Steven Stamkos

Wild hold on against Lightning, snap losing streak

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What a difference 48 hours made for the Minnesota Wild.

When we saw them on Tuesday night they were getting dominated on the scoreboard and embarrassed by a lineup card gaffe that forced them to play with a shorthanded defense.

On Thursday, they went toe-to-toe with one of the NHL’s best teams and snapped their four-game losing streak with an impressive 3-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It is just the WIld’s second win in their past eight games, and their first in regulation during that stretch.

Ryan Suter‘s goal late in the second period ended up going in the books as the game-winner, while Zach Parise and Joel Eriksson Ek also scored for the Wild. Goalie Alex Stalock stopped 18 out of 20 shots he faced, including a shot from Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos at the buzzer to secure the win.

Nikita Kucherov scored both goals for the Lightning in the losing effort.

The Wild desperately needed this to win because their recent slide has really started to bury them in the Western Conference playoff race. Their playoff hopes are barely flickering right now and every point the rest of the way is going to be massive. They have almost no margin for error.

The most impressive part of this particular win is just how strong they looked for most of the game, especially on the heels of such a lackluster performance on Tuesday night. Coach Bruce Boudreau said on Wednesday he had two options after that game — either “bag skate” the team, or send them home and tell them to get away from hockey (via Michael Russo). He chose the latter, saying they would find out on Thursday if it was the right decision. It seemed that it was as they took what has been one of the NHL’s hottest teams (11-1-0 in their previous 12 games entering Tuesday), and one of the most dominating offenses, and for the most part completely shut it down.

The Lightning were on a 16-5-1 run since the start of December (second best record in the league behind only the Pittsburgh Penguins during that stretch) and averaging more than 32 shots and 3.5 goals per game. On Thursday, the Wild limited them to just two goals and only 20 shots. That shot total is the Lightning’s third-lowest of the season, and the lowest since a November 19 against the St. Louis Blues.

Thursday’s game is the first of a 12-game stretch where the Wild play 11 games on home ice, where they have actually played extremely well this season. If they are going to make any sort of a move toward a playoff spot, this is their chance.

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.

Lightning, Canadiens continue to head in different directions

Lightning
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Right now the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens are two runaway freight trains heading in very different directions.

They continued their current streaks on Thursday night as we continue to get some clarity in what was once a jumbled and surprising Atlantic Division playoff race.

The Lightning, thanks to their 4-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes, extended their current winning streak to nine games on, while the Canadiens let an early two-goal lead slip away in a 4-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers. It is the Canadiens’ eighth loss in a row.

Let’s take a quick look at what is happening with each team at the moment.

The Lightning are back

It is not just the fact they have won nine games in a row that matters. Or even the fact they have the second-best record in the league (14-4-1) since the start of December.

It is the way they are collecting those wins.

They are starting to steamroll teams much the same way they did during the entire 2018-19 season and are finally starting to shake off the early season rust that pushed them down the standings. Over the past three games alone they have outscored the Carolina Hurricanes, Vancouver Canucks and Arizona Coyotes (all teams currently in a playoff position) by a combined margin of 17-3. They are starting to tilt the ice in their favor and dominate teams in the shot attempt and scoring chance numbers. They are pushing the play in every game, they are dictating the pace, and they are playing on their terms. And no one is really able to match up with them.

Their superstars are also starting to get rolling.

Steven Stamkos (24), Nikita Kucherov (21), Alex Killorn (20), Brayden Point (20), and Victor Hedman (18) all have at least 18 points in the 19 games since the start of December, while Andrei Vasilevskiy has a .922 save percentage in net.

Add in strong contributions from players like Ondrej Palat, Mikhail Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli, and Tyler Johnson and they are just unstoppable right now.

Thanks to Thursday’s win they are now up to second place in the Atlantic Division and still have two games in hand on Boston (first place) and Toronto (third place).

They look to win their 10th game in a row on Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Canadiens might be out of it

Canadiens fans have seen this story play out before.

Strong start to the season that is followed by a complete meltdown that eventually takes them out of playoff contention.

After turning a 2-0 lead into a 4-2 loss to Edmonton on Thursday, the Canadiens have now lost eight games in a row and are just 6-15-4 in their past 25 games.

That stretch includes two different eight-game losing streaks. All of that comes after an 11-5-3 start to the regular season.

In the end it all comes down to a lack of high end, impact talent at forward. The injuries this to players like Jonathan Drouin, Paul Byron, Brendan Gallagher, and Joel Armia have simply been too much to overcome. This was never a particularly deep team to begin with, and when you take some of their top forwards out of the lineup for any stretch of time it is going to hurt in a big way. Add in the fact that Carey Price has not been able to bail them out like he has so many times in the past and you have a perfect recipe for the mess that is currently playing out in Montreal.

