Carter Hart

Oilers keep on rolling with win over Flyers

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Talent has never been the question in Edmonton, it was always a matter of systems and execution.

Todd McLellan and Ken Hitchcock each saw glimpses in recent years, but Dave Tippett might have unlocked the secret formula for the Oilers to have long-lasting success.

With six wins in the team’s first seven games, including a 6-3 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday Night Hockey, Edmonton is starting to believe that it has what it takes to become a serious contender in the Western Conference.

Jakub Voracek had two goals and an assist for Philadelphia while Carter Hart was pulled after allowing four goals on 14 shots in his first start near his hometown Sherwood Park, Alberta, as the Flyers concluded a three-game road trip through Western Canada where they went 0-2-1. Oskar Lindblom also scored.

Connor McDavid led the way offensively with five points (one goal and four assists), while Leon Draisaitl added two goals of his own as the Oilers bounced back after their first loss of the season against the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this week. Mikko Koskinen stopped 49 shots and picked up his third victory of the season.

The Oilers recorded four consecutive goals, including three in the second that broke the game wide open. McDavid or Draisaitl’s ability to break a game open has rarely been an issue, but slowing down the opposition has been problematic. But through seven games this season, the team has allowed only 17 goals thanks to improved goaltending and more importantly, better team defense.

Last season the Oilers allowed 271 goals, good for seventh worst throughout the NHL. It’s the sole reason Tippett was brought in, to limit the damage in their own end of the ice, and allow their superstars to flourish offensively without ignoring their defensive responsibility.

Tippett has opted to play McDavid and Draisaitl together for most of the season, which has always been a delicate situation. Should a coach load up to form a powerful top line, or spread the wealth throughout the lineup so a high-end player is on the ice for the majority of the game?

The Avalanche have had great success keeping Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen on the ice as a pairing almost exclusively and the Oilers have been trending in that direction.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and James Neal provide options in the middle of the lineup but neither have the top-end talent equivalent to McDavid and Draisaitl.

However, if the Oilers are able to have a prolific first line, combined with strong structure throughout the neutral zone and in front of their goaltender, they will quickly become an elite team that could be a force to be reckoned with.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

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.

NHL Power Rankings: Early season surprises and slow starts

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In this week’s edition of the PHT Power Rankings we take a look at some of the early season results around the league.

The first couple of weeks can be tricky to analyze because there is a lot of random noise still taking place, and that can cloud our early outlook on a lot of teams. Over the course of an 82-game season every team is going to hit hot streaks and cold streaks, and if one of those streaks happens early in the year with nothing else around it we can easily jump to some wrong conclusions.

So far some Stanley Cup contenders have struggled, while a couple of teams that were thought to be at the bottom of the league have excelled.

Which teams are for real and which ones are not? Let us try to figure some of that out now.

To the rankings!

The early elites

These teams are at the top and will likely stay here…

1. Carolina Hurricanes. Anyone that thought this team’s second half and postseason run was a fluke was mistaken. They are for real and they are not going away. If they get the goaltending they could be a serious contender to win it all.

2. Colorado Avalanche. So far the preseason hype is legit. They still have the superstars at the top of the lineup, and now they have some actual depth to go with it. Cale Makar looks like a potential Calder Trophy winner.

3. Boston Bruins. When Tuukka Rask is on his game — as he has been so far — the Bruins can be close to unbeatable.

4. Vegas Golden Knights. They do have two losses (a one-goal loss to a great Boston team, and a random off night in Arizona) but they have absolutely steamrolled every other team they have played, including several division foes. Mark Stone could be a real sleeper MVP contender this season.

Great starts but still have something to prove

These teams have started fast, but may not stay here…

5. Edmonton Oilers. The good news: They won their first five games, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl look unstoppable, and James Neal is doing exactly what they hoped. The bad news: The roster after those three is still littered with questions and their underlying numbers point to an unsustainable hot streak. We will see where this goes.

6. Buffalo Sabres. Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin is a heck of a duo to build around, but after the way they started last year and fell apart after the first two months the rest of the team has to prove they can do it all year before anyone buys into them.

7. Anaheim Ducks. John Gibson might be the best goalie in hockey, and because of that they always have a chance on any given night. Having Ryan Miller is a backup is a pretty darn good Plan B in net, too.

8. Philadelphia Flyers. Still not quite sure what to make of the Flyers. The top of their lineup is great but the rest of the roster has question marks. A lot here still depends on what Carter Hart does. They started the season with three games in three different countries and managed to collect five out of six points during that stretch. Nice start.

The contenders that you know will be there

These teams are almost certainly going to be in the playoffs, and maybe even have a chance to play for the Stanley Cup, but have not yet played their best (or close to their best)…

9. St. Louis Blues. Brayden Schenn is responding to his new eight-year contract extension by scoring a ton of goals. We know he is good now, but that contract comes down to how good he looks four or five years from now.

10. Nashville Predators. Matt Duchene has been everything they could have hoped for so far. If he continues that he will be a significant addition to this roster.

