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PHT Power Rankings: Wild still stuck in wrong division

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Before the start of the season I had what was, admittedly, an overly harsh assessment of the Minnesota Wild (No. 5 on the list here) that talked about how they just kind of exist as a franchise, and how I don’t really have any overwhelmingly strong opinions, positively or negatively, about them as a team. Mostly because for as good as they tend to be, they just never really go anywhere.

Every year you know exactly what they will do, where they will finish in the standings, when they will exit the playoffs.

They have a lot of really good players, but they don’t really have any true superstars.

They are a consistently good team (sometimes really good!), but no matter how good they are, there always seems to be that one team they inevitably meet in the first round that is just always a little bit better than them.

The result is a team that consistently finishes with 100 points, is usually in the top-10 in the overall league standings (top-eight the past two years; top-three this season as of Monday), but can never make a serious postseason run. You know they are going to be there in the playoffs and probably near the top of the standings, but deep down you just know they have no legitimate shot of winning the Stanley Cup. At least that is the way it seems.

Look at it this way: During the five-year stretch between 2013-14 and 2017-18 the Wild were 10th in the NHL in games won. That is a pretty good team. You would think with that much regular season success, and that many trips to the playoffs (all five years), that something might have come together for at least one decent run deep in the playoffs.

For most teams, it does.

For most teams, it did.

For the Wild, it didn’t.

They were one of just two teams in the top-12 in total wins during that stretch that did not make at least one Conference Finals appearance (the Boston Bruins, sixth in wins during that stretch, were the other).

Eight of the teams in the top-12 made at least one Stanley Cup Final appearance (St. Louis, Boston, Anaheim, and Minnesota were the ones that did not).

This season, the Wild are once again a good team. A really good team. A really good team with a great coach in Bruce Boudreau that is doing what he has done for every team he has coached — win. They dominate five-on-five goal-scoring. They dominate five-on-five scoring chances. They have a great penalty kill and an outstanding goalie.

If you are a Wild fan there should be every reason to look at this team and think “maybe we have a chance!”

For everyone outside of Minnesota, you can’t help but look at the situation and the division and the potential path through the playoffs and simply say, “there is no way they are beating both Nashville and Winnipeg in the first two rounds. It just doesn’t seem probable.”

This is the story of the Minnesota Wild in a nutshell. In any given year there may only be two or three teams in their conference that are better than them, and those teams will almost always — always! — be in their division, and be their likely first-or second-round opponents.

The same is true this season.

For years that team was always the Chicago Blackhawks during their mini-dynasty run.

This year — just like last year — it is Nashville and Winnipeg. The two teams they will almost certainly have to go through to go on a run and get out of the Central Division bracket.

It takes a lot of luck and good fortune to win a Stanley Cup. That luck can be anything and everything from getting the right bounce in the right moment, to having all of your key players healthy at the same time, to getting the right matchups along the way.

When it comes to the Wild, they almost never seem to get the latter. Every year it is a brutally tough draw in their division. That does not seem to be changing.

The Elites

1. Nashville Predators — Just an incredibly deep team that is dominating everybody. They have only allowed seven goals on their current five-game winning streak. In four of those games they allowed either one goal or zero goals.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning — Ryan McDonagh seems to have found the fountain of youth in Tampa Bay, and as if they weren’t already good enough, Victor Hedman is now back in the lineup. The Atlantic Division should be theirs for the taking once again.

3. Minnesota Wild — Once again stuck in the wrong division.

They are who we thought they were 

4. Boston Bruins — Jaroslav Halak has been a huge surprise this season. What has not been a surprise has been the domination of their top line. It is almost like a cheat code when they are on the ice. I don’t mean to exaggerate here, but splitting that trio up should be a fireable offense.

5. Winnipeg Jets — After recording a pair of points in their 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday night, Blake Wheeler is now on a 10-game point streak. He has 19 points during that streak.

[Related: It is time to stop labeling Blake Wheeler as underrated]

6. Toronto Maple Leafs — They are still picking up wins even without Auston Matthews and William Nylander, but their loss over the weekend to Boston should concern them from a big picture outlook. They still have no answer for the Bergeron-Marchand-Pastrnak line and if the Maple Leafs are going to be anything other than a team that loses in the first-round they are probably going to have to get through Boston this season. Are you convinced they can do that?