They are now nine points out of a Wild Card spot with five teams ahead of them.

Without some sort of a drastic change that deficit seems almost impossible for them to overcome the way things are going.

They have a chance to snap their losing streak on Saturday against the Ottawa Senators.

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: Lightning score 9 goals; Predators lose big in Hynes debut

NHL Scores
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Three Stars

1. Carter Verhaeghe, Tampa Bay Lightning. They are back. The Lightning won their eighth game in a row on Tuesday night by running the Vancouver Canucks out of the building in a 9-2 win. There were a lot of players that could have been a star in this one, including Brayden Point (four points) and Steven Stamkos (two goals). But top star honors go to Verhaeghe for his first career hat trick. Entering play on Tuesday the 24-year-old rookie had just two goals and four assists this season in 28 games. He topped that goal total against the Canucks. The nine goals tied a franchise record for the Lightning.

2. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes were able to inch back ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights for first place in the Pacific Division (tied in points, but Arizona has played one fewer game) thanks to their 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers. Ekman-Larsson was a beast in this game with a goal, two assists, four shots on goal, and finishing as a plus-two while playing a game-high 24 minutes. Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall also had big games for the Coyotes were able to get two points while playing with their third-string goalie (Adin Hill).

3. Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets. As if the free agent departures were not enough to deal with, the Blue Jackets have also been dealing with a seemingly never-ending list of injuries. Despite all of that they are still right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, and this guy is one of the biggest reasons why. He scored two third period goals on Tuesday to help lead the Blue Jackets to a 4-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks. They are now tied with the Philadelphia Flyers for the second Wild Card spot in the East with 50 points. Werenski now has 15 goals for the season, tops among all NHL defenseman. That puts him on pace for 30 goals this season.

Other notable performances from Tuesday

  • Artemi Panarin had three points for the New York Rangers as they were 5-3 winners over the Colorado Avalanche. Read more about their win here.
  • New coach, same result for the Nashville Predators. They lost John Hynes’ coaching debut in the music city by a 6-2 margin to the Boston Bruins. They have now lost five out of their past six games.
  • Alex Ovechkin scored two goals for the Washington Capitals as they were big winners over the Ottawa Senators.
  • Anders Lee scored the overtime winner for the New York Islanders as they were winners over the New Jersey Devils.
  • The Montreal Canadiens lost their seventh game in a row, this time losing to the Detroit Red Wings. Frans Nielsen scored two goals for the Red Wings while Filip Zadina continued his strong play with another goal.
  • Another game-winning goal for David Perron as the St. Louis Blues snapped their three-game losing streak with a win against the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks lost Logan Couture to injury in that game. Read more about it here.
  • On the same day they were added to the NHL All-Star Game (read more about that here) Kris Letang and Tristan Jarry played great games for the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 4-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights.
  • Elias Lindholm provided all the offense for the Calgary Flames in a 2-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. For Lindholm, it was the 500th game of his NHL career.

Highlights of the Night

Dougie Hamilton might be the best defenseman in the NHL right now (read about it here), and he scored a beauty in overtime for the Carolina Hurricanes. They also signed Justin Williams to a one-year contract on a big Tuesday night for them. Read more about that here.

What an incredible individual effort here by New Jersey Devils young star Nico Hischier.

The Lightning scored six goals in the second period, including these three in under a minute.

 

Blooper of the Night

It takes a lot of confidence to try this move in a game, especially when you are losing at the time. It will probably make your coach pretty unhappy if you end up losing the game. Fortunately for Andrei Svechnikov, the Hurricanes won.

Factoids

  • Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan gets his 200th win with the team. [NHL PR]
  • Alex Ovechkin’s two goals move him into a tie with Teemu Selanne for 11th place on the NHL’s all-time list. [NHL PR]
  • Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak now has an 11-game point streak, the longest active point streak in the NHL. [NHL PR]

Scores

Tampa Bay Lightning 9, Vancouver Canucks 2
Arizona Coyote 5, Florida Panthers 2
New York Islanders 4, New Jersey Devils 3 (OT)
Washington Capitals 6, Ottawa Senators 1
Carolina Hurricanes 5, Philadelphia Flyers 4 (OT)
New York Rangers 5, Colorado Avalanche 3
Detroit Red Wings 4, Montreal Canadiens 3
St. Louis Blues 3, San Jose Sharks 2
Boston Bruins 6, Nashville Predators 2
Calgary Flames 2, Chicago Blackhawks 1
Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Vegas Golden Knights 3
Columbus Blue Jackets 4, Anaheim Ducks 3

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: Markstrom stops 49 for Canucks; Foegele dominates

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Three Stars

1. Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver Canucks. He is doing everything he can to earn himself a big payday this summer. Markstrom helped the Canucks extend their current winning streak to four games while also jumping back into a playoff spot in the Western Conference. He stopped 49 out of 51 shots in a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings, stealing two huge points for his team. He has really established himself as a quality NHL goalie over the past couple of years, and this might have been one of his best games yet.

