Pekka Rinne

NHL Power Rankings: Metropolitan Division dominance

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In this week’s PHT Power Rankings it is all about the Metropolitan Division which is proving itself to be the best, most competitive, and top-heavy division in the league.

It is so good right now that as of Monday five of the league’s top-11 teams in points percentage (Washington, New York Islanders, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Carolina) all play in it, and four of those teams (Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh) are in the top-seven.

All five are also in the top-10 in goal-differential.

The Capitals look like they have a shot to win another Presidents’ Trophy and maybe a Stanley Cup, the Islanders are still locking things down defensively, the Penguins are playing like a legit contender even though they they have been the most injured team in the league, the Flyers are one of the hottest teams in the league, and the Hurricanes are quietly surging along with a blossoming superstar on their roster.

Those teams also dominate the top of this week’s Power Rankings.

Where do they — and the rest of the league — currently sit?

To the rankings!

1. Washington Capitals. John Carlson is on pace to be the first defenseman since the 1991-92 season to hit the 100-point mark and the Capitals are on pace to win their fourth Presidents’ Trophy since the 2009-10 season.

2. Colorado Avalanche. If they can get Taylor Hall they would be the clear favorite to win the Western Conference, and maybe the Stanley Cup. They might be the favorite for both even if they do not get Taylor Hall.

3. Boston Bruins. Imagine how good they can be when they get Patrice Bergeron back.

4. Philadelphia Flyers. In any given week it feels like they could be a top-five team or a bottom-five team. Right now? Top-five. Losing Travis Konecny for now is going to be tough.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins. The way they are playing through significant injuries should make the rest of the Eastern Conference worried about what they are capable of when they start getting people back — including Sidney Crosby.

6. New York Islanders. They have come back to earth a little bit since that 17-game point streak came to an end, which is to be expected. Should not be a cause for concern yet.

7. St. Louis Blues. They could still use a little more offense, but the goaltending has been good enough to mask their flaws.

8. Winnipeg Jets. Forget the Vezina Trophy, Connor Hellebuyck is building himself an MVP case right now. Not saying he will win it, but he is building an argument.

9. Carolina Hurricanes. Andrei Svechnikov is starting to become a monster, leading the team in goals, points, and averaging more than a point-per-game. He is only 19 years old.

10. Arizona Coyotes. They are off to one of the best starts in franchise history while getting minimal goal-scoring from three of their top players (Phil Kessel, Clayton Keller, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson). If they can get going they might be on to something here, especially with that goaltending duo.

11. Dallas Stars. With this goaltending they can make a lot of noise, assuming the goaltending keeps playing the way it has.

12. Minnesota Wild. A season that looked lost a little more than a month ago is now on the verge of being salvaged. The Wild have earned a point in 14 out of their 17 games (10-3-4) since the start of November and are climbing back up the standings.

13. Edmonton Oilers. There are a lot of cracks in the foundation. Still no depth, and since their 7-1 start they have managed to win just 11 out of 24 games. They are going in the wrong direction.

14. Vancouver Canucks. I don’t think even they expected J.T. Miller to be as impactful as he has been since they acquired him.

15. Calgary Flames. They have started to turn things around the past couple of weeks, and even Milan Lucic is on a two-game goal-scoring streak.

16. Tampa Bay Lightning. Two things have hurt their spot in the standings. The first is they have played a league-low 27 games. The second is they have been wildly inconsistent in the 27 games they have played.

17. Florida Panthers. Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau are incredible. The goaltending is still incredibly bad.

18. Toronto Maple Leafs. Every team in the Atlantic Division behind Boston is a jumbled mess of mediocrity, and I don’t think the Maple Leafs expected to find themselves in that pile. They have shown signs of going on a run since the coaching change, but it has not all come together yet.

19. Buffalo Sabres. Jack Eichel is having a dominant, breakout season. Hopefully the Sabres can do enough around him so it does not go to waste.

20. New York Rangers. They are hanging in there and have given a lot of teams headaches lately. I don’t know if they are as good as their record, but having a superstar like Artemi Panarin and two outstanding goalies playing the way they are it is going to give a team a chance.

