Stat of the Day: Islanders point streak at seven games

The Eastern Conference standings are so compact, so crunched together, that even the team with the paltriest of chances can climb back into the race.

That’s what has happened with the Islanders, who were down and out just a couple weeks ago but have found their way back into the race with a recent hot streak, going 7-1-1 in their last nine games, planting themselves on the doorstep of the Wildcard standings as a result.

New York extended its point streak to seven games (6-0-1) with perhaps the most impressive victory of the streak, beating Washington, 3-2, to hand the Capitals just their second regulation loss since December. Thomas Greiss made 28 saves to run his record to 5-0-1 in his last six games, allowing eight goals and yielding a .955 save percentage over that span.

The Isles have also gone 5-0-1 under new head coach Doug Weight, who replaced Jack Capuano when he was relieved of his duties on January 17th. As for whether the team can keep this level up for their new coach, who played the final three seasons of his 20-year NHL career on Long Island, remains to be seen.

The Islanders now sit just three points out of a playoff spot 22-17-9. Not bad for a team that was buried three weeks ago.

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Thoughts Are My Own: Hey, guys, there’s good Canadian teams this year

My thoughts as we get into the mind-numbing chatter of the possibility of a Montreal-Edmonton Stanley Cup final.

*So how about those Edmonton Oilers? Just keep chugging along, tossing aside the Capitals en route to a 6-1 start.

*A group is reportedly exploring options of building a 20,000-seat arena in Scottsdale, Arizona, a potential new home for the Arizona Coyotes. This would be huge for the future of the Coyotes franchise, which now appears to be there to stay after years upon years of relocation rumors. They’d be in the thick of things, closer to Phoenix, than they are currently in Glendale.

*Another stinker for the Bruins. Two nights, two losses by a score of 10-2. Chalk it up as a combination of bad defense and shaky goaltending. That combination is no way to go through life.

*Last time a team started four goalies in four consecutive games? That would be the 2010-11 New York Islanders, according to Elias.

*The more you watch Montreal, the more you realize just how good they are.

*Montreal in the first seven games over the last three seasons: 19-1-1 (6-1, 7-0, 6-0-1).

*Corey Perry passed Paul Kariya on Anaheim’s all-time points list.

*Brendan Leipsic had three more points on Wednesday for AHL Toronto, a 4-3 overtime win over Providence. The 22-year-old has 12 points in six games.

*The Albany Devils finally lost a game, denied the 6-0 start no AHL franchise in Albany has ever accomplished. The Devils fell to 5-1 with a 3-1 loss at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

*A pair of four-point nights for Stockton Heat forwards Daniel Pribyl (1-3–4) and Morgan Klimchuk (2-2–4), as the Heat beat San Diego, 7-5. Klimchuk is a former first round pick by the Flames.

*Nice little night for 2017 draft hopeful Nico Hischier, who had three goals and six points in Halifax’s 6-4 win over Acadie-Bathurst.

*Carolina prospect Spencer Smallman had his first career hat trick in the QMJHL on Wednesday, a 5-2 win by Saint John over Charlottetown.

*Kole Lind had a goal and three assists in Kelowna’s 6-4 win over Victoria. Both of Calvin Thurkauf’s goals were assisted by the 17-year-old.

*Still no Nolan Patrick in the Brandon lineup. He hasn’t played since Oct. 11.

Links

A profile on Maxime Comtois of QMJHL Victoriaville, who a scouting director of an NHL team said ‘reminds (him) of Rick Nash at that age.’

A look at how the OHL’s top prospects are faring after about a month of action.

The evolution of Brad Marchand into an elite hockey talent.

Kings sign Anders Lindback to a tryout contract.

Oilers sending shockwaves through the NHL as they race out to a 6-1 start.

A ‘golden era’ of Canadian NHL franchises on the horizon.

 

Quiet Friday Night Across the NHL

Fridays are never big night in the NHL, but theres still some games. Here’s what is being played: Chicago at Columbus, 7; Arizona at N.Y. Islanders, 7; Nashville at Detroit, 7:30.

