Blackhawks

NHL Power Rankings: Penguins dethrone Capitals at No. 1

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NHL Power Rankings: Penguins dethrone Capitals at No. 1

For 18 straight weeks, the Capitals held the No. 1 spot in this space. With less than a week remaining in the regular season, they're not anymore.

The Penguins have won six consecutive games and 12 of their past 13, led by rookie goaltender Matt Murray, who was named the NHL's third star of the week after posting a 3-0-0 record with a 1.95 goals against average, .929 save percentage and a shutout in Marc-Andre Fleury's absence.

Meanwhile in the West, the Stars (without Tyler Seguin) and the Blues (now without David Backes and Jake Allen) are still battling for the top seed in the Central Division.

In the Pacific, the Ducks have overtaken the No. 1 seed from the Kings, but there's still one more matchup between the two of them before the regular-season concludes. 

Check in with CSNChicago.com for updated rankings every Monday throughout the 2015-16 campaign. Here's where we're at so far: Preseason rankings | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 13 | Week 14 | Week 15 | Week 16 | Week 17 | Week 18 | Week 19 | Week 20 | Week 21 | Week 22 | Week 23 | Week 24 | Week 25

 

Rank Team
Last Week Record/Comment
1 4

46-25-8, 100 points: There isn't a team playing better hockey right now than the Penguins, who have won 12 of their last 13, including six straight; eight of those wins are against teams currently in the playoffs. Matt Murray was named the NHL's third star of the week after going 3-0-0 with a 1.95 goals against average, .929 save percentage and a shutout in Marc-Andre Fleury's absence.

2   2 47-23-9, 103 points: David Backes and Jake Allen will miss the rest of the regular season due to lower-body injuries, and will be re-evaluated before the playoffs. The hits keep coming, but with a potential Chicago-St. Louis first-round matchup on the horizon, this couldn't have come at a worse time.
3 1 55-17-6, 116 points: The Capitals are 2-2-1 in their last five games, and their next four will surely get them ready for the postseason: vs. N.Y. Islanders, vs. Pittsburgh, at St. Louis, vs. Anaheim.
4 5

44-24-10, 98 points: The Ducks scored two shorthanded goals in a 3-1 win over Dallas on Sunday, which propelled them to first in the Pacific Division. They've now won four of their last five games, but Thursday's matchup against Los Angeles may decide the division.

5 6

48-23-9, 105 points: The Stars have won seven of their last nine games, including an impressive road win over Los Angeles over the weekend. Goaltending is still an issue for this team, but it's certainly improved as of late.

6   3 46-27-5, 97 points: The Kings have two wins in their last seven games, and have lost the Pacific Division lead to the Ducks, who they play on Thursday in their second-to-last game of the season.
7  8 46-26-7, 99 points: Patrick Kane all but locked up the Hart Trophy and Art Ross Trophy with a four-point performance against Boston over the weekend, while Artemi Panarin likely did the same with the Calder Trophy following back-to-back four-point performances.
8   9 44-25-9, 97 points: Vincent Trocheck is expected to miss the rest of the regular season and maybe even a round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a huge blow to a team that isn't quite as deep as others in the postseason.
9 7

45-28-5, 95 points: The Eastern Conference playoff bracket took a big turn after it was announced late Saturday night that Steven Stamkos will miss 1-3 months with a blood clot in his arm. There's no replacing him, but the only way you do is by calling up Jonathan Drouin.

10   10 39-26-14, 92 points: After headlining last week's power rankings that they are "peaking at the right time," the Predators are 0-3-1 in four games since then, and have given up at least three goals in each of those. They better be careful not to trend the wrong way.
11   13 44-29-6, 94 points: The roller-coaster season continues for the Sharks, who have three wins in their last four after losing three straight. This is a club that, when they get hot, they get crazy hot. But when they get cold, they get real cold. Which will it be in the first round?
12   11 43-26-9, 95 points: The Sabres chased Henrik Lundqvist after he allowed three goals on nine shots in fewer than 21 minutes of action on Saturday. The Rangers nearly came back and won, but it wasn't ideal for a team looking to head into the postseason with confidence.
13   15

39-26-13, 91 points: The Flyers are 13-4-2 in their last 19 games, yet are fighting for their lives in the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. They're one of only two teams currently in the playoff picture with a negative goal different (minus-5). Detroit is the other at minus-12.

