Chris Kreider

Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) pushes the puck forward on a break-away as Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau
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A best on best mythical tournament: Players in their prime

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold, Pro Hockey Talk will be creating full rosters for an imaginary best on best tournament over the next few Thursdays. The first team created was a 23-and-under roster that would be fascinating to watch.

An NHL player usually reaches peak performance in his late 20’s and this roster is comprised of players in the prime of their career between the ages of 24 and 29. The combination of skill, size, wisdom and depth in this group will be difficult to match for any opponent. The most surprising part of building this team was seeing several superstars left on the sidelines.

Line Combinations

First line: Artemi PanarinNathan MacKinnonLeon Draisaitl

Thoughts: All three players are firmly in the conversation for the 2019-2020 Hart Trophy and the thought of them on the same team, let alone the same line would be highly entertaining. Panarin has established himself as one of the best passers in the NHL and having two lethal goal scorers alongside him should make for an explosive trio.

Second line: Johnny GaudreauMark ScheifeleNikita Kucherov

Thoughts: Both wingers don’t offer much size but Gaudreau and Kucherov are both electric players that have learned how to win in the corners despite their diminutive stature. Scheifele has long been one of the more underrated players in the league and should find instant chemistry with two players that possess elite on-ice vision.

Third line: Taylor HallMika ZibanejadMark Stone

Thoughts: Hall’s game has dipped since winning the 2018 Hart Trophy but still remains a top two-way forward. Zibanejad was one of the most controversial picks beating out the likes of John Tavares, Tyler Seguin and others. But No. 93 has improved his game since the New York Rangers acquired him in a one-sided traded.

Fourth line: Chris Kreider – Ryan O’Reilly – Jonathan Huberdeau

Thoughts: Kreider and O’Reilly have anchored shut down lines in the past but the addition of Huberdeau should add more offensive punch to a very responsible grouping. All three skaters play a disciplined, 200-foot game and could match up with any combination of forwards an opponent has to offer.

First D pairing: Roman JosiSeth Jones
Second D pairing: Victor HedmanDougie Hamilton
Third D pairing: Oliver Ekman-LarssonAaron Ekblad

Thoughts: It’s hard to find a flaw in this grouping of defensemen. These six players collectively possess all the attributes needed to shut down opponents and can quickly move the puck out of the defensive zone.

Starting Goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

Backup Goalie: Connor Hellebuyck

Just Missed: Aleksander Barkov, Erik Karlsson, John Klingberg, Tyler Seguin, John Tavares

Captain: Roman Josi

Alternate captains: Nathan MacKinnon, Leon Draisaitl

Analysis

It was surprising to see only one player on this team with a championship ring and just seven players have participated in a Stanley Cup Final. With that said, this team has experience in best on best tournaments at every level and have routinely been through the grind of an NHL regular season.

On paper, there are limited areas of concern. The team is comprised of players with diverse attributes to form an extremely well-balanced roster. It has several explosive goal-scorers in the top-six and responsible players in the bottom-six that have the ability to consistently produce on the offensive side of the ice.

In addition, the blueline is staggered with lockdown defensemen and two Vezina candidates guarding the crease.

One challenge for this team, and for any roster in a tournament of this nature, is the ability to find instant chemistry with line mates. In theory, Panarin can set up a few of the top scorers but does it work in reality?

Due to the balance of the roster and varied characteristics, I believe this team would have the inside track to winning this mythical tournament.

Surprising omissions

John Tavares: It wasn’t too long ago that Tavares was the most sought-after free agent in the summer of 2018, but it was challenging to find a spot for the Maple Leafs captain on this roster. It was a tight race between No. 91 and Mika Zibanejad for the third line center position, but the Swedish right-handed centerman has become one of the more dynamic players in the NHL. Tavares is a world-class player. He could easily slide back onto the roster and change the narrative with a dominant stretch when professional hockey returns.

Erik Karlsson: This Swedish defenseman used to terrorize the league with his smooth skating and incredible vision. However, Karlsson hasn’t looked like himself since being traded to the San Jose Sharks in September of 2018. He routinely crossed the 60-point plateau and set a career-high with 82 points in 2015-16, but injuries have slowed him down the past two seasons. This mythical tournament will require teams to perform at an incredibly high level and there is no room for someone who has not been at the top of his game.


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Islanders, Hurricanes slide leaves playoff door open for Rangers

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Thanks to Mika Zibanejad‘s five-goal performance on Thursday night, the New York Rangers were able to pick up a huge win against the Washington Capitals to snap what had been a three-game losing streak.

Combined with regulation losses by the Carolina Hurricanes (against Philadelphia) and the New York Islanders (against Ottawa) on Thursday, the results helped the Rangers inch a little bit closer to a potential playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The odds are still stacked against them, but the fact they are even in the race at this point is a remarkable accomplishment and a minor hockey miracle.

As of Friday the Rangers are two points back of the Islanders for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the Hurricanes, and two points ahead of the Florida Panthers.

Here is how the current Wild Card race shakes out, including every team’s current pace.

Given their current paces you can see the Rangers still have some work to do to catch either the Columbus Blue Jackets or Islanders and stay ahead of the Hurricanes, but this is still a dramatic change from what we saw as recently as one month ago.

Go back to the start of February and the Rangers were 10 points back of the Islanders and seven points back of both the Hurricanes and Panthers. Today, they have pretty much drawn even with the Hurricanes, moved ahead of the Panthers, and climbed to within striking distance of the Islanders. Those are significant gaps to close in that period of time. It is remarkably rare for teams to make up even a four-or five-point gap at the halfway point of the season, and the Rangers are currently in the process of closing 7-10 point gaps in just a little more than a month.

It’s been the perfect storm of the Rangers getting white hot and quite literally every team in direct competition with them starting to crumble for a variety of reasons.

Columbus, a team that has been completely devastated by injuries this season, has lost 11 out of its past 13 games (six of those losses have come in overtime or shootout, though).

The Islanders still have a decent hold on a Wild Card spot, but have been one of the league’s worst teams (no exaggeration) since that early-season point streak came to an end in late November. In 45 games since Nov. 25 the Islanders own only a .489 points percentage, 24th in the league during that stretch. Most recently, they have won just two of their past 11 games and take a five-game losing streak into Saturday’s game with the Hurricanes.

Speaking of the Hurricanes, their current injury situation is really starting to catch up with them.

They are still playing without both of their regular goalies (Petr Mrazek and James Reimer) and have lost four in a row since they exited the lineup. The most recent Hurricanes goalie to record a win was David Ayres. Even more concerning the goalie situation is the fact they are now without Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce. That puts an absolutely massive dent in their blue line, and for as good as trade deadline acquisitions Brady Skjei and Sam Vatanen are, neither one is an upgrade over the two injured players and Vatanen has still yet to appear in a game due to his own injury. They are just 8-7-1 since Hamilton went out of the lineup, and remain winless since Pesce went out.

That’s not to say the Rangers don’t have their own concerns right now.

Igor Shesterkin, who had overtaken both Alexandar Georgiev and Henrik Lundqvist as the team’s no No. 1 goalie, remains out of the lineup due to injuries sustained in a car accident just before the NHL trade deadline. Chris Kreider, meanwhile, is going to miss most — if not all — of the remaining games in the regular season due to an ankle injury. In the meantime, they are going to need to keep leaning on the duo of Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin to keep carrying the offense, and hope that the Islanders, Hurricanes and Blue Jackets continue the recent slides that have helped close the gap.

It’s asking a lot, and any extended slump by the Rangers or any winning streak by the Islanders, Blue Jackets or Hurricanes could render all of this meaningless. But the Rangers have at least given themselves a chance and a reason for their fans to pay close attention to the stretch run of the regular season.

Related: Western Conference Wild Card race is still not clear

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 Power Rankings: The Philadelphia Flyers’ wild ride

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If you are a Philadelphia Flyers fan, how do you do it?

How do you deal with the dramatic swings and the complete unpredictability that your favorite sports franchise throws in your direction every season without being driven completely mad? At any given time you could see a 10-game winning streak, or a 10-game losing streak, and neither one would ever shock you because you just have to think, “yeah, that streak makes sense.”

Take this season for example. The Flyers have already lost four games in a row on three different occasions. The only other teams in the league that have done that are Anaheim, Columbus, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montreal, Ottawa, and San Jose. That is a collection of the league’s worst teams and one bubble playoff team (Columbus). That many extended losing streaks should completely bury a team.

But not the Flyers. Not this team. They enter this week with one of the league’s best records (sixth-best points percentage), are currently on a six-game winning streak, and are just three points out of first place in the Metropolitan Division. It all just kind of happened out of nowhere.

That run puts them back in the top-five of this week’s NHL Power Rankings. Where do the rest of the teams sit this week?

To the rankings!

1. Boston Bruins. The Bruins may not have the NHL’s longest current winning streak, but they have the league’s best record (by far) and are 17-5-2 in their most recent 25 games.

2. St. Louis Blues. Since snapping a five-game losing streak that slowed them down in mid-February, the defending champions have ripped off seven wins in a row. The only reason it has not created more space at the top of the Central Division is because of the next team.

3. Colorado Avalanche. Even with all of their injuries (Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Philipp Grubauer, Andre Burakovsky, Matt Calvert) they are still rolling. They have won five in a row, have points in six straight, and are 13-4-3 in the past 20 games.

4. Philadelphia Flyers. A healthy Carter Hart could be a game-changer here.

5. Vegas Golden Knights. This team has been a sleeping giant all season. They were never as bad as their early season record indicated and they are now starting to distance themselves in the Pacific Division race.

6. Tampa Bay Lightning. Hopefully for their sake the Steven Stamkos injury does not linger too far into the playoffs.

7. Dallas Stars. I don’t know how good the Stars are overall as a team, but I do know their goaltending should put the fear of god into any potential playoff opponent.

8. Toronto Maple Leafs. You know, for all of the “sky is falling” mayhem that oozes out of Toronto every time this team loses a game they are 26-13-4 under Sheldon Keefe. That is a 107-point pace over 82 games. Calm down.

9. Washington Capitals. They still have the inside track on another Metropolitan Division crown but they have two absolutely massive upcoming games with the Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.

10. Pittsburgh Penguins. This is their first six-game losing streak since the 2011-12 season. They followed that streak by immediately winning seven games in a row. Let’s see what they do this time.

11. Edmonton Oilers. Leon Draisaitl has a real shot at back-to-back 50-goal, 100-point seasons. The most recent players to accomplish such a feat are Alex Ovechkin, Dany Heatley, and Mario Lemieux.

12. Nashville Predators. They are in a three-way tie for the second wild card spot, but have three more games to play than the two teams they are tied with. They would really have to screw this up to miss the playoffs.

13. New York Rangers. It may not result in a playoff appearance this season (losing Chris Kreider is a big loss), but they have definitely made it interesting and the future looks to be in good hands with this core.

14. New York Islanders. They should make the playoffs, but this has been a very ordinary team since the end of November. They are just 19-18-6 in the 43 games since November 24.

15. Carolina Hurricanes. I like all of their trade deadline moves, but let’s face it: Not having Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce is a problem. They also need one of their regular goalies back.

16. Minnesota Wild. They traded one of their best players in-season (Jason Zucker), they fired a really good coach when the team was starting to turn things around, and they still might end up making the playoffs.

17. Calgary Flames. They could end up with home-ice in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs or they could end up sitting on their couches in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

18. Vancouver Canucks. They can find ways to overcome the injury to Brock Boeser. The injury to Jacob Markstrom is the one that is going to hurt in the short-term.

19. Arizona Coyotes. Their 7-11-4 run over their past 22 games has not completely eliminated them from playoff contention, but given how many games in hand everyone around them has this is not going to be easy.

20. Columbus Blue Jackets. Even after losing 10 out of 11 games they are still in it. That win against Vancouver on Sunday night might be a season saver.

21. Winnipeg Jets. Connor Hellebuyck has helped them hang around this season but overall it’s just not a very good team.

22. Florida Panthers. This season started with so much hope and so much promise and it looks like it is just going to end up being more of the same. Very disappointing.

23. Buffalo Sabres. At the trade deadline they were talking about playing meaningful games down the stretch and then they followed it up by losing three games in a row to pretty much make every game the rest of the way completely meaningless.

24. Los Angeles Kings. Give them credit, with absolutely nothing to play for they are 6-2-1 in their past nine games and beaten a bunch of teams in playoff spots or fighting for a playoff spot.

25. Chicago Blackhawks. He still probably will not do enough to move ahead of top two defensemen, but Dominik Kubalik is playing his way into the top-three of the Calder Trophy discussion.

26. New Jersey Devils. It has been a rough couple of years for Cory Schneider but he has played three outstanding games since returning to the lineup.

27. Montreal Canadiens. Philip Danault has had a sneaky good season here. So they have that going for them.

28. San Jose Sharks. For as bad as this season has been I could still see this team being a contender again next season. I’m not crazy. Get healthy, fix the goaltending.

29. Anaheim Ducks. The last time the Ducks had a season this bad they were still branded as The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

30. Ottawa Senators. Bobby Ryan‘s return and hat trick was a pretty great moment.

31. Detroit Red Wings. There are loyal Detroit Red Wings fans that have watched every game of this season. I salute them. They should get an award.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Flyers visit Rangers on NBC

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NBC’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

After the Flyers defeated the Rangers 5-2 on Friday night in Philadelphia, these Metro Division rivals meet again on Sunday at Madison Square Garden. It is the third of four regular-season matchups (season-series concludes on Apr. 1 at NYR – on NBCSN).

The Flyers currently sit in second place in the Metro, three points behind the division-leading Capitals. The Rangers sit just two points outside the second Wild Card in the East. If New York wins Sunday, they’ll be in a playoff spot (at least momentarily) for the first time since the morning of Oct. 12.

Philadelphia is now riding a five-game winning streak and are looking for their first six-game winning streak under Alain Vigneault. The Flyers have 81 points through 64 games this season.

With both Columbus and Carolina losing on Friday, the Rangers missed a key opportunity to make up some ground on their Metro rivals.

Chris Kreider suffered a fractured foot in Friday’s loss against the Flyers. Kreider, who was on pace for the first 30-goal season of his career, signed a seven-year, $45 million contract extension on trade deadline day.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 12 P.M. ET ON NBC]

WHAT: Philadelphia Flyers at New York Rangers
WHERE: Madison Square Garden
WHEN: Sunday, March 1, 12 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Flyers-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

FLYERS
Claude GirouxSean CouturierJakub Voracek
Scott LaughtonKevin HayesTravis Konecny
James van Riemdsyk – Derek GrantTyler Pitlick
Michael RafflNate ThompsonNicolas Aube-Kubel

Ivan ProvorovMatt Niskanen
Travis SanheimPhilippe Myers
Robert HaggJustin Braun

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

RANGERS
Phil Di GiuseppeMika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich
Artemi PanarinRyan StromeJesper Fast
Brett HowdenFilip ChytilKaapo Kakko
Brendan LemieuxGreg McKegg – Julien Gauthier

Brendan SmithJacob Trouba
Ryan LindgrenAdam Fox
Marc StaalTony DeAngelo

Starting goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will have the call from Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y. Sunday’s studio coverage on NBC will be hosted by Liam McHugh with analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones.

Rangers’ Kreider fractures foot vs. Flyers

Chris Kreider #20 of the New York Rangers
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New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider suffered a fractured foot against the Philadelphia Flyers Friday.

The alternate captain blocked a shot from Philippe Myers with 7:40 remaining in the opening period. He played one more shift for 10 seconds before heading to the locker room. The Rangers have not provided a timeline for the injury.

“We’ve proven we can overcome losing one of our top players and we’re going to have to do it again,” Rangers coach David Quinn told reporters after the 5-2 loss. “Listen, teams throughout the League are handling injuries, and we’ve been pretty fortunate for the most part this season for injuries.”

New York signed Chris Kreider to a $45.5 million, seven-year extension prior to the trade deadline. The 28-year-old power forward has 24 goals and 21 assists in 63 games this season.


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.