2. Timo Meier, San Jose Sharks. He needed a huge game, and he delivered one. He recorded his first career hat trick to help lift the Sharks to a much-needed 6-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. You can read all about Meier’s game, as well as the Sharks’ big win, right here.

3. Warren Foegele, Carolina Hurricanes. Foegele was, quite simply, a beast for the Hurricanes on Saturday night. He finished with four points (two goals, including a shorthanded goal, and two assists), was a plus-four, and attempted seven shots during the Hurricanes’ 6-4 win over the Washington Capitals. It is the first four-point game of his NHL career and only the second time he has recorded more than two points in a game. The win helped the Hurricanes keep pace in the wildly competitive Metropolitan Division and snapped what had been a three-game losing streak.

Other notable performances from Saturday

  • Ryan Strome had four points (including two goals) and Tony DeAngelo scored an overtime winner for the New York Rangers as they put an end to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ winning streak.
  • The Tampa Bay Lightning overcame a brutal start that saw them give up the first 18 shots of the game (and two goals) to earn a 5-4 win over the Montreal Canadiens. Alex Killorn scored two goals and Victor Hedman had four assists in the win.
  • Bryan Rust scored two more goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they held on for a 6-4 win against the Nashville Predators. Jake Guentzel‘s power play goal with one minute to play in regulation was the game-winning goal.
  • Mark Stone scored two goals in a dominant Vegas Golden Knights win to help them jump ahead of the Arizona Coyotes for first place in the Pacific Division.
  • Mike Hoffman had three points for the Florida Panthers as they overcame a 3-1 deficit to beat the Detroit Red Wings, 5-4, handing the Red Wings their fifth consecutive defeat.
  • Ben Bishop made 42 saves for the Dallas Stars and Alexander Radulov scored the shootout winner in a 3-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche.

Highlights of the Night

Mika Zibanejad is on a roll for the Rangers right now and this second period goal off the rush was a real beauty.

Mario Ferraro and Joel Kellman both scored their first career goals for the Sharks on Saturday.

The one highlight of the night for the Coyotes was this tic-tac-toe passing play to set up Michael Grabner for a goal.

Factoids

  • Steven Stamkos recorded his 800th career point for the Lightning on Saturday night.
  • Alex Ovechkin scored the 256th power play goal of his career for the Washington Capitals. That moves him ahead of Teemu Selanne for third on the all-time list. [Capitals PR]
  • Marc-Andre Fleury recorded the 454th win of his career to tie Curtis Joseph for the sixth-most wins in NHL history. [NHL PR]
  • Joe Thornton recorded career assist 1,079 for the Sharks, moving him into a tie with Adam Oates for seventh most in NHL history. [NHL PR]
  • Markstrom’s 49 saves were the most by a Canucks goalie since Roberto Luongo stopped 54 shots in Game 5 of the 2011 Western Conference Finals. Luongo was eventually traded for Markstrom. [NHL PR]

Scores

Dallas Stars 3, Colorado Avalanche 2 (SO)
New York Rangers 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 4 (OT)
Tampa Bay Lightning 5, Montreal Canadiens 4
Florida Panthers 5, Detroit Red Wings 4
Pittsburgh Penguins 6, Nashville Predators 4
Carolina Hurricanes 6, Washington Capitals 4
Vancouver Canucks 3, Los Angeles Kings 2
Vegas Golden Knights 4, Arizona Coyotes 1
San Jose Sharks 6, Philadelphia Flyers 1

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 Power Rankings: Best players of the decade

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In this week’s NHL Power Rankings we take a look back at the best players of the past decade.

Just because it needs to be said, this is not a list of the best players in hockey right now.

It is a look at the best players over the course of the past 10 years as a whole. That means players that have played at a consistently high level for most of the decade (seven or more years) will get more attention over players that have dominated in more recent years (though there are always exceptions) as a means of limiting recency bias.

Who makes our list?

To the rankings!

The Elites

1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins. It was a rocky start to the decade for Crosby as injuries robbed him of a significant chunk of his career when he was playing some of his best hockey. But he still finished the decade as the most dominant all-around player in the league. Of the 257 players that played at least 500 games in the decade, Crosby is one of only four players to average more than a point per game (his 1.23 average was by far the best) while he also won a goal-scoring crown, a scoring title, an MVP, two Conn Smythe Trophies, and captained the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cups during the  2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons.

2. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. The best goal scorer of all-time continued to dominate the league. Ovechkin’s 422 goals this decade (as of publication) are 79 more than the next closest player, while he won the goal scoring crown in six of the previous nine seasons (including six of the past seven). He is the foundation of the one of the decades most successful organizations with two Presidents’ Trophies and a Stanley Cup.

3. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators/San Jose Sharks. One of the most impressive individual performances of the past decade was Karlsson dragging the 2017 Senators to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. He was so dominant during that run he actually received Conn Smythe votes even though his team did not reach the Stanley Cup Final. He is a two-time Norris Trophy winner for the decade and a runner-up two other times. One of the most impactful defensemen ever.

4. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins. Bergeron is the player that a significant portion of the hockey world thought Jonathan Toews was this decade. An elite two-way player in the sense that he can take over a game and dominate a game offensively just as much as he can defensively.

5. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers. This almost feels like it’s too low (and maybe it is!) given what McDavid has done since entering the league. But he’s also still only 23 and only played in half the decade. But what a half-decade it has been. McDavid is a lock for 100 points every year, is currently the most feared offensive player in the world, and is a one-man highlight reel every shift. He makes you want to watch the Oilers.

The second tier elites

6. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins. When he is at his best he sometimes looks like the best player in the world. Even when he is not at at that level is still one of the most game-changing forces in the league. He and Crosby were the foundation of a Penguins team that won the most regular season games in the decade, the second most playoff games (three behind Boston), played in three Eastern Conference Finals, and won two Stanley Cups. 

7. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers. The best goalie of his generation and one of the best to ever play the sport. Lundqvist spent the past decade masking all of the Rangers’ many flaws on defense and taking them on several deep postseason runs that they otherwise wouldn’t have experienced. Don’t let the lack of a Stanley Cup take away from his dominant playoff performances, either. A .922 career save percentage in the playoffs and nearly unbeatable in Game 7s.

8. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings. The Western Conference version of Bergeron. When the Kings’ Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014 are discussed it is usually Jonathan Quick‘s goaltending that gets mentioned first. Or Drew Doughty and their defensive play. But let’s not overthink it here — Kopitar was the best player on those teams, and by a wide margin. An underrated and sometimes overlooked part of his greatness: What he did for the Slovenia olympic team at the 2014 games. That team was far more competitive than it should have been, and Kopitar was the reason why.

9. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning. The best goal scorer of his era not named Ovechkin. Had it not been for a couple of significant injuries taking away his age 23 and 26 seasons he might already be above the 500-goal mark for his career.

10. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins. When Chara and Bergeron were on the ice together, combined with whichever franchise goalie they had in net at the time (Tim Thomas or Tuukka Rask) there was not a tougher team in the league to score against.

The rest of the best

11. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning. The hype in his draft year was off the charts, and he has not only lived up to it, he may have even exceeded it. One of the league’s best defenseman from almost day one.

12. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks. The best player and the one driving the bus on those Blackhawks championship teams. In terms of individual and team hardware he has a Hall of Fame resume.

13. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals. An elite offensive player, an always underrated defensive player, and one of the best playmakers in the league.

14. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks. If you ever argued that he was the best player in the world, you overrated him. Saying he wasn’t quite that good was also not disrespecting him. He was a top-five (maybe even top-three or four at times) center for a long time. There is nothing wrong with that.

15. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks. One of the best offensive players this decade. His problems off the ice will always detract from that and be a part of his story.

16. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. Hate him all you want, he has been one of the league’s best all-around players for five-plus years now. Even before that he was a key part of an elite Bruins team.

17. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings. There was a three or four year stretch where he might have been the best pure defensive player in the league.

18. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers’ consistent mediocrity during his career makes it easy to overlook how good he has been. He is not to blame for that consistent team-wide mediocrity, either.

19. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens. When Price was healthy he consistently turned a mediocre-to-bad Canadiens team into something formidable. His 2014-15 season is one of the best individual goaltending performances in recent NHL history.

20. P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens/Nashville Predators/New Jersey Devils. He appears to be well into a decline right now with the Devils, but for the first seven or eight years of the decade he was one of the league’s must-see players.

Just missing: Nathan MacKinnon, Nikita Kucherov, Shea Weber, Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, Kris Letang, Sergei Bobrovsky, Pavel Datsyuk.

MORE PHT DECADE IN REVIEW FUN:
• Top NHL players in fantasy hockey
• Most significant goals
• Favorite goals, best/worst jerseys
Best NHL teams of the decade
Biggest NHL trades

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.