14   14 42-26-9, 93 points: With Jaroslav Halak out, the Islanders have tailspun into a wild-card spot and are simply just trying to hang on to a playoff spot. Now, Travis Hamonic will miss time with a right knee injury and it doesn't look like he'll return any time soon. Jack Capuano called out his young players on Monday in an effort to jumpstart his team. Let's see if it works.
15   12

41-30-8, 90 points: Lots of speculation that Claude Julien's job may be in jeopardy if the Bruins miss the playoffs, yet many are also arguing he could win the Jack Adams Award if they clinch a playoff spot for the job he's done during a supposed retooling year. It'd be an overreaction to fire him at the end of the season if they do miss out.

16   17

40-28-11, 91 points: With the Bruins losing seven of their last nine games, the Red Wings have crept into the No. 3 spot in the Atlantic Division. Their final three games are against teams fighting for a playoff position: vs. Philadelphia, at Boston, at N.Y. Rangers.

17 16 38-31-11, 87 points: After winning six consecutive games, the Wild have followed that up by losing three straight with two games remaining. Luckily for them, the Avalanche are five points away from catching them in the second wild-card spot.
18 18

34-29-16, 84 points: The Hurricanes spoiled Erik Staal's return to Carolina by beating the Rangers 4-3 on Thursday. If the hockey gods have watched this team all season, they'll reward the Hurricanes with a high position in the NHL Draft.

19   20 36-34-9, 81 points: Erik Karlsson is not making the Norris Trophy decision easy for voters. He's have a season for the ages with 79 points in 79 games, but the Senators are near the bottom of the league in points. Will that be his downfall?
20   19

39-36-4, 82 points: Patrick Roy called out Matt Duchene for celebrating his 30th goal of the season despite being down 4-0 on Sunday. Roy then admitted the Avalanche need to change their "losing mindset." Is he the one that can do it? 

21 21

37-34-8, 82 points: The Devils have been outshot in their last 10 games, and own a 4-5-1 record during that span. With or without Corey Schneider, who returned on Saturday, it's hard to win that way.

22   22 35-36-7, 77 points: Auston Matthews took in the Coyotes game over the weekend to watch the team he grew up watching. Wonder if he'll be on the ice during the next one. It'd be a perfect fit and story for both sides.
23   23 36-37-6, 78 points: The Canadiens recalled All-Star MVP John Scott for the remainder of the season, giving Montreal something to cheer about during a disaster second half of the season.
24 24

33-35-11, 77 points: The Sabres are quietly putting together a strong finish, which is crucial for a young team taking some momentum into next season.

25 25

33-40-6, 72 points: Joni Ortio registered his first career NHL shutout in a 5-0 win over the Oilers on Saturday, stopping all 28 shots he faced. 

26   26

32-39-8, 72 points: Jets prospect Kyle Connor was named a Hobey Baker Award finalist last week after a sensational freshman season at Michigan. There's a lot of be excited about in Winnipeg.

27   29 29-36-13, 71 points: The Canucks won't go down without a fight, picking up back-to-back road wins on consecutive nights against divisional foes San Jose and Anaheim last week. 
28 28

31-39-8, 70 points: Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno was demoted to the fourth line and Scott Hartnell will be a healthy scratch on Monday. The finish line is so close, yet so far away.

29   26

30-43-7, 67 points: Following a 5-0 loss to Calgary over the weekend, Todd McClellan ripped the Oilers' effort by saying, "That's the exact crap we're trying to eradicate from this group." Setting the tone for next season.

30   30

28-39-11, 67 points: Listen, the Maple Leafs may be the worst team in the league, but you can't accuse them of not bringing it on a nightly basis. This is the kind of attitude Mike Babcock has instilled in this team. 

*Advanced stats courtesy of war-on-ice.com

Stan Bowman explains how Blackhawks may utilize extra cap space

Stan Bowman explains how Blackhawks may utilize extra cap space

The Blackhawks had cap space to use this summer but elected to shore up their depth rather than make a splash when free agency opened up on July 1. Perhaps a large reason for that was because Marian Hossa's $5.275 million cap hit over the next three years complicated what they could do exactly in the short term without jeopardizing the long term.

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman admitted Tuesday that they had had discussions about moving Hossa's contract for a year now. But it finally reached a point where they simply needed to get it off their hands, even if it meant giving up Vinnie Hinostroza as a sweetener.

"We tried to make that deal work in every other way possible but they obviously said he had to be in it," Bowman said of including Hinostroza.

That's how important it was to free up even more cap space. By trading Hossa's contract in a nine-piece trade with the Arizona Coyotes, it created more options for the Blackhawks and financial flexibility going forward.

