Alexandar Georgiev

NHL Playoffs
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Islanders, Hurricanes slide leaves playoff door open for Rangers

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Thanks to Mika Zibanejad‘s five-goal performance on Thursday night, the New York Rangers were able to pick up a huge win against the Washington Capitals to snap what had been a three-game losing streak.

Combined with regulation losses by the Carolina Hurricanes (against Philadelphia) and the New York Islanders (against Ottawa) on Thursday, the results helped the Rangers inch a little bit closer to a potential playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The odds are still stacked against them, but the fact they are even in the race at this point is a remarkable accomplishment and a minor hockey miracle.

As of Friday the Rangers are two points back of the Islanders for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the Hurricanes, and two points ahead of the Florida Panthers.

Here is how the current Wild Card race shakes out, including every team’s current pace.

Given their current paces you can see the Rangers still have some work to do to catch either the Columbus Blue Jackets or Islanders and stay ahead of the Hurricanes, but this is still a dramatic change from what we saw as recently as one month ago.

Go back to the start of February and the Rangers were 10 points back of the Islanders and seven points back of both the Hurricanes and Panthers. Today, they have pretty much drawn even with the Hurricanes, moved ahead of the Panthers, and climbed to within striking distance of the Islanders. Those are significant gaps to close in that period of time. It is remarkably rare for teams to make up even a four-or five-point gap at the halfway point of the season, and the Rangers are currently in the process of closing 7-10 point gaps in just a little more than a month.

It’s been the perfect storm of the Rangers getting white hot and quite literally every team in direct competition with them starting to crumble for a variety of reasons.

Columbus, a team that has been completely devastated by injuries this season, has lost 11 out of its past 13 games (six of those losses have come in overtime or shootout, though).

The Islanders still have a decent hold on a Wild Card spot, but have been one of the league’s worst teams (no exaggeration) since that early-season point streak came to an end in late November. In 45 games since Nov. 25 the Islanders own only a .489 points percentage, 24th in the league during that stretch. Most recently, they have won just two of their past 11 games and take a five-game losing streak into Saturday’s game with the Hurricanes.

Speaking of the Hurricanes, their current injury situation is really starting to catch up with them.

They are still playing without both of their regular goalies (Petr Mrazek and James Reimer) and have lost four in a row since they exited the lineup. The most recent Hurricanes goalie to record a win was David Ayres. Even more concerning the goalie situation is the fact they are now without Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce. That puts an absolutely massive dent in their blue line, and for as good as trade deadline acquisitions Brady Skjei and Sam Vatanen are, neither one is an upgrade over the two injured players and Vatanen has still yet to appear in a game due to his own injury. They are just 8-7-1 since Hamilton went out of the lineup, and remain winless since Pesce went out.

That’s not to say the Rangers don’t have their own concerns right now.

Igor Shesterkin, who had overtaken both Alexandar Georgiev and Henrik Lundqvist as the team’s no No. 1 goalie, remains out of the lineup due to injuries sustained in a car accident just before the NHL trade deadline. Chris Kreider, meanwhile, is going to miss most — if not all — of the remaining games in the regular season due to an ankle injury. In the meantime, they are going to need to keep leaning on the duo of Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin to keep carrying the offense, and hope that the Islanders, Hurricanes and Blue Jackets continue the recent slides that have helped close the gap.

It’s asking a lot, and any extended slump by the Rangers or any winning streak by the Islanders, Blue Jackets or Hurricanes could render all of this meaningless. But the Rangers have at least given themselves a chance and a reason for their fans to pay close attention to the stretch run of the regular season.

Related: Western Conference Wild Card race is still not clear

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.

Stunning Numbers: Rangers goalies, 100 point scorers, and more

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During the 2019-20 NHL season we will take an occasional look at some stunning numbers from around the league. Here is what has stood out to us over the past few weeks. 

100-point scorers

As of Saturday there are nine players in the NHL on pace for at least 100 points this season.