21. Vegas Golden Knights. Something is just off here. This team should be better than it currently is.

22. Nashville Predators. The usually dependable goaltending duo of Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros is sinking their season at the moment.

23. San Jose Sharks. Speaking of teams that should be better than they currently are, the Sharks are in a lot of trouble after a miserable road trip through Florida. Teams that get blown out as often as this team does do not typically do very well.

24. Montreal Canadiens. They simply do not have enough depth to overcome the injuries to Jonathan Drouin, Paul Byron, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

25. Chicago Blackhawks. Robin Lehner has been a great addition and helped give an otherwise awful defensive team a chance to win. He just can not stop anything in the shootout.

26. Columbus Blue Jackets. We knew the goaltending would be a question mark, but the offense has dropped off even more than it was expected to.

27. Ottawa Senators. After a brief surge in the middle of November the Senators are back to their struggles. The biggest thing to watch here is where Jean-Gabriel Pageau ends up.

28. Anaheim Ducks. They have three wins in their past 15 games. Somehow two of those wins have been against the Blues and Islanders.

29. New Jersey Devils. John Hynes may not have been the right coach for the Devils, but he also wasn’t the biggest problem.

30. Los Angeles Kings. What do you do with Jonathan Quick? Trading him does not seem to be an option given his play. A buyout will be a significant salary cap hit for a long time. He also has shown no sign that his career is on the verge of turning back around.

31. Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings are trending toward “historically bad” territory this season.

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: Goaltending, special teams driving Predators’ early struggles

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Neither the Nashville Predators or Tampa Bay Lightning are where they expected to be in the standings entering Tuesday’s game in Nashville.

Both are on the outside of the current NHL playoff picture, and both have regressed significantly from where they have been in recent seasons when they were among the top teams in the league.

The Lightning are still trying to shake off the disappointment of last year’s playoff failure and figuring out how they have to play, while also trying to find some consistency in their overall performance. The offense is starting to get back on track, and they have shown some signs in recent weeks that the team that won 62 regular season games a year ago is still lurking around and ready to show itself. They are not where they want to be yet, but they are getting closer.

The Predators are not without their issues, either.

Despite their slow start, the Predators have actually been one of the league’s best 5-on-5 teams and are near the top of the in pretty much every objective measure, including total shot attempts, scoring chances, and even goal differential where they own a plus-12 mark entering Tuesday. They are controlling games at even-strength, mostly dictating the pace of play, and playing like the contender they are supposed to be when all sides are equal.

Big picture, that is a great sign because you need that sort of 5-on-5 play to consistently win and compete for a championship.

[COVERAGE OF PREDATORS-LIGHTNING BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What is holding them back so far has been the performance of their goaltenders and their special teams units, and those two areas kind of overlap.

Goaltending and the penalty kill. The duo of Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros has been one of the league’s best over the past three years, but has not played anywhere near that level this season.

Both own sub-.900 save percentages entering Tuesday’s game, and their biggest struggles have come with the Predators shorthanded. Their performance in those situations is absolutely sinking the team’s penalty killing unit as it enters Tuesday’s game with a 75 percent success rate (26th in the league).

The Predators’ PK unit is near the top of the league in limiting shots and chances against, but the Rinne-Saros duo has managed only a pitiful .785 save percentage on the shots they have faced while shorthanded. No other team in the league has a save percentage lower than .811 in those situations, while the league average is around .864. You can have the best penalty killing unit in the league, blocking shots, limiting chances, and even scoring the occasional shorthanded goal, but if your goalie can not get you a save none of it will matter.

The power play still can’t score. The 2018-19 Predators had one of the worst power play units we have seen in recent NHL history. They were terrible in the regular season (scoring on just 12.9 of their power plays, worst in the league) and a complete embarrassment in the playoffs, going 0-for-the-series in their Round 1 loss to the Dallas Stars. It was a momentum killer, a game-wrecker, and a unit that brought down the team’s overall offensive performance.

Not much has changed this season.

While the unit has found the back of the net a little more regularly and shown some improvement, they still find themselves 26th in the league entering play on Tuesday. The injury to Viktor Arvidsson (maybe their best pure goal-scorer) is not going to help, but even with him it is a unit that could probably still use one more impact player and finisher up front. Matt Duchene has been a great addition, but they still don’t have a lot of great finishers that can drive that unit.