"It was a difficult trade from a sentimental perspective, because we'd love to not have to do that," Bowman said. "But on the practical matter, it was becoming challenging to try to operate with that contract here. It necessitated us trying to make the move that we did make. You don't know when those opportunities are going to come to try and make that type of a move. ... When this presented itself, we talked it through and got to the point where we thought it was something we had to take advantage of."

The problem for the short term is, it's mid-July and the big-name free agents are off the market. There's not much the Blackhawks can do to improve their roster externally unless they make a trade, which would require dipping into the pipeline.

And it's unfair to put a grade on the Hossa trade as a whole without seeing how they utilize that extra cap space. Could that be before the 2018-19 season starts?

"It's an option if we can find the right player or the right situation," Bowman said. "We certainly have more options now than we did before. I wouldn't say we have to do something. Having cap space is an asset in and of itself, so things will come along maybe in the summer or maybe in the beginning part of the year where teams have a couple players that make their team unexpectedly and that makes some other players more expendable. In the past we probably haven't really been a good match for those types of situations because we didn't have the cap room at that time, so now we're going to be in the mix for those types of things.

"Whether we use it right away or whether we use it during the season, I think the nice thing is we have the flexibility now going in to the coming years where we're going to need cap room, all that and more, to sign the young players."

It doesn't sound like there's much urgency to pull something off between now and when training camp rolls around in September. At least for now.

That doesn't mean there won't be once the market picks back up again. 

"Each year teams have surprises, good and bad, in camp," Bowman said. "Our team’s the same way. You have ideas on how your lines are going to look or how your players are going to be ready. Sometimes guys surprise you in a good way, sometimes it’s not what you think. There’ll be some adjustments around the league, but probably not a lot of activity.

"If you look back the last couple of seasons, late July and August are quieter as far as transactions. But there are some arbitration cases coming up around the league; those may get settled ahead of time. But if they do go to arbitration, if the number's not the way the team likes it, they may look to do something. There’s the possibility of moves, but probably closer to training camp is more when changes may happen."

All eyes on Blackhawks defensemen as prospect camp opens

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AP

All eyes on Blackhawks defensemen as prospect camp opens

The second wave of Blackhawks defensemen is on the way. That's exactly where all the attention was when prospect camp opened up Monday at MB Ice Arena.

Nicolas Beaudin. Adam Boqvist. Henri Jokiharju. Ian Mitchell. Call it the Big Four. Where are they all at in their development? When will they be ready to make an NHL impact? Who's the most pro ready? 

Lots of questions. Those will slowly start to get answered and it begins now.

While there may not necessarily be an open competition among the group right away, there's certainly a desire to make a strong first impression in front of the upper brass that included Stan Bowman, John McDonough and Joel Quenneville watching on Day 1.

"Every NHL team has a lot of good defensemen prospects, so I mean obviously when you want to go out there you want to showcase yourself as best as you can," Mitchell said. "Obviously you want to be the best defenseman here so that's my goal going into this, I want to prove to everyone that I'm a good defenseman, I deserve to play at the next level. Obviously there's lots of good players here, but you're trying to all succeed."

Said Beaudin: "There's a lot of competition. There's a lot of good, young defensemen. I think you just need to be different when you play when you show what you can do."

Said Boqvist: "I'm trying to be better every day. Of course I will play in the NHL one day and win Stanley Cups, so that's my mindset."

The theme? Focus on your own game, take what you learn out of this week and apply those tools in your game when advancing your development next season. The rest will take care of itself.

Mitchell will go back to Denver for his sophomore campaign to continue his development. Beaudin is expected to return to the QMJHL with the Drummondville Voltigeurs. Boqvist signed with the OHL's London Knights, where he will look to get accustomed to the North American style of play.

For Jokiharju, the goal is different. This is his second development camp. He signed an entry-level contract in June. Making the big club is a real goal and a legitimate possibility for a Blackhawks team looking for young, impact defensemen immediately.

"I think if Henri has a really good summer of training, comes into camp, I certainly thinks he gets a good look," Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley told NBC Sports Chicago last month.

Jokiharju showed poise and confidence with and without the puck during drills, like someone who knows this is only the first step towards that ultimate goal.

"Yeah," Jokiharju responded when asked if the expectation is to make it to the NHL this season. "You want to set the bar high, you don't want to set the bar too low. I want to dream big and that's the dream."

That's the dream for everyone. When that happens, it's up to them. This week is a chance to set an early tone.