Players to Watch

Chicago: Patrick Kane; The defending Hart Trophy winner has six points in his last two games. He has 15 goals and 42 points in 38 games against the Jackets.

Columbus: Brandon Saad; Helped the Blackhawks win two Stanley Cups in his three full seasons in Chicago from 2012-13 to ’14-15. He had 15 goals and 33 points in 67 games he played in the Stanley Cup playoffs over that span. Chicago won 10 of 11 playoff series in those three tournaments.

Arizona: Dylan Strome; Strome’s third career game will be his first against older brother, Ryan, who is a forward for the Islanders.

N.Y. Islanders: Ryan Pulock; The promising young defenseman will make his NHL debut.

Nashville: Pekka Rinne; Expected to start against once-division rival Detroit, Rinne is out to a nice start. In two games, the 34-year-old netminder has stopped 57 of 61 shots.

Detroit: Petr Mrazek; Now-backup Jimmy Howard was phenomenal in Wednesday’s 2-1 win over the Rangers. Meanwhile, Mrazek hasn’t looked sharp in three games.

#HatTrickChallenge

Patrick Kane: Kane has six points in four games but has just one goal, which he got in Tuesday’s 7-4 win over Philadelphia. His 16 shots lead the Blackhawks and is tied for 14th in the NHL.

Game of the Night

Nashville at Detroit: The Predators visit Joe Louis Arena for one final time. They have won just 13 of 46 games Nashville has played there.

Lock to Win

Nashville: The Predators get the important road win and avoid the 1-3 start.

Links

Friday is never a slow night in the college hockey circuit. Here’s a good read on Maine’s fast start to the season.

Scoring is up in the NHL. Here’s a look at what it means and what we should expect.

Lucas Sedlak will make his NHL debut for the Blue Jackets on Friday night.

Brothers Ryan and Dylan Strome set to faceoff against each other for the first time.

Canadiens Celebrate Home Opener No. 99

It’s the first big Tuesday night in the NHL, and one of the headliners will be the Montreal Canadiens opening up the Bell Centre against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the 99th opener for the Habs. It will also be the home debut for big ticket defenseman Shea Weber, acquired from Nashville over the summer.

Here’s the slate of games for Tuesday; Colorado at Washington, 7; Anaheim at New Jersey, 7; San Jose at N.Y. Islanders, 7; Pittsburgh at Montreal, 7:30; Florida at Tampa Bay, 7:30; Arizona at Ottawa, 7:30; Dallas at Nashville, 8; Los Angeles at Minnesota, 8; Philadelphia at Chicago, 8:30; Buffalo at Calgary, 9; Carolina at Edmonton, 9; St. Louis at Vancouver, 10.

Players to Watch

Colorado: Gabriel Landeskog; The Avs captain has nine points in seven games against the Captials, the second-highest output against a team that has been in the Eastern Conference the entirety of his career. He has 10 points in seven games against Ottawa.

Washington: Evgeny Kuznetsov; The Capitals pivot has yet to record a point through two games. Tuesday’s matchup against Colorado would seem like a setup for a breakout for Washington’s leading scorer last season. In two games against the Avalanche last year, he had a 1-3–4 line. Against 28 games against Western Conference opponents last season, he had 36 points.

Anaheim: Ryan Getzlaf; Has landed 17 shots but has just one goal, coming off a season in which he buried just 7.3 percent of his chances. They have to go in at some point, don’t they?

New Jersey: Kyle Palmieri; Had a 30-goal season in 2015-16, his first year in New Jersey following five seasons in Anaheim. The Ducks would gladly take him back.

San Jose: Brent Burns; He’s got six points in three games. Looks like a man on a mission.

N.Y. Islanders: Cal Clutterbuck; Three points through three games to begin the season.

Pittsburgh: Chris Kunitz; Passed Mike Bullard for 15th place on the Penguins all-time points list with his 361st career point on Monday night. Next up is Greg Malone, at 364. Within striking distance: Mark Recchi (385) and Ron Schock (404). Needs a few seasons for Mario Lemieux’s 1,723.

Montreal: Al Montoya; Carey Price still isn’t ready to return to the ice. Thankfully, Montoya has been pretty good, with 65 saves on 69 shots through two games.