11. Washington Capitals. They have not really played their best yet but are still managing to collect points in the standings almost every night. Good thing to do when you are not yet at your best.

12. Pittsburgh Penguins. The injury situation has left their forward lines a jumbled mess, but they are still finding ways to score goals and win. Sidney Crosby has been completely dominant.

13. Toronto Maple Leafs. The defensive questions that have followed this team around for the past few years are still there right now.

14. Tampa Bay Lightning. Something seems a little off so far. This is the best roster in the league on paper, but they have been really hit-and-miss so far this season. Their 4-2 loss in Ottawa over the weekend was ugly.

15. Calgary Flames. Some regression was to be expected this season, but they still have enough talent to be a factor in the Western Conference. Johnny Gaudreau is superb with the puck and is off to a great start.

The great unknowns

These teams are still mysteries whose seasons could still go in any direction…

16. Winnipeg Jets. Their defense is not very good, and that is going to be a big problem, especially if Dustin Byfuglien does not re-join the team. But they do still have a great collection of forwards and the big wild card is Patrik Laine having a monster season. So far, he is.

17. Montreal Canadiens. What this team really needs is for Jonathan Drouin to have a breakout year and become the star forward they hoped he could (and would) be.

18. Detroit Red Wings. They have to be thrilled with the start Anthony Mantha is off to. They have played well, but the roster just does not seem to stack up to the other potential playoff teams in the Eastern Conference.

19. New York Rangers. Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin looks like it has a chance to be quite a duo this season.

20. New York Islanders. They are still going to struggle to score goals, but Mathew Barzal will produce more than he has so far. They will still go as far as the goalies can take them.

21. Florida Panthers. They won just one of their first five games entering Monday, but two of their losses came in a shootout. Yeah, they missed out on two points, but we are talking about a coin flip away from their start looking dramatically different than it does. Sergei Bobrovsky being off to a slow start is not helping.

22. Columbus Blue Jackets. So far the goaltending has been the issue it was expected to be, but Pierre Luc-Dubois looks like he is on track for the huge year that was expected of him.

23. Vancouver Canucks. Quinn Hughes was the big reason for excitement this season and so far he is looking like a player that wants to insert himself into the Calder Trophy discussion.

24. Los Angeles Kings. The expectation was that there was no way Jonathan Quick could play worse than he did a year ago. In his first three games he has surrendered 19 goals. That is not going to cut it.

25. Arizona Coyotes. They are still getting great goaltending, but the lack of offense is a real concern.

Good teams that should be better

These are good rosters and should be playoff teams, but they have struggled so far…

26. San Jose Sharks. Not sure if a 40-year-old Patrick Marleau was the missing piece here, but they did win their first two games after he arrived, helping to ease the frustration from an 0-4 start. Do not expect this team to remain this low all season. Too much talent here. Still a potential Western Conference champion.

27. Dallas Stars. Roope Hintz has been the lone bright spot on what has been, so far, one of the most disappointing teams in the NHL.

Could be a long season

These teams have looked bad and may continue to look bad all season…

28. Ottawa Senators. Their win over the Lightning this weekend really was impressive, but other than that they have looked exactly like we expected the Senators to look.

29. Chicago Blackhawks. The early returns on the “did they do enough to fix their defense?” question are not looking promising.

30. New Jersey Devils. Their best players and their new faces are all off to slow starts, and that should help when those players get things turned around. Not sure if the goaltending will turn around, though. So far the Devils have not really done anything well this season.

31. Minnesota Wild. There is just — well — there is just not much positive happening here.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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: Sizzling Sabres; Devils can’t beat Hart

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Three Stars

1. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres

Buffalo is off to a hot start, and to little surprise, Eichel is leading the way.

You know that a player is explosive when he can begin the season with seven points in four games despite going pointless in two of those contests. Wednesday represented Eichel’s best work of 2019-20 yet, as he generated two goals and two assists.

Eichel is a driving force of a hot Sabres power play that went 2-for-5 against the Canadiens, and Eichel assisted on a Marcus Johansson OT game-winner that happened soon after a penalty expired.

Eichel had quite the peripheral output, too, getting those two goals on eight SOG.

2. J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks

Considering the absolute beating Vancouver handed Los Angeles, it’s not surprising that an 8-2 game produce a top Vancouver performance. Canucks GM Jim Benning must feel great about seeing Miller have a one-goal, three-assist performance during the home-opener.

Time will tell if Miller was worth the first-rounder the Canucks will give up for him – either in 2020 or 2021 – but he’s nights like Wednesday serve as an argument that Miller is the type of top-six forward Vancouver sorely needed.

3. Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers

For the first time in a career the Flyers are pinning a lot of hopes on, Hart achieved an NHL shutout.

