Matthew Tkachuk

NHL Power Rankings: The quiet dominance of the Capitals

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Maybe it is because we are so used to seeing them at the top of the NHL standings.

Maybe it is because they already won their Stanley Cup and there is no longer any pressure on them to shake their postseason disappointment label.

Or maybe it is because there are so many other intriguing stories around the NHL that are dominating headlines (Edmonton and Vancouver off to surprising starts, the Islanders winning 10 in a row, Boston and St. Louis looking like they can get back to the Stanley Cup Final).

Whatever the reason, it seems like the Washington Capitals are getting a little overlooked this season and it is kind of amazing given just how dominant they have been. Entering the week they are 13-2-3 for the season, are one of the highest scoring teams in the league, have the best points percentage in the league, and have recorded at least a point in 11 consecutive games (10-0-1). What stands out the most about this start is they are doing it while getting mostly sub-par goaltending from Braden Holtby. If he gets back on track there is the potential for another championship parade in Washington D.C..

Because of all of that the Capitals climb to the top spot in this week’s PHT Power Rankings.

Where does every other team sit this season?

To the rankings!

1. Washington Capitals. Alex Ovechkin at 34 years of age is off to the second best goal scoring start of his career. He just keeps going and completely disregarding the normal aging curve of players.

2. St. Louis Blues. The defending champs were 3-2-3 after eight games and lost their best player for what will probably most — if not all — of the regular season. All they have done is go 9-1-0 in their past 10 games. Lot of overtime luck in there, but they are building themselves a nice cushion.

3. New York Islanders. After starting the year 1-3-0 they are entering the week on an 11-0-1 run, with the only loss coming in overtime after surrendering a three-goal third period lead.

4. Boston Bruins. Eventually somebody other than David Pastrnak or Brad Marchand will have to start scoring some goals. They have time to figure it out.

5. Philadelphia Flyers. Very quietly the Flyers have one of the top points percentages in the NHL (sixth best) and have won five out of their past six. Five of those six games have gone to overtime or a shootout so they are not really decisive wins, but their underlying and possession numbers paint the picture of a team that might have the right process.

6. Edmonton Oilers. Connor McDavid and Leon Drasaitl are doing exactly what is expected and exactly what they always do. The big difference-makers this season, though, are Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen playing great in net. Those two are the players that will determine what this team is able to do.

7. Colorado Avalanche. They slumped recently but am going to give them the benefit of the doubt due to the injury situation. When healthy they showed they can dominate, and they showed against Nashville and Columbus they can still score goals even without Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog.

8. Pittsburgh Penguins. Just when it looked like they were starting to get fully healthy Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Patric Hornqvist all exited the lineup with injuries. They are still playing extremely well despite all of the players they have been missing but the absence of Crosby will be a huge test.

9. Montreal Canadiens. Shea Weber can still be a great player and change a game when he is healthy.

10. Florida Panthers. If Sergei Bobrovsky would start playing like the goalie they paid him to be they would really be on to something this year. There is still plenty of time for him to turn it around and if/when he does this could be a sneaky dangerous team.

11. Nashville Predators. Filip Forsberg has five points in five games since returning to the lineup. The offense has been great, but they need more from the goalies, specifically Jusse Saros.

12. Dallas Stars. Ben Bishop got back on track and so did the Stars. They still need to do something to find some more offense because no goalie is great enough to allow one goal every game.

13. Winnipeg Jets. Paul Maurice deserves a lot of credit for keeping this team competitive given the state of the defense. But do you know who deserves more credit? Goalie Connor Hellebuyck.

14. Tampa Bay Lightning. They are starting to show some signs of getting back on track, but something still seems a little off here.

15. Toronto Maple Leafs. Everybody wants the Maple Leafs to change the way the play, but what if the change they need to make is to become more aggressive offensively, and not less?

16. Calgary Flames. They are starting to get back on track after a slow start. Matthew Tkachuk is the engine driving this machine right now.

17. Arizona Coyotes. They are definitely on the right track but still need to learn how to finish games.

18. Vancouver Canucks. The offense has gone cold during their four-game losing streak, but there are still a lot of encouraging signs here with this team.

19. Vegas Golden Knights. They have lost five out of six and still have not found a competent backup goalie to give Marc-Andre Fleury some rest. That is an under the radar problem that is going to need to be addressed.

20. Carolina Hurricanes. I still believe when all is said and done this season they will be a contender in the Eastern Conference, but they look out of sorts right now across the board.