Florida: Jon Marchessault; The 26-year-old is filling in nicely for the injured Jonathan Huberdeau, with two goals and four points through two games.

Tampa Bay: Alex Killorn; He has 11 points in 16 games against the Panthers, the most points against any opponent for the 27-year-old forward.

Arizona: Oliver Ekman-Larsson; Played a yeoman-like 31:46 in the Coyotes opener.

Ottawa: Erik Karlsson; Facing Ekman-Larsson, he makes up half of the showdown between go-to Swedish defensemen.

Dallas: Kari Lehtonen; Will get his first start of the season after making 12 saves on 13 shots in relief of Antti Niemi on Saturday.

Nashville: Mike Fisher; The newly-elected captain has played 19:23 while scoring two points, taking a team-high 44 faceoffs, winning 26.

Los Angeles: Tyler Toffoli; Has put eight shots on net, but just one goal to show for it.

Minnesota: Zach Parise; His next goal will be No. 300 for his career. He ranks 18th among active players.

Philadelphia: Claude Giroux; The only player left over from the Flyers 2010 Stanley Cup run who remains on the Philly varsity.

Chicago: Richard Panik; His four goals in three games are two off the pace he totaled in 30 games for the Hawks.

Buffalo: Ryan O’Reilly; Has 40 points in 55 games against the two Alberta franchises, coming off a monstrous four-point performance against Edmonton on Sunday.

Calgary: Johnny Gaudreau; No goals on nine shots, he’s snakebit.

Carolina: Sebastian Aho; The Finnish phenom has points in each of his first two NHL games.

Edmonton: Cam Talbot; The Oilers netminder has stopped just 86 of the 99 shots he’s faced.

St. Louis: Jake Allen; Needs a shutout to tie Brent Johnson for fifth on the Blues all-time shutout list. A shutout after that matches the 13-shutout output by Roman Turek, who played 121 games from 1999-2001. Lurking in the distance was Glenn Hall, whose 16 shutouts stood as a club record for 42 years until Jaroslav Halak recorded his 17th of 20 shutouts he had in a Blues uniform in October 2013. Brian Elliot, who is the franchise leader at 25, became the standard bearer in March 2015.

Vancouver: Alex Edler; The defenseman is averaging 25:20 through two games. His 24:27 ice-time per game last season was a career-high.

#HatTrickChallenge

Kyle Okposo: The big winger had a great debut on a Sunday, with a goal and assist in the Sabres 6-2 win over Edmonton. He puts up three against a Flames defense corps that looks suspect yet again.

Game of the Night

Pittsburgh at Montreal: It’s the defending Stanley Cup champions visiting the franchise with the most. You can count on the bleu, blanc et rogue reminding them of that at some point during the night. Opening night at the Bell Centre is always a spectacle.

Lock to Win

St. Louis: The Blues jump out to a 4-0 start against a Vancouver team who is out to a 2-0 start, but hasn’t faced a team as good as St. Louis and will be playing its backup goaltender.

Links

Craig Custance looks into Doug Armstrong’s penchant for scooping up first-round picks that didn’t work out for other franchises.

Shea Weber set to introduce himself to the Montreal faithful.

Zach Parise, closing in on his 300th career goal, touches upon his unique relationship with Wild assistant Scott Stevens. Parise’s early days in New Jersey (he was drafted by the Devils with the 17th pick of the 2003 draft, played there until 2012) intersected with the final days of Stevens’ years with the Devils, where he played 13 of his 22 seasons in his Hall of Fame career.

Blues forward Jaden Schwartz, originally expected to miss a month, could return earlier than initially expected. Matt Murray could be close to returning for the Penguins.

With Ryan Miller unavailable, the Canucks have called upon University of British Columbia netminder Matt Hewitt as an emergency backup for Tuesday’s game against St. Louis.

The Avalanche feed off the energy from new coach Jared Bednar and captain Gabriel Landeskog.

 

Preseason Power Rankings: Lightning the Class of the NHL

Here’s how the last two seasons have ended for the Tampa Bay Lightning; 2014-15, two wins shy of winning its first Stanley Cup since 2004; 2015-16, one win shy of becoming the first team in seven years to win back-to-back Prince of Wale Trophies.

