PHT Power Rankings: Blackhawks hit bottom

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If you turn on any random Chicago Blackhawks game on any random night against any random opponent it is a good bet they are already going to be losing by two or three goals 10 minutes into the first period. It has been a constant trend for about two months now.

Sometimes they are able to push back a little and tie the game only to lose in backbreaking fashion, just as they have done in their most recent losses to the Vegas Golden Knights and Montreal Canadiens.

Sometimes they never push back and just get completely run out of the building.

Either way the result is the same — a loss. Those losses keep piling up at an alarming rate and are sending the Blackhawks toward what is looking to be their worst season in years.

Thanks to the seven-game losing streak they are carrying into the week the Blackhawks officially have the worst record (based on points percentage) in the entire league and are just 3-11-2 since firing Joel Quenneville.

In other words, things are bad. Really bad.

The problems are obvious. The good players that were part of the core that won three Stanley Cups in six years are older, more expensive and not as good as they once were (if they are even still on the team). Those larger contracts, combined with the salary cap, once again ripped apart the depth that always made the Blackhawks such a strong team.

The latter point is where a lot of the problems really start to show up. The Blackhawks went through salary cap purges before but were always able to find ways to restock the cupboards, often times to the point of them still being able to compete for, and even win, championships.

They have not done that over the past few years.

Just consider this question: Who is the last truly impactful and useful the Blackhawks have added to their organization through free agency or a trade? Have there been any over the past three or four years? The re-acquisition of Brandon Saad is probably the answer you could come up with because he is a fine, decent player. But when you had to give up an even better player (Artemi Panarin) to get him back that does not really help things.

Big contracts, an aging core, and no fresh talent entering the organization is a bad combination, and for this week it has the Blackhawks at the bottom of the PHT Power Rankings. They may be there for a while, too.

On to the rest of the rankings!

The Elites

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — Quite simply the best hockey team in the NHL. Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point are early season MVP candidates, Steven Stamkos is a point-per-game player right behind them, and they are 11-3-0 since their Vezina Trophy finalist goalie has been injured. That includes the six-game winning streak they carry into the week. They also are coming off of a dominant 7-1 win against a really good Colorado Avalanche team.

2. Winnipeg Jets — The Jets are 10-4-1 in their past 15 games and are averaging more than four goals per game during that stretch. There may not be a better collection of top-line forward talent anywhere in the league.

3. Toronto Maple Leafs — Not too worried about the fact they haven’t won since William Nylander returned. The biggest concern here, just like last season, is that Frederik Andersen gets worn down from the workload he is being asked to carry. His play will determine how far they go in the playoffs.

4. Nashville Predators — They have cooled off a bit in recent weeks but that has coincided with the team being crushed by injuries. When healthy this is still one of the league’s best teams.

5. Washington Capitals — The champs are starting to get on a roll and Alex Ovechkin is still scoring goals at an unprecedented pace given his age.

The Surprises

6. Colorado Avalanche — Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon are both on pace for more than 120 points this season. Doubtful they will maintain those numbers over 82 games, but the fact they have done it over even 30 games is incredible.

7. Calgary Flames — Have to be honest, did not see the Flames being the team to crawl to the top of the Pacific Division at any point this season. How long will they remain there?

[Related: Are the Flames ready to contend?]

8. Buffalo Sabres — When every game you play is decided by a single goal sometimes you are going to get the breaks, and sometimes you are not. Thirteen of the Sabres’ past 15 games have been one-goal games, a stretch that has seen them win 10 games in a row and then also lose five games in a row.  They are not as good as they looked during the winning streak and they are not as bad as they have looked during the losing streak. Things balance out.

Strong Playoff Teams

9. Boston Bruins — They are still going to have to find some secondary scoring if they are going to be a serious threat to win the Stanley Cup.

10. Columbus Blue Jackets — Sergei Bobrovsky picked a terrible time to have his worst season as a starter. How good would the Blue Jackets be this season if he was playing at his normal level?

The Middle Ground

11. Vegas Golden Knights –– They might still be the best team in the Pacific Division and when all is said and done will probably end up winning it.

12. Dallas Stars — The rapid emergence of rookie defenseman Miro Heiskanen has helped make up for the absence of John Klingberg.