That list…

This stands out because as recently as two years ago the 100-point scorer seemed like it was an extinct species in the NHL.

A year ago six players ended up reaching the century mark. But in the years between 2010-11 and 2017-18 (a span of eight seasons) it was done just eight times by seven different players. In a couple of those years nobody did it.

The last time the NHL had at least nine 100 point scorers in a single season: The 1992-93 season, when 21 players reached it.

Another Golden Knights’ winning streak and another piece of history

The Rangers’ goaltending situation

The two biggest factors in the New York Rangers’ climb back into playoff contention have been the MVP caliber play of free agent acquisition Artemi Panarin, as well as the play of their two young goalies, Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev.

The latter two have been so good that they have almost completely pushed a Rangers legend out of the picture.

As noted by NHL.com’s Pete Jensen on Friday, Henrik Lundqvist has not started a game for the Rangers since February 3 and has only made five starts in the new calendar year. During that time both Shesterkin and Georgiev have started both sets of back-to-back situations.

During that stretch the Rangers are 16-9-0 (the seventh best points percentage in the NHL), while their goaltenders have combined for an all situations .922, a mark that is tied for the second best in the NHL (with Tampa Bay and behind only Colorado).

Shesterkin and Georgiev alone have combined for a .930 mark in those games.

With Shesterkin sidelined for the time being due to injuries suffered in a car accident it seems likely that Lundqvist will at least get a couple of starts here in the coming weeks, but it is pretty clear which direction the Rangers’ net is headed in for the immediate (and long-term) future.

One more David Ayres stat

Carolina’s emergency backup goalie played a little more than 30 minutes and stopped 8 out of 10 shots to get the win exactly one week ago today.

Something to keep in mind: There are 21 goalies in NHL history that have played in at least four NHL games and have recorded zero wins.

Mike O’Neil, a former backup goalie with the Winnipeg Jets in the 1990s, is at the top of this list having appeared in 21 games without recording a single win. Bruce Racine, a backup with the Blues in 1995 and 1996, appeared in 11 games without a win.

Among active goalies Zane McIntyre has made eight appearances (with three starts) without a single win to his credit.

Chicago’s bright spot

It has been another tough year for the Chicago Blackhawks, but they have had one surprising development — the rapid emergence of rookie winger Dominik Kubalik.

With 29 goals in his first 62 games he is already one of the top rookie goal scorers in franchise history (sixth on the list) and is currently on a 38-goal pace.

The only Blackhawks rookies to ever top that mark were Steve Larmer (43 in 1982-83) and Darryl Sutter (40 in 1980-81). Considering the different eras and how different the goal-scoring climate is today, that is a pretty impressive season.

The only rookies with at least 38 goals since 1990 are Teemu Selanne, Alex Ovechkin, Eric Lindros, Auston Matthews, Sidney Crosby, and Mikael Renberg.

Granted, Kubalik still has to reach that mark (I wouldn’t bet against him the way he is going right now) and he is a couple of years older than all of those players were in their rookie seasons, but it remans an impressive performance.

 

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: Hats off to Ryan, Kubalik; Granlund’s late-game heroics

Mikael Granlund #64 of the Nashville Predators celebrates his game tying last second goal
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Three Stars

1) Bobby Ryan, Ottawa Senators

He struggled to fight off the tears as Senators fans chanted his name at Canadian Tire Centre late in the third period after Ryan completed his fifth career hat trick to seal Ottawa’s 5-2 victory against the Vancouver Canucks. It was Ryan’s second, and first at home, since returning from an extended absence in order to deal with an alcohol addiction problem. Ryan scored in a variety of ways including a slick redirection, a short-side snipe and an empty-net tally as Ottawa snapped a four-game losing streak.

