All hail the Frozen Four champs from North Dakota. The Fighting Hawks stomped all over Quinnipiac in the final and while Vancouver pick Brock Boeser has confirmed his return for another campaign, several free agents are drumming up interest now. Boeser’s linemate, Drake Caggiula, helped his cause with two goals in the final, while defenseman Troy Stecher is expected to leave school early for an NHL contract. In the meantime, San Jose won the derby for Lithuanian goalie Mantas Armalis and the Michigan Wolverines lost their two best players to the pro ranks. Read about them and more in our weekly prospect wrap:
The Pittsburgh Penguins are one of the Eastern Conference’s hottest teams heading into the post-season and they’ve shown few flaws since the start of 2016, but as Game 1 of the first-round matchup against the New York Rangers approaches, injuries have threatened to create a glaring hole between the pipes.
With a handful of games remaining in the regular season, netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, 31, went down with a concussion and missed the final five outings of the season. Luckily for the Penguins, backup netminder Matt Murray, 21, has shown he’s capable of carrying the load as the starter. As luck would have it, Murray, too, found himself out of the lineup with an undisclosed injury after a collision with Philadelphia Flyers center Brayden Schenn in the final game of the season.
However, it appears Fleury may be nearing a return, though neither the Penguins nor Fleury have confirmed that will be the case. Fleury returned to practice Monday in full equipment and he was back on the ice again Tuesday, taking part in his second full practice in as many days. That’s a good sign, to be sure, but Fleury would only say that he’s taking a wait-and-see approach following Monday’s practice.
As the regular season comes to an end this season, hockey writers will soon be tasked with submitting their award ballots.
We know the voting for the Norris will be controversial. We know the Calder will be difficult to judge because Connor McDavid, the best rookie, only played 45 games. And we pointed out yesterday that the Vezina race is wide open.
But what about the most prestigious award of all, the Hart Trophy? It looks to be a close vote, too. Our writers have picked a winner but it’s far from unanimous. Here are our picks for the Hart:
If you subscribe to the theory that late-season momentum leads to playoff success, you might want to throw a few dollars down on the Pittsburgh Penguins. The walking birds have won seven games in a row and 13 of their past 14. In their past 20 games, their record is 17-3-0.
Even when they lose a Hart Trophy-caliber player in Evgeni Malkin and their No. 1 goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury, they don’t miss a beat. The Penguins are 12-1-0 since Malkin went down with an upper-body injury and goaltending understudy Matt Murray was named the third star of the week after Fleury sustained a concussion.
All of that has earned the Penguins, who were bottom feeders on this list early in the season, the No. 1 ranking in the last regular-season installment of thn.com’s weekly Power Rankings. (Last week’s rankings in parentheses.)
CREAM OF THE CROP
1. Pittsburgh Penguins (5)
2. St. Louis Blues (1)
3. Florida Panthers (11)
4. Chicago Blackhawks (13)
5. Washington Capitals (3)
6. Anaheim Ducks (6)
7. New York Islanders (10)
8. San Jose Sharks (8)
9. Dallas Stars (2)
10. New York Rangers (7)
The Penguins we all know and love have returned, scoring at least five goals in each of the past five games and in six of their past seven…The injury parade for the resilient Blues continues with Jake Allen and David Backes missing the rest of the regular season…Defenseman Erik Gudbranson was sent home after taking a headshot in Florida’s 4-3 win over Toronto Monday night…Artemi Panarin is the first rookie since Teemu Selanne in 1992-93 to record three straight three-point games…In what could be a preview of the Stanley Cup final, the Capitals will host Anaheim Sunday night to make up for their postponed game in January… Ryan Kesler, who is in the Selke Trophy conversation, scored his 20th goal of the season Sunday night, giving him 20 goals in eight straight non-lockout seasons…With nine points in his past five games and 11 points in his past eight, John Tavares could not have chosen a better time to pick up his game…The Sharks’ 3-0 win over Minnesota Tuesday night was their 28th road win of the season to establish a new franchise record…The Stars have given up a league-high 15 shorthanded goals, including two in a 3-1 loss to Anaheim Sunday night…Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh will miss the rest of the regular season, and likely a couple of playoff games, with a small fracture in his right hand.
THE MUSHY MIDDLE
11. Los Angeles Kings (9)
12. Detroit Red Wings (17)
13. Nashville Predators (15)
14. Philadelphia Flyers (14)
15. Buffalo Sabres (24)
16. Vancouver Canucks (30)
17. Winnipeg Jets (27)
18. Tampa Bay Lightning (12)
19. Boston Bruins (16)
20. Minnesota Wild (4)
The Kings’ 5-4 overtime win over Calgary Tuesday night was their franchise-record 47th of the season. They’ve posted 46 victories four times in their history…The Red Wings hold their playoff destiny in their hands with games tonight at home against Philadelphia and Thursday night in Boston. They’re looking to extend their playoff appearance streak to 25…Filip Forsberg has 18 goals since the all-star break, which is second in the league only to Alex Ovechkin. With 32 this season, he’s just one away from tying the franchise record…Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth is a longshot to return before the playoffs…Loser points have taken the luster off the accomplishment to be sure, but the Sabres could actually finish this season as a .500 team. They’re 7-2-2 in their past 11…Goaltending prospect Thatcher Demko is expected to sign with the Canucks sometime after he plays in the Frozen Four with Boston College this weekend…Blake Wheeler scored to give the Jets a 2-1 overtime victory over Anaheim Tuesday night, giving him a nine-game point streak in which he’s posted 6-6-12 totals…Jonathan Drouin is expected back in the Syracuse Crunch lineup by the weekend, heightening expectation he’ll be called up by the Lightning…With only two games remaining and losses in three of their past four, the Bruins are the favorite to be on the outside of the playoffs looking in when the dust settles…The Wild, losers of four in a row, backed into a playoff spot when Nashville beat Colorado Tuesday night.