And here’s the thing – the Bolts are only getting better.

The talk in the East has been about Washington, whether or not its the year the Capitals finally break through and put Alex Ovechkin’s name on the Stanley Cup. Of course, that’s been the dialogue for quite some time now. Then there’s also those who bring up the yearly ‘is this the year a Stanley Cup winner defends its title?’ That’s the conversation around Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, down in the central Florida resides the best team the NHL has to offer.

The Lightning are a team built for the modern NHL. A team the plays at a pace that emulates its name, Tampa goes four lines deep of skill players who use their legs as their greatest weapons in creating pressure and forcing teams to make mistakes. The defense corps is among the elite fluent-skating blue lines, led by behemoth Victor Hedman.

Steven Stamkos leads the charge as he kicks off an eight-year pact to remain in Tampa Bay. He’s complimented by rising superstar Nikita Kucherov up front, along with Tyler Johnson, who comes in poised for a breakout campaign.

Goaltender Ben Bishop is one of the world’s premier puck stoppers, while Andrei Vasilevskiy is as good a second option you’ll find.

Health is the big x-factor going into the season, which kind of goes without saying. But when you consider injuries that have befallen key players on the club over the past couple seasons, including Stamkos, Johnson, Bishop, and Anton Stralman, it becomes a little more magnified.

Regardless, this looks like the team to beat at the early goings.

2- Washington: Some might say 1-A. The Capitals have never been built so well for the playoffs during the Ovechkin era.

3- Anaheim: The window is closing. Expect Bob Murray to deal Cam Fowler or one of his blue-chip defensive prospects to provide help up front.

4- Pittsburgh: No team has repeated since the 1997-98 Red Wings. Reports out of Pittsburgh is that the Penguins really want to be that team to do it.

5- Chicago: 30 goals and 77 points as a rookie, yet Artemi Panarin remains grossly underrated.

6- Montreal: Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw add a lot of what was missing in the Canadiens room last season.

7- Dallas: Jim Nill needs to find a goaltender. But you knew that.

8- San Jose: The young guys on the Sharks were flying under the radar this time last year.

9- Nashville: The most exciting team in the NHL. Mike Fisher caps first year as captain by posing for a picture alongside Gary Bettman.

10- St. Louis: If Jake Allen performs to expectations, this team won’t miss a beat.

11- Florida: The Cats have a rebuilt blue line that emulates its in-state rival.

12- Calgary: The Flames won’t finish 30th in defense this season.

13- N.Y. Rangers: Sleeper Stanley Cup pick.

14- Detroit: A defensively suspect team, but the Red Wings should score at a pretty reasonable clip.

15- Minnesota: Bruce Boudreau wins. I could make a cheesy Donald Trump pun, but I’m not going to.

16- N.Y. Islanders: John Tavares wins the Hart Trophy.

17- Philadelphia: Steve Mason is solid, but the goaltending is still feast-or-famine. Everybody is falling in the Michael Leighton trap with Michal Neuvirth.

18- Boston: They’ll be in the thick of the wildcard race again, but the Bruins remain a good year or two away.

19- Los Angeles: The Kings are an Anze Kopitar away from being Team USA-bad.

20- Winnipeg: Newly-christened as the Jets captain, Blake Wheeler finally gets his due among the NHL’s best.

21- Buffalo: Don’t be surprised if this team makes the playoffs.

22- Edmonton: Connor McDavid leads the league in points.

23- Arizona: Oliver Ekman-Larsson makes a push for the Norris.

24- Carolina: Justin Faulk is a finalist for the Norris.

25- Ottawa: Erik Karlsson wins the Norris (again).

26- New Jersey: Cory Schneider can only do so much.

27- Toronto: Still 2-3 years away.

28- Columbus: Potential surprise team. Blue Jackets dispel the ‘John Tortorella only plays guys who trap and block shots’ theory. Zach Werenski wins Calder Trophy.

29- Colorado: MacKinnon and Duchene the bright spots in Denver.

30- Vancouver: It was clear Alain Vigneault was the problem.