Exceeding expectations, but the jury should still be out

7. Vancouver Canucks — This team still strikes me as a house of cards (that defense and goaltending … woof!), but Elias Petterson is a legit top-line talent and one of the league’s must-see players right now. I give them credit for winning early, because that matters, but I am still not ready to buy this team, this season. Yet.

8. Montreal Canadiens — Just about everything Marc Bergevin touched this offseason seems to be turning to gold. At least for now. How long that good fortune lasts will determine the success or failure of this year’s team.

9. Buffalo Sabres — Whether it is from Buffalo or somebody else, Jeff Skinner is putting himself in a position to collect a lot of money at some point over the next few months. He is still only 26 years old and it seems like he has been around forever.

They are who we thought they were, part 2

10. Columbus Blue Jackets — They enter the week in first place in the Metropolitan Division despite the fact their goalies, for the most part, have completely stunk this season. They need Sergei Bobrovsky to be Sergei Bobrovsky again.

11. Philadelphia Flyers — How does anyone that follows this team have a healthy blood pressure? They either look great or horrible and they seem to spend equal time on both sides of that spectrum. Lately, the great version has been here (at least offensively). Give it time, though, because the horrible version is probably lurking around the corner just waiting to appear again.

12. Dallas Stars — Middle of the pack seems to be the perfect way to describe the Stars. In any year and every year. Losing John Klingberg for a month is going to hurt, though. He is one of the game’s best blue-liners and should be in the Norris discussion once again.

13. Calgary Flames — The Flames are off to a pretty good start and one of the biggest contributors has been … David Rittich? The backup goalie is 5-1-0 with a .935 save percentage in six starts. Now if they could just get something out of James Neal

Hey, wake up, you are better than this

14. San Jose Sharks — Erik Karlsson has been better than his box score numbers would indicate, but zero goals in 18 games to start the season is not what anybody expected.

15. Washington Capitals — The defending Stanley Cup champions have won back-to-back games once this season. They have yet to win more than two in a row. They have also yet to lose more than two in a row.

16. Pittsburgh Penguins — The general manager was right to call out his team. But he also is the one that built the team, so he has to look in the mirror a little bit, too.

[Related: Obviously unhappy GM rips Penguins’ slow start]

17. St. Louis Blues — Three of their top-five scorers right now (Ryan O'Reilly, David Perron, Tyler Bozak) were acquired over the offseason in an effort to boost one of the league’s worst offensive teams. They fixed the offense just in time for the goaltending to abandon them.

Making their move … but is it already too late?

18. Florida Panthers — Entering the week they are 5-2-0 in their past seven games, but another slow start to the season may have been enough to bury them.

19. Arizona Coyotes — The Coyotes did not win their eighth game of the 2017-18 season until December 22, so they are more than a month ahead of last year’s pace. There is a lot to like about this team, especially the way they play defensively and on the penalty kill. They are not an easy two points for anyone.

20. New York Rangers — Honestly, not sure I expected this team to put together a six-game point streak at any time this season, but that is exactly what they have done over the past two weeks as part of a 5-0-1 run. Only two of those five wins came in regulation (the other three were shootout wins) so it’s probably not something that is going to sustain itself, but you can’t fault the effort.

21. Detroit Red Wings –– Same story as the Rangers. The effort is there, and it’s resulted in a nice little hot streak here recently (for the Red Wings, it is wins in six out of the past seven games, including three in a row where they have had to overcome a two-goal deficit) but even bad teams get hot at some point during an 82-game season.

The mystery teams

22. Colorado Avalanche — Two of the top-three scorers in the league, a top-three offense overall, top-10 in goals against per game … and they are, at the moment, a fringe playoff team that has lost six out of eight games.

23. New York Islanders — The argument in favor of the Islanders is that they are balanced, and getting contributions from everyone, and they are the definition of a team with a good system and a good coach in place. The reality is they are 21st in the league in goals per game, 30th in shots on goal per game, and are one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to possession and scoring chance differential. Unsustainable goaltending has masked all of those flaws for now.

24. Vegas Golden Knights — I still think this team is capable of putting together a run here if they get their goalies straightened out. But maybe they’re just not going to get the goaltending this season? Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t young anymore and the jury is still out Malcolm Subban.

25. Carolina Hurricanes — Such a promising start, too.

26. Edmonton Oilers — No forward depth. Bad defense. Cam Talbot is not playing well in goal. Everyone in charge of this team should remain on the hot seat.

27. Ottawa Senators — Young players like Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk have been great this season. That is the important thing for this team.

28. New Jersey Devils — After starting the season with a four-game winning streak the Devils are just 2-8-1 since then.

[Related: Struggling Devils]

29. Anaheim Ducks — Their strong start was always a mirage given the way they were actually playing. They have just one regulation win in their past 11 games. This has all the makings of another team destined for an in-season coaching change.

You probably fired the wrong person

30. Chicago Blackhawks — Whenever you think it is time to fire your head coach it is probably time to also look at the people that built the roster. This roster is not particularly good.

31. Los Angeles Kings —  Whenever you think it is time to fire your head coach it is probably time to also look at the people that built the roster. This roster stinks.

MORE: Your 2018-19 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: Make your Mark

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Three Stars

1. Mark Scheifele

The last time the Winnipeg Jets took off for a huge victory, it was Blake Wheeler who was stealing the headlines with a rousing five-point night. Scheifele wasn’t half-bad on that Friday, either.

On Sunday, the roles were reversed. Wheeler extended his point streak to 10 games, collecting two assists. Scheifele was even better, generating a helper to go with two goals, with one of his tallies being the game-winner.

Scheifele, like Wheeler, often stacks the stat categories, and Sunday was no different. The star-on-a-bargain-contract enjoyed a +3 night, fired four shots on goal, blocked a shot, and went 12-8 in the faceoff circle.

(It would be surprising if Paul Maurice changes the third member of that line anytime soon, as talented young winger Nikolaj Ehlers provided a goal and an assist; his speedy transition game makes this top line horrifying … and oh yeah, the Jets also have Patrik Laine for weaker defenseman and Dustin Byfuglien stomping around as if he realizes that no one can contain him. Gulp.)

2. Joe Pavelski

This is a tough one, because while Pavelski ties Scheifele as the only Sunday scorer to collect three points, it’s inflated a bit by his goal being an empty-netter.

That extra point feels like a fair tiebreaker, though, especially since Pavelski paralleled Aleksander Barkov and others by contributing a strong all-around night. Along with that goal and two assists, Pavelski was +3, generated three SOG, delivered four hits, and blocked four shots while going 9-5 on draws.

People don’t really hammer scorers for failing to get assists in the same way they pick on someone when they haven’t managed their first goal of a season, but it has to be a relief for Pavelski to grab his first two assists of 2018-19. Considering that he’s in an uneasy contract year situation, he – and his agent, and the Sharks – are likely counting these things.

3. Darcy Kuemper

Again, this is a spot where you could argue for Barkov, or maybe Jaroslav Halak, who finished Sunday with only one fewer save (37). How much do you weigh Barkov’s strong overall performance/two goals over Kuemper’s nice work and 38 stops?

To me, Kuemper gets the edge for a few reasons:

  • Kuemper was facing a rested team in Washington, while Arizona was wrapping up a back-to-back following frustrating 4-0 loss to the Penguins on Saturday.
  • That rested team was the Capitals, a squad that can manufacture goals even when it’s playing 50-50 hockey, and even if they are the one dealing with more fatigue.
  • Other goalies with similar stats didn’t face that rest disparity.
  • He likely came into Sunday with fire in his belly, yet low confidence, as he had allowed a total of 13 goals in his past three starts.

Maybe you prefer the work of Barkov or someone else, but you have to admit that Kuemper enjoyed quite the performance.

Highlights

A player as smart and skilled as Barkov can make you pay for a mistake and/or unlucky bounce in a matter of seconds:

The Minnesota Wild are red-hot lately, and Devan Dubnyk usually is at the forefront of their hot streaks. Making saves like these reminds us that he’s one of the better goalies in the NHL during the (rather frequent) spans when he’s on his game:

Lowlight

Former Bruins goalie (prospect) Malcolm Subban will like to forget the first goal of Jeremy Lauzon’s career (which he, of course, will never forget):

Factoids

Hot take: David Pastrnak having 16 goals before we’ve even reached Nov. 16 is quite impressive.

