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

7 Comments

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.

Kings ride hot start to beat Ducks

1 Comment

While a loss would have given the Los Angeles Kings a better chance to improve their draft lottery odds, it’s easier to tell a team to tank than to actually endure that tedium and humiliation. Especially when you’re facing a hated, local rival like the Anaheim Ducks.

The Kings broke a three-game losing streak and earned just their second win since Feb. 9 by beating the Ducks 3-2 on Sunday.

Los Angeles stormed out of the gate in this one, scoring all three of their goals during the first period. Dustin Brown and Kyle Clifford scored the first two Kings goals, but it was the eventual game-winner by Carl Grundstrom that feels the most significant.

Grundstrom, 21, now has a goal in each of his first two NHL games. He was a 2016 second-rounder (57th overall) by the Toronto Maple Leafs, and became a part of the Kings’ organization thanks to the Jake Muzzin trade.

As much as Sunday’s game was about holdover names like Jonathan Quick (18 saves), Los Angeles’ rebuild is about successfully pulling off this rebuild, so seeing positive signs from Grundstrom seems like a victory in itself.

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.

The Buzzer: Richardson’s four goal game helps Coyotes stay in race

AP
3 Comments

Three Stars

1. Brad Richardson, Arizona Coyotes. It had been more than 20 years since a member of the Arizona Coyotes scored four goals in a game, and it was Brad Richardson, of all people, to snap that streak on Thursday night. He played the game of his life in a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks to help the Coyotes stay in the Western Conference playoff race, an impressive accomplishment given where they were coming from a year ago and the brutal injury situation they have dealt with this season. The only other player in the NHL to score at least four goals in a game this season is Winnipeg Jets forward Patrik Laine, who scored five a few months ago.

2. Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets. Seth Jones played 27 minutes for the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night and scored his seventh career overtime goal to help lift his team to a 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. It is a big win for the Blue Jackets because it moved them back into a playoff position for now as they temporarily moved back ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Flyers, meanwhile, fall a little further back in lose a point they could not afford to lose in the standings.

3. Reilly Smith, Vegas Golden Knights. Reilly Smith got the better of his former team on Thursday night by scoring a pair of goals for the Vegas Golden Knights against the Florida Panthers, including the game-tying goal late in the third period to send the game to overtime. He also scored a highlight reel between-the-legs goal that you can see below. The Golden Knights went on to win in a shootout 6-5 and continue to roll toward a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Other notable performances from Thursday

  • Hard to pick just one star for the New York Islanders as they completely crushed the Toronto Maple Leafs in John Tavares‘ first visit to Long Island in an opposing sweater (read all about it here). It was a pretty hostile environment, too.
  • The Boston Bruins delivered a pretty big statement win by crushing the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night.
  • The Dallas Stars picked up a huge two points with a 4-3 overtime win against the Los Angeles Kings. For the Kings this is their 10th consecutive loss in a season that has been a huge disappointment.

Highlights of the Night

Oh just Connor McDavid doing some Connor McDavid things in a rare win for the Edmonton Oilers.

This is an absolutely ridiculous stick save by Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. Did not prevent them from losing their 10th game in a row, however.

This is more of a lowlight for the Kings from this game, but still funny to watch.

 

Here is the aforementioned incredible between-the-legs goal scored by Reilly Smith for the Vegas Golden Knights.

Factoids

  • The Boston Bruins went an entire calendar month without a regulation loss thanks to their big win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night. [NHL PR]
  • Artemi Panarin became just the third undrafted player to begin his career with four consecutive 70-point seasons, joining Wayne Gretzky and Peter Stastny. [NHL PR]
  • The New York Islanders needed only 63 games to reach the 80-point mark. It is the eighth time in franchise history they have done that. [NHL PR]

Scores

New York Islanders 6, Toronto Maple Leafs 1

Columbus Blue Jackets 4, Philadelphia Flyers 3 (OT)

Boston Bruins 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 1

Edmonton Oilers 4, Ottawa Senators 2

Arizona Coyotes 5, Vancouver Canucks 3

Vegas Golden Knights 6, Florida Panthers 5 (SO)

Dallas Stars 4, Los Angeles Kings 3 (OT)

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’ winning streak ends in dramatic fashion

3 Comments

With a minute remaining in Thursday’s contest against the Los Angeles Kings, it seemed like the Philadelphia Flyers would finally see their eight-game winning streak end.