Metro Division: Facts, Figures, Predictions

*The Flyers are one of just seven teams to not have a Calder Trophy winner.

*The Hurricanes haven’t made the playoffs since 2009. Only Edmonton, who lost to Carolina in the 2006 Stanley Cup final, its most recent postseason appearance, has a longer drought.

*The Capitals are one of just four franchises that were in business prior to the 1979 WHA merger that have no Stanley Cup to its name. The others: Buffalo, St. Louis, Vancouver.

*Philadelphia has the second-highest all-time point percentage (.577) trailing only Montreal (.589). Columbus is the lowest, at .467. The Flyers have the second-most playoff appearances (38) among non-Original Six franchises. The Blues take the cake in that category, with 40.

*The Islanders recorded back-to-back 100-point campaigns the last two seasons, the first time that’s happened since 1980-81, 1981-82; the meat of the Al Arbour era in which the halls (or the LIE) were decked with Stanley Cups.

*John Tavares sits in just 12th place on the Isles all-time scoring list at 471 points, but he can do some serious damage over the next couple seasons. If he matches the 156-point output over the last two seasons (which he should do easily), Tavares will move into the top five on the Islanders scoring list. He’s within 200 of fourth place, a perch held by Clark Gilles, who put up 663 from 1975-86.

*Top three active players in points per game: Sidney Crosby (1.327), Evgeni Malkin (1.18), and Alex Ovechkin (1.151). Nicklas Backstrom is seventh, scoring at a rate of 0.985 in 652 career games going back to 2007.

*Crosby ranks fifth on the all-time list; behind Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, and Bobby Orr.

*Assists per game: Crosby (0.849), Backstrom (0.732), and Malkin (0.722).

*At an average age of 27.2, the Capitals were tied with the 2006-07 Sabres for the third-youngest team to win the Presidents’ Trophy.

*Taylor Hall has posted more than 65 points just once (80, 2014), has played more than 65 games just twice. Thirty goals remains on the bucket list. Peter Chiarelli didn’t trade Jari Kurri.

*Ovechkin’s 525 goals since 2005-06 lead the NHL. But you knew that. The next closest? That would be Jarome Iginla, with 361. 361!!

*Here’s something you didn’t expect: Of the ten 52-goal seasons assembled in that time, Ovechkin accounts for just four. Remember that time Jonathan Cheechoo scored 56 goals? Yeah didn’t think so.

Predictions

1- Washington: Best team in the Eastern Conference, from top to bottom.

2- Pittsburgh: No team has repeated since the 1998 Red Wings. Hearing the Penguins really, really want to be that first team to defend a title since then.

3- Rangers: Jeff Gorton acquires Kevin Shattenkirk in a trade deadline deal.

4- Philadelphia: Warning to college campuses – NHL executives are going to begin raiding your hockey programs.

5- Islanders: Lots of questions marks on the Island.

6- Carolina: Don’t be surprised if the Hurricanes make the playoffs.

7- Columbus: Ditto the Jackets. Zach Werenski wins the Calder Trophy.

8- New Jersey: Not a bad team, just victims of a killer division.

Metropolitan Division: The Division of the Young Defenseman

We all know what Shayne Gostisbehere did last season.

Called up to the Flyers in November, the defenseman dazzled to the tune of 17 goals and 46 points in 64 games, making a big push for the Calder Trophy and leading Philadelphia to the playoffs after two DNQs in three years.

The 23-year-old wears many hats. He might be the face of Philadelphia hockey at the moment (though Claude Giroux would most certainly have something to say about that. A native of Florida, he’s a product of the ‘non-hockey market’ circuit that has produced the likes of Auston Matthews and Seth Jones, to name just a couple. He represents the new-guard defenseman, predicated on speed and skill with the ability to jump into the rush, run a powerplay and possess a strong two-way game.

He’s also the face of the who’s who of young, promising defensemen in the Metropolitan Division.

So where might the next Gostisbehere come from, should there be one? You might not need to look much further than the Metro.

The player who is Most Likely to be Gostisbehere at this point seems to be Columbus defenseman Zach Werenski, who should break camp with the Blue Jackets.

