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NHL Power Rankings: Who is playing their way out of postseason early?

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NHL Power Rankings: Who is playing their way out of postseason early?

With December here, it’s time to give last rites to some of the teams that have already played their way out of the playoffs this season.

Mathematically, of course, every team is still alive, but realistically any team that hopes to be in the postseason can’t fall more than a handful of points out of the playoff picture this late into the regular season. The Buffalo Sabres are already 13 points out of a playoff spot in the East, and have been an uninspired mess since the very first few days of the season.

The Flyers are eight points out of a playoff spot after losing their 10th game in a row on Saturday afternoon, and have five teams in front of them in the playoff pole position. That’s pretty much a wrap already for the Broad Street Bullies.

In the West it’s only Arizona that has already played their way out of the postseason while 12 points outside the playoffs. That’s nothing new for the Coyotes fans out there, of course. But if trade rumor hounds want to start looking to the places where rumors are going to come from, right now it’s the Sabres, Flyers and Coyotes that are already closing in on “wait until next year” time with teams that dropped like a stone right out of the gate.  

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

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (15-2-2, rank last week: 1) – The Bolts are on a bit of a mini-skid with four losses in their last seven games, but they still have quality wins over San Jose and Chicago during that stretch. They are the class of the Atlantic Division.

2. Winnipeg Jets (16-6-4, rank last week: 3) – How about those Winnipeg Jets? They continue to win and keep their fine standing in the Western Conference, and look like that potential is finally turning into actual results on the ice. It is a crazy amount of young talent on that team when you look at the roster.

3. Nashville Predators (16-7-3, rank last week: 10) – The Predators are winning and Viktor Arvidsson is dishing the ring for postgame wedding engagements in Nashville. It sounds like the Preds are over that little Stanley Cup Final hangover from the beginning of the season.

4. Los Angeles Kings (16-8-3, rank last week: 6) – Everybody was talking about Drew Doughty’s contract and his NHL future over the last couple of weeks, and with good reason. He continues to dominate while playing 27 minutes of ice time per game.

5.   St. Louis Blues (17-8-2, rank last week: 2) – The Blues have lost three in a row for the first time all season, and fell short against fellow Western Conference hopefuls in Los Angeles, Minnesota and Anaheim. It’s still been a very good season for the Blues thus far, but this has been a down note lately.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets (17-9-1, rank last week: 7) – The Blue Jackets have won eight of their last 10 games and won six in a row during that stretch. Many of those wins were one-goal games as Sergei Bobrovsky continues to refuse to turn over his badge (inside joke for the Jay and Dan fans up in Canada).

7.  Toronto Maple Leafs (17-10-1, rank last week: 4) – The Leafs are 9-3-1 in their last 13 games and continue to stay within striking distance of the Lightning. No pun intended. Okay, maybe it was.    

8.  New Jersey Devils (15-7-4, rank last week: 5) – The Devils are still heavily in the mix for the playoffs after a surprising first couple of months to the season, but it’s going to take a while for the stink to come off a 5-0 loss to the Arizona Coyotes this weekend. Ouch.

9. New York Islanders (15-8-2, rank last week: 11) – The Isles have cranked out 39 goals in their last nine games and continue to push upward in the Metro Division with some pretty impressive numbers across the board. It looks like Doug Weight behind the bench has been very good for that team.   

10. Pittsburgh Penguins (15-10-3, rank last week: 8) – Boy, this Tristan Jarry has come out of nowhere and been exactly what the Penguins needed while ripping off four wins in a row. Matt Murray better be careful that he doesn’t get Mark-Andre Fleury-ed.

11. Vegas Golden Knights (15-9-1, rank last week: 9) – I don’t think anybody foresaw William Karlsson as the leading goal-scorer for Vegas, or that the Golden Knights would be in a playoff position two months into the season. Welp, so much for all those know-it-all talking heads.

12. Dallas Stars (15-10-1, rank last week: 25) – The Stars have racked up four wins in a row and started to get the defensive side of things under control a bit. There’s still a long way to go, but maybe Ken Hitchcock’s message is starting to sink in.

13. San Jose Sharks (14-9-2, rank last week: 13) – One goal in 25 games for Brent Burns after he scored 56 goals over the previous two seasons, and won the Norris Trophy last season. How the heck does that even happen?

14. Washington Capitals (15-11-1, rank last week: 18) – Five wins in their last seven games, and they’ve done a good job of cracking down defensively after giving up six goals in back-to-back losses to Nashville and Colorado. They are in a playoff spot, but just barely right now.

