NHL Power Rankings: Lightning steady at the top

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NHL Power Rankings: Lightning steady at the top

It’s a wide open race for NHL Awards season with Nikita Kucherov and Evgeni Malkin certainly the front-runners with a number of other quality candidates like Taylor Hall, Nathan MacKinnon and Claude Giroux among others. You could probably also throw Brad Marchand in that conversation for the heck of it, but it sure doesn’t feel like No. 63 is going to get heavy consideration this season between his suspension, his fine for embellishment and his complete willingness to tell the truth when he things the Bruins have been screwed by bad calls on the ice.

Certainly it feels like Kucherov is beginning to run away with it as the NHL’s best player on the NHL’s best team, but there is still plenty at play among a number of the major awards with little less than a month to go before the playoffs.


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

1.       Tampa Bay Lightning (regular season record: 48-17-4, rank last week: 1) – Nikita Kucherov is powering toward a Hart Trophy, and the Lightning continue to win as they finish up strong in an impressive regular season. They’re a tremendous 9-0-1 in their last 10 games, and aren’t even giving an inch to the Bruins to catch up to them.

2.     Nashville Predators (44-14-10, rank last week: 9) – Speaking of awards, PK Subban is teaming toward major Norris Trophy consideration while Nashville is once rolling with a deep, good all-around hockey team as the playoffs approach. You would like somebody perhaps bigger than Viktor Arvidsson as your leading scorer, but nobody is perfect.

3.    Boston Bruins (43-16-8, rank last week: 2) – The Bruins had their six-game winning streak snapped on Sunday in Chicago, but they were also missing Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Backes and Charlie McAvoy from their lineup. The name of the game at this point is getting Bergeron and McAvoy back before the playoffs, and resting up everybody else while avoiding any big injuries.

4.    Vegas Golden Knights (45-19-5, rank last week: 2) – What a season for William Karlsson with 35 goals and 61 points. What a job done by Gerard Gallant guiding the Golden Knights to such a Cinderella season. What a story it will be if Vegas can do some damage in a Western Conference playoff that’s wide open after Nashville.

5.   Winnipeg Jets (41-18-10, rank last week: 5) – Patrik Laine continues his ridiculous goal-scoring binge for the Jets, and they continue to be a team with increasing expectations as the season nears an end. It’s 41 and counting for Laine.

6. Toronto Maple Leafs (40-22-7, rank last week: 7) – It’s crazy that three of the top six teams in the NHL reside in the Atlantic Division right now, but that’s about the long and short of it with the playoffs a month away. The Leafs, though, have definitely fallen off the pace of the other two teams and seem resigned to that third spot in the division behind Tampa and Boston.

7.   Washington Capitals (39-23-7, rank last week: 10) – Congrats to Alex Ovechkin on the 600th goal of his NHL career as the gaudy numbers continue to pile up, and up, and up. One can only wonder if something like that can catapult him into a different, better outcome this time around in the postseason.   

8.    Minnesota Wild (39-23-7, rank last week: 8) – A whopping 37 goals and 68 points in 69 games for Eric Staal, who is having an incredible second act to his NHL career after moving on from Carolina to Minnesota. He’s given them exactly what they needed this season in Minnesota with Zach Parise really struggling with injuries.

9. Pittsburgh Penguins (40-26-4, rank last week: 13) – Evgeni Malkin is up there with Nikita Kucherov as a favorite for the Hart Trophy, and the Penguins are in position to once again at least give it a run during the playoffs. It looks like 40 goals and 100 points are well within range for Malkin, and those are some gaudy, gaudy numbers.  

10. San Jose Sharks (36-23-9, rank last week: 10) – It’s been an interesting mix between Evander Kane and the San Jose Sharks since his arrival at the trade deadline. He’s been a point-per-game player in the short sample size since moving on from Buffalo.

11.   Dallas Stars (38-25-6, rank last week: 9) – Is a successful Dallas Stars season that’s built on Tyler Seguin playing good defense and a strong two-way game really sustainable thing? Yeah, I’ll have to see it to believe it.

12. Philadelphia Flyers (35-24-11, rank last week: 15) – The Flyers have pushed their way into the playoff picture, and Nolan Patrick has really begun to come on strong in his rookie season. That’s just adding another weapon to a star-studded offensive group in Philly that should be fun to watch come playoff-time.

13. Colorado Avalanche (36-24-8, rank last week: 17) – It’s incredible that Nathan MacKinnon has exploded into a Hart Trophy-level candidate since Matt Duchene cleared out of Colorado. The Avs are right on the playoff bubble in the Western Conference with guys like MacKinnon helping to lead the way.