21. Buffalo Sabres. The competition has started to get tougher and the losses have become more frequent. Not a good sign. After starting the year 8-1-0 the Sabres are 1-5-1 since with the only win coming against a lousy Detroit Red Wings team.

22. New York Rangers. Adam Fox has been the most impressive rookie on this team. That is not a knock on No. 2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko, just a statement on how good Fox has been.

23. San Jose Sharks. Starting to show some signs of life, but how far are they really going to go with that goaltending?

24. Chicago Blackhawks. They are finding ways to collect points every other game, but there is not really anything impressive about their play.

25. Ottawa Senators. They may not have a ton of talent but they play hard and are not throwing in the towel on this season.

26. Anaheim Ducks. If John Gibson and Ryan Miller are not flawless this team has no chance. Both goalies are having outstanding years and the team is still trending toward the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

27. New Jersey Devils. Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, is starting to look more comfortable.

28. Minnesota Wild. Their big rally against Arizona was a nice break from the overall disappointment that has been the 2019-20 season.

29. Columbus Blue Jackets. My sleeper team for the season is turning out to be exactly what everyone thought it would be.

30. Detroit Red Wings. After losing 12 out of 13 they managed to beat Boston and Vegas in back-to-back games. Even with those two wins they are still just 3-11-1 in their past 15 games. That is bad. What is not bad? Robby Fabbri scoring two goals in his first game with the team.

31. Los Angeles Kings. Time to start selling off whatever they can.

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: Capitals lead the NHL; Slim to Nilsson

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Three Stars

1. Thomas Greiss, New York Islanders

There were a handful of strong goaltending performances again on Saturday, and you can even gripe about the placement of stars here, as Greiss didn’t have the most saves in stopping 37 out of 38 shots on goal.

Greiss might have been asked to do the most of any winning goalie, though.

Not only was there no margin of error, as the Islanders beat the Panthers 2-1, but Greiss faced a mixture of quality and quantity against the Cats. According to Natural Stat Trick, Greiss faced 20 high-danger scoring chances, and the Panthers’ expected goals were at 4.41. To hold the Panthers to one goal – and only on the power play – is another great night of work for a goalie who probably deserves more hype at this point.

2. Anders Nilsson, Ottawa Senators

If you look at the bare stats alone, Nilsson had a “better” night than Greiss, allowing one goal on 39 SOG (38 to 37 saves).

We can debate Nilsson’s Saturday vs. Greiss’ Saturday, yet it’s getting tougher to reasonably argue which goalie should be starting for Ottawa — at least if the Senators don’t want to merely tank. Nilsson is now on a three-game winning streak, and his save percentage is up to a splendid .930. He’s shown some signs of being a well-above-average backup goalie for a little while now, especially since joining the Senators.

All due respect to Craig Anderson‘s tremendous accomplishments, particularly helping them come within an OT goal of advancing to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, but times haven’t been great for the veteran goalie. Anderson’s save percentage is a rough .897 this season, and he’s been putting up replacement-level numbers since 2017-18.

Frankly, tanking might be the best option for Ottawa, so theoretically they could merely split starts for at least a while. If this continues, they won’t be able to get away with even a platoon for a whole lot longer, though.

3. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals, or pick your favorite two-point night

Pointing to Kuznetsov’s goal and assist is a way of moving up the Capitals’ winning streak in the “batting order,” if you will.

The funny thing about the Islanders’ remarkable 10-game winning streak (and their still-active point streak of 12 games) is that, if you were looking at the standings, you might have thought “Huh, but the Capitals are still ahead.” That’s because Washington’s been almost as hot, and with a win on Saturday, the Caps are now at 29 standings points. Which means they’re leading the NHL.

Death, taxes, Capitals winning their division.

Nicklas Backstrom also had two goals in that win, but his was an empty-netter, so Kuznetsov feels like the safer choice. There are plenty of other options for star three, even if you limit your choices to skaters, including Cale Makar and Patrick Maroon, who both scored two goals.

Highlight of the Night

I didn’t mention Shea Weber yet, because one of his two goals earns highlight of the night consideration. If you want more on his night, there’s a fancy post for it and everything. Weber finished the night with two PPG to reach 101 for his career, the 11th most among defensemen in league history (or at least since the stat began being recorded).

Notable injuries

Factoids

Some might argue this package is the highlight of the night, then.

Scores

NYI 2 – FLA 1
TBL 5 – BUF 3
PHI 3 – TOR 2 (SO)
MTL 3 – LAK 2
OTT 4 – CAR 1
PIT 3 – CHI 2 (SO)
WSH 5 – VGK 2
MIN 4 – ARI 3
COL 4 – CBJ 2
STL 3 – CGY 2 (OT)
SJS 2 – NSH 1 (SO)

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 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.