Pavel Bure wasn’t a member of the Panthers all that long, yet he authored some astounding moments in Florida, so Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov flirting with one of his club marks is impressive. Also: scary, since the Panthers also employ that Barkov fellow. Oh, And Vincent Trocheck. And Keith Yandle. And …

Scores

MIN 3 – STL 2
FLA 5 – OTT 1
ARI 4 – WSH 1
WPG 5 – NJD 2
BOS 4 – VGK 1
SJS 3 – CGY 1
COL 4 – EDM 1

MORE: Your 2018-19 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: Pastrnak dominates, Couturier breaks out, Senators rally

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Three Stars

1. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins. The Boston Bruins’ top trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak dominated once again on Saturday night in a 5-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. That trio was on the ice for four of the Bruins’ five goals, with Pastrnak having a hand in all four of them, scoring three for his second hat trick of the season. The four-point night is already Pastrnak’s third of the season, more than any other player in the league. Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars and Mikko Rantanen of the Colorado Avalanche are the only other players with two.

2. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers. After a breakout season offensively in 2017-18, Sean Couturier got off to a bit of a slow start for the Philadelphia Flyers. He has been starting to get back on track over the past couple of games and had a huge breakout performance on Saturday afternoon in a 4-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks where he recorded three points (two goals, an assist) and was a plus-four. He is now up to 11 points in 16 games this season, with eight of those points coming in the past six games. The Flyers are 5-0-1 in those games, having earned 11 out of a possible 12 points.

3. Matt Duchene, Ottawa Senators. Matt Duchene and the Ottawa Senators have been in the news quite a bit lately, but it is probably not the kind of attention they want. They should get some of that attention on Saturday night after rallying with four consecutive third period goals against one of the best teams in the league to pick up a 6-4 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Duchene had a huge night for Ottawa by recording three points, including a pair of assists in the third period. One of those assists set up Ryan Dzingel‘s game-winning goal.

The Hurricanes lost in the most Hurricanes way possible

Carolina is on a record-setting pace this season in terms of their ability to register shots on goal. This is not always leading to victories. Take Saturday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings as an example. Even though they recorded 52 shots on goal (and only allowed 32) they were still unable to come away with a win, losing in a shootout by a 4-3 margin after allowing a 3-1 third period lead to slip away. This game was already Carolina’s 10th game this season with at least 40 shots on goal. No other team in the NHL has more than five. During the entire 2017-18 season there were 14 teams that did not record 40 shots on goal in a game for the entire season. The Hurricanes have dominated the shot chart for several years now but keep getting the same mediocre results in the standings.

Highlights of the Night

The Pittsburgh Penguins entered Saturday’s game against Arizona riding a five-game losing streak and trying to avoid their first six-game losing streak in 12 years. They were able to accomplish that with a 4-0 win over the Coyotes. The first goal of the game belonged to captain Sidney Crosby as he scored on another absolutely ridiculous backhand shot. There might not be a better backhand shot anywhere in the league.

The Buffalo Sabres rallied for a 4-3 shootout win over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday afternoon, erasing what had been a 3-1 third period deficit. That makes this first period glove save by Carter Hutton to rob Bo Horvat of what looked like a sure goal that much more important. This is one of 36 saves Hutton made during the game.

Factoids

Remember when the Montreal Canadiens traded P.K. Subban for Shea Weber? Of course you do. Since that trade P.K. Subban has recorded 111 points with the Predators, including his assist on Saturday’s game-winning goal against the Dallas Stars. That point total is more than the number of games that Weber has played in for Montreal. Safe to say, that trade has worked out spectacularly for the Predators (stick-tap to @JJFromKansas for that statistic).

Mike Hoffman helped the Florida Panthers beat the New York Islanders on Saturday night, and in the process extended his current point streak to 11 games. That is the second-longest streak in Panthers history behind only Pavel Bure.

The Detroit Red Wings picked up another come-from-behind win.

The Calgary Flames were 1-0 winners over the Los Angeles Kings thanks in large part to a 22-save shutout from David Rittich, the first shutout of his career.