14. Anaheim Ducks (34-23-12, rank last week: 16) – Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf have combined for 24 goals this season. I remember when that would be little more than a half-season’s worth of production for Perry alone. My, how times have changed for the Ducks.

15. Columbus Blue Jackets (37-28-5, rank last week: 19) – Seth Jones has really taken a huge step forward this season for the Blue Jackets, and is playing like a guy that wants to be in the Norris Trophy conversation. The Blue Jackets are right on the playoff bubble, but would be a handful for anybody that comes across them.    

16. New Jersey Devils (35-26-8, rank last week: 18) – Taylor Hall has pushed his way into the Hart Trophy conversation after a long point streak, and the Devils are still hanging around in the playoff conversation as well. The Devils wanted to build up relevancy in Jersey again, and they’re doing just that in Newark right now.

17. Los Angeles Kings (37-26-5, rank last week: 12) – Jonathan Quick may not end up being the Vezina Trophy winner at the end of it all, but he certainly deserves to be in the conversation as one of the Kings core players that’s really helped hold them together this season.

18. Calgary Flames (34-26-10, rank last week: 14) – The Flames are 4-5-1 in their last 10 games and treading water in a spot where they’ve got to pick it up if they want to get into the dance. This team is too talented not to make it, but they could if they don’t start stringing together some wins.

19.  St. Louis Blues (36-27-5, rank last week: 11) – The Blues became sellers at the trade deadline despite being in the hunt for the playoffs, and predictably they’ve stumbled to a 2-7-1 record in their last 10 games around the trade deadline. Better luck next year for the Blues as they try to find some answers for next year and beyond.

20.  Florida Panthers (34-26-7, rank last week: 24) – The Panthers are surging with an 8-1-1 record in their last 10 games, and Roberto Luongo is leading the way since getting healthy with a .930 save percentage this season. Florida is putting together something special late in the season in an area that needs some things to root for.  

21. Carolina Hurricanes (30-28-11, rank last week: 20) – The plot thickens for the Carolina Hurricanes as they shop for a GM in the middle of the regular season, and their new ownership begins exerting their influence over the organization. It makes for a weird in-season dynamic, but could be the very best thing long term for the Hurricanes.   

22. New York Rangers (31-32-7, rank last week: 22) – Rick Nash is gone. Ryan McDonagh is gone. Nick Holden is gone as well. The Rangers have done well to build a collection of young players and prospects, and Ryan Spooner in particular is off and running with the Blueshirts. It will be interesting to see if they can be right back in the mix next season, or if this is a 2-3 year project.

23. Chicago Blackhawks (30-32-8, rank last week: 23) – The good news is that young guys like Nick Schmaltz, Alex DeBrincat and Erik Gustafsson are all taking a step forward this season for the Blackhawks. The bad news is that they’re going to miss the playoffs in a move that should have longstanding consequences in the Windy City. Somebody is likely to be losing their job over all of this. It remains to be seen who it will be.

24. New York Islanders (30-29-10, rank last week: 21) – The Islanders are 2-4-4 in the last 10 games and plummeting out of a playoff spot, and that’s certainly not going to work in their benefit as they try to lock things up with John Tavares. Garth Snow better watch out for those billboards.     

25. Detroit Red Wings (26-31-11, rank last week: 26) – The Red Wings have lost six games in a row as they plummet toward the bottom of the Atlantic Division standings, and fade into oblivion again without any hope of the playoffs. It’s tough times in Hockeytown.   

26. Montreal Canadiens (25-32-12, rank last week: 25) – The knives are out in Montreal for Jonathan Drouin and Marc Bergevin among others as the Canadiens finally sputter their way to the end of the regular season while merely playing out the string. It seems that the Habs’ misfortune knows no bottom this season.

27. Vancouver Canucks (25-35-9, rank last week: 27) – It’s a tough end to a brilliant rookie season for Brock Boeser, who should still get some Calder Trophy consideration even though he’s missing out on the final month of the regular season. He’s got a brilliant future in Vancouver where they’re going to build things up the right way now under Jim Benning.

28. Edmonton Oilers (30-34-4, rank last week: 28) – The word on the street is that everybody in Edmonton was not seeing eye to eye over who got the chance to play on Connor McDavid’s line. And why not? Getting on that line means instant production and impact for a varying degree of skill levels up front. But it won’t mean Hart Trophy consideration for McDavid while running out the clock for a terrible Oilers team this season.