15. New York Rangers (14-10-2, rank last week: 23) – The Rangers have won each of their last five Henrik Lundqvist starts, and King Henrik has only given up six goals over that time span. That’s exactly what the Blueshirts needed to kick them back into gear, but they’re still on the outside looking in for the playoffs.

16. Vancouver Canucks (13-10-4, rank last week: 19) – The Canucks are hanging around, and it looks like Anders Nilsson is pushing for more playing time between the pipes behind a group of talented, young players.

17. Minnesota Wild (13-10-3, rank last week: 15) – The Wild really feel like an also-ran in the Western Conference right now, and perhaps that’s accentuated even more by how average Devan Dubnyk has been this season. If he’s not superhuman then neither are the Wild.

18. Montreal Canadiens (13-12-3, rank last week: 26) – The Habs usher Carey Price back into the proceedings, and they all of a sudden rip off five wins in a row while upping their goal-producing gusto as well. Price’s importance to that Habs team is nothing short of amazing.

19.  Boston Bruins (12-8-4, rank last week: 24) – The Bruins have won six of seven games, and they’re finally healthy for the first time all season. It’s going to be a different kind of challenge to keep everybody happy once roles get changed with good health, but it’s a big development that Tuukka Rask is finally on track.

20.  Calgary Flames (14-11-1, rank last week: 17) – A whopping 36 points in 26 games for Johnny Gaudreau is something special, but the Flames as a team are scrapping just to try to get into the playoff picture.

21. Chicago Blackhawks (12-9-5, rank last week: 16) – Did you hear the one about the Chicago Blackhawks playing in another outdoor hockey game? Yeah, me too.

22. Ottawa Senators (9-9-6, rank last week: 12) – Matt Duchene has one goal and a minus-9 in his first 10 games as a member of the Senators, which has to be pretty disappointing given the investment they made to get him.

23. Carolina Hurricanes (11-9-5, rank last week: 17) – Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho are the two leading scorers for the Hurricanes, so there’s reason for excitement with the young players. But once again the Canes are rounding up the rear in the Metro Division.

24. Anaheim Ducks (11-11-5, rank last week: 22) – The Anaheim Ducks are trying to bolster their offense by adding Adam Henrique, but the jury is out on how well it’s going to end up working for a team scoring 2.6 goals per game.  

25. Detroit Red Wings (10-12-5, rank last week: 14) – The Red Wings have lost seven in a row, and are in serious danger of dropping completely out of the playoff picture in early December. There are trying times for Jeff Blashill.  

26. Colorado Avalanche (12-10-2, rank last week: 20) – Harvard’s Alexander Kerfoot is turning out to be a pretty good signing for the Avs with eight goals and 18 points in 24 games this season. Avs have been okay this season, so at least there’s that.

27. Philadelphia Flyers (8-11-7, rank last week: 27) – The Flyers have lost 10 games in a row while completely nose-diving to the bottom of the Metro Division. Cue the whispers about Dave Hakstol being in jeopardy and everybody being on the trade block.

28. Edmonton Oilers (11-14-2, rank last week: 28) – The Oilers were already struggling and now they’ve lost Cam Talbot to injury as well. It just looks more and more like this is going to be a lost year for the Oil given how bad things are right now.

29. Florida Panthers (10-13-3, rank last week: 29) – The Panthers are 28th in goals against, 29th in power play success rate and 30th in the penalty kill this season. That is exactly why they’re circling the drain in the East.

30. Buffalo Sabres (6-17-4, rank last week: 30) – The Sabres have lost another four games in a row, and things are absolutely miserable in Big Buff Land. It’s only a matter of time until Evander Kane gets dealt somewhere.

31. Arizona Coyotes (7-18-4, rank last week: 31) – Second-to-last in offense, and dead least in defense in the NHL. At least they’ve got Clayton Keller, but he’s cooled off a bit while racking up a whopping minus-17 mark in 29 games.   

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McQuaid returns to first B's practice since breaking leg

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McQuaid returns to first B's practice since breaking leg

BRIGHTON, Mass – It marks just another step on Adam McQuaid’s eventual return to game action, but it was a big one getting back on the ice with his Bruins teammates on Monday for his first practice since breaking his right fibula on Oct. 19. 

The 31-year-old McQuaid has missed 21 games and counting since blocking a pair of shots in a win over Vancouver that ultimately snapped his right leg. It’s been a long road of rehab and working his way back after a fairly significant surgery, but the light is present at the end of the tunnel now for the rugged, stay-at-home defenseman.

