Darcy Kuemper

Connor McDavid makes it look easy to go coast-to-coast

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Oliver Ekman-Larsson is an $8.25 million defenseman. Darcy Kuemper ranks as one of the hottest goalies of this calendar year. Neither of them had a prayer of stopping Connor McDavid during his latest highlight-reel goal on Monday night.

While Leon Draisaitl did help to transport the puck through the neutral zone, McDavid did all of the rest, and basically as only he can do it — or at least as only he can do it with this sort of frequency, and seemingly with such ease.

McDavid grabbed the puck from Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen, then blazed up the ice, exchanging with Draisaitl before blowing past OEL and scoring another goal you shouldn’t even be able to score in video games.

The Oilers ended up falling to the Coyotes 3-2 in OT.

MORE:
• Oilers, Coyotes off to fast starts
• 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.

NHL Power Rankings: The 10 most impressive players through October

In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we take a break from the team level and dig into some individual performances, specifically the most impressive individual performances through the first month of the 2019-20 season.

This is not to be taken as a ranking of the best overall players in the league right now, but simply a look at whose performance has impressed the most to this point.

Who makes the cut? To the rankings!

1. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins. If the Bruins score a goal right now it is a good bet that Pastrnak has a direct hand in it. He is just the fourth player since 2006 to score at least 13 goals through his team’s first 13 games (Alex Ovechkin in 2010, Alex Steen in 2014, Nikita Kucherov in 2018 are the others) and enters the week tied for the league lead in goals (with Leon Draisaitl) and owns the lead in total points. He has played two fewer games than every other player in the top-five in scoring.

2. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. A year ago he became just the eighth different player in 20 years to top both the 50-goal and 100-point marks in the same season. If you were expecting some kind of a regression, you are not yet getting it. All he has done so far this season is open up with 13 goals and 26 points in the Oilers’ first 15 games to help carry the team to top of the Pacific Division standings.

3. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins. The Bruins have some depth questions but they are great where it matters most — on the top line and in net. Entering play on Monday Rask has appeared in eight games and has yet to have a save percentage lower than .912 in any of them. He has been over .930 in six of them. He has been the single most dominant goalie in the league so far this year.

4. John Carlson, Washington Capitals. After finishing in the top-five of the Norris Trophy voting the past two years he might actually crack the top-three this year if this scoring continues. And while he may cool down a bit there is no reason to believe it will be a huge drop (he did finish with 70 points a year ago). Are we putting him here strictly based on offense? Yeah … sort of. But when you’re a defenseman and are contributing an historically high amount offense to a team that is 11-2-3 that is pretty darn impressive.

5. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks might actually be really good this year, and Pettersson is one of the players driving the bus for them. After winning the Calder Trophy a year ago he has started his sophomore season looking like one of the league’s most valuable players. He has scored at an elite rate and the Canucks have a 60 percent shot attempt share when he is on the ice. That is MVP level stuff.

Correction: We initially wrote that Pettersson started the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone, which was a mistake. He has, however, started more shifts in the defensive zone recently than he did earlier in the year.

6. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers. I still wouldn’t bet against him when it comes to winning the scoring title this season. He and Draisaitl form the league’s most dominant scoring duo and it is probably going to be up to them to carry the team to the playoffs.

7. Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins were crushed by injuries early in the season and Crosby’s line was one of the biggest reasons they were able to keep pace with the other playoff teams in the Eastern Conference. He is still one of the five best offensive players in the league and is an outstanding defensive player.

8. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. He just turned 34 years old and is still playing like he did when he was 24. Or at least close to it. He has 12 more shots on goal than any other player in the NHL and is on a pace to score 55 goals this season. The best goal scorer of all time continuing to do what he does best.

9. Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes. There is an argument to be made he might be the most underrated player in the league. He is currently leading the Hurricanes in scoring, is their top possession player on defense, and plays huge minutes. A No. 1 defender in every way and he counts just $5.75 million against the cap, an absolute steal of a rate.

10. Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes. Don’t let their current spot in the standings fool you, it is mostly due to having only played 13 games. Their points percentage is fourth best in the Western Conference entering Monday, and the play of their goalies is one of the biggest reasons why. Kuemper has been the best of the two, owning a .942 save percentage (second only to Rask in the entire NHL) through his first nine starts.

Deserving mentions: Brad Marchand (Boston Bruins), James Neal (Edmonton Oilers), Brock Boeser (Vancouver Canucks), Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche), Mark Stone (Vegas Golden Knights), Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida Panthers), Jack Eichel (Buffalo Sabres), John Gibson (Anaheim Ducks)

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.

