The Winter Classic has come and gone but the NHL season still rolls on (just without HBO’s NHL 24/7). That may not be a good thing for the Penguins who continue sliding down the Power Rankings while the Caps move on up. However, for the second week in a row, the Vancouver Canucks are the best team in the league.
#1 Vancouver Canucks (Last Week #1)
It’s not exactly a Penguins-esque hot streak but the Canuckleheads are the hottest team in the NHL right now. Heading into last night’s games, Vancouver was unbeaten in regulation in their last ten game. I figure that 19 points from a maximum of 20 over that stretch qualifies as a pretty good stretch. In fact, you have to go back to December 5th to find the last time they lost in regulation. Of course, I have to mention that they’re 1-1-1 against the Blackhawks this season. Just worth noting.
#2 Tampa Bay Lightning (LW #5)
Dan Ellis has more problems than how to spend his money. He’s actually got to earn it now. The Lightning traded a defenceman I’ve never heard of for Dwayne Roloson. The hero of the Edmonton Oilers 2006 playoff run hasn’t been able to find his world-beating form since then but he’s been the best player for the Isles this season. After Saturday’s game, the last pre-Roloson game, the Lightning were tied for third-last in goals against in the league but are top ten in goals for. This is a team that needs just an average goalie. That’s definitely an expectation and need that Rollie the Goalie can fill and exceed.
#3 Philadelphia Flyers (LW #2)
In the cold and cruel world of professional sports, the question is seldom what have you done but what have you done lately. Take, for example, Michael Leighton. He was the Carolina Hurricanes goalie that the Flyers claimed off waivers only to have him lead them to the Cup final. Thanks to the emergence of Sergei Bobrovski, he’s outlived his usefulness and been waived by the Flyers. Of course, this isn’t entirely a usefulness and performance thing. The Flyer’s are tight against the salary cap and need all the space they can get. Unfortunately for Leighton, being a Cup hero doesn’t mean a whole lot.
#4 Detroit Red Wings (LW #4)
This week is annual Consumer Electronics Show. This year’s show is going to have all sorts of fancy technological wizardry like glasses-less 3D TV, tablet computers, cell phones, cameras and so on and so forth. As a complete and utter nerd when it comes to this stuff this is like Christmas all over again. That despite my distrust in technology because it’ll eventually enslave or kill us all. Well, the end of humanity is a downside along with the realization that I don’t make enough money to be able to afford anything debuted at CES. Still, it could be worse. I could not be able to anything from E3 either which would really suck.
#5 Washington Capitals (LW #11)
Well, three weeks on HBO and months of buildup led us to the Winter Classic. Neither warm weather nor rain could keep it from happening, though it did keep it from happening on time. I don’t think that playing under the lights in the middle of a light drizzle took away from this game. I don’t think I’d call it the best of the Winter Classics and the Crosby/Ovechkin battle never materialized. But this matchup did give up Eric Fehr heroics and the legend of Bruce Boudreau’s mouth. All in all, not a bad Winter Classic, even if was more sizzle than steak.
#6 Pittsburgh Penguins (LW #3)
Well, there’s good news and bad news for Pens fans after the Winter Classic. Bad News: Sidney Crosby’s points streak is over. Good News: He shaved the five hairs that he jokingly referred to as a mustache. Really, I think 10-year-olds could grow more/better facial hair than Crosby. Bad News: Bettman’s planned coronation of Crosby at the Winter Classic didn’t go as planned. Good News: The last home team to lose a Winter Classic just won a Stanley Cup. It’s now big picture time for the Pens. Yes, your season built to this game but it doesn’t end here. If they don’t remember that there’s a Stanley Cup still to be won…
#7 San Jose Sharks (LW #8)
And it should be noted that the Winter Classic was the most watched NHL regular season game since 1975 with 4.5 million viewers. It also helped NBC win the coveted 18-49 demographic among network TV stations for the night. The question is what helped the ratings reach that new level. It could be the rivalry matchup, the star power, the HBO NHL 24/7 series helping to hype or the fact that the game was played in primetime under the lights. Of course, the fact that the Winter Classic is starting to establish itself as a New Year’s Day viewing option doesn’t hurt either. Looks like the NHL and NBC have a proper winner of a game.
#8 St. Louis Blues (LW #14)
Look who’s back in the top ten. They’re still a little bit in the negative in goal differential, though so are the Lightning. They’ve also slid back into the top ten in goals against for the season. Granted, Halak has gone back cold recently but it’s nowhere near as bad as it was November. I know I sound like a broken record but the Blues are this year’s 09-10 Bruins. They have no offence and need the goaltending to win games instead of just steal them. As good as Halak is, it’s a tough spot for him.
#9 New York Rangers (LW #15)
Gary Bettman said something to the effect that they hadn’t decided where the 2012 Winter Classic would be held but rumours are all pointing toward New York. The media buzz about the NCAA’s Pinstripe Bowl hasn’t been about the game but the fact that the Winter Classic won’t be going to Yankee Stadium as long as it exists. If the NHL is serious about a Winter Classic in the Big Apple, it looks like it would have to be at Citi Field (home of the Mets) or New Meadowland Stadium (home of the Jets and Giants). Now the New York Post is suggesting that Central Park is a potential venue with about 20,000 temporary seats set up at Sheep’s Meadow… Whatever that is. But given that three potential venues are being mentioned, I’d think smart money is on the Rangers hosting the 2012 Classic.
#10 Dallas Stars (LW #6)
Last week I said that the Kings and Sharks are closing in on the Stars for the Pacific Division lead. Now you can add the Ducks to that mix. Hell, you can even add Phoenix to that list because they’re one point off the Kings and six off the Stars. I really think something has to be done about the current NHL points system. Sure it keeps things close for more of the season but it almost makes it feel as though it’s a craps shoot. One hot or cold streak could take a good team out of the running for a division title or playoff spot. Anyone besides me like the European/international 3 point system?
#11 Colorado Avalanche (LW #12)
Save the date, anglophiles and royal family watchers. April 29th has just been announced as the official wedding date for Prince William and Kate Middleton. The wedding will be held at Westminster Abbey at 11 AM with the wedding being conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. It’s all very fancy and all but I have a very serious question. Can the bride be late for her own wedding if it’s going to be broadcast to billions of people worldwide? The stereotype is that brides are often late for some reason or another. Wouldn’t it be something if the bride was late for the most important wedding of 2011. There’s a funny story for the kids.
#12 Anaheim Ducks (LW #17)
I’m actually surprised that they’re moving up the standings. That innocent looking shot to the forehead that Getzlaf took last week that I wrote off as more a concussion risk than anything put the Ducks’ star forward out indefinitely with a nazal/sinus fracture. I figured that the second that Getzlaf appeared to be out for more than a couple of periods, the Ducks’ season would die a quiet death on the west coast. Instead, it seems to sparked some life in the team. And good on them. If they can get through the adversity well, more power to them.
#13 Boston Bruins (LW #13)
Last season, it was the Tuukka Rask show. This year, it’s Tim Thomas’ team. The Bruins are the best in the league in goals against and have a team average of 2.24 goals against per game. Even for the B’s midpack offence, that makes every game winnable. Hell, every team short of the Devils have scored more than 85 goals this season. There’s another Peter Chiarelli win. He got rid of Raycroft which opened the door to the Thomas/Rask tandem that will lead his team to a division title.
#14 Carolina Hurricanes (LW #24)
I hate to take away from their recent hot streak but I have some All-Star Game matters to discuss. Particularly what Mike Milbury talked about during the intermission of the Winter Classic. He said that goaltending doesn’t matter in an All-Star Game. While I’m not going to argue that point too hard, we did see Tim Thomas put in a pretty good effort in the 2009 ASG. To write-off goalies as picks 19 through 21 would be a mistake by team captains. Who should be written off are defenders. If you play a defense-first game, you’ll see yourself down at the bottom of the draft order. Pass and shot blocking will be far less valuable than the occasional glove.
#15 Los Angeles Kings (LW #7)
By the way, the All-Star Game voting is a load of shit. When I checked Monday afternoon, your starters were Crosby, Toews, Malkin, Letang, Keith and Fleury. Let’s rate these picks: Perfect, Acceptable, WTF?, Acceptable, Fail and Fail. Four Pens among six starters should tell you all you need to know about. I have no problems with Crosby and Letang. Malkin’s been out with injuries for a good chunk of the year. That should be Stamkos’ spot. Toews earned his spot based on the Olympics and playoffs so I can’t really complain. Keith should have lost out to Byfuglien or Lidstrom. And Fleury should have lost to Thomas or Pavelec. Not liking the starters but hopefully the league picks the right guys to fill out the rosters.
#16 Atlanta Thrashers (LW #10)
I swear that I was going on about how good the goaltending was in Atlanta just a few weeks ago. Now it turns out that they’re in the bottom five of the league in goals against. I was going to make a bad pun like Ondrej Pavelec needs to have another fainting spell but he’s still on top of his game. His GAA is 2.11 and save percentage is 0.935 which is good for 3rd and 2nd in the NHL, respectively. As for backup Chris Mason… Well, there’s a reason he wasn’t named opening day starter. His GAA is 3.66 and his save percentage is .896 for 50th and 44th in the league, slightly less respectively. That’d be bad for the Maple Leafs, let alone a playoff team. Looks like they have something to trade for at the deadline.
#17 Chicago Blackhawks (LW #9)
Am I the only one who hears someone start asking a question with “Do you feel” then pause and feel compelled to say “like we do” in your best Frampton impersonation? I nearly died laughing while listening to a Prime Time Sports show when Bob McCown asked “Do you feel” and paused for a breath. I blame this entirely on The Simpsons, of course. I think of all that went wrong with Frampton’s concerts at Hullabalooza or whatever concert series that was when I hear Do You Feel Like We Do. Every time I hear that on the radio, I hope for a giant inflatable pig to fly out from nowhere but no luck so far.
#18 Montreal Canadiens (LW #16)
I think I figured out the cause of the Habs’ slump. They’ve really been trending downward since they announced the big regional coverage deal with TSN. I assume that the Canadiens have lost their touch largely through osmosis from the broadcasters led by Rod Black. I’ve not exactly kept my dislike of Black’s commentary a secret but what TSN has been doing to Habs fans has to violate the Geneva Convention. Rod Black on play-by-play is roughly equivalent to torture for sports fans.
#19 Nashville Predators (LW #19)
I sometimes wonder how people can be so pro Apple when they so clearly phone it in on their recent releases. Take the latest iPhone glitch. Someone at Apple couldn’t be bothered do thorough testing on the thing so the iPhone suffered from a case of the Y2K bug in Y2K11. So folks that wanted to use their iPhones as alarm clocks woke up to… Well, not being woken up by their iPhones. Apparently the problem only affected users without recurring alarms. And for all the crap I’ve heard about BlackBerry having a “dinosaur OS” at least the folks at RIM don’t get fucked up by changing the year on your calendar.
#20 Columbus Blue Jackets (LW #21)
Did you know that the Vatican “forgave” the Beatles for saying that they were bigger than Jesus last year? I just found out today that the Pope forgave the group their excesses and lauded them as a “precious jewel.” In the past, the Vatican had accused the Fab Four of “blasphemous remarks, drug taking and even the dissemination of Satanic messages through their music.” The Catholic Church must really be scared about their future. They’re backing off on being anti-condom, they’re acting a little more remorseful over the sex scandals and they’re accepting of 40 year old pop culture. Sounds like there still might be hope for them… Nah, who am I kidding?
#21 Calgary Flames (LW #26)
Amongst all the hype over the Winter Classic, even Canadian fans could be forgiven for forgetting that there is a little thing called the Heritage Classic coming up in Calgary later on this winter. I think it might be in March but I can’t be bothered to look into it. I’m pretty sure this game will be broadcast on the CBC and NHL Network US. I was hoping that we might get HBO or TSN to do another 24/7 style miniseries for this but two Canadian teams wouldn’t make it worth HBO’s while to do this and TSN is well in bed with the Oilers. It’d be nice if the CBC were to try something like 24/7 in the run up to the game but given most of their documentary type stuff is a bit on the dry side, maybe we should just get the game over with.
#22 Minnesota Wild (LW #18)
The Wild are slumping in the standings, the Power Rankings and in the eyes of NHL brass. Apparently the Wild have been campaigning for a shot to host the Winter Classic. They’re in a good location to host it as the midwest is a hockey stronghold. However, the NHL don’t consider the Wild to be a “sexy team.” If the 2009 and 2011 Winter Classics taught us anything, it’s that the matchup drives ratings more than the game itself. Wild against anyone won’t help the league. That and the NHL isn’t too keen to hold a game in a generic baseball stadium like Target Field.
#23 Florida Panthers (LW #22)
LeBron James just can’t seem to do anything right when it comes to his PR. Let’s face it, since he quit on the Cavs in the middle of last season’s playoffs, it’s all been downhill. The latest PR faux pas has been his 26th birthday party. First came the leaked slides from a PowerPoint presentation made to potential party sponsors who could get branding at this edition of LeBronukkah from the low price of $10,000. And on his birthday, LeBron tweeted a picture of his birthday cake which was topped with a crown. Not too pretentious, is he? On the plus/ironic side, the scarlet and gold colours on the cake sure resembled Cavs colours.
#24 Phoenix Coyotes (LW #20)
Ever hear of the Auckland Classic women’s tennis tournament? Well, it’s a very small tourney on the WTA. It’s so small that it only had four top-20 players enter last year. For the first time ever, the Classic sold out its day passes before the tournament started. The reason: Maria Sharapova is playing and all her matches are scheduled to be played during the day instead of evening. I’m sure women’s tennis purists don’t want to say it but how good tennis players look makes a difference to the fans. Now, Caroline Wozniacki played that tourney last year. Why weren’t people clamoring for tickets then?
#25 Buffalo Sabres (LW #25)
So much for my guess that the Sabres would be on a long road trip during the World Juniors. On an off day for the tournament (January 1st, to be precise), they ended up playing a home game against the Boston Bruins. The logos on the ice were still from the World Juniors but they put all the usual sponsors up on the boards. The best moment of the game was probably laid down by the Boston commentator who made the comment that Team Canada didn’t want Tyler Seguin last year but they can’t have him now that they need him. Actually, Team Canada really wanted a goalie.
#26 New York Islanders (LW #29)
I’m absolutely positive that this is the highest ranking that I’ve put the Isles at this season. Makes sense because the Islanders are inexplicably on their hottest streak of the season. Granted, they’re set up for the inevitable crash and burn because they traded away Rollie the Goalie. We know that Charles Wang loves Rick DiPietro so Roloson would never be a #1 goalie for the long haul. It’s just good to have confirmation once again who the real GM on Long Island is.
#27 Toronto Maple Leafs (LW #27)
Canadian institution Tim Horton’s is not one to pass up a good marketing opportunity. They’ve just announced that they’re going to sell donuts with blue and white sprinkles on Leafs home gamedays. There’s only one reasonable explanation for this apparent Leafs support. They’re trying to get in on the waffle throwing action at the ACC. Eggo gets loads of publicity as the unofficial official throwing waffles of Leafs fans and now Timmy’s wants in on the action. I hope the folks in Toronto don’t get up on the waffles for donut throwing but donuts would better represent the state of the Leafs’ offence.
#28 Ottawa Senators (LW #23)
Well, last week I mentioned that I might end up regretting putting the Sens up at #23 in the rankings with Spezza out indefinitely. Wouldn’t you know it that not only did the Sens plummet down the rankings but it looks like GM Bryan Murray’s revolving door of coaches is about to make another turn. Scuttlebutt amongst the media is that Cory Clouston is on a very hot seat. I’d like to know if the NHL is planning on expanding drug testing to owners because Sens owner and Biovail CEO Eugene Melnyk has to be getting high on his own supply to not turf Murray. It’s not Clouston’s fault the team is utter shit. Same thing with Craig Hartsburg and John Paddock before him. Murray screwed the team up. That’s why he bailed on coaching the team in 2007. He didn’t want all the blame so he’s throwing his coaches and players to the wolves.
#29 Edmonton Oilers (LW #28)
Jordan Eberle’s potentially season-ending ankle injury should just about close the book on the Oilers chances of breaking out of the bottom five. They’ve been struggling ever since Khabibulin was convicted of DUI. Okay, it’s been longer than that but you get my point. TSN obviously banked a lot on a quick “Oil Change” with that big documentary series of theirs. Hell, before Eberle’s injury, only the Devils were a colder team. Looks like this team needs more than just an oil change to get their motor running like new.
#30 New Jersey Devils (LW #30)
I had these guys penciled into this spot on Saturday. There’s no hope for a team that is six points behind the Islanders and have played more games. They sent Rolston down to the minors officially because his lack of performance this season. The real reason is that they’re totally fucked when it comes to the cap and are trying to move him on the cheap. If someone claimed him on waivers, they’d only be on the hook for half his remaining cap hit while the Devils would be on the hook for the remaining cap hit. If it wasn’t for the money, I’d bet Kovi would consider a move to Russia right about now.