VYING FOR THE PARTICIPATION BADGE
21. Carolina Hurricanes (22)
22. Colorado Avalanche (19)
23. Ottawa Senators (23)
24. Montreal Canadiens (20)
25. New Jersey Devils (18)
26. Calgary Flames (25)
27. Arizona Coyotes (21)
28. Columbus Blue Jackets (28)
29. Toronto Maple Leafs (26)
30. Edmonton Oilers (29)
Hurricanes coach Bill Peters will not see his season end this weekend. He was named head coach of Canada’s team for the World Championship…Matt Duchene and coach Patrick Roy claimed they cleared the air concerning Roy criticizing Duchene for celebrating his 30th goal of the season in a 5-1 loss to St. Louis Sunday…Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson scored his 100th career goal in Ottawa’s 5-3 loss to Pittsburgh Tuesday night. The goal also gave him 80 points on the season, making him the first defenseman to hit that mark in 19 seasons…Brendan Gallagher returned to the Canadiens lineup, but it’s still unclear whether Carey Price will play in one of the two final games of the season…Patrik Elias played for the first time since having knee surgery in December in the Devils’ 3-1 loss to Buffalo Tuesday night…The early reviews on Hunter Shinkaruk, the 2013 first-rounder acquired at the trade deadline for Markus Granlund, have been positive. He has three points in five games…Coyotes coach Dave Tippett was blunt about his team’s performance in a 6-2 loss to Chicago Tuesday night: “That was a combination of really poor execution by our team and really below-average goaltending. That’s what you get.”…Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella will hear no talk of tanking going into tonight’s game against the Maple Leafs. So if the Blue Jackets lose, it’s because they’re just really bad…Speaking of tanking, Frederik Gauthier, who has six goals in the American League this season, centered the top line in the Maple Leafs’ 4-3 loss to Florida Monday night…Given the way they’ve played the last decade, will tonight’s last game at Rexall Place be a fond farewell for today’s Oilers or a case of ‘Good riddance’?
Marc-Andre Fleury is a great goaltender. He’s also one of hockey’s most universally liked players, one of the good guys. He has no timetable for his recovery from a second concussion sustained this season.
Our hearts go out to him. And yet, while no one would ever classify two concussions as a good thing, the Pittsburgh Penguins have squeezed lemonade out of that lemon by putting youngster Matt Murray in the spotlight. He’s won two straight starts while Fleury recovers. Murray has won five straight overall, and he’s 7-2 with a 1.88 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in 2015-16, his maiden NHL voyage.
The key takeaway from Murray, 21, dominating immediately at the sport’s highest level: nobody who knew anything about him expected anything less. The kid has looked like a star in the making for a while now. He rates as the Pens’ No. 1 prospect and sits 39th among all NHL prospects in THN Future Watch 2016. He posted pre-forward-pass numbers in his first full AHL season a year ago, going 25-10-1 with a 1.58 goals-against average, .941 save percentage and 12 shutouts in just 40 appearances. He set an all-time league record for longest shutout streak at 304 minutes and 11 seconds. He won the Aldege ‘Baz’ Bastien Memorial Award as the circuit’s top goalie.
Ladies and gentlemen, start your conspiracy theories. Wait, how many games do the Toronto Maple Leafs have remaining this season? Oh, four. And how many games did Nazem Kadri get suspended? Hmm, four. Well, now, isn’t that convenient.
Kadri just happens to be the Maple Leafs best player of late. He also happens to be their hottest scorer, with eight points in his past six games, and their leading scorer with 45 points. (Although that point total definitely puts him in fastest-kid-at-fat-camp territory.) So having Kadri out of the lineup for the final four games of the regular season obviously enhances the Leafs chances of running the table with losses and catching the red-hot Edmonton Oilers for last place overall and the best chance of winning the draft lottery.
Pittsburgh Penguins winger Carl Hagelin hasn’t exactly been what one would call a sniper throughout his five seasons in the NHL. His career high is 17 goals and he had only scored 11 goals in 76 games heading into Sunday’s matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Hagelin, 27, has always had the raw ability, though, and he’s still young enough that his 20-goal season seems like an inevitability. But setting a career-high in goals requires a bit of luck to go along with some skill, and Hagelin combined both of those with a dash of determination for a fantastic tally Sunday evening.
Four minutes into the third frame, with the Penguins leading the Flyers 3-1, Pittsburgh worked the puck around the Philadelphia zone. Eventually the puck would make its way to Kris Letang, who rifled a shot towards Flyers netminder Steve Mason. On the way in, however, Letang’s shot was deflected by Nick Bonino, causing it to skitter across the face of the net and to Mason’s right.
The puck was laying in open space and Mason turned his head only to watch Hagelin dive at the loose puck and one-time it while in mid-air to knock home his 12th goal of the campaign: Read more
At least Oskar Sundqvist can tell his grand kids one day it was a nice shot. As for the other aspects, well, he might want to fib a little.
The Pittsburgh Penguins rookie center was the beneficiary of a terrible turnover by New York Islanders goaltender Jean-Francois Berube, which allowed him to net his first NHL goal in a 5-0 win on Saturday afternoon.