the season? Bruce Cassidy should be in the Jack Adams Award discussion.

3. Vegas Golden Knights — They have been dominant since the trade deadline. A lot of their success will simply depend on the health of Marc-Andre Fleury and how he plays in the playoffs.

4. Calgary Flames — Johnny Gaudreau should be a top-five vote-getter in the MVP race and Mark Giordano might be the Norris Trophy winner. Those two are a big reason why the Flames are on their way to winning just their second division title over the past two decades.

5. Winnipeg Jets — Maybe starting to play their best hockey at the right time of year. Getting Dustin Byfuglien back would be a huge lift, as would a goal scoring binge from Patrik Laine.

6. Washington Capitals — They have looked like a championship caliber team since the trade deadline. Losing Michal Kempny will hurt, but the additions of Carl Hagelin and Nick Jensen have really helped their overall defensive play.

[Related: Carl Hagelin is just what the Capitals needed]

7. Pittsburgh Penguins — If Matt Murray keeps playing the way he has been since mid-December this is going to be a very difficult team to beat, especially once Evgeni Malkin returns to the lineup.

8. Carolina Hurricanes — They are 25-9-2 since Dec. 31. The addition of Nino Niederreiter has been significant, but now No. 2 overall pick Andrei Svechnikov is starting to emerge as a big-time goal-scoring threat.

9. St. Louis Blues — Don’t look now but they have a really good chance of snagging home-ice advantage in the first-round of the playoffs. Who saw that happening after the way they started the season?

10. San Jose Sharks — When it comes to their forwards and defense they might be the best team in the Western Conference, especially when Erik Karlsson is healthy. They should be the runaway favorite to win the West given their roster and the way they are capable of playing. But they have lost five in a row and there is no way you can trust their goaltending right now against anybody.

[Related: Sharks’ goaltending is historically bad for Stanley Cup contender]

11. Toronto Maple Leafs — There seems to be a real “sky is falling” mentality around this team  as of late, only further showing how much pressure this team is going to be under to win. Another first-round exit in the playoffs, no matter who they have to play, will not be viewed as acceptable.

12. New York Islanders — They are still in contention for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division but have only been a .500 team for more than a month. That said, if the goaltending holds up they will have a chance to win every night.

13. Nashville Predators — The Predators have not looked right for a while now, and that 5-0 loss to Winnipeg with what was probably their best shot at the Central Division title on the line was concerning. Also concerning: What in the world has happened to Kyle Turris this season?

14. Colorado Avalanche — The Gabriel Landeskog injury seemed like it might be the end of their playoff chances, but Nathan MacKinnon just wanted to remind everyone that he is one of the league’s best players and can carry a team.

15. Montreal Canadiens — Here is a nightmare situation for the Lightning: You dominate the entire regular season and your reward is a potential first-round matchup against a goalie in Carey Price that could easily ruin a season in seven games if he gets hot. Not saying it will happen, not even saying it might happen. But it could happen.

16. Dallas Stars — The more this season goes on, the more ridiculous team CEO Jim Lites’ comments about Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn seem. The Stars only have three forwards with more than 27 points this season — Seguin, Benn, and Alexander Radulov. That trio, along with the play of goalies Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin, are going to carry this team to the playoffs.

17. Minnesota Wild — They looked like they were going to show some surprising fight to make the playoffs after some big trades that no doubt made them worse in the short-term, but they have since gone in the tank with only three wins in their past 11 games. They are still, somehow, only two points out of a Wild Card spot as of Monday.

18. Chicago Blackhawks –– The win on Sunday against Colorado kept their slim playoff hopes alive, but they are a real long shot at this point.

19. Columbus Blue Jackets — If they had lost to the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night their season might already be over. The fact it has reached that point after all of the moves they made at the trade deadline is stunning. If they do not make the playoffs it is going to be fascinating to see what happens to the general manager (who is apparently not happy with how the team is playing) and the coach, and how future teams in a similar situation handle the trade deadline.

20. Arizona Coyotes — The offense has failed them at the worst possible time. They have lost five games in a row, scoring only six goals during that stretch. They have wasted some great goaltending from Darcy Kuemper.

21. Florida Panthers — Honestly, they might only be a goalie away. I just don’t know if the goalie they seem willing to throw the bank at this summer (Sergei Bobrovsky) is the right goalie to get them there at this stage of his career.

22. Philadelphia Flyers — Carter Hart looks legit, and their overall record under Scott Gordon is very good, but I think that record is a mirage. They can not think everything is fine just because they have won some games in the second half of the season. The process behind the results matters, too, and the process is not good enough.

23. Anaheim Ducks — Some discouraging news as it relates to Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves this week. In less discouraging news, John Gibson has been outstanding lately in net.

24. Vancouver Canucks — Excluding the Golden Knights, who have only played two seasons in the NHL, no team in the league has won fewer games over the past four years than the Canucks, and they once again will still not be bad enough to have a great shot at the No. 1 overall pick. It is truly an incredible accomplishment to be that consistently bad but not quite be bad enough to get yourself a position to get the top pick. If any fan base deserves some lottery ball luck this year, it is this one.