2) Dominik Kubalik, Chicago Blackhawks

The Czech rookie starred in a five-goal third period for the Blackhawks as they defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-2. The 24-year-old collected goals 27, 28, 29 for his first NHL hat trick while Chicago snapped a two-game losing streak. Kubalik knotted the game at 2-2 shortly after Brandon Saad opened the scoring for Chicago. The Blackhawks’ rising star relentlessly followed the puck and finally lit the lamp on his third chance of the sequence. Chicago took a two-goal advantage when Kubalik fired a blistering one-timer past Curtis McElhinney. He would complete the hat trick with an empty netter in the final minutes of the third. The playoffs are out of reach for Chicago this season, but Kubalik’s emergence will help the Blackhawks return to the postseason in the coming years.

3) Mikael Granlund, Nashville Predators

The saying “every second counts” applied to the Predators as Granlund score with one-tenth of a second remaining to force overtime against the Calgary Flames. The Predators didn’t give up during the final moments of a hectic finish and Filip Forsberg slid a puck to Granlund’s stick before the equalizer. Granlund wasn’t finished until he notched the overtime winner to send Bridgestone Arena into a frenzy. A loss would have had costly ramifications on the Predators’ playoff pursuit, but Granlund’s heroics allowed Nashville to slide into the second wild card spot for the time being.

Highlights of the Night

Charlie Coyle batted the puck out of mid-air to even the game at 1-1 late in the first period.

Evander Kane kicked the puck to himself and then fed Logan Couture, who netted the game-winning goal in his second game back from an ankle injury.

Colton Parayko finished off the Islanders with this wraparound in overtime to lead the Blues to a 3-2 victory.

Tomas Tatar stickhandled back and forth until an opening presented itself.

Auston Matthews‘ 44th of the season helped Toronto capture an important 5-3 victory against the Florida Panthers.

Mathew Dumba scored twice including this one-timer as the Wild scored seven in their victory against the Red Wings.

Alexandar Georgiev turned the puck over but recovered with this spectacular save.

Stats of the Night

Scores

New York Rangers 5, Montreal Canadiens 2

Chicago Blackhawks 5, Tampa Bay Lightning 2

Toronto Maple Leafs 5, Florida Panthers 3

Boston Bruins 4, Dallas Stars 3

Ottawa Senators 5, Vancouver Canucks 2

Minnesota Wild 7, Detroit Red Wings 1

St. Louis Blues 3, New York Islanders 2 (OT)

Nashville Predators 4, Calgary Flames 3 (OT)

Winnipeg Jets 3, Washington Capitals 0

San Jose Sharks 3, New Jersey Devils 2 (OT)


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Can Rangers make the right moves with three goalies?

Rangers three goalies Lundqvist Georgiev Shesterkin
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The New York Rangers face a problem most NHL teams would love to have: they have “too many” competent goalies. For the time being, the Rangers must manage a delicate balancing act between Henrik Lundqvist, Alexandar Georgiev, and Igor Shesterkin.

Actually, the balancing act is more complicated than that. That’s saying something, too, because it isn’t always easy to juggle three goalies who deserve reps (both in practices and games).

The Rangers also face challenges in managing fan expectations, their aspirations to compete soon (vs. the likelihood that this isn’t a playoff year), and the trade deadline.

Having too much beats suffering without enough, but it’s a problem nonetheless. Let’s consider the situation by looking at all three goalies.

Henrik Lundqvist

Few goalies would dare to dream of enjoying the run Lundqvist went on from 2009-10 to 2015-16, where his save percentage never dipped below .920. Even before that stretch, Lundqvist enjoyed some strong seasons. His Hall of Fame entry is a matter of when, not if.

And while Lundqvist has looked human — uncannily handsome, but human — during the past few seasons, there’s evidence that he’s still pretty effective. When you take the Rangers’ shabby defense into account, Lundqvist often shines like dandruff-free, well-conditioned hair. Take, for instance, his solid work in 2019-20 by standards such as this chart from Charting Hockey:

 

That’s pretty impressive, especially for a 37-year-old.