However, it looks like there will be a healthy amount of practice time involved before McQuaid has sufficiently knocked the rust off for game action after missing the last seven weeks. 

“He’s still got a ways to go, so I don’t want to even speculate [on a return date],” said Bruce Cassidy. “We’ll start to sort the pieces together when he’s truly ready to play, but it’s nice to have him around. He’s a great guy and his teammates all love him.”

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Clearly McQuaid has suffered his share of injuries over the years while playing a fearless style of blocking shots, throwing hits and defending his teammates at all costs. Just don’t expect him to change the way he plays after suffering a major injury in that particular line of duty because McQuaid knows exactly what his job description is on the ice. 

“Obviously today was a good step. It was good to be out there with the guys, and hopefully things continue to progress,” said McQuaid, who had an assist and a minus-3 rating in six games this season. “It’s tough. Without sugarcoating it, it was [a tough injury]. But you can’t change the situation. You try to persevere through and be better for it, so hopefully that will be the case with this. I felt good coming into the season, so it was disappointing in that way. But I’m looking to work back to that level now.

“I’ve said to some people that I can choose between getting hurt once in a while and missing some time, or playing a different style and probably not playing at all. I don’t foresee anything changing with me in that way. When you get out there, you just play and get into that mindset where you can’t think about injuries. 

It’s going to be a challenge for Bruins head coach Cassidy to work McQuaid back into the lineup when he is ready to play given the six-man defense corps that’s functioning well these days with rookie puck-mover Matt Grzelcyk in the lineup. Still McQuaid is bullishly strong, a Stanley Cup champ and as good of a teammate as you’ll find when it comes to defending everybody else in a Bruins uniform, so it won’t be too long before he finds his way back into the lineup.  

Cassidy appreciates all of those things in McQuaid’s game since their early days together with the Providence Bruins, and bristles at the notion of his injuries being looked at as a liability in any way. McQuaid has missed an average of 18 games per season over his seven full seasons with the Bruins, but Cassidy sees it as more of a hazard of the particular role he fills on the back end. Not everybody can do what McQuaid does, but it’s absolutely needed on any hockey club that’s going to be successful in the regular season and playoffs. 

“He plays hard every night and he’s a guy that blocks more shots than anybody,” said Cassidy. “Yes, he missed the last seven weeks because he blocked two shots in the same sequence. He puts himself in harm’s way and he’s suffered some injuries because of it. That’s the way I look at it. I don’t want to get into labels…I love the guy. 

“The game needs players like him, and the team needs him if you want to be hard to play against. Guys like that are necessary…I’ve heard that [injury-prone] description and I think it’s unfair because [McQuaid] lays it on the line every night.” 

Here are the Bruins line combos and D-pairings based on Monday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena with both Ryan Spooner (lower body) and Noel Acciari (upper body) practicing and uncertain if they can play Wednesday night in Detroit: 

 

Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak

DeBrusk-Krejci-Bjork

Heinen-Nash-Backes

Schaller-Kuraly-Acciari

Beleskey-Spooner-Vatrano

 

Chara-McAvoy

Krug-Carlo

Grzelcyk-Miller

Postma-McQuaid

 

Rask

Khudobin

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Morning Skate: Boeser continues to produce for Canucks

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Morning Skate: Boeser continues to produce for Canucks

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while avoiding all “The Last Jedi” spoilers out there. 

 

*Brock Boeser continues to score and play well for the Vancouver Canucks despite the extra attention as one of the NHL’s lead rookie players this season. I hate to say it, but this is another one of those players from the second half of the first round in the 2015 NHL Draft. I’ll leave it at that and move on. 

 

*Alex Burrows fined $5000 for an incident in San Jose, but at least he didn’t bite anybody this time around, right? 

 

*It must be a slow week if there’s a big think piece about the ritual of using smelling salts right before the drop of the puck in NHL games. 

 

*There is more speculation about the Ottawa Senators trading Erik Karlsson than ever before in his NHL career, but his thoughts haven’t changed about wanting to win in Ottawa. 

 

*Good for the Bruins going out and donating some Christmas trees this weekend to the families of service members and veterans in Leominster. 

 

*It’s been a whopping 44 games since Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith has scored a goal, and that’s an almost unthinkable drought considering how much he handles the puck. 

 

*For something completely different: Wonder Woman is getting snubbed by the Golden Globes, and it’s difficult to understand why.