25. Edmonton Oilers — There is no other team in the NHL that could have had a situation like the Tobias Rieder-Bob Nicholson one. Sure, there was another team’s CEO that threw a handful of players under the bus this season and blamed them for the team’s struggles, but blaming a fourth-liner? Total insanity.

[Related: Rieder responds to CEO criticism]

26. New York Rangers — In a season like this you have to look for the small victories anywhere you can get them. Beating the Toronto Maple Leafs over the weekend was one. Pavel Buchnevich maybe reaching the 20-goal mark while missing nearly 20 games would be another.

27. Los Angeles Kings — Jonathan Quick‘s .891 save percentage is one of the absolute worst in the NHL this season. Jack Campbell and Calvin Petersen in 31 games between them, playing behind the same team, both have a save percentage of .923 or better. What is most shocking about that is those two are still only 12-17-2 on the season even with their great play in net, a strong indication that the team is just badly flawed all over the roster. Also their big free agent acquisition does not seem to fit with the current coach.

28. Detroit Red Wings — Bringing back Jimmy Howard for another season is not the worst decision in the world, but at some point they are going to have to find a long-term solution in goal. That player does not yet seem to be anywhere in the organization.

29. New Jersey Devils — There was reason to be skeptical of this team being as good as it was a year ago, but the injury situation has absolutely not helped. Just a tough year all around.

30. Ottawa Senators — They still have the worst record in the league, they will still likely finish there, and there is a very real chance their draft pick, which now belongs to the Avalanche, will be the No. 1 overall pick which will be another level of embarrassment on what is already a difficult rebuild for Senators fans. That said, the players that are still there are playing hard and it has produced a couple of impressive wins over the past week, shutting out the Blues and a four-goal win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

31. Buffalo Sabres — On November 27 the Sabres won their 10th game in a row and had the best record in the NHL. Since then they are 14-28-7 and that is the NHL’s worst record during that stretch. That is how you have one of the league’s longest winning streaks of the season and still find yourself 17 points out of a playoff spot in late March. That is deserving of the bottom spot this week.

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.

The Buzzer: Islanders reclaim top spot in Metro; Flames clinch playoff spot

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Three Stars

1. Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers. This is the player the Philadelphia Flyers have been waiting decades for, a goalie that can be a difference-maker (for the better!) and steal them the occasional game. That is exactly what Carter Hart did on Sunday night as he stopped 41 of 42 shots he faced and gave his team a chance to score two late goals, one with 19 seconds remaining in regulation and another with three seconds remaining in overtime, to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, keeping their slim playoff hopes for at least another day. Read all about it here.

2. Brock Nelson, New York Islanders. The New York Islanders reclaimed the top spot in the Metropolitan Division with a 3-2 overtime win against the Minnesota Wild. Mathew Barzal had two more assists in the win, but it was Brock Nelson that gets the star in this one for his two points, including the overtime winner. He is now up to 47 points on the season, setting a new career-high with still 10 games remaining on the regular season schedule.

3. Tyson Barrie, Colorado Avalanche. The Colorado Avalanche have no margin for error the rest of the way and need to win as many games as possible if they are going to get back into a playoff position. Sunday’s 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils was a good place to start with Tyson Barrie’s two goals leading the way. He is now up to nine goals on the season and is just one goal away from what would be his fifth season with double-digit goals. There are only 17 active defenders in the NHL with at least that many in their career.

Other notable performances and notes from Sunday

  • Jonathan Marchessault scored two goals to help the Vegas Golden Knights keep rolling in a 6-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers. Read all about it here.
  • Entering play on Sunday Vancouver Canucks forward Tim Schaller had appeared in 37 games this season without scoring a goal. He scored two in the Canucks’ 3-2 shootout win over the Dallas Stars.
  • Alex Nylander had a pair of assists to help the Buffalo Sabres pick up a 4-3 shootout win over the St. Louis Blues.
  • Jakob Silfverberg‘s late third period goal was the difference in the Anaheim Ducks’ 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers. Not getting a point might be enough to put an end to the Panthers’ playoff chances.
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins will be without Evgeni Malkin on a week-to-week basis due to an undisclosed upper-body injury. Read all about it here.

Highlights of the Night

Carter Hart was the star of the game for the Philadelphia Flyers in their win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, but Sean Couturier made the play of the game to score the game-winning goal with just three seconds to play in overtime.

The Minnesota Wild did not get the result they wanted, but they were still able to get at least one point on Sunday night thanks in large part to this incredible goal from Zach Parise.

Tyson Barrie provided enough offense for the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday afternoon and Philip Grubauer stopped all 22 shots he faced to help their team get two important points to keep them in pursuit of a playoff spot. This is Grubauer’s best save of the day.