29. Ottawa Senators (24-33-11, rank last week: 29) – It sure looks like the Ottawa Senators are in the last days of Erik Karlsson playing for their organization, and that really  means a sea change for both the player and for the team. The Sens had better hope they’ve got a great plan for rebuilding things because it was a very unsteady situation with some of their players, and that goes double for any Senators player looking to get paid in the future by the organization.

30. Buffalo Sabres (22-35-12, rank last week: 30) – It’s certainly even more of Jack Eichel’s team this season now after the trade deadline than it was with Evander Kane earlier this season, but from a greater perspective it’s just not a very good team at all beyond the obvious franchise-type player. Better luck next year with the Sabres for like the seventh year in a row as they’re looking to finally get some traction one of these years.  

31. Arizona Coyotes (22-35-11, rank last week: 31) – It’s a good thing nobody handed out the Calder Trophy to Clayton Keller in the first couple of months this season when he was pacing the Coyotes offense, and putting up big names as a flashy, playmaking center. Keller has tailed off big time in the second half of this season, and has decent, but not specular numbers, with 18 goals and 49 points in his first full year. That’s a good rookie season, but it sure doesn’t look like he’s going to be taking home any hardware this summer.


The banged up Bruins have two more injured players in Nash, McQuaid

The banged up Bruins have two more injured players in Nash, McQuaid

BOSTON – It’s another day and another injured player, or two, for the Boston Bruins.

Veteran right winger Rick Nash was a late scratch for the Bruins on Monday night against the Blue Jackets after getting banged up in last weekend’s win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid had to exit due to injury in the third period of Monday night’s 5-4 overtime loss at TD Garden.  

“[Nash] got hit in Tampa, so we thought he was fine. He had an upper-body injury,” said Bruce Cassidy. “This morning, pregame skate, we thought he’d be fine, and it turned out after pregame skate, early afternoon, he wasn’t. So, you know, we had to make a call for Anton Blidh.”

The Nash absence forced the Bruins to recall Blidh from Providence on emergency recall and plug him into the lineup not using him in the last couple of road games in Florida, and it also pushed 21-year-old rookie Ryan Donato into a top-6 role alongside David Krejci in his NHL debut. Clearly things worked out for Donato with a 1-goal, 3-point performance in his first NHL game, and that along with some quality organizational depth is helping them withstand some of the injuries.

McQuaid was held to just 10:42 of ice time that was the fewest among all Bruins D-men on Monday night, but it was unclear exactly what befell him on the ice injury-wise.  

It is getting a little ridiculous for a Bruins team that’s missing Patrice Bergeron (fractured right foot), Zdeno Chara (upper body), Jake DeBrusk (upper body), Charlie McAvoy (sprained left MCL), David Backes (right leg laceration) and now may have to go without Nash (upper body) and McQuaid (undisclosed) as well. Clearly it’s something the Bruins will have to play through for the time being while simply hoping that it all conveniently clears up ahead of the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

“You know, you call a player up [from the AHL], right? We signed one out of college; that helped. So, that’s it. [The injuries] are uncontrollable to a certain extent. It’s kind of enough, now. I would agree. We’ve had our share, so let’s get these guys healthy and get ready to play,” said Cassidy. “I don’t know. You’ve got to play the game in front of you and you just hope the string of, kind of, tough luck, is over.

“That’s it. It’s a physical game. We’ve said all along, to have successful seasons, both regular and playoffs, you need a certain level of health. That’s what we’re hoping, that these guys come back, and that’s it. Until then, we plug the holes and play the game in front of you.”

Plugging those holes will continue to get more and more challenging if the Bruins keep losing players from their lineup on a nightly basis as they may have on Monday with both Nash and McQuaid now banged up as well.


NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Donato impresses in NHL debut

NBC Sports Boston Photo

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Donato impresses in NHL debut

1:13 - Joe Haggerty joins from the TD Garden to discuss the non-call on Brad Marchand’s breakaway, Ryan Donato shining in his NHL debut, and when Patrice Bergeron could be returning.

6:16 - Gary Tanguay, Mike Giardi, and Trenni Kusnierek debate if the Patriots are starting to replace the talent they’ve lost this offseason as they have acquired Adrian Clayborn, Jeremy Hill, and Jason McCourty. 

11:01 - A. Sherrod Blakely joins Boston Sports Tonight to talk about the Celtics continuing to struggle as the injuries have piled up.