Getty Images

Saturday was good for Hurricanes, bad for Penguins, ugly for Habs

9 Comments

As this PHT post argues, the Montreal Canadiens haven’t been particularly lucky lately, but Saturday pushed such thoughts to the extreme.

The Habs fired a robust 48 shots on goal against Corey Crawford, but couldn’t beat the veteran goalie once. With that, the Blackhawks won 2-0, handing Montreal not just a loss, but a defeat in regulation.

The Canadiens can’t even really look on the one broad bright side of Saturday (that a lot of other East teams struggled), either, as the most crucial ones gained ground while Montreal’s running out of time to get its act together.

(That’s particularly true of that putrid power play, which went 0-for-4 on Saturday.)

The Canadiens are now stalling out at 81 points in 72 games played. Here’s a rundown of the rest of today’s most pertinent East action, in order of teams with the most on the line.

Blue Jackets lose, but they get a point

Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron made the difference for the Boston Bruins in a 2-1 OT win, as the dynamic duo generated a goal and an assist apiece. While Montreal can’t question its overall effort, Columbus might be at least a bit frustrated with the fact that they only forced Jaroslav Halak to face 25 SOG.

The Blue Jackets gain a step on Montreal, finishing the night with 84 points in 72 GP.

Hurricanes have the best Saturday of anyone at or near the bubble

After former Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner scored early into Saturday’s game, Carolina scored four straight goals to eventually win 4-2. Justin Williams‘ 21st goal of 2018-19 was really something:

Carolina is likely more focused on Tuesday’s opponent slightly ahead of them for the Metro third spot (the Penguins), than the Hurricanes are about the bubble teams behind them. Carolina now has 85 points in 71 GP.

Penguins lose badly

Speaking of Pittsburgh, they had a rough afternoon, falling to the Blues 5-1 despite 41-26 SOG advantage. As rocky as his St. Louis start was, moments like these make you wonder if Patrick Maroon might benefit the Blues more when the games get bigger:

(Nice to see those “NHL 19” moves work out in real life every now and then, huh?)

The Penguins failed to gain breathing room ahead of Carolina (and Columbus, to a lesser extent), and also didn’t give themselves a better chance at the Metro’s second seed, as the Penguins sit at 87 points in 72 GP.

Most likely Metro Division winners idle

Both the Capitals (91 points in 72 GP) and Islanders (89 points in 71 GP) lost in regulation in their respective games, falling short of improving their odds at a division title. The Islanders leave themselves at least somewhat vulnerable to losing a round of home-ice advantage, depending upon how things shake out.

***

So, almost everyone lost, with the Blue Jackets at least salvaging a very, very important point. All things considered, you can’t totally blame the Hurricanes if they’re thinking big — as in at least rising above the wild-card ranks.

Looking at the landscape, the Canadiens must be awfully worried. It doesn’t look great for their chances, so they need to turn things around soon. This crisis of confidence is coming at a terrible time for a team that exceeded just about everyone’s expectations this season.

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.

Sabres’ rebuild is still going nowhere

18 Comments

For about three weeks back in November the Buffalo Sabres had their fans fooled.

It was then that they went on an improbable 10-game win streak to record their best start in years and finally show some signs that their perpetual rebuild was going to produce a positive result.

This was going to be the year that all of the waiting, losing, and disappointment was going to be worth it.

Even if you were of the belief that the win streak was the product of some good luck and an unsustainable run of overtime/shootout and one-goal victories (which almost all of the wins were) it still seemed like they had done enough to give themselves a decent cushion to cover for whatever inevitable regression might follow.

The only thing that could undo it at that point was an epic failure on behalf of the entire team.

More than three months later it has become abundantly clear that the epic failure has happened. Given where the Sabres are coming from, should any of it be a surprise?

The whole thing was a mirage, a total fluke, and nothing more than a temporary and all too brief break from the miserable run of irrelevance that has plagued the Sabres organization for the better part of a decade.

