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

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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.

The Buzzer: Price comes up big, Barbashev too

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Three stars

1. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

Even before the Columbus Blue Jackets lost to the Edmonton Oilers, Price’s 27-save shutout of the New York Islanders was huge, helping them at least keep pace if Columbus was to win.

Instead, the Edmonton Oilers did the Canadiens a solid, beating Columbus to allow the Habs to leapfrog the Blue Jackets into the second and final wildcard in the Eastern Conference.

Price has been solid over his past five starts, allowing just six goals across that span.

2. Ivan Barnashev, St. Louis Blues 

Barbashev had exactly one goal in his previous 18 games heading into Thursday’s action against the Detroit Red Wings. He now has four in his past 19.

Barbashev recorded his first career hat trick in a 5-2 win as the Blues strengthened their hold on third place in the Central Division. With the Dallas Stars losing on Thursday, the Blues moved four points clear of Dallas.

Barbashev netted the game-winner in the second period.

3. Malcolm Subban, Vegas Golden Knights

Subban never had a shutout heading into a game against the Winnipeg Jets. It’s doubtful even he thought it might come against the Central Division leaders.

But after 60 minutes and 20 shots against, Subban drew his first donut on the scoresheet.

Subban was solid, if not spectacular in a game the Jets didn’t show up to. But when called upon, he was up to the test. The Golden Knights played a solid team game, allowing just one shot on goal during two Winnipeg power plays.

Subban has started three straight now with Marc-Andre Fleury out. He’s doing just fine.

Highlights of the night

Here’s a double tap from Ben Bishop:

Marchand –> Pastrnak

Flossin’:

The Price wasn’t wrong on this save:

Factoids

Scores

Panthers 4, Coyotes 2
Bruins 5, Devils 1
Lightning 6, Hurricanes 3
Canadiens 4, Islanders 0
Blues 5, Red Wings 2
Penguins 2, Predators 1 (SO)
Flyers 3, Blackhawks 1
Avalanche 3, Stars 1
Flames 5, Senators 1
Oilers 4, Blue Jackets 1
Golden Knights 5, Jets 0
Kings 4, Sharks 2


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

Sharks’ goaltending is historically bad for Stanley Cup contender

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The San Jose Sharks have a big problem.

They are a powerhouse team in the Western Conference, and what should be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. They are loaded at forward. Their defense, when healthy, is probably among the top two or three units in the league and boasts two Norris Trophy winners. Together, those two units are as fearsome as any other team in the league.

There is only one part of this team that is going to hold them back, and it could not be in a worse place when it comes to playoff hockey.

It is goaltending.

It is always goaltending.

After Martin Jones and Aaron Dell combined to give up six goals in a blowout loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday (the seventh goal was an empty-net goal), the fourth consecutive game they have allowed at least four goals, the goaltending duo finds itself with the worst combined save percentage of any team in the NHL. Dead last. Thirty one out of 31 with less than 10 games to play.

Think of how many teams in the league have questionable or unsettled goaltending situations right now. Bad teams. Lottery teams. The Edmonton Oilers, for crying out loud. The Sharks’ goalies are below them. All of them.

Neither goalie has a save percentage over .898.

Among the 55 goalies that have appeared in at least 20 games this season, Jones and Dell rank 48th and 55th respectively in overall save percentage. They are 51st and 54th (Jones is actually the lower of two here) in even-strength save percentage. There is nothing about their performance this season that should make Sharks fans optimistic come playoff time, because if there is one position that can ultimately boost or doom a team in a best-of-seven series, it is the goalie.

The performance from their goalies this season is what makes their overall success as a team so impressive, because it is almost unheard of for a team to be this bad in net for a full season, and still be in such a good position in the standings.

Over the past 25 years there have only been 16 teams to finish in the bottom-five in save percentage and still make the playoffs in that season. That comes out to around a 12 percent chance of making the playoffs with bottom-five goaltending. Only seven of those teams finished higher than 10th in the league standings, and only one to this point has finished in the top-five (the Sharks may soon do it, too).

Only two (the 2011-12 Chicago Blackhawks and the 2014-15 New York Islanders) have made the playoffs over the past eight seasons.

Nobody else lower than 19th this season is even in a playoff position at the moment.