Tonight’s studio coverage will be hosted by Paul Burmeister alongside analysts Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter. John Forslund and Pierre McGuire will call the action from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.

In addition, NASCAR champions Kyle Busch (2019) and Joey Logano (2018) are scheduled to make guest appearances during tonight’s NHL coverage as part of NBC Sports and NASCAR’s “Nashville Takeover” this week, highlighted by the NASCAR Awards from Nashville this Thursday night on NBCSN.

Busch will join pre-game coverage and Logano will join McGuire ‘Inside-the-Glass’ during the second period. Busch also made a guest appearance on last night’s WWE Raw event on USA Network.

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: Avs keep winning thanks to MacKinnon

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Three Stars

1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

It’s hard to imagine there being all that many hot takes sizzling out there about MacKinnon not being able to dominate on his own, but if they existed, they’ve gone ice cold as the speedster continues to score with Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog on the shelf. (Among others.)

The Blackhawks had little hope of slow MacKinnon down – literally and figuratively – as he scored one goal and three assists, with two of those helpers being of the primary variety.

J.T. Compher had a strong game as well with a goal and two assists, while Pavel Francouz made 34 out of 36 saves.

2. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

The Predators have an elite defense, but at times, that label is more about how much they can drive offense (and serve as a net-positive) more than it is about always locking teams down, at least now that we’re firmly in the Peter Laviolette era.

With that in mind, Rinne, in particular, has been crucial to Nashville’s success. So, when he struggles (18 goals allowed in his last four games heading into Friday, with only one full game during that time), it’s a Rinne-sized worry.

Maybe Friday can serve as a confidence-booster? He made 31 saves to shut out a tough Hurricanes team, hitting some significant milestones in the process. Consider these some early factoids: Rinne became the 22nd goalie to reach 350 career wins, and this marked his 58th shutout, tying him for 19th in NHL history.

3. Gustav Nyquist, Columbus Blue Jackets

For all the CBJ lost during the offseason, they made a reasonable pickup by adding Nyquist’s skill and smarts to their mix.

After a respectable-but-unspectacular October, Nyquist scored 12 of his 18 points during 13 November games. Friday was the highlight, as Nyquist generated a hat trick as the Blue Jackets beat the Penguins. Considering how much John Tortorella seems to dislike the Pens, that’s a triply delicious accomplishment.

The only thing that keeps Nyquist from advancing up this list is that one of his three goals was an empty-netter.

Highlights of the Night

David Pastrnak‘s fantastic overtime setup can be seen in the overall highlights of the Bruins’ OT win against the Rangers:

To spread the wealth a little bit, enjoy Brenden Dillon setting up Noah Gregor for one heck of a first NHL goal. This is like a … well, luckier version of Erik Karlsson‘s memorable setup for Mike Hoffman from a few years back.

Factoids

  • NHL PR notes that Henrik Lundqvist is the only goalie with more shutouts (63) than Pekka Rinne (58) since Rinne came into the league in 2005-06.
  • David Pastrnak scored 12+ goals for the second consecutive month. Via NHL PR: only three other players have managed that during the first two months of a season: Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Mike Bossy.
  • Maybe don’t sit on a lead against the Capitals? Washington already has five wins in games where they trailed by multiple goals in 2019-20, the most of any team, according to NHL PR. Alex Ovechkin scored his 255th career power-play goal, tying Teemu Selanne for third-most in NHL history. Brett Hull is second all-time with 265 PPG, while Dave Andreychuk has the record with 274. Feels like a healthy Ovechkin could blow those totals out of the water, right?
  • Sportsnet stats with another interesting Ovechkin nugget:

Scores

BOS 3 – NYR 2 (OT)
BUF 6 – TOR 4
PHI 6 – DET 1
COL 5 – CHI 2
MIN 7 – OTT 2
WPG 3 – ANA 0
SJS 4 – LAK 1
WSH 4 – TBL 3 (OT)
VGK 2 – ARI 1 (SO)
CBJ 5 – PIT 2
NSH 3 – CAR 0
STL 3 – DAL 1

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.

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.