 

Scores

Buffalo Sabres 4, Vancouver Canucks 3 (SO)

Philadelphia Flyers 4, Chicago Blackhawks 0

Nashville Predators 5, Dallas Stars 4 (OT)

Boston Bruins 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 1

Florida Panthers 4, New York Islanders 2

Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Arizona Coyotes 0

Ottawa Senators 6, Tampa Bay Lightning 4

Montreal Canadiens 5, Vegas Golden Knights 4

New York Rangers 5, Columbus Blue Jackets 4 (SO)

Detroit Red Wings 4, Carolina Hurricanes 3 (SO)

Calgary Flames 1, Los Angeles Kings 0

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.

Bruins’ Rask granted leave of absence for personal matter

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The Boston Bruins announced on Friday afternoon that goaltender Tuukka Rask has been granted a leave of absence relating to a personal matter.

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said the matter is not health related and that it is “important to respect his privacy and allow him to deal with it for the next few days.”

At this point the Bruins have not recalled a backup goaltender from their American Hockey League team in Providence, but are expected to do so Friday evening. Zane McIntyre is the only one of the two goalies in Providence with NHL experience having appeared in eight games during the 2016-17 season. They also have Daniel Vladar, a 2015 third-round draft pick, playing there.

Rask appeared in the Bruins’ 8-5 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night, allowing three goals on 14 shots in just over 25 minutes of ice time.

It has been a tough start to the year for Rask on the ice as he has managed only a .901 save percentage in his eight appearances. Among the 36 goalies that have appeared in at least eight games, that places him 23rd in the NHL.

At this point it is not yet known how long Rask will be away from the team, but they do play two games this weekend when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday and Sunday before leaving on a four-game road trip next week.

As long as Rask is away, the starting goaltending duties will obviously fall on Jaroslav Halak who has played surprisingly well for the Bruins so far this season.

In his nine appearances he has a 4-1-2 record and an incredible .936 save percentage. It is a pretty stunning performance given how much he struggled a year ago for the New York Islanders. Outside of the Bruins’ top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak, he has probably been the team’s best player so far. At the very least, he has been the biggest surprise. For now, it seems, they may have to rely on him even more.

MORE: Your 2018-19 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: Horvat erupts; Luongo spectacular

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Three Stars

1. Bo Horvat, Vancouver Canucks

Horvat was one of 11 Canucks to record a point on Thursday, and he topped the heap with two goals and two assists as the Canucks doubled up the Boston Bruins 8-4. The game featured no goaltending. Horvat took three minor penalties in the game, too, so he could have likely done even more damage against unenthused Boston club.

2. Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers

He stopped 26-of-27 saves. It’s not a 50-save performance by any means, but when you watch the highlights, Luongo will be sprinkled all over them. ‘Lu’ made two incredible glove-hand saves in the game, one of which you will see below. Luongo has now won both starts since returning from an injury sustained in the first game of the regular season. Florida struggled mightily with Luongo out of the lineup but have now beaten the Winnipeg Jets and the Oilers since his return as he tries to turn around Florida’s terrible start.

3. Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres

He might have been the acquisition of the summer. Skinner scored two more goals on Thursday as the Sabres edged the Montreal Canadiens 6-5 in overtime. Skinner has 11 goals on the season, including six in his past six games. His career high is 37 and he’s on pace to flirt with 40 this season.

Other notable performances

  • Jake DeBrusk did his best to help the Bruins win with two goals and an assist. He didn’t get much help from his goaltenders in a walloping to the Canucks though.
  • Skinner wasn’t the only one scoring in multiples on Thursday. Vladimir Sobotka notched two of his own in the Sabres win.
  • Like DeBrusk above, New York Islanders forward Josh Bailey was a victim of lackluster goaltending after putting up a brace of his own.
  • Mikko Koivu assisted on all three Wild goals in a 3-1 win against the Kings.

Highlights of the Night

Not so fast, Rattie:

This kind of thing should be banned:

A powerful message from Los Angeles and Minnesota:

Factoids

Scores

Canucks 8, Bruins 5

Panthers 4, Oilers 1

Flyers 5, Coyotes 4 (OT)

Golden Knights 5, Senators 3

Lightning 4, Islanders 2

Sabres 6, Canadiens 5 (OT)

Hurricanes 4, Blackhawks 3

Starts 4, Sharks 3

Wild 3, Kings 1


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