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Haggerty's NHL Power Rankings: Settling in at the top

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Haggerty's NHL Power Rankings: Settling in at the top

It's a few weeks into the regular season and the cream is beginning to rise to the top with the Predators, Lightning and Winnipeg Jets pushing toward the top of the rankings. The Preds and Lightning have lost only once in regulation and the Maple Leafs continue to look like the best offense in the entire NHL.

The other end of the spectrum is equally interesting as the Sharks, Kings and Golden Knights – playoff teams with high hopes this season – are all rounding out in the bottom third of the league. It’s still early yet for both ends to meet somewhere in the middle, but it’s not going to be too early much more with Thanksgiving about a month away.

At that point, things in the standings will begin to cement a little bit, so there are just a few more weeks for underachieving teams to get things in gear.  

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

1. Nashville Predators (7-1-0, rank last week: 3) – The Predators are allowing under two goals per game, Filip Forsberg has picked up the pace offensively and Peter Laviolette is wearing bull masks. All is right in Music City. 

2. Tampa Bay Lightning (5-1-1, LW: 15) – The Lightning are on a roll now with four players scoring at a point-per-game clip and the offense averaging four goals per game.

3. Colorado Avalanche (5-1-2, LW: 7) – Nathan MacKinnon off to a torrid start for the Avs, who look like they’re finally ready to take that step to a legitimate contender this season. The eight goals and 14 points in eight games are pretty darn good.

4. New Jersey Devils (4-2-0, LW: 6) – Taylor Hall is putting up points, but he’s also got just one goal and is a minus player in six games thus far this season. The Devils are winning so it doesn’t matter right now, but it’s not a gold standard start for the reigning Hart Trophy winner.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs (6-3-0, LW: 1) – The Leafs lead the entire NHL with 34 goals scored thus far this season, but they’re also allowing over three goals per game at the same time. That’s a formula that may not play well late into the season, and postseason, if it doesn’t change.

6. Anaheim Ducks (5-3-1, LW: 5) – The Ducks are off to a strong start despite some injuries, and they’ve also managed to sign wayward RFA Nick Ritchie to a new contract as well. Everything is coming up Milhouse for the Ducks.

7. Winnipeg Jets (5-2-1, LW: 13) – The Jets are off to a decent start and somehow Josh Morrissey is leading the Jets in points right now. I did not see that one coming.  

8. Pittsburgh Penguins (3-1-2, LW: 8) – The Penguins have allowed as many goals as they’ve scored this season. That’s going to need to change if Pittsburgh is truly going to get their house in order.

9. Chicago Blackhawks (4-2-2, LW: 2) – Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat have combined for 14 goals in eight games for the Blackhawks this season. That is some serious offensive firepower.  

10. Carolina Hurricanes (4-3-1, LW: 10) – Considering that Scott Darling hasn’t even played a game for the Canes this season, the start is pretty good thanks to some brilliant young players in front of the goaltenders.

11. Montreal Canadiens (4-1-2, LW: 21) – Tomas Tatar and Paul Byron are setting the pace for the Canadiens offensively. You have to wonder how long that’s going to last, but credit where it’s due that they’re better than expected.  

12. Calgary Flames (5-3-0, LW: 14) – The Flames are off to a pretty good start led by Johnny Gaudreau, who looks like he might even be taking his game to another level.

13. Boston Bruins (4-2-2, LW: 4) – The Bruins have been bailed out by Jaroslav Halak’s play between the pipes, but they’re not going to go very far as long as Tuukka Rask is sitting at an .875 save percentage.

14. Ottawa Senators (4-2-1, LW: 22) – Chris Tierney has nine points in seven games for the Senators. It’s a great story so far, but we’ll have to see how long it lasts for a Sens team that can never seem to get it together for too long.  

15. Washington Capitals (3-2-2, LW: 11) – The Capitals are scoring goals like crazy, but Braden Holtby is slow out of the gate this season. That’s going to need to turn around for the reigning Cup champions.   

16.  Minnesota Wild (4-2-2, LW: 17) – Young guys like Joel Eriksson Ek and Joel Greenway are off to slow starts for Minny, who again look like they’re going to be just good enough to get their fan base excited.

17.  Columbus Blue Jackets (4-3-0, LW: 12) – Cam Atkinson and Nick Foligno have finally started joining the offensive party for the Blue Jackets along with the Artist already known as the Bread Man.

18. San Jose Sharks (4-3-1, LW: 20) – Zero points, four assists and a minus-4 rating in eight games for Erik Karlsson thus far. Well, that certainly is pretty underwhelming.  

19. Edmonton Oilers (3-3-0, LW: 27) – After a tough start, the Oilers have kind of righted the ship after finally getting home to Edmonton. Now we see what this talented hockey team is truly made of.   

20. Vancouver Canucks (4-3-0, LW: 18) – Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and Elias Pettersson continue to power the Canucks through an early-season surprise with Boeser and Horvat teaming to take down the B’s last weekend.

21. Buffalo Sabres (5-4-0, LW: 16) – A decent start for Rasmus Dahlin and a decent start for the Sabres as well, so they have that going for them… which is nice.   

22. Philadelphia Flyers (4-4-0, LW: 25) – High-end offensive players and mediocre-to-bad goaltending? Same old Flyers.    

23. Vegas Golden Knights (4-4-0, LW: 24) – One goal and a minus-4 in eight games for Max Pacioretty is just part of the difficult climb for the Golden Knights in year two of their NHL existence.   

24. Dallas Stars (3-4-0, LW: 19) – Alex Radulov, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are off to hot starts, but once again it’s the same old question marks for the Stars struggling to keep the puck out of the net.