The low point of the season probably came over the weekend when they played a Colorado Avalanche team that has been equally disappointing in the second half and was also playing without one of its best players in Gabriel Landeskog. In that game the Sabres put forth one of the sorriest efforts of the season by any team when they were outshot by a 43-18 margin in a 3-0 loss that was way more one-sided than the final score would have you believe. Keep in mind that with just under two minutes remaining in the game the shot clock had the Avalanche with a 42-12 advantage. It wasn’t until the Sabres pulled their goalie for an extra attacker in a last ditch effort to do something that they were able to register even the smallest threat of offense.

What is worse is that it is hard to see why there should be much hope for better results in the immediate future with this organization.

We have spent a lot of time this season (and rightfully so, I might add) marveling at the incompetence of the Edmonton Oilers to build a successful team around Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl (and it truly is stunning), but keep something in mind about the Oilers — they at least made the playoffs once so far with McDavid, won a playoff series, and were a Game 7 loss away from being in the Western Conference Final.

Sure, everything that has been sandwiched around that makes that one season look like an outlier, but the Sabres don’t even have that.

In a lot of ways this team is worse than the team that is widely regarded to be the most inept team in the league.

That is not good!

[Related: Sabres’ captain Eichel disagrees with two-game suspension]

You might counter that by arguing that the Oilers have more high-end talent with McDavid and Draisaitl, and were also starting from a better place with a boatload of literal No. 1 overall draft picks. That would be a fair point. Sort of. But it’s not like the Sabres haven’t had a run of great draft picks in recent years.

When the Sabres tore their organization to the ground back in 2013 the intent was to stock up on premium draft picks (hopefully one that would land them Connor McDavid), rebuild the organization around the type of impact talent you can find at the top of the draft, and go from there.

The lottery balls were not always in their favor, but they were still in a good position to load the organization with talent.

They have not picked lower than eighth in draft since 2012.

They have had two No. 2 overall picks and a No. 1 overall pick.

One of those No. 2 overall picks produced Jack Eichel, and while he may not be on McDavid’s level he is still a bonafide star and a player that should, by year four in the NHL, be the centerpiece of a playoff team.

The other one was used on Sam Reinhart, who was taken one spot ahead of Draisaitl.

The result of all of those top-10 picks and a full-scale rebuild is a team that is headed for its eight consecutive non-playoff season (and 10th in the past 12 years) and has not won a playoff series since 2007.

Things have been so bad this decade that if they maintain their current pace and reach 83 points it would be their best finish since 2012. Based on the current Eastern Conference playoff projections, that would keep them 12 points out of a Wild Card spot and 24 points behind the third place team in their own division.

Again, this is a team that two months into the season they had the best record in the league thanks in large part to that 10-game winning streak!

That is where the problems really start to show.

In the 58 games independent of that fluke run they playing at a 69 point pace over 82 games, which is just about on par with what every Sabres team has done over the past few years. And remember the context of that winning streak: Nothing about it was sustainable. Seven of those 10 games were won in overtime or a shootout, while nine of them were decided by a single goal. If even two or three of those games go in the other direction (which can easily happen when you rely on that many overtimes and shootouts) the season easily gets even worse.

And that is pretty much the point here. Six years into this process and the Sabres are on their third head coach (probably soon-to-be fourth), their second general manager, and are only marginally better than they were when the whole thing started. And that is after getting the franchise player, who has been just as good as advertised, that they so desperately needed to start the rebuild.

Once you get beyond Eichel, Reinhart, Jeff Skinner, and top pick Rasmus Dahlin the remainder of the roster is just so painfully bland that it is almost impossible to see where any short-term improvement can come from within, and that is before you consider the fact that Skinner is a free agent after this season. He very easily could — and probably should — test the open market this summer where he would probably the second-best player available. He could pick his team and name his price given the season he has had.

If he goes? Well … there is probably not another 40-goal winger that is a perfect fit alongside your franchise center that is going to be walking through that door.

For things to get dramatically better they need to keep Skinner. They need Dahlin to become a superstar (not just a good player, but an actual superstar on defense). They need Casey Mittelstadt to live up to the hype. They need Tage Thompson to just simply be passable or decent (and 12 points in 58 games isn’t passable) to make it look like the Ryan O'Reilly trade wasn’t a complete waste of everyone’s time.