The Buzzer: Tkachuk leads another Flames comeback; Faksa keeps Stars rolling

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Three Stars

1. Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames. A little less than a week ago Tkachuk helped the Flames complete a pretty improbable comeback in Nashville by scoring the game-tying goal late in the third period and then winning it in overtime. He had a similar night on Tuesday, helping the Flames erase a two-goal deficit late in the third period against Arizona. He scored his eighth goal of the season to bring the Flames to within one, a goal that was followed by Mark Giordano‘s game-tying goal less than a minute later. That set the stage for Tkachuk to score another overtime winner. Opponents may hate him, but he is turning into a star.

2. Radek Faksa, Dallas Stars. Don’t look now, but the Stars are starting to put things together. After winning just one of their first nine games — and looking ugly in the process — the Stars have now won seven of their past eight games and are back to .500 on the season. They continued that surge on Tuesday with a 4-1 win over a banged up Colorado Avalanche team. Faksa was the offensive star of the night with a pair of goals.

3. Reilly Smith, Vegas Golden Knights. Smith provided all the offense for the Golden Knights in a 2-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, scoring both goals to give him nine on the season. It helped the Golden Knights snap out of a mini funk that had seem them lose four of their previous six games.

Other notable performances from Tuesday

  • Victor Mete scored two goals for the Montreal Canadiens in their win over the Boston Bruins. He scored one goal in his career entering the night. Read more about it here.
  • Carter Hart needed a big performance and he gave the Philadelphia Flyers one on Tuesday, stopping 33 out of 34 shots in a 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.
  • Patrick Marleau has scored three goals since re-joining the San Jose Sharks. All three of them have come against the Chicago Blackhawks. He scored another one on Tuesday in their dominant 4-2 win. Read all about it here.
  • Nico Hischier scored his second goal of the season and Nikita Gusev tallied a goal in the shootout to help the New Jersey Devils get a much-needed win against the Winnipeg Jets.

Highlights of the Night

The Islanders won their 10th game in a row on Tuesday and the highlight of the night had to be Cole Bardreau scoring his first career goal on a penalty shot. Read all about the Islanders’ win here.

This could qualify as a both a blooper and a highlight, but we are going to focus on the highlight here as the Blues continue their great play by finishing a 3-on-0 rush in overtime, made possible by two Canucks players colliding at the other end of the ice.

One of the best plays in hockey is the perfectly time breakaway out of the penalty box. Mats Zuccarello is the lucky recipient of it here in the Minnesota Wild’s 4-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks.

Blooper of the Night

Fortunately for John Tavares and the Toronto Maple Leafs they were able to beat the Los Angeles Kings, but this shot in his first game back was not what he wanted.

Factoids

  • San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau became the sixth player in NHL history to skate in 800 consecutive games in their 4-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. [NHL PR]
  • Bardreau is just the seventh player in NHL history to score their first career goal on a penalty shot. [NHL PR]
  • Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara skated in his 1,500th NHL game. [NHL PR]

Scores

New York Islanders 4, Ottawa Senators 1
Philadelphia Flyers 4, Carolina Hurricanes 1
Vegas Golden Knights 2, Columbus Blue Jackets 1
Montreal Canadiens 5, Boston Bruins 4
Toronto Maple Leafs 3, Los Angeles Kings 1
New Jersey Devils 2, Winnipeg Jets 1
Dallas Stars 4, Colorado Avalanche 1
Calgary Flames 4, Arizona Coyotes 3 (OT)
St. Louis Blues 2, Vancouver Canucks 1 (OT)
Minnesota Wild 4, Anaheim Ducks 2
San Jose Sharks 4, Chicago Blackhawks 2

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: A scary night for leads in the NHL

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Three Stars

1. Austin Watson, Nashville Predators

Watson’s team didn’t get the win, but when he looks back on this Halloween, he’ll probably have fond memories.

For one thing, the Predators announced Watson’s three-year, $4.5 million extension during Thursday’s game. Watson responded with a four-point night, scoring two goals and two assists. His two helpers were the only assists on Calle Jarnkrok‘s consecutive shorthanded goals.

This outburst ended an eight-game pointless streak for Watson, which had to be a relief, even if he’s the type of gritty player whose main focus is to hit the opposition, rather than for his pucks to hit the net. Jarnkrok’s two shorthanded goals certainly put him in the conversation for a three stars nod, too.

2. Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames

While the main parts of what is normally the Flames’ top line in non-semi-crisis mode (Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm) spearheaded Calgary’s early push back from a 4-1 deficit, Tkachuk scored the goals that helped the Flames complete an unlikely comeback.

Tkachuk scored the 5-5 tally that sent the game to overtime, and he did it with just 39 seconds remaining in the third period.

His second goal came with less than two seconds remaining in that overtime frame, and considering the circumstances, it’s almost audacious that Tkachuk could pull off such a fancy between-the-legs move. Tkachuk ended Thursday with two goals and one assist, while adding three hits and a blocked shot.

3. Max Domi, Montreal Canadiens

Much like the Flames, the Canadiens found themselves down more than one goal, in the third period, on the road.

In Montreal’s case, the Golden Knights began the third period with two goals to transform a 2-2 tie into a 4-2 Vegas lead. Tomas Tatar got some revenge on his former team to score one goal, Brendan Gallagher sent it to OT with a bit less than two minutes remaining in the third, and Domi only needed 26 seconds to put the finishing touches on the OT-winner.

Domi also had an assist early in the game, so he had two points overall. Pretty impressive stuff from a Canadiens team closing out a back-to-back. Hot take: Domi will cost a lot more than his expiring $3.15M AAV after this season.

The overtime game-winners

On a spookily unusually quiet Thursday night (don’t hockey on a tummy full of treats), there were only two games, and both went to overtime. So why not expand the highlights of the night to both?

That said, the Tkachuk OT winner would take that spot if there was only one:

But, hey, Domi’s OT goal counts the same in the grand scheme of things:

Factoids

  • Max Pacioretty scored the 500th point of his NHL career on an assist, and he did it against his former team in Montreal. He didn’t get the last laugh, however.
  • Johnny Gaudreau reached his 400th career point with two assists, and only needed 409 games to get to that milestone. My expert math skills make me aware that he’s pretty close to a point-per-game.
  • Actually, he wasn’t alone in Flames milestones:

  • Via NHL PR, this is only the seventh time the Flames have faced a third-period deficit of three goals or more and won that game in any fashion.
  • Also via NHL PR, Calle Jarnkrok is the second Predators player to score two SHG in one game. The other was Scott Nichol. Remarkably, both did so in the same period, too.
  • Based off of Sportsnet’s earlier tweet, it looks like the Flames improved their Halloween record to 10-2-0. Save those boos for November, Calgary fans?

Scores

CGY 6 – NSH 5 (OT)
MTL 5 – VGK 4 (OT)

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 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.

Tkachuk tricks buzzer, treats Flames to comeback win

It really only makes sense that one of the NHL’s greatest trolls had the last laugh on Halloween night.

For a while, it looked like Thursday’s Calgary Flames – Nashville Predators game would be about Nashville winning a laugher at home, while Austin Watson celebrated his contract extension with a four-point night.

After all, the Predators carried a 4-1 lead into the third period, and the second period was especially embarrassing for the Flames, as Calle Jarnkrok scored twice — both times shorthanded. Nashville also generated a convincing 27-9 shots on goal advantage through the first 40 minutes.

Whether you chalk it up to Flames head coach Bill Peters berating his team in the locker room during the second intermission, the Predators possibly sitting on their lead, or any number of other factors, things got wild — perhaps spooky and ookie – during the third period, and didn’t stop until the dying seconds of overtime.

The Flames rattled off three consecutive goals to quiet the crowd in Nashville and tie things up 4-4, but that didn’t represent the end of the twists. Instead, Watson scored a pretty one-timer goal to make it 5-4 for Nashville two minutes after Alan Quine tied things up for the Flames … and that didn’t represent the end of the twists.

Calgary put relentless pressure on Pekka Rinne and the Predators with the Flames’ net empty late in the game, and those pushes to score paid off when Matthew Tkachuk scored the 5-5 goal to send the game to overtime. Then, with less than two seconds remaining in OT, Tkachuk found the net with a nifty between-the-legs shot, tricking the buzzer in the process.

(Check out that specific goal in the video above this post’s headline.)

The Flames had squandered third-period leads to lose their last two games, and had also lost three of their last four, only managing a shootout win during that span. With a back-to-back set looming on the weekend to close out their current four-game road trip, things could have been pretty tense if Calgary didn’t manage this remarkable comeback.

You could call him Tka-clutch on Thursday, if you’re into that sort of thing:

The Predators at least get a “charity point” for their struggles, and maybe a wakeup call that, if there was even a subtle push to sit on that 4-1 lead, they might want to keep their foot on the gas instead of trying to go into cruise control in similar situations down the line.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 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.