Haggerty's Power Rankings: Coast clear for Bruins' run to playoffs?


Haggerty's Power Rankings: Coast clear for Bruins' run to playoffs?

The Bruins have earned everything that they’ve received the past couple of months.

The B’s finally got the healthy lineup they’d planned at the beginning of the season and the wins have begun piling up after the injury problems had forced them into digging in a little more defensively than perhaps they’d done last season. This resulted in 14 wins in their past 18 games and has them on the cusp of passing the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Atlantic Division as they hold games in hand on just about everybody.


So, let’s be clear this is about what the Bruins have done rather than anything other teams haven’t done. But let’s also face this fact: It looks like the coast is clear for the Bruins to roll into the playoffs based on an Atlantic Division that looks dreadful after the top three teams of Tampa, Toronto and Boston. Perhaps Florida can make a push as they’re stringing together some wins in a row, but Montreal, Ottawa and Buffalo are playing such bad hockey right now that they’re falling completely out of the playoff hunt after the Lightning, Leafs and Bruins pulled away in December.

On the one hand, it’s great because it looks fairly certain the Bruins are going to be a playoff team this season barring anything disastrous. On the other hand, there is going to be little pushing the Bruins from this point forward aside from a battle for possible playoff home ice in the first round with Toronto. Perhaps that'll be enough to inspire the Black and Gold along with a chance to deal the fatal blow to the Habs in January as they play them three times that month.

Anyway, without further ado, here are this week’s power rankings:

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (regular-season record: 27-8-2, rank last week: 1)
The Bolts are 16-3-1 on home ice and far and away the leader in the NHL in goal differential with a plus-46 mark headed into January. The Lightning are the class of the East and that doesn’t seem apt to change anytime soon.

2. Vegas Golden Knights (25-9-2, LW: 11) 
Malcolm Subban and Marc-Andre Fleury are a combined 16-3-1 this season, and have made the Golden Knights pretty close to unbeatable when they are healthy. Also, the 15-2-1 record speaks to the home-ice advantage I thought we’d see in good, old Vegas this season.

3. New Jersey Devils (22-9-6, LW: 8) 
Who would have thought that undrafted defenseman Will Butcher would have a better rookie season than No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier, but here we are with that happening this season.

4. Nashville Predators (22-9-5, LW: 3)
While the jury is still very much out on what Matt Duchene is going to bring to the Ottawa Senators, Kyle Turris has been an excellent performer since arriving in Nashville. He’s added an element to an already strong Predators bunch.

5. Winnipeg Jets (22-11-6, LW: 2)
The Jets have been dominant and one of the surprises of the season, but will be sorely tested with the injury to Mark Schiefele the next couple of months.

6. Washington Capitals (23-13-3, LW: 14)
With the Pittsburgh Penguins looking tired and run-down after two Stanley Cup runs, the Metro Division is wide open for them. The question is whether they’ll be able to anything about it.

7. Los Angeles Kings (22-11-5, LW: 4)
The Kings have lost five of seven and have only been averaging two goals per game over that stretch. It looks like consistent goal-scoring is going to be an issue for them this season, but they are again near the top of the league with defense and goaltending.     

8. St. Louis Blues (23-14-2, LW: 5)
The Blues have lost seven of nine games and scored a grand total of 12 goals in that stretch. This looks more like the Blues team we thought we’d see this season that is not quite as good as the robust, well-rounded Blues teams of the recent past.

9. Boston Bruins (20-10-6, LW: 19) 
The Bruins have been the NHL’s best team since the middle of November, but the question now is whether they can sustain it for the long haul. The emergence of a healthy David Backes has made this B’s team extremely deep and dangerous. Plus, rookies Charlie McAvoy and Danton Heinen have been awesome.    

10. Toronto Maple Leafs (23-14-1, LW: 7)
The Leafs have survived a concussion to Auston Matthews and continue to tread water as a playoff team in the Atlantic Division. It’s still early, but it looks like it could be a battle for first-round home ice between the Leafs and the B’s the rest of the way.

11. Columbus Blue Jackets (22-14-3, LW: 6)
In tribute to John Tortorella’s brief postgame comments, we will keep the Blue Jackets’ mention just as brief. I just don’t have anything to say about this team...Sorry.

12. Carolina Hurricanes (18-12-7, LW: 23) 
The Hurricanes are surging with four wins in a row and have been led by Cam Ward again reclaiming his spot between the pipes. They have games in hand on everybody and were the en vogue choice for a surprise playoff berth prior to the season. Can they follow through on that promise?

13. New York Rangers (20-13-5, LW: 15)
Losing Chris Kreider to a blood clot is going to be a tough blow for the Blueshirts, but they’re in a dogfight for the playoffs in the Metro Division. None of those teams can afford to sulk for too long when adversity hits.

14. New York Islanders (20-14-4, LW: 9)
The Isles have a pretty good team, but having both Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak means one thing for their team: They don’t have a true No. 1 goaltender. That needs to change if they’re going to truly threaten anybody this season.