Let’s take a look at the aforementioned 16 teams that did end up making the playoffs, where they finished in the regular season standings, and what their postseason result ended up being.

Hide your eyes, Sharks fans, because this is not encouraging.

Ten of those teams ended up losing in the first round, and of the six teams that made it to the second round, one of them (the 2009-10 Pittsburgh Penguins) beat another of the teams (the 2009-10 Ottawa Senators) on this list.

Two teams ended up overcoming their goaltending to reach the Stanley Cup Final, both of them losing.

The 2008-09 Red Wings might actually be the best comparison to this Sharks team because the rest of the roster was so strong that it became one of the rare teams that was actually able to cover up for its issues in net.

This Sharks team is kind of similar, but probably not anywhere near as good. Keep something in mind about that Red Wings team: They were the defending the Cup champions that season and were in the middle of a two-year stretch where they were probably the most dominant team of the salary cap era. The roster was stacked.

Is this Sharks team that good? Maybe with a healthy Erik Karlsson they could get close to reaching that level, but they are probably not on that Red Wings level.

The other team made the Cup Final, the 2005-06 Oilers, was one of the teams that actually finished with the worst overall save percentage in a season and still ended up making the playoffs. But here is the thing that needs to be kept in mind about that Oilers team: They actually added a goalie, Dwayne Roloson, at the trade deadline and addressed their biggest flaw. 

It also worked.

Before Roloson arrived the Oilers were trotting out a forgettable trio of Jussi Markkanen, Mike Morrison, and Ty Conklin, who together posted a save percentage of only .880 during the regular season. That is impossibly bad, even for the 2005-06 season where goal-scoring was at its highest level since the 1980s. The league average that season .900, while no other team had a mark lower than .885.

When Roloson arrived he immediately solidified the position to close out the regular season with a .905 mark in his 19 appearances, helping the Oilers secure the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Once the playoffs started, Roloson played the best hockey of his career, leading the Oilers to the Cup Final. They also might have won that series had Roloson not been injured in Game 1, suffering an MCL sprain that sidelined him for the remainder of it. Almost immediately after he exited the game this happened to Conklin.

Markkanen ended up playing the next six games of the series, and while he played well, he never came close to matching what Roloson did before that.

Still, they had a clear weakness, they addressed it, and it worked.

The Sharks, facing a similar situation this season, did no such thing. How it plays out for them remains to be seen.

So what does this all mean for them right now?

First, they have to win the division.

Finishing ahead of the Calgary Flames would get them the top spot in the West and a likely first-round matchup against one of Dallas, Minnesota, Arizona, or maybe even Colorado or Chicago if some kind of miracle happens for the Blackhawks or Avalanche over the next couple of weeks.

Dallas would probably be the most concerning of those potential matchups simply because the Stars have one of the best goaltending situations in the league with the way Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin are playing (goaltending is important!), but you would have to like their chances against one of Minnesota or Arizona.

Assuming they get through that, they get the winner of what would be a Calgary and Vegas series. If it’s the Flames, they have their own question marks in net with David Rittich being an unknown still and Mike Smith having not worked out as they hoped he would. Vegas would be a brutal matchup in either round, not only because of the way their offense is starting to roll after the addition of Mark Stone, but because Marc-Andre Fleury, for as hit and miss as he has been at this this season, is perfectly capable of getting hot at any time and carrying his team.

The Sharks are a great team, one of the best in the league. But every team has a flaw somewhere on its roster, and the Sharks’ flaw is the one place you do not want it to be at this time of year if you have any hopes of winning the Stanley Cup.

There is still a path there for them to go far, and maybe win it it all even with that flaw, but history is not kind to their chances.

If it ends up playing out the way it did for so many teams with bad goaltending before them, there should be a lot of questions asked after the season as to why they did not address it when they had the chance.

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.

Golden Knights keep rolling with big win over Oilers

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The Vegas Golden Knights look to be hitting their stride at just the right part of the season.

They won for the eighth time in their past nine games on Sunday night with a 6-3 dismantling of the Edmonton Oilers as they continue to look like of the Western Conference’s best teams heading into the stretch run.

For the Oilers, the loss all but crushes their remaining playoff hopes even though Connor McDavid became the first player since 2007 to record eight consecutive multi-point games and Leon Draisaitl scored his 43rd goal of the season, the second-highest total in the league. As has been the case all season (and for three of the past four seasons), their brilliance offensively was not anywhere near enough to make up for the shortcomings elsewhere on the roster, particularly in net, as they were unable to slow down the Golden Knights’ balanced attack.