Even if all of that happens — and when you are talking about multiple young players it almost never works out exactly as you plan or hope with all of them — they still probably need five or six more quality pieces just to get back to wild card contention, let alone catch up to the powerhouse teams at the top of the Atlantic Division.

It is almost as if they need a rebuild from the rebuild.

That is not where anybody in Buffalo hoped, or expected, this team to be when the whole thing started five years ago. The whole thing has been a failure.

More: PHT Power Rankings: Capitals playing like champs again

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.

Push for the Playoffs: Avs look to gain ground in West race

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

Out east, all eyes will be on the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN), but in the Western Conference, a Central Division matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars has quite of bit of playoff intrigue.

The Avs visit the Stars knowing a win could put them in a good spot. The Stars sit in the first wild-card spot on 73 points, following by the Minnesota Wild in the final playoff seed on 72 points and the Avalanche sitting on the periphery with 70 points.

Given that the Wild are in Tampa to face the nearly-unbeatable Lightning, a win for the Avs, who meet the streaking Stars — winners of their last three games — would be a huge boost to their playoff chances if Tampa can take care of business a few states over in Florida.

“For us, it’s not really pressure,” Avs forward Sven Andrighetto told the Avs’ website on Wednesday. “It’s a position we want to be in. We’re playing meaningful hockey, hockey that matters. Every single point, every game matters… to make the playoffs or not.”

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Lightning vs. Canadiens
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs
Capitals vs. Penguins
Islanders vs. Hurricanes

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Flames vs. Wild
Sharks vs. Golden Knights
Predators vs. Stars
Jets vs. Blues

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Panthers at Bruins, 7 p.m. ET
Blue Jackets at Penguins, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN; live stream)
Islanders at Senators, 7:30 p.m. ET
Wild at Lightning, 7:30 p.m. ET
Sabres at Blackhawks, 8:30 p.m. ET
Avalanche at Stars, 8:30 p.m. ET
Canucks at Oilers, 9 p.m. ET
Flames at Coyotes, 9 p.m. ET
Blues at Kings 10:30 p.m. ET
Canadiens at Sharks 10:30 p.m. ET

Here are today’s Stanley Cup Playoff clinching scenarios:

The Lightning will clinch a playoff berth:
• If they defeat the Wild in any fashion AND any of the following occurs:
• The Canadiens lose in regulation at the Sharks
• The Blue Jackets lose in regulation at the Penguins (NBCSN; live stream)
• Both Montreal and Columbus lose in any fashion

OR

• If they get one point against Minnesota and both Montreal and Columbus lose in regulation.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Lightning – 100 percent
Bruins – 100 percent
Maple Leafs – 100 percent
Islanders – 98.6 percent
Capitals – 98 percent
Penguins – 90.6 percent
Hurricanes – 85.5 percent
Canadiens – 68.4 percent
Blue Jackets – 56 percent
Flyers – 2 percent
Sabres – 0.5 percent
Panthers – 0.5 percent
Rangers – 0 percent
Devils – 0 percent
Red Wings – 0 percent
Senators – 0 percent
WESTERN CONFERENCE
PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Flames – 100 percent
Sharks – 100 percent
Jets – 99.9 percent
Predators – 99.8 percent
Golden Knights – 98.4 percent
Blues – 97.2 percent
Stars 82.8 percent
Avalanche – 45.6 percent
Wild – 41.8 percent
Coyotes 28 percent
Oilers – 3.5 percent
Canucks – 2.1 percent
Blackhawks – 0.9 percent
Ducks – 0 percent
Kings – 0 percent

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Senators – 18.5 percent*
Red Wings – 13.5 percent
Kings – 11.5 percent
Devils – 9.5 percent
Ducks – 8.5 percent
Blackhawks – 7.5 percent
Canucks – 6.5 percent
Rangers – 6 percent
Oilers – 5 percent
Panthers – 3.5 percent
Sabres – 3 percent
Avalanche 2.5 percent
Coyotes – 2 percent
Flyers – 1.5 percent
Blue Jackets – 1 percent**
(*OTT’s 2019 first-round pick owned by COL)
(**CBJ’s 2019 lottery-protected first-round pick is owned by OTT. If top three, moves to 2020)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Lightning – 108 points
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 94 points
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 92 points
Sidney Crosby, Penguins – 86 points
Mikko Rantanen, Avalanche – 85 points
Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche – 84 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 46 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 41 goals
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 40 goals
John Tavares, Maple Leafs – 37 goals
Brayden Point, Lightning – 37 goals
Jeff Skinner, Sabres – 36 goals


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

Push for the Playoffs: Canadiens keep pace in Eastern Conference race

4 Comments

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

Tuesday night was littered with important matchups for teams in and around Wild Card spots in both conferences, but the Montreal Canadiens were in a unique spot. The Habs, who were in Los Angeles last night, didn’t start playing until 10:30 p.m. ET, which means they knew exactly what all the other teams around them had done before they even stepped onto the ice at Staples Center.

The Canadiens were able to watch as each of the teams they’re competing with ended up recording at least one point. Carolina lost to Boston in overtime, Pittsburgh beat Florida in overtime, and Columbus took down New Jersey in a shootout.

Montreal was able to come up with a 3-1 win against a Kings team that was looking to play spoiler.

“It’s huge,” Canadiens netminder Carey Price said of the win, per the Montreal Gazette. “I thought we played very well from the drop of the puck. We haven’t had a ton of success here, but we were able to put that behind us and put together a solid effort.”

Those two points allowed the Habs to jump back into the final Wild Card spot in the East.

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Lightning vs. Canadiens
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs
Islanders vs. Penguins
Capitals vs. Hurricanes

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Flames vs. Wild
Predators vs. Stars
Jets vs. Blues
Sharks vs. Golden Knights

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Capitals at Flyers, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN; live stream)
Maple Leafs at Canucks, 9:00 p.m. ET
Blues at Ducks, 10:00 p.m. ET (NBCSN; live stream)
Flames at Golden Knights 10:30 p.m. ET

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Lightning – 100 percent
Bruins – 100 percent
Maple Leafs – 100 percent
Islanders – 98.8 percent
Capitals – 96.6 percent
Penguins – 91.7 percent
Hurricanes – 86.8 percent
Canadiens – 60.7 percent
Blue Jackets – 59.4 percent
Flyers – 5 percent
Sabres – 0.6 percent
Rangers – 0 percent
Devils – 0 percent
Red Wings – 0 percent
Senators – 0 percent

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Flames – 100 percent
Sharks – 100 percent
Jets – 99.9 percent
Predators – 99.8 percent
Golden Knights – 97 percent
Blues – 95.5 percent
Stars 83.3 percent
Avalanche – 46.5 percent
Wild – 42.8 percent
Coyotes 29.1 percent
Oilers – 3.7 percent
Canucks – 1.3 percent
Blackhawks – 0.9 percent
Ducks – 0 percent
Kings – 0 percent

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE 

Senators – 18.5 percent*
Red Wings – 13.5 percent
Kings – 11.5 percent
Devils – 9.5 percent
Ducks – 8.5 percent
Canucks – 7.5 percent
Blackhawks – 6.5 percent
Rangers – 6 percent
Oilers – 5 percent
Panthers – 3.5 percent
Sabres – 3 percent
Avalanche 2.5 percent
Coyotes – 2 percent
Flyers – 1.5 percent
Blue Jackets – 1 percent**
(*OTT’s 2019 first-round pick owned by COL)
(**CBJ’s 2019 lottery-protected first-round pick is owned by OTT. If top three, moves to 2020)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Lightning – 108 points
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 94 points
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 92 points
Sidney Crosby, Penguins – 86 points
Mikko Rantanen, Avalanche – 85 points
Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche – 84 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 45 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 41 goals
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 40 goals
John Tavares, Maple Leafs – 37 goals
Brayden Point, Lightning – 37 goals
Jeff Skinner, Sabres – 36 goals

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.

