Jonathan Drouin

NHL Power Rankings: Metropolitan Division dominance

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In this week’s PHT Power Rankings it is all about the Metropolitan Division which is proving itself to be the best, most competitive, and top-heavy division in the league.

It is so good right now that as of Monday five of the league’s top-11 teams in points percentage (Washington, New York Islanders, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Carolina) all play in it, and four of those teams (Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh) are in the top-seven.

All five are also in the top-10 in goal-differential.

The Capitals look like they have a shot to win another Presidents’ Trophy and maybe a Stanley Cup, the Islanders are still locking things down defensively, the Penguins are playing like a legit contender even though they they have been the most injured team in the league, the Flyers are one of the hottest teams in the league, and the Hurricanes are quietly surging along with a blossoming superstar on their roster.

Those teams also dominate the top of this week’s Power Rankings.

Where do they — and the rest of the league — currently sit?

To the rankings!

1. Washington Capitals. John Carlson is on pace to be the first defenseman since the 1991-92 season to hit the 100-point mark and the Capitals are on pace to win their fourth Presidents’ Trophy since the 2009-10 season.

2. Colorado Avalanche. If they can get Taylor Hall they would be the clear favorite to win the Western Conference, and maybe the Stanley Cup. They might be the favorite for both even if they do not get Taylor Hall.

3. Boston Bruins. Imagine how good they can be when they get Patrice Bergeron back.

4. Philadelphia Flyers. In any given week it feels like they could be a top-five team or a bottom-five team. Right now? Top-five. Losing Travis Konecny for now is going to be tough.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins. The way they are playing through significant injuries should make the rest of the Eastern Conference worried about what they are capable of when they start getting people back — including Sidney Crosby.

6. New York Islanders. They have come back to earth a little bit since that 17-game point streak came to an end, which is to be expected. Should not be a cause for concern yet.

7. St. Louis Blues. They could still use a little more offense, but the goaltending has been good enough to mask their flaws.

8. Winnipeg Jets. Forget the Vezina Trophy, Connor Hellebuyck is building himself an MVP case right now. Not saying he will win it, but he is building an argument.

9. Carolina Hurricanes. Andrei Svechnikov is starting to become a monster, leading the team in goals, points, and averaging more than a point-per-game. He is only 19 years old.

10. Arizona Coyotes. They are off to one of the best starts in franchise history while getting minimal goal-scoring from three of their top players (Phil Kessel, Clayton Keller, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson). If they can get going they might be on to something here, especially with that goaltending duo.

11. Dallas Stars. With this goaltending they can make a lot of noise, assuming the goaltending keeps playing the way it has.

12. Minnesota Wild. A season that looked lost a little more than a month ago is now on the verge of being salvaged. The Wild have earned a point in 14 out of their 17 games (10-3-4) since the start of November and are climbing back up the standings.

13. Edmonton Oilers. There are a lot of cracks in the foundation. Still no depth, and since their 7-1 start they have managed to win just 11 out of 24 games. They are going in the wrong direction.

14. Vancouver Canucks. I don’t think even they expected J.T. Miller to be as impactful as he has been since they acquired him.

15. Calgary Flames. They have started to turn things around the past couple of weeks, and even Milan Lucic is on a two-game goal-scoring streak.

16. Tampa Bay Lightning. Two things have hurt their spot in the standings. The first is they have played a league-low 27 games. The second is they have been wildly inconsistent in the 27 games they have played.

17. Florida Panthers. Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau are incredible. The goaltending is still incredibly bad.

18. Toronto Maple Leafs. Every team in the Atlantic Division behind Boston is a jumbled mess of mediocrity, and I don’t think the Maple Leafs expected to find themselves in that pile. They have shown signs of going on a run since the coaching change, but it has not all come together yet.

19. Buffalo Sabres. Jack Eichel is having a dominant, breakout season. Hopefully the Sabres can do enough around him so it does not go to waste.

20. New York Rangers. They are hanging in there and have given a lot of teams headaches lately. I don’t know if they are as good as their record, but having a superstar like Artemi Panarin and two outstanding goalies playing the way they are it is going to give a team a chance.

21. Vegas Golden Knights. Something is just off here. This team should be better than it currently is.

22. Nashville Predators. The usually dependable goaltending duo of Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros is sinking their season at the moment.