15. San Jose Sharks (20-11-4, LW: 13)
The Sharks have won three in a row and have played the fewest games of any team in the Western Conference. They’re in a pretty good spot after taking points in eight of their past nine games.  

16. Dallas Stars (20-15-3, LW: 12)
The Stars are in a playoff spot if the season ended today. That’s a testament to the work that Ken Hitchcock has done with this team down in Big D. Like it or not, Alex Radulov has been a good add for this team after all.

17. Minnesota Wild (19-15-3, LW: 17)
The Wild are on the playoff bubble, but it looks like they’re finally getting Zach Parise back after back surgery. This is a team that should have a pretty good second-half run in them once they’re healthy.

18. Pittsburgh Penguins (19-17-3, LW: 10)
The Penguins definitely look like a team paying the price now for back-to-back Cup runs and the heavy number of taxing games that goes along with it. It remains to be seen if they can rally for at least a return to the postseason, but right now it’s an uphill climb. 

19.  Anaheim Ducks (16-14-8, LW: 24)
It looks like Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are starting to show their age a bit out in Anaheim and, predictably, the Ducks have begun to slip in the Western Conference this season. The playoffs are not a given despite some good, young players.

20.  Calgary Flames (18-15-4, LW: 20)
The minus-4 goal differential tells the story of a team that isn’t paying close enough attention to the defensive side of the game. Perhaps that isn’t all too surprising given the youth of Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, but it’s been more Troy Brouwer and Kris Versteeg who have been the problem.

21. Chicago Blackhawks (17-14-5, LW: 21)
It’s hard to believe given the talent on that Blackhawks roster, but it looks like all of the roster finagling to keep that core together is finally dragging them down. The Blackhawks will need a strong second half if they hope to be a playoff team, and even that isn’t a given.

22. Philadelphia Flyers (16-14-8, LW: 27) 
The Flyers again are riding hot and cold extreme. They lost 10 in a row earlier this year and have gone a strong 8-3-1 since hitting rock-bottom with that 10th straight loss to the Bruins. It’s a tough division they’re in if they can’t find a little consistency.

23. Florida Panthers (16-16-5, LW: 29)
The Panthers have won four in a row and look like they might be the only Atlantic Division team to potentially even threaten for a playoff spot after the top three of Tampa, Toronto and Boston.

24. Detroit Red Wings (14-16-7, LW: 25)
The Red Wings have some good, young talent, but goal-scoring has been an issue all season as they rank 27th in the NHL in offense. Just five goals from Dylan Larkin is hard to believe three months into the season.   

25. Montreal Canadiens (16-18-4, LW: 18)
The Habs continue to struggle to put anything together and it’s looking more and more like a lost season for Montreal. That being said, they still have a bunch of games against the Bruins that could make their second half a little more interesting.  

26. Colorado Avalanche (17-16-3, LW: 26)
It’s interesting how the exodus of Matt Duchene has really opened things up for Nathan MacKinnon to be a much better player for the Avalanche. But the results haven’t changed for the Avs, who are again scraping the bottom in the Central Division.

27. Vancouver Canucks (16-17-5, LW: 27)
The Canucks are deep into a rebuilding effort, but, man, have they got a great, young piece in Brock Boeser. He leads all NHL rookies in scoring. He’s one of a number of keepers for Vancouver as they build their next generation.

28. Edmonton Oilers (17-18-2, LW: 28)
The Oil are going to need the mother of all winning streaks in the second half to get back into the playoff mix. Never count out a team with Connor McDavid, I guess, but we’re already starting to count them out.

29. Ottawa Senators (12-16-8, LW: 22) 
The Senators have lost 16 of their past 20 and certainly look like a team that has lost whatever spark they possessed last season. You wonder if the ownership issues are affecting the on-ice performance.

30. Buffalo Sabres (10-20-8, LW: 30)
The misery continues in Buffalo where the only competitive, playoff-style hockey they’ll be getting this season is the World Juniors tournament that’s playing out now in their fair city.

31. Arizona Coyotes (9-26-5, LW: 31)
Arizona is the only NHL team still stuck with a single-digit win total and they’re an NHL-worst minus-49 on the season in goal differential. How long can they hang in with John Chayka and the fancy stats crew when the product on the ice is so abominably bad?



Morning Skate: Claude's Habs 'not a very good team'

File photo

Morning Skate: Claude's Habs 'not a very good team'

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while not really digging these forecasts of more snow.

*You know, if he weren’t making millions and millions of dollars I might actually feel bad for ol' Claude Julien up in Montreal busting out the “We’re not a very good team” soliloquy with the Habs. That team flat out stinks this season and these past few weeks it can’t be fun at all being the head coach of that dumpster fire.

*Darren Dreger says there is no rush for the Toronto Maple Leafs to bring back Auston Matthews before he’s ready to go, and that’s absolutely the case so close to the playoffs.

*Here are five Hart Trophy-caliber players that won’t get a sniff of the voting, but deserve some attention nonetheless. There are no Bruins players on the list if you’re wondering, but some pretty good ones in Johnny Gaudreau and Aleksander Barkov.