It ultimately did, but not in regulation. Jakub Voracek scored the tying goal with just 17.6 seconds left, sending the contest into overtime. The overtime period featured plenty of drama, including a tremendous save by Anthony Stolarz, but the game required a shootout.

And even the shootout was pretty exciting.

For one thing, Claude Giroux made some beautiful moves to score in the shootout, and Philly held a brief lead. It looked like the Flyers would extend the streak to nine games, but then an Adrian Kempe shot that at first seemed to hit the post actually was a goal. Ultimately, Los Angeles won the shootout, earning a 3-2 (SO) victory, with Drew Doughty jawing at the Flyers.

Maybe it feels a little silly for a Kings team that is destined to hit the links by April, yet considering all that late drama, it was pretty understandable.

Here are some of the big moments.

1. Voracek’s goal. Jonathan Quick didn’t really stand a chance.

2. Stolarz save, even without his stick.

3. Tyler Toffoli‘s shootout-winner.

The Kings don’t have much to look forward to beyond getting answers around the trade deadline, and the Flyers still face such a steep climb that it’s tough to imagine a full run to the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but this was an exciting way for Philly to see its exhilarating run end.

And, hey, the point streak is still going.

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.

Copley latest young, promising goalie to sign team-friendly deal

Getty Images

It’s been a subtle but important trend in the NHL over the last year — highly-rated, young backup goalies signing very team-friendly deals on clubs that are (or will be) up against the salary cap.

The latest came on Monday when Washington Capitals backup Pheonix Copley inked a new three-year pact with the club to the tune of $1.1 million annual average value.

He became another promising netminder that a team signed a ‘smart deal’ in recent months.

Here’s the list:

Copley has proved he is on the right track as a full-time NHL backup this season. His .903 save percentage in all situations isn’t pretty, sure. But consider his five-on-five is sitting at .921, a very respectable number on a team that leads the league in minor penalties taken this season and has taken a nosedive as of late.

DeSmith, by comparison, is a .925 and Saros is just behind and a .924 in 5v5 situations. All three are in the Top 30 among goalies in goals saved above average, too, with each of them on the positive side of that category.

All three are backups with good-to-great upside and are signed to deals that aren’t forcing the team to choose between them and another roster player.

Copley and Saros project to be future signings, with Saros is the heir to Pekka Rinne’s’ throne and Copley the competent backup behind Ilya Samsonov if the Capitals decide to move from Braden Holtby after next season, or an asset down the line if Holtby re-ups. DeSmith is an excellent insurance policy for the oft-injured Matt Murray in Pittsburgh, having already proved his worth in that role this season.

You can throw another guy like Minnesota Wild puck-stopper Alex Stalock into this mix, too, after he signed late last month.

It’s a trend that could catch on elsewhere, as well.

The Winnipeg Jets would likely love to sign Laurent Brossoit to similar terms, for example. He’s having a stellar season in Winnipeg after escaping from Edmonton.

Los Angeles has decisions to make with Jack Campbell and Cal Petersen, both who have shown promise this season filling in for Jonathan Quick.

And then there’s the not-so-distant aspect of this: they represent expansion draft protection, allowing these teams to expose the mandatory one goalie without having to expose the team’s No. 1 (Saros will be the exception here).

The risk with these deals is low. We’ve already seen high-risk this year, with the Oilers shelling out $13.5 million for Mikko Koskinen, who has similar numbers to Copley but is three years his senior. It’s the above contracts that make that Koskinen extension so perplexing.


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