25. St. Louis Blues (2-3-2, LW: 26) – The Blues only have two players on their roster with a positive plus/minus rating right now. That’s a tough way to win the NHL.  

26. New York Islanders (3-4-0, LW: 23) – If Robin Lehner can keep playing close to his current level this season, the Isles could be better than anybody thought. They could use something, anything from Jordan Eberle, though.

27. Los Angeles Kings (2-5-1, LW: 19) – The Kings rank no higher than 23rd in the NHL in any major team category, and that tells you exactly the brand of mediocre hockey that they’re playing right now.

28. Arizona Coyotes (2-5-0, LW: 28) – Clayton Keller is picking up the offensive pace for the Coyotes a bit, but the rest of that roster is looking pretty light on the offensive side of things right now.

29. New York Rangers (2-5-1, LW: 29) – The Rangers continue to try to get by with guys like Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad as the best players on their team and that continues to qualify as a full-out rebuild. 

30. Florida Panthers (1-2-3, LW: 31) – A team thrown into a turmoil due to one injury to Roberto Luongo may not be as good of a hockey team as we thought they were. A tough start for the Panthers.

31. Detroit Red Wings (1-5-2, LW: 30) – Anthony Mantha is already a minus-11 just a couple of weeks into the NHL season. How the heck does that even happen? 

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Haggerty: These blown leads are becoming a plague for the Bruins

Haggerty: These blown leads are becoming a plague for the Bruins

PITTSBURGH — If it happened once or twice, it could be shrugged off as a coincidence.

But the Bruins have blown three-goal leads three times this season, including two in the last week alone. That gives them one of the NHL's worst records when leading after two periods, with seven losses already this season.

To put Sunday's 4-3 loss at Pittsburgh in perspective, the Bruins went into the contest 200-1-6 since 2010-11 in games where they’d held a three-goal lead. 

It came down to a couple different things on Sunday, but you can start with their sloppy second period. They basically did nothing for the first 10 minutes coming out of the first intermission. That opened the door for everything that followed.

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First, Sidney Crosby made a couple of All-World plays to set up goals and get the Penguins back in the game. Then, it came down to the Bruins dooming themselves with mistakes, allowing two more goals without any offensive response. 

On the third goal, their top power-play unit stayed out on the ice far too long, and a gassed Brad Marchand couldn’t catch Jack Johnson as the trailer unloaded a shorthanded bomb. Then in the third, Evgeni Malkin stripped Charlie McAvoy behind the Boston net and set up Bryan Rust for the Penguins' game-winner.

To a man, the Bruins said it wasn’t about taking the foot off the gas pedal. Instead, they pointed to mistakes made while crediting Pittsburgh for pushing back.

“It’s typically how does it happen? We saw some poor defending and some poor goaltending in Philly, and tonight it was more of the same to be honest with you,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “Not so much on the goalie. They were good goals. But we get beat off the wall and the last one I can’t tell you what happened to be honest with you.

“I saw them bump their urgency up. The goals we are giving up against a good team…what is it a lack of focus? Do we lose our urgency? Because they are gifts a little bit. You can get outplayed by good teams, and you will in stretches. But these were gifts today.”

But it sure feels like the mind-numbing results fly in the face of their denials. Instead, something feels inherently wrong with a team that consistently plays down to the worst teams in the league, and seems to ease up once they build a comfortable lead. Those are the kinds of team traits that don’t go away as things get more challenging, and will certainly crop up when things are heightened. It’s also a shocking development for a Bruins team that’s been very good at closing out other teams over the years.

“We just need to bear down and you can’t just have a good effort and be satisfied with that, and then come back in the next game and just play for half of a game or whatever that was,” said Patrice Bergeron, who scored his 21st goal of the season and won 20-of-25 face-offs. “We need to take it upon ourselves. We all need to take responsibility and be accountable for how we’re able to play in this locker room.

“It’s one of those games where we’re playing a good team and they’re going to give you a push, but you can’t let that go by. It’s a 3-0 and you know there’s a lot of game left, so you need to play the right way and keep pushing in order to increase that lead.”

The good news for the Bruins is that they still have a half-season to figure things out. But it also makes one wonder if something has to change from the outside to improve things for a Bruins team that's almost the same as last season’s Stanley Cup finalist.

It remains to be seen what’s going to right the ship, or if it will ever get righted at all. But the list of problems is growing for a Bruins team that can’t live off its early-season success for much longer.

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Bruins don't expect David Backes to retire after demotion to AHL

Bruins don't expect David Backes to retire after demotion to AHL

David Backes was waived by the Boston Bruins late last week. The statement move to demote the veteran Bruin was part of two critical changes that the B's made to their team. The other was waiving fellow enforcer and physical forward Brett Ritchie.

After Backes' demotion, there was some speculation that the 14-year veteran may opt to retire instead of playing in the AHL for the Providence Bruins. But according to Bruins president Cam Neely, Backes hasn't indicated that he will do that.

"I don’t think he has a mindset of retirement," said Neely per Kevin Paul Dupont of The Boston Globe. "He’s a very proud man, and a professional. I still have the feeling he thinks he can help, so we’ll see where it goes from here."

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This isn't altogether surprising. Backes may be holding out hope that he'll get another chance to play moving forward if he can prove himself in the AHL. 

Backes turns 36 in May, but hockey players often have long careers. So, it's possible that Backes could find a role as a veteran depth piece for another team. It'll just be on a deal much cheaper than the five-year, $30 million deal he signed with the Bruins back in the 2016 offseason.

That said, it's worth noting that Backes has had concussion issues in recent seasons. So that could impact his decision-making moving forward.

In 16 games this season, Backes had just one goal and two assists for the Bruins. He'll take some time off before joining the Providence Bruins later this month.