Rask, Rinne, Fleury are NHL’s hottest goalies so far

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With every team except the New Jersey Devils at 10 games played or more – New Jersey’s played nine – this seems like a good time to check in on the most important (yet also most unpredictable) position in hockey: goalies.

These netminders are off to the hottest starts so far in the young 2019-20 season.

Tuukka Rask

If forced to name a top goalie so far, I’d lean toward the Boston Bruins veteran.

Rask is 6-0-1 so far, with a league-leading .951 save percentage.

The 32-year-old sparkles in deeper categories, too. Rask ranks third in even-strength save percentage at .961. According to Hockey Reference’s Goals Saved Against Average (GSAA) – a metric that attempts to account for the difficulty of shots a goalie faces – Rask leads all goaltenders by a healthy margin with 8.69 GSAA.

Every single one of his starts has been considered a “quality start.”

Pekka Rinne

Big-time Finns are off to great starts.

Rinne is tied with Penguins backup Tristan Jarry for the league’s best even-strength save percentage at .964, and Rinne’s off to a great start in the standings, going 7-0-1. Rask and Rinne are in a four-way tie for first place in shutouts with two alongside Carter Hutton and Petr Mrazek.

Rinne’s 6.53 GSAA ranks third. There was a time when people chalked up some of Rinne’s success to the team in front of him, and a brief period (especially 2015-16) when Rinne struggled by any measure. That’s looking more like a blip in an increasingly brilliant career.

Darcy Kuemper

I must admit, I wondered if the Coyotes were being hasty in extending Kuemper, as great as he was basically since the calendar hit 2019. Instead, GM John Chayka’s proactiveness might pay off big time, as Kuemper’s carried over that great finish from 2018-19 to 2019-20 so far.

If Arizona can give Kuemper more consistent goal support (5-3-0), he might get the sort of wins that Vezina-voting GMs gravitate to. Otherwise, he checks out with a .933 save percentage and 5.62 GSAA.

Marc-Andre Fleury

At some point, it feels like the Golden Knights are going to overwork their workhorse. The 34-year-old remains sturdy and often spectacular right now, though.

His eight wins (8-3-0) lead the NHL at the moment, and his 334 saves top all as well (though John Gibson‘s generally being asked to do even more in Anaheim, which is sadly not much of a surprise). Fleury’s .928 save percentage might not be outright spectacular compared to the best on this list, but his second-ranked 7.14 GSAA helps illustrate just how much Vegas depends upon “The Flower.”

Lightning round

  • Robin Lehner: The Blackhawks have fond memories of Corey Crawford (.888 save percentage), but might want to ride the hot hand in Lehner, who has a .936 save percentage through six games. There are signs that Lehner might be able to bail out a shaky Blackhawks defense, considering a high GSAA.
  • When you consider how well Pittsburgh’s played despite injuries that are finally healing up, give Sidney Crosby a lot of credit. Don’t sleep on Jarry and Matt Murray, though, as they have put together great stats early on.
  • The Canucks renaissance is based on a hot top line, but also Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko, with Demko maybe arguing for a bigger slice of the starts with a .941 save percentage. Both have been lights out, though.
  • Connor Hellebuyck: For all the doom and gloom for Winnipeg, the Jets would be in bigger trouble without a so-far redemptive season for Hellebuyck, who has a .924 save percentage and has generally saved their bacon.
  • Linus Ullmark and Carter Hutton have both been fantastic for the Sabres, ranking alongside each other at seventh and eighth in GSAA, and each have the requisite strong vanilla save percentages.
  • By John Gibson standards, a .920 save percentage is pedestrian, but again, the Ducks are asking him to work miracles. He’s pulling off magic, at minimum.
  • Last season, Thomas Greiss was almost as great as Lehner. So far in 2019-20, Greiss is … almost as great as Lehner (.931 save percentage, 4.02 GSAA).
  • To round out this post, Philipp Grubauer and Mikko Koskinen have had the occasional off start, but have mostly been strong for the Avs and Oilers respectively.

When you consider how many of these goalies are on teams that are mysteriously red-hot, maybe those torrid runs aren’t such a mystery. The bigger mystery is: how many of them can keep at least most of this up?

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: Garland, Kuemper boost Coyotes; Canucks rout Panthers

Three Stars

1. Conor Garland, Arizona Coyotes

Garland scored Arizona’s opening goal and assisted on Carl Soderberg‘s tying goal on the power play with 3:28 left to play during a 3-2 shootout win over the Sabres. This was the second straight game the Coyotes erased a multi-goal deficit to win and only the second time they have done so in Coyotes/Jets franchise history. Garland leads the team in goals with six.