Of course, that’s the rub: Lundqvist is 37. He’s expensive at an AAV of $8.5 million through 2020-21.

If we were all robots, we’d make the cold, calculated call to trade Lundqvist. We’re not robots (eyes you suspiciously), however, so the Rangers have to consider the politics of making such a trade. Frankly, it’s tough to imagine that happening, unless Lundqvist asked for a trade.

Context and marketing point to Georgiev or Shesterkin being the odd goalie out, even if team-building logic would punt “King Henrik.”

Georgiev seems like the easiest omission of the Rangers’ three goalies

Plenty of factors point to Georgiev being the odd goalie out:

  • While Lundqvist and Shesterkin are under contract through 2020-21, Georgiev is a pending RFA.
  • Georgiev (23) isn’t the lone youngster, as Shesterkin is 24.
  • Georgiev doesn’t have the NHL resume of Lundqvist, nor does he seem to boast the fascinating potential of Shesterkin.

That said, Georgiev is more battle-tested (.913 save percentage in 66 NHL games) than Shesterkin (.929, but in just three so far).

Things also get more complicated if the Rangers value Georgiev more than the market. The Athletic’s James Mirtle notes (sub required) that the Rangers reportedly want a young player who can contribute immediately — rather than a pick or prospect — for Georgiev.

Such an asking price may explain why Elliotte Friedman wondered if the Rangers might wait until the offseason to address this three-headed goalie monster, rather than a seemingly more logical situation of trading Georgiev to a team that needs a backup.

Personally, I’d be more eager to move Georgiev for something at the trade deadline, but we’ll see. With Chris Kreider and other decisions to make, the Rangers figure to be busy.

Shesterkin boasts most fascinating, mysterious potential of Rangers’ three goalies

This situation presents headaches, but the Rangers seem to realize that Shesterkin has a strong chance to be worth it.

Now, the usual caveats apply. Goalies are explosively unpredictable, and as currently constituted, the Rangers’ porous defense only ratchets up that volatility. Shesterkin could very well wilt where Lundqvist and Georgiev kept at it.

That said … goodness, Shesterkin’s numbers look promising.

Along with three mostly strong NHL appearances, Shesterkin managed an impressive .934 save percentage in 25 AHL games this season. Shesterkin’s KHL save percentage ranged from .933 to .953 from 2016-17 to 2018-19.

The body of work isn’t that large, but a goalie can only stop the pucks they face, and Shesterkin’s thrived in every stop so far.

***

The Rangers deserve credit for a strong rebuild, but the toughest tests lie ahead. It’s more difficult to go from average to good (and especially good to great) than to step up from moribund. Getting this goalie part right is important, even if it could get a little messy.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Morning Skate: 20 trade candidates; Can Josi win Norris?

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

• The Leafs are about to face a stiff test without Jake Muzzin and Morgan Rielly. (The Hockey News)

• To overcome those injuries, the Leafs will have to rally together. (TSN)

• Sportsnet has 20 trade deadline candidates that you’ll hear about between now and the end of February. (Sportsnet)

• The department of player safety couldn’t have handled the Kassian – Tkachuk situation much worse. (Vancourier)

P.K. Subban isn’t planning on asking for a trade out of New Jersey. (NHL.com)

• Canadiens rookie Nick Suzuki is adapting to life as an NHLer. (Montreal Gazette)

• Mile High Hockey provides us with a 2020 Mock Draft. No surprises at the top of this list. (Mile High Hockey)

• With Tuukka Rask injured, who will the Bruins call up in his place? (Stanley Cup of Chowder)

• The Leafs can and should acquire Alexandar Georgiev from the Rangers. (Leafs Nation)

• Can Roman Josi win the Norris Trophy this season? (On the Forecheck)

• It looks like the Sharks are starting to turn things around. (NBC Sports Bay Area)

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.