13. Anaheim Ducks — John Gibson should be a finalist for MVP at this point, while Daniel Sprong has made a nice little impact in his first few games with the team. Nice move in the shootout on Sunday night to help pick up the win.

14. Edmonton Oilers — If this team makes the playoffs Connor McDavid should be a unanimous MVP winner. He is doing even more than he did a year ago.

Related: Seven stunning numbers from the first two months of the NHL season]

15. San Jose Sharks — They have won three out of their past four and they don’t have a tough schedule coming up this week. Is this where it starts to turn around?

16. Montreal Canadiens — The P.K. Subban for Shea Weber trade gets ripped (and deservedly so) which makes it kind of easy to forget that Weber is still pretty good. He is just older, has a worse contract, and might be starting to break down a bit physically. Still, he can play a little. He has five points in his first six games since returning to the lineup this season.

17. Pittsburgh Penguins — Every time it looks like they are going to get everything together and go on a roll they put together a terrible showing. Still, they have picked up 13 out of a possible 20 points over their past 10 games.

18. Minnesota Wild — They have some concerns right now, with the biggest potentially being whatever is wrong with starting goalie Devan Dubnyk.

19. New York Islanders — Still not sure they have enough offense to emerge from the pack and make the playoffs this season.

20. Carolina Hurricanes — The Hurricanes can not catch a break in goal. Curtis McElhinney came out of nowhere to solidify the position for a little bit, played extremely well, and then ended up injured. Now it is back to the Scott Darling and Petr Mrazek duo that was not working earlier this season

21. Arizona Coyotes — It is really tough to see the Coyotes hanging around in the Western Conference playoff race given the injury situation with Antti Raanta.

22. Detroit Red Wings — Dylan Larkin is on track for the best season of his career and several of their potential trade chips (Gustav Nyquist, Jimmy Howard) are having productive seasons. So they have that going for them.

23. New York Rangers — Henrik Lundqvist is still getting it done, he just doesn’t have enough around him for it to really matter.

24. Philadelphia Flyers — Now that they have a new general manager in place it will be interesting to see where this team goes from here and where “bias for action” takes them.

[Related: Chuck Fletcher’s plate will be full as new Flyers’ GM]

25. Ottawa Senators — Losing Matt Duchene and Bobby Ryan to injury for the foreseeable future is really going to hurt what has been a surprisingly good offense this season.

26. Florida Panthers — With better goaltending this season they may not be needing another second half surge just to get back into playoff contention.

Lose For Hughes

27. Los Angeles Kings — The worst goal scoring team in the league by a huge margin and the third-fewest shots on goal per game. They are redefining what bad offensive hockey is in this era.

28. Vancouver Canucks — Since starting the season 10-6-2 the Canucks have managed to go only 3-10-1 over their past 14 games. Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser are still studs, though.

29. New Jersey Devils — Taylor Hall has to be having flashbacks to his Oilers days.

30. St. Louis Blues — After getting blown out on Sunday the Blues sounded like a completely broken team. They are still better than their rivals.

31. Chicago Blackhawks — Maybe Jeremy Colliton goes on to be a good NHL head coach, but right now the decision to fire Quenneville just looks comical.

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.

Red Wings aren’t mad at Mantha for fighting, breaking hand

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In the rare hockey fight featuring a player who normally uses their hands to score goals, there’s a tug-of-war. On one hand, you cringe at the risks of said hands being broken. On the other, you have to acknowledge the natural danger of the sport, not to mention the emotions that come from sticking up for your teammates.

Such thoughts come to mind when you consider Detroit Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha, who will miss four-to-six weeks after breaking his hand in a fight with Colorado Avalanche defenseman Patrik Nemeth.

(You can watch that fight in the video above.)

Sure, there’s the inclination to wish that someone else might have taken care of that dirty work after Dylan Larkin absorbed a hard hit, but can you really blame Mantha? As MLive.com’s Ansar Khan reports, Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill certainly did not.

“There’s inherent risk in playing hockey, there’s inherent risk in getting into a fight,” Blashill said. “He was sticking up for Larkin, who got his head run against the boards. I know this, he’d do it again. And I’m good with him doing it again. We want to make sure we’re sticking up for each other. You’re not going anywhere at any time if you got a team that’s selfish and doesn’t care about each other.”

