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Peter’s Picture: The NHL Landscape Vol. 10

The Daily’s Peter Knowles gives a professional hockey update.

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It’s time to recap what went on in the NHL this week, including a bad break for Aaron Ekblad and the Panthers, the emergence of Jason Robertson in Dallas, Nashville’s win streak, checking in on Buffalo and reinforcements for the Habs.

Bad break for Aaron Ekblad and the Panthers… 

The Florida Panthers D-man, whose 11 goals at the time of the injury tied him for the league lead at the position, suffered a gruesome leg injury in Dallas less than 24 hours after Ekblad scored an overtime winner against the Stars.

The injury comes at a terrible time for the Norris Trophy candidate, who was having a career season. Ekblad’s injury is also devastating for the Panthers, which are outperforming expectations and sit comfortably in a playoff spot in the Central. Ekblad has paced all Panthers in time on ice per game and is an emotional leader on their blue line. It was confirmed that Ekblad will miss the remainder of the year on Monday.

Word is already circulating that the Panthers are looking to add a defenseman via trade after the injury to Ekblad. Unfortunately for the Panthers, there is no way of replacing what he brings to the team and the locker room, and I don’t see them doing anything special in the playoffs. A defenseman like Ekblad becomes even more essential and valuable in the postseason, so without him, the Panthers are toast.

The emergence of Jason Robertson… 

Although much of the rookie discussion this season has centered around Minnesota Wild forward Kirill Kaprizov, who leads all rookies with 27 points in 32 games, the month of March has belonged to Jason Robertson, the Dallas Stars’ rookie winger.

Robertson sits second in rookie scoring, with 21 points in 27 games, and has been vaulted into the Stars’ top six as they deal with injuries to many of their forwards. With 15 points, Robertson leads all rookies for the month of March.

Playing alongside forwards Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski, Robertson helped the Stars defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning for the first time since Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals, with a goal and an assist on Roope Hintz’s dazzling game-winner with less than two minutes to play in regulation. This is just the latest in what has been a fruitful month for the kid from Southern California.  

Robertson trails Kaprizov, the current Calder Trophy favorite, in points per game, 0.78 to 0.84. Kaprizov has seemed like a lock to win it this year, but if Robertson can continue to produce at this level, I would not be surprised to see him garner a few votes as well. A key difference is the fact that the Wild occupy a playoff spot and the Stars do not. If the Stars can claw their way back into contention, this discussion will certainly get more interesting.

Nashville’s win streak… 

The Nashville Predators are riding a five-game winning streak into this week and have overtaken the Blackhawks for the final playoff spot in the Central division thanks to back-to-back wins over Chicago.

For the most part, the Predators have been disappointing this season, but they now have something to build on after taking down the Stars, Red Wings and Blackhawks en route to a season-long five-game win streak. Goaltender Juuse Saros is playing incredible hockey, allowing one goal or less in his last seven games played.  

The Predators will run into familiar opponents this week, when they the Stars twice and then the Blackhawks again. Every game is so important for these clubs, who are all battling for that fourth spot in the Central and a likely meeting with the defending champion Lightning in the first round of the playoffs.

Checking in on Buffalo… 

After blowing a 3-0 third-period lead on Monday, the Sabres are now winless in 18 straight games. Wow.

Reinforcements for the Habs… 

This week the Canadiens traded two draft picks to Buffalo for veteran center Eric Staal, who will join the team after completing a seven-day quarantine. The Canadiens also add college hockey’s best player in forward Cole Caufield, who just completed his final season for the Wisconsin Badgers.

These late additions will help bolster an already talented roster for a push to the playoffs. Staal is a veteran presence with a Stanley Cup to his name, and Caufield is a certified beauty who registered 27 goals in 29 games this season for Wisconsin.  

I still believe the Canadiens are the biggest threat to the Maple Leafs in the North, and if the season ended today, they would meet in the first round. I have loved this Canadiens roster since the season started and I love it even more now. They’re built for playoff success.

Only time will tell how impactful these additions are, but I expect big things from both players.

Peter’s Power Rankings: The Top 10 Teams Right Now.

Last week’s ranking in parentheses.

  1. Washington Capitals (6)
  2. Colorado Avalanche (1)
  3. Vegas Golden Knights (3)
  4. Tampa Bay Lightning (2)
  5. New York Islanders (5)
  6. Carolina Hurricanes (4)
  7. Minnesota Wild (8)
  8. Pittsburgh Penguins (Not ranked)
  9. Toronto Maple Leafs (Not ranked)
  10. Edmonton Oilers (10)

What to watch this week…

Toronto Maple Leafs at Winnipeg Jets: Wednesday, March 31 at 4:30 p.m. PT

Dallas Stars at Nashville Predators: Thursday, April 1 at 5 p.m. PT

Pittsburgh Penguins at Boston Bruins: Saturday, April at 10 a.m. PT

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Peter Knowles '22 is a staff writer in the sports section. He is a Psychology major from Valencia, California and plays on the Stanford Hockey team. Contact him at pknowles 'at' stanforddaily.com.