23. San Jose Sharks. Speaking of teams that should be better than they currently are, the Sharks are in a lot of trouble after a miserable road trip through Florida. Teams that get blown out as often as this team does do not typically do very well.

24. Montreal Canadiens. They simply do not have enough depth to overcome the injuries to Jonathan Drouin, Paul Byron, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

25. Chicago Blackhawks. Robin Lehner has been a great addition and helped give an otherwise awful defensive team a chance to win. He just can not stop anything in the shootout.

26. Columbus Blue Jackets. We knew the goaltending would be a question mark, but the offense has dropped off even more than it was expected to.

27. Ottawa Senators. After a brief surge in the middle of November the Senators are back to their struggles. The biggest thing to watch here is where Jean-Gabriel Pageau ends up.

28. Anaheim Ducks. They have three wins in their past 15 games. Somehow two of those wins have been against the Blues and Islanders.

29. New Jersey Devils. John Hynes may not have been the right coach for the Devils, but he also wasn’t the biggest problem.

30. Los Angeles Kings. What do you do with Jonathan Quick? Trading him does not seem to be an option given his play. A buyout will be a significant salary cap hit for a long time. He also has shown no sign that his career is on the verge of turning back around.

31. Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings are trending toward “historically bad” territory this season.

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.

Canadiens’ Kotkaniemi leaves game after scary fall (Video)

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Scary scene in Montreal on Thursday night during the first period of the Canadiens’ game against the Colorado Avalanche.

Second-year forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi had to leave the game after an ugly fall that resulted in him hitting his head off the ice. He remained on the ice for a few moments before being helped off the ice by teammates with his head slumped over.

The Canadiens announced that he was out for the remainder of the game due to an “upper-body injury.”

You can see the sequence in the video above.

It all happened after Kotkaniemi was pinned against the boards by Nikita Zadorov, and then fell backwards. There are a lot of problems with Zadorov’s hit, including the fact it looked to be very late (the puck was long gone from Kotkaniemi when Zadorov initiated the hit) as well as the fact he appeared to lift his right leg and swing into the back of Kotkaniemi’s, knocking him backwards. That doesn’t really qualify as a slew-foot, but everything about the play itself seemed unnecessary.

There was no penalty called on the play.

The Canadiens are already playing without two key forwards in Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron.

UPDATE:

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.

Bad night for defense injuries as Werenski, Dumoulin, Edler all exit games

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Saturday turned out to be a costly night for NHL defensemen as four defenders had to leave their teams respective games with injuries.

A quick rundown of the injuries.

Blue Jackets lose game and Werenski. The Blue Jackets were unable to beat the Islanders’ goaltending duo of Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov in a 2-0 loss (Greiss had to exit the game because he was not feeling well) on Saturday, but the biggest loss may have been the injury suffered by Zach Werenski, one of their top defensemen and top overall players.

He left the game with an upper-body injury after he was involved in a collision with Islanders forward Anders Lee early in the first period and was in immediate discomfort.

That came on just his third shift of the game. He did not return. Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella had no immediate update after the game, and with the Blue Jackets off on Sunday it may not be until Monday when we learn more about his status.

(UPDATE: Werenski is expected to miss the next four weeks.)

Another significant injury for the Penguins. This team can not keep its top players on the ice. Already playing without Sidney Crosby, Justin Schultz, Nick Bjugstad and Bryan Rust (he was injured in the morning skate before Friday’s game in Columbus), they lost Brian Dumoulin on his very first shift during Saturday’s loss to the St. Louis Blues with an apparent leg injury. After hobbling to the bench he needed assistance in getting to the locker room and did not return.

Coach Mike Sullivan was unable to give an update only to say that Dumoulin is dealing with a lower-body injury. His injury comes just a couple of games after the Penguins’ top defenseman — and Dumoulin’s regular partner — Kris Letang returned to the lineup and perfectly sums up the team’s injury situation this season — when one top player returns, another one immediately exits. Between the current injured list, as well as previous injuries to Evgeni Malkin, Rust, Jared McCann, Alex Galchenyuk, and Patric Hornqvist the Penguins have been one of the most injured teams in the league this season.

(UPDATE: The Penguins announced on Sunday that Dumoulin will be out for at least eight weeks after surgery to repair lacerated tendons in his left ankle.)