Among a youthful, talented defense corps that includes Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, and David Savard, Werenski might be the most talented. Selected eighth overall in the 2015 draft, he put up 61 points over two seasons at Michigan. Werenski was a point-per-game player as a sophomore (36 points in 36 games) before signing his pro contract. From there, he led the Lake Erie Monsters to the Calder Cup, posting 14 points in 17 games.

Now it’s time for the 19-year-old to do it at the NHL level. And it appears John Tortorella has every intention of giving him that opportunity. Seeing action in three of the Blue Jackets seven preseason games, Werenski has averaged 23:56 of ice time, 6:06 of which has come on the powerplay. He has a goal and assist to show for it.

The Hurricanes join the Blue Jackets in the department of young, knock-your-socks-off blue lines.

Led by a 24-year-old Justin Faulk, who is blossoming as one of the NHL’s premier defensemen, the Canes’ back line leads the charge in Carolina, which hasn’t qualified for the playoffs since making the Eastern Conference finals in 2009.

Noah Hanifin, while not under the circumstances Gostisbehere was given he played in all but three of Carolina’s games as a rookie in 2015-16, could have a similar emergence. Finishing last season with eight points in his final 15 games, Hanifin has the skill and the size (6-foot-3, 206 pounds) of a go-to defenseman.

And lets not forget Brett Pesce and Jacob Slavin, who made large contributions in Carolina last season as youngsters. Haydn Fleury and Trevor Carrick could follow in the footsteps of Hanifin, Pesce, and Slavin this season. Jake Bean, taken 13th overall in the 2016 NHL Draft, will hop into the line in a couple of years.

Brady Skjei, while bigger than Gostisbehere, brings a similar style of play and skillset to the Rangers lineup. The Rangers, like the Flyers last season, have a middling but talented defense corps. A strong skater with a good two-way game and an adept good puck mover, the 22-year-old had 28 points in 68 games for AHL Hartford last season before a strong showing in the Stanley Cup playoffs, one of the highlights of the Rangers five-game loss to Pittsburgh.

Skjei will be called upon to breathe life into the Blueshirts lineup.

Down in Brooklyn, Ryan Pulock brings 53 points in 105 AHL games over the previous two seasons to the Islanders. Prior to that, he had averaged 52.5 points in four seasons with WHL Brandon, with a pair of 60-point campaigns sprinkled in there. He could be the answer to an Isles powerplay that ranked 17th in the NHL in 2015-16.

Washington is in win-now mode, but 21-year-old Madison Bowey could crack the lineup, coming off a 29-point season with AHL Hershey. The former second round pick captained Kelowna for two-seasons prior, putting up back-to-back 60-point seasons while helping Canada to the World Juniors gold in 2015. Fellow Kelowna Rocket Lucas Johansen, who the Caps took with the 28th pick of the 2016 draft, put up 49 points in 2015-16, his second WHL season. A late ’97 birthday, Johansen doesn’t turn 19 until November.

Then theres Philadelphia, where Gostisbehere is all the rage. But he’s not the only youngster on Dave Hakstol’s plate.

While Gostisbehere fell short of the Calder, which went to Chicago’s Artemi Panarin, Ivan Provorov could become the first Flyer to win the trophy. The 19-year-old, who was drafted seventh overall in 2015, likely has an even higher ceiling than Gostisbehere. He’s pegged to be the ace blueliner of the future in Philly. Provorov put up 134 points over 122 games in two WHL seasons. He posted 21 goals and 73 points in 62 games in a loaded Brandon lineup that included Florida prospect Jayce Hawryluk, New Jersey prospect John Quenneville, and presumptive 2017 first overall pick Nolan Patrick as the Wheat Kings won their first Chynoweth Cup (WHL champion) since 1996.

Travis Sanheim, who rivaled Provorov’s production with 68 points in 52 games for WHL Calgary, will begin the season in AHL Lehigh Valley along with fellow defensive prospects Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg.

Just like Gosthisbehere did last season, this wave of young defensemen, who bring with them a dose of speed, skill, and hockey sense, adds a new element that the game has craved for some time.

If you’re a Metropolitan Division follower, you won’t be disappointed.