*The NHL general managers are weighing potential changes to the goalie-interference interpretation ahead of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

*While it still looks a Swedish defenseman is going to be the No. 1 overall pick this June, there are some other players rocketing up the list.

*For something completely different: The definitive ranking of Girl Scout cookies from best-to-worst that we’ve all been waiting for.

*Song of the Week: Haven’t done one of these in a long, long time, but I like this Calvin Harris/Katy Perry/Pharrell Williams tune that I hadn’t heard until the past couple of days.


Donato looks like impact player after 'dream' debut

Donato looks like impact player after 'dream' debut

BOSTON – It certainly looks like the Bruins have themselves another young impact player.

The only way it could have been more of a dream scenario for Ryan Donato in his NHL debut would have been if the Bruins won the game, but otherwise it was as good as could have been hoped with a goal and three points in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night at TD Garden.

Donato fired off a one-timer missile from the right face-off dot for his first NHL goal, but also showed both tenacity in front of the net on the power play leading to Riley Nash’s goal, and playmaking in flipping a backhanded saucer pass to David Krejci for the tying goal in the third period. 

The highly skilled Harvard star didn’t end up finishing off the storybook opening with an OT winner, but he did more than enough in his first game to make it a living dream for himself.

“During warm-ups, actually, I was kind of taken away. I mean it kind of felt like a dream and I really didn’t even get that warmed up because I was too focused on everything else, and just kind of the whole situation,” said Donato. “At the end of the day it was an unbelievable experience and it was a blessing tonight.

“I mean, [the NHL] is so much faster than what I’ve ever seen but at the end of the day, it’s something that you can get used to. When you’re playing with great players like that it’s something that will come along fast as well.”

If there were a checklist of qualities that the Bruins wanted to see out of their 21-year-old prospect while jumping from college hockey to the pros, one could check off “high hockey IQ”, “natural goal-scoring shot” and “nose for the net” right off the bat.

Those are the kinds of qualities that could make Donato very effective for the Bruins down the stretch and into the playoffs if the youngster can harness them on a consistent basis. It also caps off a brilliant 2014 NHL draft for the Bruins, helmed by current Edmonton Oilers assistant GM Keith Gretzky, where their first four picks were David Pastrnak, Donato, Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork, a draft class that’s helped set the Black and Gold up for years to come.  

What about the combination of those qualities plus being able to do it in front of friends and family as the hometown kid for his father's old team? That takes a pretty special makeup to do as well.

“He’s on the puck, as advertised, in terms of his compete. [He] wanted to shoot the puck," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "Early he was trying to make some plays and then realized, just play to your strength. [He] did a real good job. I didn’t notice anything away from the puck. I’m sure there’s a few teaching moments once you go back over the game tape and go from there. But, like I said, I liked him a lot. I’m sure Krech [David Krejci] did, as well. They seemed to have some good chemistry.

“This is one game, but some of the guys that come in...You saw that with [Charlie] McAvoy, just played his game. It would be great if he has similar success. Consistency is a big issue for first-year guys, and we all understand that. If he can string it together then we’ll make that comparison, but very impressed by that to be able to come in here [and make an immediate impact]. Especially your hometown, could be some jitters there, might be easier to do it on the road, almost. I’m not sure – to each his own in that area – but there’s a lot of people to, sort of, impress, and it’s a tough game, so good for him to be able to do it right here in his own backyard.”

There was certainly no hint of tentativeness or nerves sapping any part of his game while jumping into a Boston lineup that desperately needed a guy like Donato while beset with injuries. The B’s are down Patrice Bergeron, Jake DeBrusk and now Rick Nash for the time being, and the ability to plug another capable top-six, potentially high-impact option into the lineup just allows the Bruins to keep on running like nobody was missing.

“Ryan [Donato] played a good game. Good for his confidence to get the first one. That is always the hardest, but he’s got to keep playing the way he played [in his first game]. I thought he played well and he made some good plays,” said Krejci. “He easily could have got a couple of more, but that’s a good start for him. For me, just have to go out and try to do your best to help the team.

“He was battling along the walls, and he was making some good plays. Like I said, it was a good game for him. For a first NHL game, you can’t really ask for anything better than he did. So it was a good game and hopefully, he can keep it up.”

The challenge now is twofold for Donato and the Bruins. The first hurdle is for Donato to keep performing and producing with consistency as he gets everything tossed at him in his first NHL go-round. That will be a challenge enough.

There are many that can look like an impact player in the NHL from time to time, but few that can pull it off nightly as the speed and physicality take a toll over the course of a long season.

The second difficulty, honestly, will be finding enough room in the Bruins lineup for all these players of different shapes, sizes and talents once they're all healthy and potentially start rolling once they bust into the postseason. If Donato keeps up something resembling his debut performance on a nightly basis, then the rich just got even richer with a Bruins team already awash in exciting, talented young players up and down their roster.