Push for the Playoffs: Blue Jackets enter ‘playoff mode’ in final month

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

Maybe getting away from Nationwide Arena will do the Columbus Blue Jackets some good? After a weekend that saw them drop games to the Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets, the Blue Jackets hit the road to play in New Jersey and Pittsburgh. But more importantly, Tuesday night they’ll begin a stretch with six of seven games coming against opponents holding Eastern Conference playoff spots.

When general manager Jarmo Kekalainen went bold and all-in at the trade deadline, it upped the pressure on the season. Columbus was already on the playoff bubble and now with those moves it’s playoffs or bust. It’s a gamble, but it’s better than seeing another team be conservative late in the year.

“We’re kind of in playoff mode,” said head coach John Tortorella on Monday. “I think when coaches get into playoff mode, I always call it being with them. I think we’ve pushed the buttons and kicked and prodded and yelled and screamed and hugged during the regular season. But I think we’re in a situation right now … we’ve got to do this together.”

The pressure is on in Columbus, and Tortorella is preparing his players to deal with the pressure that will come with the final month of the season. Every game night there will be important points to be had, or dropped.

“You find out about yourself,” Tortorella said. “That’s what we all strive to do as coaches and athletes in the sporting world is to be thrust into those situations and see if you can sink or swim.”

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Lightning vs. Canadiens
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs
Capitals vs. Penguins
Islanders vs. Hurricanes

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Flames vs. Wild
Sharks vs. Golden Knights
Jets vs. Stars
Predators vs. Blues

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Hurricanes at Bruins, 7 p.m. ET
Blue Jackets at Devils, 7 p.m. ET
Senators at Islanders, 7 p.m. ET
Panthers at Penguins, 7 p.m. ET
Jets at Lightning, 7:30 p.m. ET
Wild at Predators, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN; live stream)
Rangers at Stars, 8:30 p.m. ET
Red Wings at Avalanche, 9 p.m. ET
Ducks at Coyotes, 9 p.m. ET
Canadiens at Kings, 10:30 p.m. ET

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Lightning – 100 percent
Maple Leafs – 100 percent
Bruins – 100 percent
Islanders – 98.7 percent
Capitals – 97.1 percent
Penguins – 89.7 percent
Hurricanes – 88.3 percent
Canadiens – 65 percent
Blue Jackets – 53.8 percent
Flyers – 5.9 percent
Panthers – 0.8 percent
Sabres – 0.8 percent
Rangers – 0.1 percent
Devils – 0 percent
Red Wings – 0 percent
Senators – 0 percent

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Flames – 100 percent
Sharks – 100 percent
Jets – 100 percent
Predators – 99.6 percent
Golden Knights – 96.2 percent
Blues – 95.3 percent
Stars – 77.1 percent
Coyotes – 45.8 percent
Wild – 41.7 percent
Avalanche – 38.5 percent
Oilers – 3.7 percent
Canucks – 1.3 percent
Blackhawks – 0.9 percent
Ducks – 0 percent
Kings – 0 percent

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Senators – 18.5 percent
Red Wings – 13.5 percent
Kings – 11.5 percent
Devils – 9.5 percent
Ducks – 8.5 percent
Canucks – 7.5 percent
Blackhawks – 6.5 percent
Oilers – 6 percent
Rangers – 5 percent
Sabres – 3.5 percent
Avalanche – 3 percent
Panthers – 2.5 percent
Coyotes – 2 percent
Flyers – 1.5 percent
Blue Jackets – 1 percent**
(*OTT’s 2019 first-round pick owned by COL)
(**CBJ’s 2019 lottery-protected first-round pick is owned by OTT. If top three, moves to 2020)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Lightning – 106 points
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 94 points
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 92 points
Johnny Gaudreau, Flames – 84 points
Sidney Crosby, Penguins – 83 points
Leon Draisaitl, 83 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 45 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 41 goals
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 40 goals
John Tavares, Maple Leafs – 37 goals
Jeff Skinner, Sabres – 36 goals
Joe Pavelski, Sharks – 36 goals

————

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.