If you want to get into the weeds, you can quibble a bit with Blashill’s further points. He compared fighting to blocking shots or taking a hit to make a play. That might be pushing it just a touch, as those events are more attuned with the moment-to-moment functions of actually playing the sport, while sticking up for your teammate is often a combination of a sheer, guttural reaction and also “sending a message.” Theoretically, you don’t literally need to fight to thwart a scoring chance or advance the puck down the ice.

But, overall, it’s tough to get too mad at Mantha … although, seriously, the Red Wings might want to at least consider talking to him about taking that step.

After all, this isn’t actually his first injury stemming from a fight. As Khan recalls, Mantha’s 2016-17 season ended after he broke his finger in a March 2017 fight with Luke Witkowski:

As a large human (listed at 6-foot-5, 225 lbs.), one can understand why Mantha would be especially willing to drop the gloves. It might be tough to discourage him from doing so, although you could also conjure images of all the goals he missed out on in late 2016-17, and now these five-to-six weeks.

Of course, there’s a cynical reason for the Red Wings to shrug their shoulders now, while maybe convincing him to change course later: they might be that much more likely to lose games with Mantha on the shelf.

While this has been a hit-or-miss season for Mantha (nine goals, 14 points in 27 games), he’s one of Detroit’s most important forwards. Perhaps injuries like these will cajole the Red Wings into further embracing their at-times-reluctant rebuild, maybe by not re-signing Jimmy Howard and instead selling off aging players for future assets? At this point, any excuse helps.

Sunday’s 2-0 loss to the Avalanche ended up being quite costly for the Red Wings, primarily when punches were thrown. Not only did they lose Mantha to this injury, but Tyler Bertuzzi was also suspended two games for this incident:

Fighting simply hasn’t been friendly to the Red Wings lately. In Mantha’s case, it at least felt like an unforced error, even though the results ended up being far more painful (literally and figuratively).

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Dahlin’s impact; Are Pens looking for goalie?

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

Rasmus Dahlin has really helped the Sabres fix their issues at five-on-five so far this season. (Buffalo News)

• The Islanders television broadcast has three female analysts on it. Hopefully this is the start of a new trend. (ESPN)

• TSN’s Travis Yost graded every team’s bottom two lines. It’s not surprising to see that the Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the deeper teams in the league. (TSN.ca)

Brayden Point continues to quietly be the Tampa Bay Lightning’s MVP this season. (Tampa Bay Times)

• The Hockey News looks back at what went wrong for Scott Darling in Carolina. (The Hockey News)

• The Boston Bruins retired Rick Middleton’s number 16 prior to Thursday’s game against the New York Islanders. (NHL.com)

• Referee Dan O’Halloran hit the 1400-game mark on Thursday night. In this write up, O’Halloran explains why he wears number 13. (Scouting the Refs)

• Earlier this week, a report surfaced about the St. Louis Blues being interested in Detroit’s Jimmy Howard. But could the Penguins also be in the hunt for the veteran? (Pensburgh)

• Where does the Avalanche’s top line rank in terms of overall production from three linemates over the last few years? (Mile High Hockey)

• After getting off to a sluggish start, it sure looks like the Vegas Golden Knights are back. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• Devils defenseman Damon Severson doesn’t get a whole lot of national love, but he’s developed into a key piece for New Jersey. (All About the Jersey)

• Whether Sergei Bobrovsky signs an extension in Columbus or not, Blue Jackets fans should enjoy him while they have him. (The Cannon)

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.

Bertuzzi plays hero for Detroit in win on Wednesday Night Hockey

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The Detroit Red Wings needed a shot in the arm to get out of their recent funk and Tyler Bertuzzi was the man to provide the needed punch.

Bertuzzi scored twice in the game, including a goal with 6:53 remaining in the third period to make sure all the good work the Red Wings did in the second period of the game didn’t end up getting flushed away in vain while simultaneously ensuring an end to a four-game losing streak in a 4-3 defeat of the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday Night Hockey on NBCSN.

Indeed, Bertuzzi’s first of game capped off a stretch of three unanswered tallies in the first 11:04 of the second frame, with goals from Thomas Vanek and Andreas Athanasiou (a very pretty goal) preceding it.