While he didn’t need to make an enormous number of stops – finishing Wednesday with 25 – there were some that were absolutely of a high degree of difficulty. The one that will live on the longest came during a 5-on-3 power play, as he absolutely robbed Taylor Hall, which brings us to …

Highlight of the Night

How could it be anything other than Hart robbing Hall? More on that here, but enjoy the save again below:

Blooper of the Night:

Ouch, Kyle Palmieri.

Burn of the Night

Flyers have little chill, as the Devils found out.

Factoids

  • At 21 years and 57 days old, Hart became the youngest goalie in Flyers history to get a shutout, via NHL PR.
  • From NHL PR: the Canucks tied their most goals for a home opener with eight, and Miller’s four points ties Alexander Mogilny, Tony Tanti, and Greg Adams for the most in a home opener.
  • Buffalo’s Victor Olofsson scored his sixth NHL goal on Wednesday, and so far, all of them have come on the power play. Olofsson ranks among four players to start their careers that way, according to Statscentre.
  • The Canucks faced the Kings for their first regular-season game 49 years ago. In that case, it went Los Angeles’ way, as the Kings won 3-1.

Scores

BUF 5 – MTL 4 (OT)
PHI 4 – NJD 0
VAN 8 – LAK 2

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.

Thoughts on Hart, Flyers blanking new-look Devils

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The New Jersey Devils headed into 2019-20 with a fair amount of hype as a new-look team. Through three games, the additions of P.K. Subban, Jack Hughes, Nikita Gusev, and Wayne Simmonds have resulted in all-too-familiar results.

The Devils ended Wednesday with a 0-2-1 record as the (also new-looking) Philadelphia Flyers blanked them 4-0.

Speaking of fresh faces, Carter Hart indeed looked like a young phenom against the Devils, pitching the first shutout of his NHL career. His 25-save performance will be immortalized by this incredible save during a 5-on-3 penalty kill against 2017-18 Hart winner Taylor Hall:

Hart is the headliner, and with good reason, but let’s ponder a few other storylines from the Flyers’ 4-0 beating of the Devils.

Hughes hasn’t been huge

If you tuned into Wednesday’s game to get an idea of what the top pick of the 2019 NHL Draft is capable of, you might have ended up being disappointed. Honestly, you might have had a hard time even noticing him.

Hughes, 18, remains without a goal or an assist through his first three games. He was very quiet on Wednesday, failing to even register a shot on goal. While Hughes’ ice time was modest (14:34 overall), he was on the ice for 4:12 of power play time. Not great.

That said, there are certain metrics that argue Hughes’ work has been better than what initially meets the eye:

He’s far from the only quiet Devil to start

Taylor Hall ranked as one of the only Devils players who really stood out, firing five SOG. He’s generally been making an impact; while Hall hasn’t scored a goal yet, he has two assists in three games.

The Devils need more from other players, including P.K. Subban. So far, Subban only has an assist through his first three games with New Jersey. That has to be frustrating, especially as he sees Matt Duchene lighting it up with six assists already for Nashville.

Hot seat for John Hynes?

It’s probably too early to be too worried about the job security of the Devils’ head coach.

That said, the Devils have a ton on the line in 2019-20. Not only did they pay significant money to get better with Subban and Gusev, they also need to convince Hall to stick around, or they’d need to either trade Hall for something or watch him walk away for nothing in free agency.

With that in mind, Hynes needs to find answers — and fast. Maybe he should experiment with putting Hall and Hughes together? It might helpful for the Devils to see what Nico Hischier can do without Hall before they pay him, for one thing.

Flyers have a special night

Philly killed that 5-on-3 power play, which was virtually a full two minutes. They ended up blanking the Devils (New Jersey finished 0-for-5) while scoring two power-play goals on Wednesday. If the Flyers can rekindle their power play magic from the not-so-recent past, and get strong goaltending from Hart more often than not, then they can make the leap many expected to see last season.

Cory Schneider was actually having a pretty strong night, but the Flyers wouldn’t relent, and eventually overwhelmed the Devils goalie.

GM Chuck Fletcher’s experiment looks successful very early on, as Philly’s started the season at 2-0-0. The Devils have to envy Philly’s quick start, and they can’t afford to let this bumpy beginning to linger much longer.

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.

Carter Hart stuns Taylor Hall with astounding save

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One of the creakiest hockey cliches is that “your goalie is your best penalty killer.” Well, Carter Hart absolutely freshened up that take on Wednesday.

The New Jersey Devils had almost a full two minutes of 5-on-3 power play time during the second period against the Philadelphia Flyers, as both Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes were in the penalty box. For a Devils team that saw Ivan Provorov score the only goal of the game so far on the PP, they had to be licking their chops for this opportunity.

Instead, they found themselves shaking their head.

In a stunning moment, Hart was forced to make a spellbinding lateral save, sprawling out to somehow get his glove on what looked like a no-doubt one-timer goal for Taylor Hall.

Yeah, it makes a highlight reel stop even more amazing when it comes against a recent Hart Trophy winner, at least in my book.

Hart ended up shutting out the Devils as the Flyers won 4-0. Read more about that game here.

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.