Factoids

  • The Calgary Flames did not even play on Sunday night but they still became the first team to clinch a playoff spot in the Western Conference thanks to the Minnesota Wild’s overtime loss to the New York Islanders. [Calgary Flames]
  • It came in a losing effort, but Connor McDavid is the first player since Vincent Lecavalier to record multiple points in at least eight consecutive games since Vincent Lecavalier in 2007. [NHL PR]
  • The Minnesota Wild have lost six of their past seven games that have gone to overtime or shootout. Those are big points to leave on the table, especially considering they are just one point out of a playoff spot as of this posting. [Michael Russo]

Scores

Colorado Avalanche 3, New Jersey Devils 0

Buffalo Sabres 4, St. Louis Blues 3 (SO)

New York Islanders 3, Minnesota Wild 2 (OT)

Vancouver Canucks 3, Dallas Stars 2 (SO)

Philadelphia Flyers 2, Pittsburgh Penguins 1 (OT)

Anaheim Ducks 3, Florida Panthers 2

Vegas Golden Knights 6, Edmonton Oilers 3

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.

Hart, Flyers steal two points with late surge against Penguins

The Philadelphia Flyers looked like they were less than 20 seconds away from having what was left of their playoff chances completely erased. Somehow, though, there remains some small amount of hope thanks to their stunning 2-1 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins that looked to be a carbon copy of their Stadium Series win over their cross-state rivals just a few weeks earlier.

James van Riemsdyk scored the game-tying goal with just 19 seconds remaining in regulation to send the game to overtime, where Sean Couturier would tally the game-winner with just three seconds to play after he skated around Penguins captain Sidney Crosby in the neutral zone.

The Flyers are still six points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, so the odds are still overwhelmingly stacked against them, but coming away with zero points on Sunday would have probably been enough to completely end their chances.

When these two teams met in late February in the Stadium Series game at Lincoln Financial Field the Flyers trailed by two goals with less than four minutes to play and needed a last-minute game-tying goal to force overtime, only to win it early in the extra period.

They did nearly the same thing on Sunday.

The other big development that stood out in this game for the Flyers was the sensational play of goalie Carter Hart.

Appearing in just his second game since returning from injury, Hart played one of the best games of his young career by turning around 41 of the 42 shots he faced, including several dangerous scoring chances in the second period to help keep the game scoreless.

This is the type of performance that has to give Flyers fans — and the Flyers themselves — hope for the immediate future.

Nothing can change the direction of a team more than a franchise goalie, and after decades of searching the Flyers may have finally found somebody that can actually claim that title. Yes, it has only been 24 games at this point, but the early returns have been everything the Flyers could have hoped for from their top prospect. His arrival has been one of the biggest factors in their second half turnaround that has allowed them to at least get somewhat closer to a playoff spot.

Teddy Blueger was the only Penguin to beat him on Sunday night, pouncing on a rebound in front of the net early in the third period.

Blueger was skating on the Penguins’ second line on Sunday night in place of Evgeni Malkin who missed the game due to an upper-body injury suffered on Saturday.

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.

Flyers’ Carter Hart returns for huge game against Capitals

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Entering their game against the Washington Capitals on Thursday night the Philadelphia Flyers have what is considered to be an 8 percent chance of making the playoffs.

Not something that is very likely to happen, but they are also not totally finished. They sit five points back of the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference with 13 games to play and have almost zero margin for error. They not only need to keep winning (something they have done a lot of lately with a 19-5-2 record in their past 26 games), but they are also going to need some help from the teams ahead of them to lose a couple of extra games.

The first and most important step is the winning, and Thursday’s game starts what could be a decisive 24-hour stretch for the Flyers’ slim playoff hopes, and they will be turning back to rookie goalie Carter Hart who will be making his first start after missing the past three weeks due to injury.

Hart has been sidelined since Feb. 21, and his last two appearances prior to that were not exactly his best outings of the season, playing just 10 minutes in each of them and giving up three goals on nine shots (in both appearances). That has proven to be a rare speed bump for him since making his NHL debut as he currently carries a .917 save percentage, while giving the organization and its fans some hope that maybe, finally, after decades of frustration, they have found a capable starting goalie.

Now, in his first game back in the lineup he is getting thrown to the wolves against the defending Stanley Cup champions who have won seven out of their past eight games and are finally starting to play like a championship level team.

So here is the situation the Flyers are facing starting on Thursday.

  • A win, combined with a Montreal loss in regulation to the Islanders, would pull them to within three points of the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.
  • On the other hand, a Flyers loss, combined with a Montreal win, would push them to seven points back and really put them in a hole that may be too deep to get out of.
  • The Flyers are then right back in action on Friday night against a dangerous, and what will be a rested, Toronto Maple Leafs team, while the Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets — two of the teams the Flyers are chasing — meet in a head-to-head matchup, meaning at least one team is coming out of that game with two points.
  • After all of that, they have to travel to Pittsburgh for a game with the Penguins on Sunday night.

So that is what is at stake for the Flyers in the short-term. If they can find a way to beat two of the Eastern Conference’s biggest contenders on Thursday and Friday they could find themselves right back in the thick of the playoff race and right there in contention for a spot.

If they lose even one, let alone both, their season might be finished.

No pressure, rookie.

Related: Has Scott Gordon done enough to keep the Flyers’ job?

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.