That probably should have been enough to allow the Red Wings to snap their skid against a Blues team that has struggled even after firing Mike Yeo a couple weeks back. But as the clock ticked off the final seconds in the period, the Blues had already clawed two back through David Perron and Vladimir Tarasenko.

It’s the kind of thing that happens when a couple of undisciplined penalties come back to bite you. Both Blues’ goals came on the power play, which tells you all you need to know.

Buoyed by the momentum gained to finish the second, St. Louis emerged from the intermission and tied the game up 3-3 eight minutes in through Perron’s second.

Comeback complete and 12 minutes or so to find a winner while still riding momentum’s wave.

Alas, it wasn’t in the cards for Bluenotes.

Despite their best efforts to erase the three-goal deficit (and erase the memory of an embarrassing 8-4 loss to the Winnipeg Jets in their last game on Saturday), it wasn’t to be.

Instead, it was Bertuzzi who came up with the dagger, plunging it into the Blues with just under seven minutes left.

There would be no second comeback.

The Blues had plenty of time to let the five stages of (bad loss) grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — run their course. Their comeback — the loss notwithstanding — was a good sign from a team who could have packed it in with half a game left to play.

Whether it helps St. Louis going forward is anyone’s guess.

[RELATED: How active will the Red Wings be in the trade market?]

Maybe they can pry Jimmy Howard away from the Red Wings, as reported.

Howard stopped 33-of-36 in the game to give his team a chance. Jake Allen opposite of him wasn’t as giving. He allowed four on 31 shots for unfavorable .871 save percentage.

Detroit comes away back in the saddle of their rollercoaster season. St. Louis, meanwhile, is sent back to the drawing board.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule


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

WATCH LIVE: Red Wings host Blues on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues at the Detroit Red Wings at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

Here’s something that is delightful about the NHL in 2018: even struggling teams tend to bring real talent to the table.

The St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings fall under that category. That much was expected (if not always embraced) in Detroit, while the ups and downs prove to be a sobering reality for St. Louis.

[WATCH LIVE – 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

It must be frustrating for Ryan O'Reilly to watch the Sabres flourish with a 10-game winning streak during their first season without him, but you can’t blame ROR for Mike Yeo getting canned in favor of Craig Berube. O’Reilly has been more than just a great two-way forward; he’s been a star so far for the Blues. His 26 points lead all Blues, and by quite a bit, as also-great winger Vladimir Tarasenko has generated a mildly disappointing 18 points in 22 games.

With Alexander Steen back, the Blues are closer to 100 percent, even though Jaden Schwartz‘s frustrating health luck keeps him sidelined. If a Rob line (Robert Thomas and Robby Fabbri with honorary Rob Brayden Schenn) can provide St. Louis with some extra oomph, the Blues might just be onto something.

The Red Wings may be in a rebuild mode, but they’re not the usual layup you’d expect from a team facing such an outlook.

Their top line is a big reason why. Anthony Mantha‘s been on fire lately, while Dylan Larkin continues to prove that he’s a viable first-line center in the NHL.

Both the Blues and Red Wings have enjoyed prouder days, but it wouldn’t be a big upset if this ended up being a fun game nonetheless. For St. Louis, it might be something to build on for the nearer future, while the Red Wings aim to build a new foundation.

[Read more about this game in this extended preview]

What: St. Louis Blues at Detroit Red Wings
Where: Little Caesars Arena
When: Wednesday, November 28th, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blues-Red Wings stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINES

BLUES

Alexander Steen — Ryan O’Reilly — Vladimir Tarasenko

Robby Fabbri — Brayden Schenn — Robert Thomas

David PerronTyler BozakPatrick Maroon

Zach SanfordIvan BarbashevOskar Sundqvist

Vince DunnAlex Pietrangelo

Joel EdmundsonColton Parayko

Jay BouwmeesterJordan Schmaltz

Starting goalie: Chad Johnson

RED WINGS

Anthony Mantha — Dylan Larkin — Justin Abdelkader

Gustav NyquistFrans NielsenAndreas Athanasiou

Tyler BertuzziLuke GlendeningMichael Rasmussen

Thomas VanekJacob De La RoseMartin Frk

Trevor DaleyMike Green

Danny DeKeyserNick Jensen

Niklas KronwallDennis Cholowski

Starting goalie: Jimmy Howard

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.