The week, the guys are talking about who the team to beat in the NHL is as the playoffs approach. We also discuss one of hockey’s most untouchable records, the San Jose Sharks new goal-celebration song, and we’re joined by Winnipeg Jets top prospect Kyle Connor. We also answer some pressing questions about Canada’s teams in the mailbag segment.
The Washington Capitals have been pretty much unstoppable this season. They’re one win shy of 50 for the season and we haven’t even hit the 70 game mark yet. The difference between them and the second place Stars in the overall standings is just about the same as the difference between the Stars and the 15th place Red Wings. And their plus-63 goal differential is twice as many as the next best team, Chicago’s plus-31.
That’s a sizeable gap between Washington and the rest of the league, one that offers very little debate about who the league’s best team is. It’s pretty hard to argue with all those wins, right? Well, not exactly. Dig a little deeper and the Capitals aren’t as far ahead as you might think. That’s not to say that this team really has any huge flaws – they’re good-to-elite across the board – it’s more that they’re not miles ahead like their record suggests.
Just how dominant have the Washington Capitals been this season? Well, consider the fact that goalie Braden Holtby has 41 wins this season. That total is more than any other team with the exception of the Chicago Blackhawks, who are tied with Holtby’s total.
The Capitals are on pace to finish the season with 127 points and with the Blackhawks and Dallas Stars on pace to finish with 106 each, the Capitals point total and margin of victory for the Presidents’ Trophy would be the highest recorded in exactly 20 years. The last time a team was this dominant in the regular season was 1995-96, when the Detroit Red Wings finished with 131 points, 27 ahead of the Colorado Avalanche.
And by virtue of the fact that they knocked off the league’s hottest team, albeit by a razor-thin margin in a shootout, the Capitals find themselves perched atop thn.com’s weekly Power Rankings once again. (Last week’s ranking in parentheses.)
The Capitals will have a shot at snapping the Ducks’ 11-game win streak Monday night, but it’s safe to say Washington might have to attempt to do so without the services of captain Alex Ovechkin.
Ovechkin found himself in hot water Saturday evening against the Bruins when he delivered a hit from behind on Boston defenseman Kevan Miller early in the second period. Miller had his back turned to the play to collect a puck along the boards when Ovechkin crunched the Bruins blueliner into the boards, which forced Miller to leave the game with an apparent shoulder injury: Read more
Not all goals are created equal. While we can appreciate the “garbage” goals scored on a scramble in front of the net, or a seeing-eye-shot from the point, what we all really want to see are impressive dangles and snipes. The kind of stuff jaw-dropping stuff that only elite NHLers can do.
Even among those elite, some players are still better than others. They are the ones we love to watch, the ones you pay attention to as soon as they get the puck on their stick.
Here are the players we believe score the prettiest goals in hockey.
CONNOR McDAVID, OILERS
It’s scary how deadly Connor McDavid is as an NHL goal scorer, and he hasn’t even completed his teenage years. He may already be the best player in the league at carrying the puck and making dazzling moves without losing any speed whatsoever. We’ve seen amazing danglers and amazing speedsters, but rare is the talent who can combine both into one scintillating skill set. He hasn’t even played 30 NHL games yet, and his highlight reel is already sexy as hell. Watch this ridiculous goal, scored in his first game back from a broken friggin’ collarbone, and tell me McDavid doesn’t look like Pavel Bure. (Matt Larkin)
PATRICK KANE, BLACKHAWKS
Quick story time: Years ago we were doing a photo shoot with Colorado’s Matt Duchene and the young Avs center was talking about Patrick Kane’s Stanley Cup-winning goal against Philadelphia, one which only Kane seemed to know was in for a good five seconds. “I knew it was in,” Duchene said. “I had seen him do that once before.” Duchene has always been a student of the game, so it’s no surprise that he knew Kane’s bag of tricks pretty well. Unfortunately for goalies, they haven’t really caught on yet, which is why Kane has been able to do stuff like this:
He’s like Allen Iverson with a puck instead of a basketball. Moves on top of moves on top of moves. Kane’s goals are beautiful because of either their technical difficulty, the misdirection he employs, or the sheer unexpected speed of his release. He’s a magician and even if a goalie knows which trick he’s about to attempt on them, most can’t catch up to his hands anyway. (Ryan Kennedy)
ALEX OVECHKIN, CAPITALS
After 516 career goals, we’re all now well aware of Ovechkin’s body of work. He is truly an elite goal scorer who can do it all. Speed, hands, dangles, elusiveness, power — he can beat you in an number of ways. And few players in NHL history enjoy scoring goals as much as Ovechkin. It’s a joy to watch Ovechkin score, whether he’s setting up for a one-timer on the off-wing on a power play, or dangling through entire teams. Ovechkin had two of the Top 10 goals in our 2015 list of best goals. This one from last season shows Ovechkin at his best. (Ian Denomme)
VLADIMIR TARASENKO, BLUES
In the early days of fantasy hockey, some leagues would dictate that you could pick only one of Wayne Gretzky’s totals. Either you selected his goals or his assists, because having both made it unfair to the other competitors. When it comes to scoring beautiful goals on a consistent basis, it almost feels like Vladimir Tarasenko’s tallies should be split into two: his dekes and his shots.
If you watch film of Tarasenko, you start to realize there’s no way to actually stop him when he’s at his best. Considering he’s 219 pounds, he’s impressively fast, he protects the puck well and if you come close to him, he’s as likely to burn a defenseman or netminder with a quick deke as he is to power right through those who impede him. And if Tarasenko doesn’t think he can skate by a defender, he can post up, find space and rifle a shot with a speed and accuracy normally reserved for the Alex Ovechkins and Steven Stamkoses of the world.
If there’s one goal that encapsulates Tarasenko’s ability to score pretty goals, look no further than his one-handed effort against the New York Rangers in 2014-15. Easy choice? Sure. But there’s little doubting it’s one of the greatest goals scored in the past few seasons. (Jared Clinton)
Hardship is all relative. Take Brooks Laich, for example. On Sunday night, he was traded from the best team in the NHL to the second-worst and likely saw the best chance he’ll ever have at a Stanley Cup taken away from him. On the other hand, he’s engaged to Julianne Hough, with whom he was watching the Oscars when he learned of the trade. And he’s made more than $31 million playing hockey, with another $4 million to come next season.
Still, it was difficult not to feel badly for Laich, who was dealt from an emerging powerhouse in Ottawa in 2004 to the doormat Washington Capitals, only to have the whole thing play out again 12 years later and be a lot more stinging this time. Laich was a glue guy, a hardworking and loyal grunt for a team that underachieved, only to have the team realize that his salary cap hit and role on the fourth line did not mesh at a time when it’s finally primed to live up to its potential. And he was shipped out, mandated to start all over again with a team just as bad as the one he went to in 2004. And just in case he needed to be reminded, he’s scheduled to play his old team when the Maple Leafs visit Washington Wednesday night.
The NHL trade deadline had plenty of ramifications in the prospect world, with a slew of draft selections going to new teams and some actual players changing organizations as well. One situation to keep an eye on? Conner Bleackley, now of Arizona. The Colorado first-rounder would net the Coyotes a compensatory second-round pick if he doesn’t sign with his new team and based on his fractured kneecap and uneven career to date, that could be a real possibility.
Here’s a look at some of the other prospects you should know about right now: