Posts Tagged ‘Capitals’

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This past week in hockey had some significant developments in the standings, as well as some controversial events. The standings are ever-changing, in this week’s Week in Review.

Metropolitan Division

The division leading Pittsburgh Penguins had an up-and-down week, crushing the San Jose Sharks 5-1, but losing to the Boston Bruins in a bitter rivalry turned dirty game 3-2. In the process, defensive stalwart Brooks Orpik was carted off the ice, and James Neal is awaiting a suspension in a similar event, but more on that later in the post. The Washington Capitals remained just 7 points back, also taking a 2-1-0 week by thrashing the Nashville Predators and the New York Rangers. Speaking of the Blue-shirts, the Rangers had a tough week, taking 3 points out of 4 games, losing division matchups to the Devils and Capitals, and only beating the bottom-feeding Sabres. They are now tied with the Carolina Hurricanes, who have set up a nice 3 game win streak, with strong play from Cam Ward and rookie Elias Lindholm. 1 point behind those two are the New Jersey Devils, who still have random outbursts as well as random lulls. The Devils lost the first 3 games of the week, taking 1 point out of 2 games against surging Montreal, then coming from behind to beat the Rangers in OT. The Devils have needed to dig into their AHL roster, and have seen success in them so far. The Philadelphia Flyers are hanging around, and are even more baffling than the Devils, crushing one night, then looking hopeless the next. They  remain 1 point ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have started to win a few big games recently. The Islanders haven’t won since Nam, with their streak extended to 9 games without a win, and continue to be one of the league’s biggest busts. Seeds 2-7 in the Metro are separated by just 7 points, and the shuffle continues from here on out.

Atlantic Division

The Boston Bruins have lost most of their division lead this week, and it had nothing to do with their play. They won 2 of their 3 games, against decent opponents in Pittsburgh and Toronto. But their one loss came against the bleu-blanc-et-rouge hot team, the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs, winners of 4 this week and 5 straight, swept the Devils in a home-and-home, and beat the Bruins in a showdown Thursday night 2-1, climbing within 1 point of the lead in the Atlantic. Both of those teams are trying to pull away from teams like pesky Detroit. The Red Wings went 1-2-0 this week, beating the Devils, but losing to the Flyers and Panthers, teams they should beat, and are now 4 back of Montreal and 5 from Boston. Tampa continues to fall through the standings, only winning 1 of 3 games this week, but received good news from Steven Stamkos, who plans a return soon after the Olympic break. The Lightning just have to hold on until he gets back in order to contend for the playoffs. Another team that’s been falling have been the Maple Leafs, who took 2 of 4 this week, but remain far from the top, and have not played well against better sides. They do remain in the second wild card, 4 points ahead of Carolina/New York Rangers, however. Ottawa is stopping the flailing, but they haven’t been winning enough games to get back in the hunt, now 8 points back of Toronto after a tough week. The Florida Panthers seem to win random games, with no rhyme or reason behind it, and remain way behind most teams. The Sabres played twice and lost twice, what else is new? The Canadiens caught fire, but can it continue into the next few games? We shall see coming up soon.

Central Division

The Blackhawks actually lost 3 in a row this week (gasp!) before pommeling the Panthers Sunday night, and remain well ahead of anyone in the division. Their 21 wins and 47 points both still lead the league. The St. Louis Blues, however, have played 4 fewer games than Chicago. The Blues took just 1 of 3 games this week, and missed a golden opportunity to gain ground on the ‘Hawks, but still are within range. The Minnesota Wild are now tied with the Blues, after 3 home wins and a road loss this week. The Wild are nearly unstoppable at their home rink, and have passed the Avalanche, who took 1 of 3 this week in Western Canada, including an embarrassing 8-2 loss to the Oilers. The Avalanche seem to be coming back down to earth after an unreal start to the season, having one of the best records at the quarterpole, while the Wild are heating up again, and starting to prove that they have the team to compete this year. The Dallas Stars have been creeping up, taking 5 of 6 possible points this week in big wins against Chicago and Philadelphia, and are now just 7 back of the Avalanche. The Winnipeg Jets also remain somewhat alive, taking 2 of 3 this week, but have a bigger hill to climb, having played more games. The Nashville Predators lost all 3 this week, and are becoming destined for another lottery pick. This division has been tightening up, and will get more interesting with the current trends as the season continues.

Pacific Division

The division lead continues to be switching between the San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim [Mighty] Ducks every week. This week, it belongs in So-Cal. The [Mighty] Ducks got 5 of 6 points, beating Chicago and St. Louis in big games, while the Sharks hit another soft spot, losing 3 straight after beating Toronto, including losses to Pittsburgh, Carolina, and Minnesota. It wouldn’t shock anyone if the [Mighty] Ducks continue to win, and the Sharks continue to struggle, or if they again swap positions by this time next week. The Los Angeles Kings have something to say on the matter,  winning 3 this week and getting points in 9 of their previous 10 games to pull within a point of the Sharks, further changing the scope of things. Vancouver also won all 3 of their games this week, making 4 straight, and are pulling back into contention. The Canucks are now just 6 behind Anaheim, and took the 4 spot in the division away from the plummeting Phoenix Coyotes, who took 1 of 3 in Western Canada to fall back to 5th place, 2 behind Vancouver. They have been struggling recently, but look to get back into the swing of things when they return home to the desert. The Calgary Flames had 2 wins this week, and it seems like a while since they’ve done that. The Edmonton Oilers have gotten crushed and also crushed this week, showing that their offense is potent, but their defense is still a huge question mark. It seems this division turns to whoever is playing on home ice for the time, as the top 5 teams are a combined 46-12-11 at their respective home rink.

Top 5

1) Anaheim [Mighty] Ducks – Though it took a shootout, they beat the Blackhawks this week. They are still without regulation loss at the Pond, also. Tops for me this week.

2) Chicago Blackhawks – I know they hit a 3 game slide this week, but that says more for them because they still lead the President’s Trophy race.

3) Los Angeles Kings – Ben Scrivens has stepped up big time in the absence of Jonathan Quick. This gives the Kings time to make sure their top guy is ready to come back at 100%.

4) Montreal Canadiens – Red hot play from everyone lately, and the group of Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk, P.K. Subban, and others are looking to overthrow the Bruins in the Atlantic.

5) Minnnesota Wild – The Xcel Energy Center has been a safe haven for them so far, but their road woes continue to question their stability. I see it getting fixed soon.

In the Box this week:

Flyers’ Zac Rinaldo and Bruins’ Shawn Thornton. Friday night, the Flyers were in Dallas to face the Stars. Rinaldo and Stars’ forward Antoine Roussel were chasing the puck down the ice, when Rinaldo surprised Roussel with a mugging. Here’s how it looked:

Rinaldo got 2 for instigating, 5 for fighting, 10 minute misconduct and a game misconduct. It led to a 7 minute power play for Dallas. At least Roussel got up from that one. In our other case, a series of cheap shots exchanged Saturday night in Boston led to a small scrum between the Penguins and Bruins. Shawn Thornton took exception to a hit Brooks Orpik landed on poor Loui Eriksson, and gave him the business. This time, though, it ended worse.

Thornton slew-footed Orpik, followed by a couple of punches to the head. Orpik was out cold, and was subsequently stretchered off the ice. Thornton does have a bit of a history, but this one involves injury. He has a hearing coming up, and a well deserved suspension soon there after.

Stay tuned this week for some more action on the ice. See you then, puck-heads!

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Before the 2004-5 season was cancelled due to a lockout, the standings system was a little different then what we have today. If a game reached the end of overtime without a goal being scored, the game ended in a tie. The NHL decided during that lockout, that all games should have a winning side and losing side, and thus the penalty shot shootout was born.

October 5th, 2005, the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs played to what would have been a tie before the lockout, setting the stage for the first ever penalty shot shootout in NHL history. The Senators won 2-0. The rest is history.

The way that it works in the standings, is that the winning team gets 2 points, and the losing team gets 1, as if the game had ended by an overtime goal. It differs, however, in terms of tie-breakers in the standings, where the team with more non-shootout victories gets precedence.

This may seem to skew standings a little bit toward those teams good at the shootout, right?

Take this example: This year’s Washington Capitals are in second place currently in the Metropolitan, with a record of 14-12-2, adding up to 30 points in the standings. Their shootout record is 6-2, and adding that into their standings as if games ended in overtime at a draw instead of a decisive shootout, their record would be 8-12-8-0 (wins-losses-ties-OT losses), adding up to just 24 points, which would put them in second…to last in the division.

Yes, it does inflate teams records, but let’s be real here, the Sabres (6-20-2, 3-0 in SO) would like it better if their record didn’t look like 3-20-3-2, because it seems to take goals that nearly defy logic for them to win games in regulation or overtime.

So it seems to pay to have guys on your team who are good at shootouts, right?

The all-time shootout records show that it really doesn’t make a difference. Take a look for yourself.  In the top 5, you can make the case for 3 of those 5 teams to have a decent level of success since the shootout’s inception, those being the Penguins, Devils, and Kings (who weren’t always that great in the post-lockout era). In the bottom 5, you have 3 Stanley Cup appearances, with the Flyers, Hurricanes, and Senators. Heck, the Detroit Red Wings (who have an absolute wizard of the shootout in the NHL in Pavel Datsyuk) are in 24th on this list, and they have 2 consecutive Cup Finals appearances (2007-8, winning in 07), along with a million straight playoff appearances (last miss was the 1989-90 season).

It has become an event for the fans, however. I know personal anecdote isn’t fuel for a fire when backing up a statement, but I’ve been to many shootouts in my day, and the fans all stand up and cheer on their teams during the shootout, more intense than during the game itself. No one likes the inconclusive feeling they get, leaving the arena after the game ends in a stalemate. Fans want to see some fun, some craziness, things that would never be tried during a game. The prime example for this would be the last shooter from the longest shootout in NHL history. Marek Malik, a defenseman for the Rangers at the time, who maxed out at 23 points in a season, pulled off one of the best moves in the history of the shootout. If you Google his name, the first hit is his page on Wikipedia, and the second is that goal. The fans loved it.

It goes on and on and on. The players have lots of fun with it, and the fans love it. Sure, it messes with the standings a bit, making teams look better than they are (we’re on to you Buffalo!). But in the end, hockey is in the business of getting fans to the games, and watching a shootout is one of the more exciting events in regular season hockey. It was a great move by the NHL to institute it, and they should keep it, despite the talk to remove it. If the fans love it, there is no reason to fix what isn’t broken.

 

Detroit Red Wings v Ottawa Senators

Thanksgiving is over, Chanukah is still going strong, and hockey is getting more interesting by the day. This week, teams were tested, big games were played, and a hero returned to his old team. Let’s dive in:

Metropolitan Division

The Pittsburgh Penguins are one of the more streaky teams in the league, and they are on a good streak lately. They picked up 7 points in 4 games this week, with varying levels of competition. They lost in OT to the Bruins, took to a shootout to beat the Leafs, then blew out the Lightning and Panthers. They now lead the division by 7 to the Washington Capitals, who had an average week, going 1-1-1 against teams they probably should have beaten. The Penguins are being given the opportunity to run away from them and the other teams in contention. One of those teams is the always confusing New York Rangers. When they lose, they lose big, but when they win, they play well. This week, they went 2-2-0, but had no consistency in their game whatsoever, getting shutout 5-0 against Tampa, but crushing Vancouver 5-2. They currently sit one point ahead of the up-and-down New Jersey Devils, who this week also went 2-2-0, but snapped a 3 game losing streak with their win in Carolina to split a home-and-home. Their game has been inconsistent as well, but for lumps of games at a time, and all of the inconsistency points to their offense. Right behind the Devils are the streaking Philadelphia Flyers, who went 2-2-0 this week, but should have been able to win every game with the level of teams they played. They sit one point ahead of the Hurricanes, who split a home-and-home with the Devils and then lost at home to the Canucks. The Blue Jackets alternated between good wins and bad losses, landing them 5 points back of the third place Rangers, and the Islanders continue to plummet, losing all 3 this week, one in OT, and will be hitting rock bottom any day now. The division has been convoluted with inconsistency, and will continue to be very fun yet frustrating for all teams involved.

Atlantic Division

Despite the 6-1 loss to the Red Wings, the Boston Bruins are sitting pretty atop the Atlantic, winning their other 3 games this week, including two showdowns with Pittsburgh and the Rangers. Their defense has been stout for the most part, and has been carrying the team to the top of the division. Those Red Wings, however, have been catching up to them, moving into second place with a fantastic 3-0 week, outscoring opponents 15-3. Their offense has certainly picked it up, and their defense has been solid to boot, even though they only had one quality opponent. The Wings passed the Lightning for second place, but Tampa has been doing well in their own right. The Bolts had 2 quality wins over the Rangers and Flyers, but lost to the Penguins, which was enough to drop them into third. They have been doing well without Steven Stamkos, but who are we kidding, they really want him back soon. The Montreal Canadiens have been picking their game up lately, having a 2-0-1 week, and are now tied with Tampa for third. The Habs’ strong overall game helps from their young core mixed with veteran help to make a team no one should sleep on. They overtook the lately-sour Maple Leafs, who’ve picked up 2 points in 4 losses this week, in a year where they need to prove that they are for real. Ottawa had a good win against Washington, but two losses since have them 7 back of those Leafs, and they are losing their chances more per day. Saturday night featured the return of longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson, who was met with a standing ovation and a scoreboard tribute, which will just about be as newsworthy as the Senators will get for the next little while. Florida will be playing spoiler for the rest of the season, with their occasional good wins against good teams, like their Monday night win against the Flyers, but don’t count on it every game. Buffalo took what seemed like a record 3 points in a week, and are the first team to hit 20 losses in regulation on the season. This division has been shuffling constantly, with teams dropping and rising seemingly every night, and will continue to shuffle for the rest of the season.

Central Division

Raise your hand if you can beat the Chicago Blackhawks. Since I know none of you did, as well as none of the rest of the NHL, we can safely say that the Hawks are the best team in the league, harboring a 6 game winning streak, all 6 being road games, 4 of which this week. Their offense has been outstanding, and their defense has been good enough to boot, as these guys boast a 5 point lead on the next team up in the powerful Central. That team is the St. Louis Blues, who went 2-1-0 this week against very strong opponents, Minnesota, Colorado, and (losing in) San Jose. They still have one of the top cores and systems in the league, and despite them being so far back from the almighty Blackhawks, they can’t be discounted as one of the top teams in the league. Also in that conversation is the Colorado Avalanche, who lost to the aforementioned Blues before sweeping a home-and-home with division rival Minnesota. The Avs have had the best turnaround by miles this season, and continue to show that they are indeed for real, with strong wins and few losses to separate them. The Minnesota Wild had a gauntlet this week, managing just 1 point in 4 games against the Blues, Coyotes and Avalanche. This week and next are a huge test for the Wild, who are still trying to confirm their spot among the league’s elite, but losing all 4 games this week can’t help their cause. The Nashville Predators had an up and down 2-1-1 week, but remain somewhat in the hunt. Dallas had a huge win against the [Mighty] Ducks, 6-3, but followed it up with 2 shootout losses. They have to be able to build on those wins to have a chance in this crazy strong division. Winnipeg had 2 wins in 3 games this week also, but have the furthest climb out of the 3 bottom teams in the Central, should one of the mighty’s slip and fall. That being said, this division is relatively clear cut as to who will make the playoffs, but no one can be counted out yet, especially in this era of the NHL.

Pacific Division

The San Jose Sharks have the least amount of regulation losses, and are sitting happily on top of the Pacific, with 3 quality wins this week. They have been incredibly difficult to play against, with a young/old mix for the ages, and a win-now perspective. They passed the Anaheim [Mighty] Ducks for that top spot, who lost big in Big D before losing to the Sharks in a shootout, to flank a solid win in Calgary. The Ducks are still a dangerous team to play against, with two of the top scorers in the league, and an unprecedented three options in net. The Phoenix Coyotes had a 1-2-0 week, and fell to fourth behind the Los Angeles Kings, who went 1-1-1 this week. Both of those teams have been playing average hockey lately, but well enough to continue to hold off the Vancouver Canucks, who went 2-1-1 this week. With their latest surge, the Canucks have made it a 5 team race for the 4 spots from the Pacific, that remains tightly contested. The Calgary Flames had a win against the Kings, but lost the other two, and are fading into the dark, but giving their young players time to warm to the league. The Oilers, like the Panthers, have the team to be able to play spoiler to some teams, but remain wildly out of contention. The Pacific has been knotting up, with the Canucks surging back into contention, but it remains tough to crack the top 4. If one team has a big skid, it might be too much to get back in.

Top 5:

1) Chicago Blackhawks – Winning 6 consecutive road games is one thing, but when those games are all in a row, it’s something unheard of. No contest for the top spot.

2) San Jose Sharks – The ultimate regular season franchise has been keeping to their name this season, and are back atop the Pacific.

3) Boston Bruins – Lately, this team has been very hard to play against. If their offense continues to improve, they will become nearly impossible to beat.

4) St. Louis Blues – Tough schedule recently, but they are still doing just fine, and are not a team to look forward to on the calendar.

5) Colorado Avalanche – Despite a lull in the middle of last month, they have been very good and hard to play against. If they get one trustworthy goalie in net as opposed to two solid ones, they will be an elite team.

In the box this week

Vancouver’s Kevin Bieksa and New York Rangers’ Brian Boyle. In the closing seconds of the Rangers’ 5-2 win at the Garden, Bieksa went after Boyle, clearly frustrated from the game. After a scuffle and wrestling match, Bieksa went after Boyle’s helmet, much like a certain fan of a certain ice hockey team, known as…daaaa Hawks. Here’s what he did after he grabbed it:

Rather childishly, Bieksa drop-kicked Boyle’s helmet, clearly frustrated. Boyle joins him in the box because he responds by kicking Bieksa’s helmet. Helmet soccer isn’t very mature, and both players deserved some finger-wagging as they go to the corner and think about what they just did.

Tune in next week for some more. Happy Chanukah puckheads!

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Months ago, the NHL introduced the Stadium Series, which will be 4 extra outdoor games, on top of the already existing Winter Classic and Heritage Classic. That jumps the number of outdoor games from 2 to 6. Here’s a list of all the games, just in case you don’t know already:

January 1 – Winter Classic: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Detroit Red Wings @ Michigan Stadium

January 25 – Anaheim Ducks vs. Los Angeles Kings @ Dodger Stadium

January 26 – New York Rangers vs. New Jersey Devils @ Yankee Stadium

January 29 – New York Rangers vs. New York Islanders @ Yankee Stadium

March 1 – Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Chicago Blackhawks @ Soldier Field

March 2 – Heritage Classic: Ottawa Senators vs. Vancouver Canucks @ BC Place

There are those fans who are thrilled with this, and there are those fans who are vehemently against it. Both sides have very good reasons to their argument.

Since the advent of the Winter Classic in 2008, where the Penguins faced the Buffalo Sabres at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, fans have been clamoring for their team’s chance to host the game. The New Year’s tradition that sparked was such a big hit, that people were fighting over which city should host it next. So far, Buffalo, Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia hosted the Winter Classic, and Edmonton and Calgary have hosted the Heritage Classic, the Canadian edition of the Winter Classic later in the season. Washington has been announced as the 2015 host, venue and opponent undecided.

Fans sold out every single game, with the hopes of attending this once in a lifetime event. They showed up and braved the cold to every game and event leading up to it, including alumni games among others. The fans also bought all the new merchandise that come with the game, such as new uniforms and winter hats for example. Also, with the game nationally televised, fans can sit down together with their families on New Years’ Day and watch the game together.

The teams also hope for the game to come to their city also. As mentioned above, there are tons of new merchandise opportunities and ticket sales opportunities to capitalize on. Filling a football stadium or baseball park with fans who want to buy merch and concessions brings them big revenue, and that isn’t even including the advertising and TV rights they get. It’s a financial boost to their bottom lines, with the hopes that it will return soon. This also goes for the road team, as fans travel up and still pay for everything. It helps everyone financially.

The players love it too. Many of the players reminisce about the times they were a kid growing up in a Northern locale, braving the elements and playing shimmy games on the frozen ponds. Not to mention the national recognition they get when they step on the ice surface, under the lights and in front of tens of thousands of eyes in the stands and the millions watching at home. It’s a whole new experience that the players know come very infrequently, and they long for it every year.

However, since 2008, there has been one, maybe two games played outside per season, making it a very special game for fans and players and upper management all the same. But this year, there are 6 games. Is this watering the product down?

I do understand that most teams want to host the Winter Classic if they can. It’s understandably tough for teams in Southern communities like Phoenix or Florida. That test will be performed in Los Angeles in 2 months. But when it was a once a year thing, everyone wanted to be that one team who was hosting it. Not that it’s made out to be a jealousy bit, but it was special for that host city to have the festivities and events surrounding the game itself going on in the city, much like the All Star Game, for instance. The fact that 4 new cities and one repeat city are hosting the games make might dilute the overall product of the event. Think of having two All Star Games in a season. The thought of it is blasphemous.

With this new amount of teams playing, as expected, there are a couple of repeated teams. The Penguins, Blackhawks, Red Wings, and Rangers have all participated before in outdoor games. This will include the third games for the Rangers and Penguins. It seems, to some fans, that the NHL is repeating some teams, such as Chicago, Pittsburgh, or the Rangers. Those teams also have the majority of national broadcast games. Some fans may take it as a slight to their team who are less recognized by national networks.

That being said, I think it’s fair to introduce more outdoor games, despite it possibly diluting the product. The one that stands out the most is the game in L.A., which is testing if the NHL can play outdoors in a warmer climate. It introduces more opportunity for the less nationally recognized markets to take advantage of a special event with national recognition and new financial opportunities that they haven’t seen in the past. It also will promote national growth of a game that we know isn’t getting as much attention as, say, the NFL. With special events like this taking place all over the country, it will be a move in the right direction for a bigger, better NHL. Sure, you may think it’s a ploy for national attention, but it’s working, and come New Years, expect the 115,000+ fans who sold out the Winter Classic at the Big House to enjoy it as if it’s the only outdoor game they will ever see.

New Jersey Devils v Los Angeles Kings

This week in the NHL brought some interesting developments in the standings. Some new teams are heating up for the first time this season, while other teams are coming back to earth. Let’s see what happened last week, and how it will impact the league going forward.

Metropolitan Division

It seems like for the time being, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals will be jostling for the top spot, but with the Caps getting just 1 point this week in 3 games, including a 4-0 loss to the Penguins on Rivalry Night, the Pens have a small cushion for first. They also took 3 games out of 4 this week to help their cause. Another dog fight between rivals is now for the third place spot in the Metro, between the New York Rangers, and the New Jersey Devils. Both teams went 2-1-0 this week, with the Rangers starting a road swing, and the Devils nearly sweeping through California. During the second game of that trip, Devils’ Jaromir Jagr tied Mario Lemieux for 9th overall in goals with 690. Carolina had a tough 1-2-1 week, but the Hurricanes got Cam Ward back, and he already dazzled, with an epic save on Ottawa’s Colin Greening. The Philadelphia Flyers are continuing their charge back, winning all 3 of their games this week, trying to prove that their lull to start the season was a fluke, now just 2 back of the 3rd place team in the division. Columbus continues to struggle, putting up a 7-0 stinkfest in Edmonton against the lowly Oilers. The New York Islanders are now in the cellar, losing all 3 this week, and have struggled mightily since that Vanek trade. With 4 points separating 2nd and 6th in the division, expect a war from here on out.

Atlantic Division

The Boston Bruins are starting to establish themselves as a mainstay atop the Atlantic, getting 7 of 8 possible points this week. Tuukka Rask continues to hold the line behind one of the strongest defensive corps in the game. Toronto took 2 of 3 games, and are now in second place, after passing the free falling Tampa Bay Lightning. However, the Leafs’ only regulation win was against the Islanders, and didn’t look too strong in their other two games. The Lightning had a trip to California, and took 1 point from the Golden State, leaving in 3rd place, and scoring 3 goals in 3 games shows how much they miss Steven Stamkos. The Detroit Red Wings are having a tough go at it, going 2-2-0 this week, but haven’t been winning a ton of games lately. They lead the league with 7 OT losses, though, which is keeping them in the race until they get back on track. They are just a point ahead of Montreal, who had 3 big wins against surging teams this week, beating the Wild, Capitals, and Penguins, and are making their case for joining the B’s and Leafs near the top. Ottawa is struggling to keep pace, winning 1 of 4, and are sliding out of contention quickly, curiously not as stout on defense as they were last year. Florida continues to be the Tim Thomas swan song, seemingly stuck in 7th. Buffalo, like the Islanders, seem like they got the worse end of the Vanek deal, but the draft picks may prove valuable, as the Sabres are making a lottery run. In other Sabres’ news, they finally unleashed the “Turd-Burger jersey” on Sunday, while the rest of the league shielded their eyes. The division is tight, but with struggles of a couple of the higher seeds are making it very fun to watch, as teams will start shuffling between places.

Central Division

The Chicago Blackhawks got slapped in a showdown with division rival Colorado, 5-1, but won their other 2 games to keep the top spot in the Central. They showed that they can blow teams out, with a 6-3 win in Winnipeg, and win the tight games, with a 2-1 win in Vancouver. The defending champs did not suffer a hangover, and continue to be the top dog in the tough Central. Right behind them is the St. Louis Blues, who won all 3 games this week and are showing us that they are a top team in the league. The Blues, with a 6-1 win against the Stars, took over top goal differential in the league, now with +29. Colorado found their winning touch back, taking all 3 this week, including a blowout of the Blackhawks. They are tied with the Minnesota Wild, who took 2 out of 3 this week on the road, 2 back of Chicago. The Wild have had a tough swing, and it ends tonight with another huge game in St. Louis. Dallas lost both their games this week, and are now mired in a 3 way tie at the bottom of the central with Nashville and Winnipeg, 10 back of Colorado and Minnesota. Nashville had a couple of wins this week against Atlantic teams, and Winnipeg lost all 3 games, picking up 2 shootout points along the way. This division has an interesting dichotomy of contenders and non-contenders, and it will take a mighty fall and a massive streak for that to change.

Pacific Division

The Anaheim [Mighty] Ducks finally returned home to the Pond after a 9 game road trip, and their first game back was their first loss, a 4-3 OT loss to New Jersey. After that, they won 2 games to remain at the top of the division. One of those games included handing the Phoenix Coyotes their first home loss of the season. Those Coyotes have dropped to 4th in the division, only playing twice this week, and taking 1 point from them. The San Jose Sharks also had two games, but both were wins, bludgeoning the Lightning and squeaking by the Devils, and remain tied with the Blues for the least amount of regulation losses. The L.A. Kings also crushed the Bolts, but then lost the next 2 in OT, in tough luck losses to New Jersey and Colorado. Vancouver had a 1-1-1 week, but will have a tough time cracking the top 4 of this division unless one team starts to struggle heavily. Calgary took 2 of their 3 OT games this week, but remain hopelessly behind Vancouver for the top trailer in the division. Edmonton finally showed up at home, with two blowout wins against struggling teams. The top 4 teams in the division continued to shuffle, and barring a huge turn of events, will probably keep shuffling around for the next while as things take shape from here on out.

Top 5

1) St. Louis Blues – I know they aren’t in first, but it’s been since October 25th that they lost consecutive games. That counts for quite the something.

2) Colorado Avalanche – They are right back on this list after an off week, and showed that they are no joke, especially with that 5-1 win against the Hawks.

3) San Jose Sharks – The Sharks aren’t getting tons of love, but they should be, because they have points in all but 3 of their games this year.

4) Minnesota Wild – Like the Blues, they haven’t lost consecutive games since October. Their entire next week is a litmus test, playing the Blues, Coyotes, and a potentially epic home and home with Colorado.

5) Boston Bruins – No recognition of the East last week, the Bruins and their brick wall defense are making their case to be part of the recognized elite.

In the box this week

Cam Fowler of the [Mighty] Ducks. Friday night at the Pond in Anaheim, the Lightning and Ducks were tied 0-0 in the early stages of the third period, when Cam Fowler was primed for a line change. He was straddling the bench when the puck came by. Then the hilarity ensued:

Teammate Hampus Lindholm got a good chuckle out of watching Fowler channel his inner flightless bird (maybe a duck?) and take a tumble. Now, Cam gets a different kind of 2 minutes for tripping.

Next week is a big one, as teams have big divisional matchups, and more convolution within divisions. Until then, Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Hannukah, puck-heads!

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We’ve reached the season’s first quarter-mark, and as quick as it may have seemed, plenty has happened. We’ve seen controversy, trades, injuries, and huge moments that have shaken the league up and making this year another interesting one to write in the books. Let’s see how each team stacks up to where they were projected this season.

Anaheim [Mighty] Ducks: They started out this season showing us that they are a powerhouse to be reckoned with, flirting with the lead of the President’s Trophy race for best record in the league. It took until this, game number 24 for them, to lose at home on the Pond. Led by top scorers Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, and goalie trio Jonas Hiller, Viktor Fasth, and Frederik Andersen, the Ducks have been exceptional this year, and even pulled the Mighty out of the closet for one game. Grade: A

Boston Bruins: Widely viewed as the best team in the Atlantic entering the season, the B’s haven’t disappointed. They lead the league in fewest goals against, and have overtaken the Lightning in first, in large part to Tuukaa Rask and his defense, led by Zdeno Chara. Grade: A-

Buffalo Sabres: They’ve already shown the door to their GM, rookie head coach, and team’s top scorer Thomas Vanek. The return for Vanek was good, despite Moulson taking time to fit into the anarchistic system. Ryan Miller is likely going to leave the team this season, being a free agent, but until then remains the only player left with any value as of right now. Grade: F

Calgary Flames: Following the retirement of Miikka Kipprusoff, the Flames have been left with a massive void in net, and it’s been challenging for guys like Kari Ramo and Reto Berra (who made an amazing bicycle kick save the other night) to fill that hole. The team’s bright spot is Sean Monahan, who’s second on the team in points, and has plenty of time to grow, along with fellow rook Sven Baertschi, because the Flames aren’t going anywhere. Grade: C-

Carolina Hurricanes: Carrying over a similar team to last season, the Canes weren’t too high on anyone’s radar. But injuries to top forward Jeff Skinner and goalie Cam Ward (again) have made it tough for them to win games. Their offense has been pretty bad lately, but still somehow stay in games. It remains to be seen if they can keep repelling the bottom of the Metro. Grade: D+

Chicago Blackhawks: Most points in the league? Check. Most goals scored in the league? Check. The defending Cup champs are showing just what they are made of, not much else to say. Grade: A

Colorado Avalanche: I don’t know if Patrick Roy gave them a shot in the arm, or their young players are playing to potential, but this team was unconscious to begin the year, despite a recent slide, this team is dangerous, with 6 forwards with 13+ points. If they continue to score, they can further ignore their less than ideal goalie situation. Still, I like this team going forward. Grade: A

Columbus Blue Jackets: I originally thought this team would be a playoff contender once Nathan Horton returns. But they continue to disappoint. Their leading scorer is D-man James Wisniewski, and their defense hasn’t been spectacular. Tied currently for last in the Metro is no place for a projected playoff contender. Grade: D

Dallas Stars: Guess who’s winning the trade between Boston and Dallas? Tyler Seguin is having a monster season, co-leading the team in points with Jamie Benn. Maybe he did need a change of scenery. The Stars have been quietly turning it on, but the competition in the division may be too tough for them to overcome. They’ve shown great effort, though. Grade: B-

Detroit Red Wings: Of course, Henrik Zetterberg is the top goal scorer. Of course Pavel Datsyuk has the best hands in the game. Nothing much ever changes in Mo-town. But, they haven’t been keeping in shape defensively, and Jimmy Howard hasn’t been his normal game-stealing self this year. It has hurt them recently, and it may come back to bite them again later. They should try and tighten up the back end if they want to chuck some octopus in May: Grade: B-

Edmonton Oilers: If I were grading them on pure offense, they’d get a very good mark. But since this is a team game, it’s time to lower the boom. With their talented offense, they shouldn’t be anywhere near the bottom of the Western conference. They signed Ilya Bryzgalov…to help their defense. Let that sink in for a moment. That’s how bad their back end is. Grade: G…?

Florida Panthers: So, they stink. We know it. You know it. The Sabres know it, and feel ashamed that they are behind the Panthers. The leading scorer(s) on this team have 12 points each. There are a few players who have more goals than that alone. At least the Panthers aren’t disappointing anyone. Grade: D

Los Angeles Kings: Their defense has been helping out their offense, which is something that many teams don’t have. It’s valuable to have guys like Drew Doughty helping out the top guys on the forward corps. Also, the team is right there in the airtight Pacific, despite top keeper Jonathan Quick out with an injury for a while. Ben Scrivens has shown he can play as well (provided he has a defense in front of him). Grade: A-

Minnesota Wild: Could this be the year they put it all together? Seems like it. Zach Parise leads the way in a talented offense, and Josh Harding continues to impress and inspire everyone. Their division is daunting, but they’ve stuck with it so far, and are playing impressive hockey. Grade: A-

Montreal Canadiens: This team is full of young blossoming stars, like top D-man P.K. Subban, and wingers Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher. While the team is playing well, they aren’t superstars yet. I wouldn’t overlook them, despite their place in the standings, but it makes sense that they are where they are. They won’t kill anyone, but they can be dangerous. Grade: B

Nashville Predators: They are without goalie Pekka Rinne for a while, so more people can concentrate on rookie stud-to-be Seth Jones. He has a while to go before he becomes a true star in the league, but it’s only a matter of time. They likely won’t go far this year, but it gives them time to build up for a run soon. Grade: C

New Jersey Devils: Not sure why so many people were giving them negative feedback. Since the emergence of rookie defenseman Eric Gelinas, the offense and power play have been coming around, in front of a goalie tandem comparable to a Now-and-Later candy from the late 90’s, in Martin Brodeur and Cory Schneider. Jaromir Jagr has plenty left in the tank too, and this team can be a factor later in the year, despite all the bad hearsay. Grade: B

New York Islanders: They currently have 3 top point-getters on their team who have proven their worth, John Tavares, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo. But disappointment throughout, as Thomas Vanek has been hurt, and when he’s played he hasn’t been much a factor. Evgeni Nabakov has played well, but was hit by injury lately, and for an older goalie, that could prove deadly. Grade: D

New York Rangers: They’ve been playing better since their season-opening 9 game road trip ended, but they haven’t impressed anyone yet. Their offense needs to get going, despite injuries to Ryan Callahan and Rick Nash (both have returned). Henrik Lundqvist and Cam Talbot can’t stand on their heads every game. Grade: B-

Ottawa Senators: Don’t blame Daniel Alfredsson for leaving. Their offense, led by Erik Karlsson and Bobby Ryan, with the emergence of Kyle Turris and ever-present Jason Spezza, is fine. Their defense in front of Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner has been dramatically worse than last year. The team probably won’t be able to contend like they did last year if their defense doesn’t pick it up. Grade: C-

Philadelphia Flyers: It took captain Claude Giroux 15 games to find the back of the net. Combine that with 6 points for Scott Hartnell and 5 goals by defensemen, and shaky goaltending, it’s no wonder the team has had a gaping hole to climb out of. Vincent Lecavalier is proving a good pickup, but he can’t do it alone. Grade: D

Phoenix Coyotes: Sporting one of the deepest offenses in the league, and Mike Smith playing well, this team has been a pleasant surprise for the league, right in the race in the Pacific. Martin Hanzal, Shane Doan, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson and crew have shown that they are for real, and this team is hard to beat now. Grade: A-

Pittsburgh Penguins: This group is as streaky as I’ve seen a team get. They win in bunches, and when they hit a slide, it lasts a few games. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the gang have the talent to blow away the Metro, but they haven’t. This trend of win a few lose a few can’t continue if they want to make it far this year. Grade: B+

San Jose Sharks: We can talk about guys like Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, and Logan Couture all day. But they aren’t the story. Tomas Hertl and Tommy Wingels have emerged as mainstays in San Jose, and have been playing for keeps. With a deep team like this, playing in front of a capable Antti Niemi, this group is not one you want to play against in a tough spot. Grade: A

St. Louis Blues: Alexander Steen has 17 goals this season, to lead the league. Combine that with T.J. Oshie and David Backes and you have a great offense. They have 3 defensemen (Jay Bouwmeester, Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo) over 15 points. They have a goalie duo among the more underrated in the league, in Brian Elliot and Jaroslav Halak. They have one of the best records in the league, and a top team to back it up. This looks like a championship caliber team going forward. Grade: A

Tampa Bay Lightning: Steven Stamkos still leads the team in scoring. Trouble is, he broke his leg 2 weeks ago, and will continue to miss significant time. Guys like Martin St. Louis and goalie Ben Bishop have been playing well in his stead, but it’s impossible to replace that kind of talent. It’s hard to quantify a team that just lost their best player for a while, but they’ve been sticking around so far, and I don’t see why that shouldn’t continue. Grade: B+

Toronto Maple Leafs: They have a good, deep offense led by Phil Kessel, 5 guys over 15 points so far. Goalie Jonathan Bernier has been playing well to try and wrestle the top job from incumbent James Reimer. The team has been playing consistently well the whole season, and deserve some positive recognition for a change. Grade: B+

Vancouver Canucks: The Sedin twins can shoulder a load, but they can’t do it alone. Roberto Luongo can win games on his own, but not every game. The Canucks have a good team with high expectations, but sitting 5th in the Pacific (granted it’s challenging) is a let-down. They must step their game up if they want to see a spot in the playoffs, because it looks like they will be the odd ones out at this point. Grade: C+

Washington Capitals: Alexander Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom are returning to form, and Marcus Johansson and Mikhail Grabovski have helped the cause. The main issue is that goalie Braden Holtby seems like he’s holding up his end of the ice on his own. If that continues, he will look more like a sieve than the solid netminder that he is. Grade: B

Winnipeg Jets: Brian Little leads the way, as one of the more underrated players in the league. The only reason right now, that this team isn’t in a better spot, is the level of competition. Every division game has been a hill to climb, playing against the best of the West. Goalie Ondrej Pavelec has to be better, in order to let his offense give him a lead to play with. Grade: C-

We look ahead to the rest of the season, the Olympic break, and more as the season continues. Till next time, puck-heads!

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This past week in the NHL was quite confusing, because some of the top teams in the league weren’t playing like they should be. Also, a top star in the league will spend significant time on injured reserve. The division races are all tightening up, in this week’s Week in Review.

Metropolitan Division

As of this morning, we have a new leader atop the Metropolitan. The Washington Capitals, winners of 3 straight and 7 of their last 10 games, have overtaken the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins (1-2-0 last week, including 2 divisional losses). Strong play by Alexander Ovechkin and crew have finally payed off, becoming the team to beat in the Metro. Meanwhile, the Penguins have started to slide, losing key matchups to division rivals New Jersey and Philadelphia, and have fallen to 1 point behind the surging Caps. The New York Rangers (1-2-0 this week) and the Carolina Hurricanes (2-1-0) are now tied for third, and for now the last playoff spot, despite minor struggles. The Rangers have reverted back to their scoring struggles, scoring 3 goals in their last 3 games, and the Canes who have been without goalie Cam Ward, who may return soon from another injury. Meanwhile, New Jersey is within striking range of those teams, winning key games against the Rangers and Penguins, flanking a tough luck loss to the Kings in a 2012 Cup Finals rematch. The NY Islanders are also 1 point back of the playoff spot, who also won 2 of 3 this week. Columbus got points in every game they played this week, but only won one game, and continue to drop in the standings, now fluctuating between 7th and 8th with the Flyers, who are starting to get things moving, getting 5 points out of 6 possible. The Metro is becoming increasingly convoluted as we continue into the season, and it won’t sort itself out easily until the end of the season.

Atlantic Division

The Tampa Bay Lightning went 2-1-1 this week, but took a massive loss when Steven Stamkos went down with a broken tibia. He still does not have a timetable for his return, though bench boss John Cooper insists he will come back this season. Either way, the rest of the team has to shoulder the load, and make up for the lost offense, and most importantly, hold off the rest of the division. From the looks of the other teams though, it might be a bit easier, based off of recent play by the 2-6 seeds. The Boston Bruins continue to give up the fewest amount of goals in the NHL, and with a 2-1-0 week, they are keeping pace with Tampa, and seem to be the favorite team to take over the top spot with the Bolts’ lack of their top player. Toronto split a home and home with Buffalo, and added a tough OT loss in Minnesota, but remain right in the race, quietly treading water, tied with Boston. The Detroit Red Wings are having a bizarre streak, losing 5 games in a row, but all in OT or a shootout. This week, they lost 3 shootouts. Because they are at least picking up points in those losses.They too are tied with the B’s and Buds with 25 points. Montreal seems to be slipping a little bit, not winning a game this week, but still hang on to the 2nd wild card spot over Ottawa, who are struggling in their own right, losing 2 of 3 this week. Those two teams had a very interesting playoff series last year, including some line brawls, and with a potential playoff spot at hand, they could be at ends again this year. The Florida Panthers seemed to have played spoiler to last week’s Top 5, beating (handily I might add) the [Mighty] Ducks and Avalanche, in one of the more confusing stretches of the season. Buffalo finally won in regulation again, but both them and the Panthers are way back from the big race at the top of the Atlantic. Everyone is speculating when the Lightning will fall from the top spot, and a 3 way tie for second will make this a dog-fight for first.

Central Division

This division had a massive makeover of Michael Jackson proportion this past week. The Chicago Blackhawks won 2 of 3 this week, but gave up 7 goals (somehow) to the offensively challenged Predators. The Hawks are now atop the division, and the surging Minnesota Wild (winners of all 3 this week and 4 in a row) have passed both the Blues and Avalanche for second in the Central. The competition for Minnesota hasn’t been spectacular, but they have shown that they can play strong defensive hockey, just letting up 4 goals this week (Chicago gave up 7 in one game to the Preds, to put that in perspective). St. Louis went 2-1-1 this week, but one of those wins was against division rival Colorado. The Blues to me, are one of those quiet, dark horse contenders, but they haven’t had playoff success recently. They are playing well though, and are starting to turn heads with their young core. And then we have the Colorado Avalanche. Last week they were riding Mile High, but now they have come back down to Earth, losing to the Canes, Blues, and Panthers, and not recording a single point in the standings. They have fallen to 4th in the Central. It remains to be seen how quickly they can get out of this funk, because we all know how very capable and dangerous this team really is. Because of the gravity of the Avalanche’s losing streak, the Dallas Stars’ winning streak, winning all 3 games this week, has gone almost completely unnoticed. The Stars are 4 points behind Colorado now, adding a potential 5th team to this powerful race. Winnipeg won 2 of 3 this week, and remain 2 points behind Dallas. The Jets need to string some wins together in order to have a chance at catching someone. The Nashville Predators’ only win this week was the blowout of the Blackhawks, and have had significant offensive struggles outside of that win. They have to start putting the puck in the net, because without goalie Pekka Rinne for a while, they have to score to stay alive. The shake up from this week might not be the only one we have over the season, but this one was a huge one, and could be very telling for the rest of the season.

Pacific Division

The Anaheim [Mighty] Ducks had a tough week, losing twice in the Sunshine State and in OT to Carolina. My guess is that they are only hitting a minor skid, because they have had so many road games. Their trip ends tonight in Pittsburgh before flying back to the Pond to take on New Jersey. The San Jose Sharks won all 3 of their games in Western Canada, before laying an egg in Chicago, but are now 1 point behind the suddenly struggling [Mighty] Ducks. They are starting to get back to their winning ways of the first month of the season. The Phoenix Coyotes continue to surprise everyone, getting 5 points out of 6 this week, including wins over Tampa and St. Louis. They have won 8 of their last 10, and are tied with the Sharks for second in the Pacific. The L.A. Kings took a tough shootout loss in Buffalo before sweeping through the 3 New York metro teams, and are just 3 back of Anaheim, and right back in the race. Vancouver played twice this week and got 1 point to show for it, and are slipping out of contention slowly, but still remain within reach of the Kings for the 4th and final spot. Calgary is starting to freefall now, losing all 3 games this week, but are giving time to their future guys like Sven Baertschi and Sean Monahan to grow in experience. The Oilers’ only win this week came against those Flames in a Battle of Alberta match, and have called up Mr. Universe, Ilya Bryzgalov, to their NHL team. Arguably the media’s favorite player to interview, he likely won’t help the Oilers out of their misery, but may help stop the bleeding a little bit. It seems as if the top teams in the division are establishing themselves, but those top teams are all standing on nearly even ground.

Top 5

1) Chicago Blackhawks – They climbed to the top of the Central this week, and considering their league-leading offensive arsenal, I don’t see them giving it up anytime soon.

2) Minnesota Wild – They have 4 road games this week, culminating with one against division rival St. Louis. That will be a litmus test for them, to see if their recent winning ways are for real.

3) Phoenix Coyotes – They finally have owners that care. Seems to help, right?

4) Los Angeles Kings – I know that the Metropolitan division is historically bad. But anytime you sweep through the New York metro area, giving up 2 goals in the 3 game set, you should get some recognition. Here’s to you, L.A.

5) St. Louis Blues – Closing out a Top-5 sans Eastern teams, they still only have 3 regulation losses. I can name a few that have had that many in a single week.

In the box this week

Montreal forward Daniel Briere and goalie Peter Budaj. About 3 minutes remained in the first period of a tilt Friday night between the Canadiens and the Blue Jackets in Columbus. Jackets’ D-man Nikita Nikitin (master of the double name) wound up for a slap shot and tripped over his own feet, somehow. The puck squirted back to Columbus forward Artem Anisimov, and with that, we have our worst goal ever. Take a look:

I know Jackets’ forward Jared Boll was in the crease causing Budaj havoc. But after Briere chops the puck into the air, Budaj should have been able to locate the puck. Instead, we have another wacky bounce goal, that goes up there with some of the ones we’ve had so far. That goal was important too, as it put the Jackets up 2-0, and the Habs lost 3-2.

Tune in next week to see if the fallen top teams can rebound.