Edler exits with upper-body injury. Entering the game having lost two in a row, including an incredible third period meltdown against Pittsburgh in their previous game, the Vancouver Canucks were able to rebound with a strong performance in Edmonton on Saturday.

That performance came with a big price, however.

Top defenseman Alexander Edler exited the game after two periods with an undisclosed upper-body injury and was immediately ruled out for the third period.

The 33-year-old veteran has been having a really strong season for the Canucks, entering Saturday’s game with 15 points in 26 games and helping to push the pace of games with positive possession numbers. He has spent most of the season skating next to Tyler Myers.

Canadiens also lost Victor Mete.

[Update: We initially forgot about this one]

The Canadiens not only lost their seventh game in a row on Saturday afternoon, but they also lost defenseman Victor Mete to a lower-body injury.

He will not travel with the team to Boston as it continues its current road trip and looks to snap its losing streak.

He recorded an assist in the loss before exiting the game. It is another significant injury to a Canadiens team that really can not afford one right now, already playing without Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron at forward.

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.

How will Canadiens get out of this funk?

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Things have been bad for the Montreal Canadiens lately.

How bad?

Well, they lost forwards Jonathan Drouin (expected to be out two months after wrist surgery) and Paul Byron (expected to miss a month after knee surgery). On top of that, they blew a 4-0 lead on home ice to the New York Rangers, who were playing their second game in two nights. And on top of all that, they got obliterated 8-1 at the Bell Center last night against their biggest rival, the Boston Bruins.

Add it all up, and the Habs have dropped five games in a row. Most of those losses have come against mediocre opponents like the Devils, Senators, Rangers and Blue Jackets. Yeah, that’s a problem.

Struggling in November isn’t uncommon for this group. After a strong start last season, the team fell apart in the second month of the season. But Shea Weber‘s return from injury in late November (he had missed the whole year up until that point) gave them the spark they needed to get back on track in December of 2018.

Now, where is the spark going to come from?

There’s some serious cause for concern here. First, the team’s penalty-kill and overall defensive structure is a mess, which is shocking considering their head coach, Claude Julien, has built an impressive resume based on his defensive mind. Goaltender Carey Price isn’t on top of his game right now, which is also a problem because he’s the only one capable of masking their defensive warts.

Many in Montreal heap too much blame on Price because it’s the easy thing to do, but it’s clear that he hasn’t been good enough during this five-game losing skid.

“Obviously, it’s not fun to be a part of it but life goes on,” Price said after the ugly loss to Boston on Tuesday night, per the Montreal Gazette. “There’s always a way to turn things around.  Every team goes through some tough scenarios in a season and we’re going through one now. We can’t dwell on it too long. I’ve been around long enough to know you can’t pout our way out of it. Tomorrow we go back to work and find a way out of it.

“The good part is that we have a lot of guys who have been though this. On both sides of the puck we have to be better. There’s never just one thing.”

Outside of everybody playing better, the Canadiens will probably need to look to their general manager for some help if they’re going to get this season turned around. That’s not to say that this slide will continue much longer, but it’s not just about this losing skid. This is a Habs team that was eliminated from playoff contention on the last weekend of the regular season in 2018-19. The expectations were for them to get back to the postseason this year. In order to make that goal a reality, they’re going to have to spend the $8 million in cap space they have left.

Yes, Marc Bergevin tried to sign Sebastian Aho to an offer-sheet over the summer, but it didn’t work. Now, he needs to find a trade partner to make sure his team gets back to playing meaningful hockey in April. Making a deal when your team is desperate is never a good idea, so Bergevin will have to get creative. The move doesn’t have to come today or even tomorrow, but it needs to happen soon.

In order for this team to become a slam dunk to make the playoffs, they need to add a legitimate scorer, a left-handed puck mover on defense and some size throughout the roster. Will they be able to get all that before the trade deadline? Unlikely. But Bergevin has to sacrifice some of the youth in the pipeline or some of the draft picks they’ve accumulated if the goal is to make the postseason this year.

Pulling off major trades are never easy, so he’s going to have to make tough decisions over the next little while. Whether or not he makes the right ones will have a direct impact on his team’s playoff chances.

The pressure is on.

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.

NHL Power Rankings: Incredible run takes Islanders to top spot

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where does your team currently sit?

To the rankings!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.