2. J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks

A five-goal first period led to a 7-2 rout of the Panthers Monday night. Miller did his part with two goals, while Elias Pettersson and Alex Edler chipped in three assists apiece. The goals were Nos. 100 and 101 in Miller’s NHL career. Pettersson, meanwhile, broke the 80-mark in his career during the game, with only Pavel Bure requiring fewer games to reach 80 points in his Canucks career. The loss snaps Florida’s eight-game point streak.

3. Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes

Kuemper made 24 saves in regulation and overtime and stopped two more in the shootout during the Coyotes’ victory. He’s now allowed two goals or fewer in 14 of his last 15 starts.

Highlights of the Night

• Birthday boy Jack Eichel potted his seventh of the season:

Carter Hutton, who made 42 saves, nearly lost the game for the Sabres in overtime with this oopsie:

• Nifty little give-and-go here between Micheal Haley and Brandon Sutter:

Factoids

• All 12 Canucks forwards recorded at least one point vs. the Panthers.

Scores
Coyotes 3, Sabres 2 (SO)
Canucks 7, Panthers 2

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

What’s driving the Coyotes’ hot streak

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To steal Zoolander parlance — only appropriate for a team that once employed Martin Hanzal — the Arizona Coyotes are so hot right now.

The Coyotes are on a four-game winning streak following Tuesday’s overtime win against the Rangers, and are 5-0-1 in their last six, erasing the discomfort from an 0-2-0 start where they only managed a single goal.

If the playoffs began right now, the 5-2-1 Coyotes would be the second wild-card team in the West. Could this be a sign that this is finally the year?

Let’s look at what is working so well so far, and how much of it is sustainable, with help from Hockey Reference and Natural Stat Trick.

Glorious goaltending

Darcy Kuemper played at such a high level from January on in 2018-19, it seemed like he might just drag the wounded Coyotes to a playoff spot. Even so, it seemed a little hasty when the Coyotes handed Kuemper a two-year, $9 million extension in early October.

Well, if the 29-year-old can stay anywhere near the level he’s been at lately, that could be a mega-steal.

Kuemper’s only allowed 10 goals over six appearances, going 4-2-0 with a sparkling .944 save percentage to begin the season. He’s the first goalie in Coyotes franchise history to allow two or fewer games in 13 consecutive starts, carrying over last season’s red-hot work.

Delightfully for the Coyotes, Antti Raanta‘s shown signs of the sharp goalie he was pre-injury nightmares, as Raanta’s 1-0-1 with a .926 save percentage through two games.

Even if Kuemper is the real deal, one would expect the Coyotes’ league-leading team save percentage of .9388 to cool off; last season, the Islanders topped the NHL with a .9247 mark that would already be tough to match.

It’s plausible that goaltending could remain a strength for Arizona, though, particularly if they maintain their strong start when it comes to possessing the puck and limiting high-danger scoring chances against.

Luck and other peculiarities

As always, it’s important to take any eight-game sample with a grain of salt.

Nick Schmaltz is a good example, alongside goaltending, of “could be good, probably won’t be that good.” He already showed signs of flourishing in a bigger role in Arizona after being traded from Chicago last season (14 points in 17 games before injuries derailed things), but Schmaltz’s nine points in eight games is inflated by puck luck, including a 21.4 shooting percentage. There’s evidence that he might be a strong shooter in general (14.2 shooting percentage in 187 career games), but he’s likely to cool down to some extent.

It will also be interesting to track their power play. Last season, their 16.3 power-play percentage ranked sixth-worst in the NHL. Of course, they added Phil Kessel during the summer, and he’s been part of a unit that’s scored seven goals on 27 opportunities, good for a 25.9 percent success rate that ranks seventh overall.

PDO is a helpful metric for measuring luck (it’s merely save percentage plus shooting percentage), and so it’s worth noting that the Coyotes’ 1.030 mark ties them for fourth-highest at all strengths in this young season.

There’s at least one way where things could get tougher if the Coyotes are perceived as more of a threat.

Five for Howling recently pointed out an interesting trend: so far in 2019-20, the Coyotes have frequently faced opposing teams’ backups. That might be a coincidence, but if it continues to even a subtle extent, it could be helpful in a league ripe with parity.

Fewer trips to the trainers

Last season, the Coyotes were absolutely ravaged by injuries, to the point that it’s tempting to give them a mulligan. So far in 2019-20, Arizona’s been healthier, although it remains to be seen if they can can continue to thrive so much defensively with Niklas Hjalmarsson on the shelf.

Like with most NHL teams, injury luck (or a lack thereof) could be pivotal for Arizona.

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Yes, it’s too early to know for sure, but which way do you lean: could this be the year the Coyotes put it together, or will 2019-20 end in another disappointment?

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.