Jonathan Marchessault scored two goals for Vegas, giving him 22 goals on the season, while Brayden McNabb, Cody Eakin, Alex Tuch, and Mark Stone also found the back of the net in the win.

The Golden Knights have now scored 35 goals in their past nine games and have played at a pretty dominant level during that stretch. Entering play on Sunday they were among the top possession and scoring chance teams during 5-on-5 play in the month of March, a great sign for them with the playoffs just around the corner.

With Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny healthy, and Mark Stone in the mix after his acquisition from the Ottawa Senators, the Golden Knights now have two great scoring lines at the top of their lineup and an outstanding third line.

Their depth is so good right now that their leading scorer entering play on Sunday, second-year forward Alex Tuch, is skating on their third line.

The Golden Knights are pretty much locked into the third playoff spot in the Pacific Division, and will have a game against one of their potential first-round opponents — the San Jose Sharks — on Monday night.

As for the Oilers, well, they are now seven points out of a playoff spot with still four teams ahead of them with only 10 games remaining on their schedule this season. It seems as if they are destined to miss the postseason for the third time in four years in the McDavid era and the 12th time in the past 13 seasons of the salary cap era.

Malcolm Subban picked up the win for Vegas on Sunday in place of the injured Marc-Andre Fleury, stopping 16 of the 19 shots he faced.

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 on NBCSN: Oilers look to make up ground vs. Golden Knights

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and Vegas Golden Knights. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Like the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader on NBCSN, the second features a team whose playoff hopes are on life-support at the moment.

The Edmonton Oilers scored a big win last night, 3-2 in overtime against the Arizona Coyotes — but only gained a point after not being able to close Arizona out in regulation. The Oilers are seven points back of the idle Coyotes and have a game in hand, so theoretically, a win vs. Vegas in the second half of a back to back would place them within five points.

“I’ve liked our game coming back from the bye week, minus a couple of hiccups here and there,” Connor McDavid said after the game. “We haven’t necessarily been rewarded by it, but we are starting to now.”

McDavid will be featured on Star Sunday. He had his hand in all three of Edmonton’s goals on Saturday, including potting the game-winner in overtime. Oilers head coach Ken Hitchcock called it a “typical Connor game” and said, “he wasn’t going to be denied.”

McDavid is on a run of seven straight multi-point games, matching the longest streak of the season, which is shared by Auston Matthews and Nikita Kucherov. The 22-year-old is average 1.54 points per game, which would be a career-high. Thus, he’s on pace to set a new career-high in points. He had 108 last season and enters Sunday with 103. He’s set a new career-high in points in every season he’s played in the NHL.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Vegas enters the day firmly entrenched in third place in the Pacific Division, where they sit five points up on the Arizona Coyotes with a game in hand. Their current form has seen them win of seven of their past eight, erasing a spell prior to it where they lost six-of-seven.

The reason for the turn around has been an uptick in scoring and a downtick in goals allowed — usually a pretty good mixture for finding success.

“When we play our best hockey, it starts in the defensive end, and that’s really important to our group,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said after their win against Dallas on Friday. “I don’t want us to be a high-flying team. I want us to be a good, solid team and find ways to grind out wins like we did tonight.”

Part of the scoring has come from Mark Stone, who went from having one assist in his first four games with his new team to having two goals and three assists in over his past four outings.

“I’m starting to settle in,” Stone said. “It’s been pretty easy so far. Teammates have been really good with me. You almost get that feeling that you’ve been here for a lot longer than you have. Even though I’ve been here for two weeks, I’m starting to get a lot of familiarity.”

Marc-Andre Fleury will be the focus of Star Sunday for the Golden Knights.

Fleury leads the NHL with 35 wins and eight shutouts this season and is currently riding a six-game winning streak.

Inside Fleury’s 6-game winning streak
– 0.83 GAA, .973 SV%, 2 shutouts
– 5 goals allowed on 183 shots
– Has not allowed more than 2 goals in a game
– Wins over DAL (2x), VAN (2x), CGY, ANA

Chris Cuthbert (play-by-play) and Shane Hnidy (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev.


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