Last week was full of great games including Boston vs. Pittsburgh, Minnesota vs. San Jose and the 5-4 OT thriller between Philadelphia and Buffalo. Injuries of marquee players continue to plague playoff bound teams and the Wild continue to amaze people with their performance. I said at the beginning of the season that we would have a best of a finals with Detroit vs. Philadelphia but can one of the secondary teams make a mess of things?Last weeks ranking in parentheses
- Detroit Red Wings (1) – A tough 3-2 loss at St. Louis was followed up by an impressive victory over the Coyotes and a throttling of the lowly Jets. As of late when the Wings lose it is a close game and they tend to win in good fashion. Another test-time-Tuesday this week at Pittsburgh as well as a never easy game in Nashville. The Red Wings have a lot going for them right now with great chemistry and solid goal tending. If they can improve their 22nd ranked penalty kill they will continue to be a dominant force.
- Philadelphia Flyers (10) – Winners of 5 straight including victories over Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Tampa in their last 3, this is the Flyers team that I expected to see. With four 10+ goal scores and 3 strong lines filled with shooters they will continue to light the lamp but will their goal tending improve? The health of NHL points leader Claude Giroux is in question after his head collided with Wayne Simmonds knee and the Flyers cannot afford to go to long without him in such a tough division. If Giroux is still out for Thursday’s meeting with the Canadians, watch out Philly.
- Minnesota Wild (6) – The Wild have reeled off 7 straight and they really are a hard team to ignore. They have scored 3.4 goals per game during the 7 game streak (which raised their goals per game to 2.5) and are finally showing signs that they are a beast in the Western Conference. They only have one double digit goal scorer but Dany Heatley has finally found his stride with 3 goals and 2 assists in the last 5 games. While the surging Canucks are biting at their heels the Wild should take 2 out of their next 3 vs. the Jets, Blackhawks and Islanders before their December 19 showdown in Vancouver.
- Boston Bruins (2) – A 2-2 week isn’t all that impressive considering their competition which had the makings of a 3-1, 4-0 week. They have two very winnable games at home vs. the Kings and in Ottawa before their Saturday trip to Philadelphia which should give us a good idea of who is atop the pecking order in the East. Tuuka Rask as started 3 of their last 5 and one would think that the Bruins are trying to protect the health of their 37 yr old net minder but expect Thomas to be in goal for all their big match ups. The question is, can the Bruins keep Rask happy enough to keep him around all season as a backup?
- Vancouver Canucks (5) – 9-1 in their last 10 and winners of 4 straight, the Canucks have had to turn it on to keep within striking distance of the red hot Minnesota Wild. They have been riding the hot hand of Ryan Kessler who has given the second line a kick start with 7 points in the last 5 games and being paired with Jannik Hansen has proven to be a formidable 1-2 punch for Vancouver. Roberto Luongo has finally lowered his GAA under the 3 mark and has 3 impressive outings including 1 shutout in his last 5 games. The Canucks will live and die by their goal tending because the goals will always be there, but can they keep pace with the stingy Wild?
- Pittsburgh Penguins (4) – The Penguins are slowly descending from the powerhouse that they started the season as. 6-3-1 in their last 10 and only 1 impressive win of those 6, the Pens will be looking for a statement win on Tuesday when Detroit comes to town. The team isn’t riding the same energy with the constantly questionable health of Sid the Kid and Jordan Staal has all but disappeared from the stat sheet with 3 points in the last 10 games. The next 2 weeks should give us a good read on which direction the Penguins are headed with games against Detroit, Buffalo and Chicago.
- New York Rangers (3) – The Rangers are still finding their way as the should be coming off a 3-1 week, not a 2-2 week. They play well as a 3+ goal scoring team and look tragically average when they score 2 or less. They have shown signs of life on their power play but they are still in the bottom third among NHL teams. They have two tough games on the road this week against St. Louis and Phoenix who will match their physical intensity and have been relatively stingy in giving up goals. These are the games that will prove to the world that the Rangers are built to win the close ones and can beat any style of hockey including their own.
- Florida Panthers (8) – The Panthers remain an enigma as I feel that their youth will get the best of them by seasons end. They are 5-3-2 in their last 10 with quality wins over the Rangers, Sharks and Bruins but this same team has 2 losses to the lowly Lightning mixed in there which goes right back to their inexperience. I expect the rest of the month to be fairly decent for the Panthers but January will bring them back down to earth with 6 of their 9 games coming against very tough opponents.
- Chicago Blackhawks (9) – Goal tending continues to be an issue for the Hawks as Corey Crawford looked simply lost in net giving up 3 goals on 16 shots in Monday nights loss to Phoenix. This team can light the lamp with the best of them and have 4 dominant point scoring machines but they have not made enough adjustments on defense to justify them being a favorite in the Western Conference. Crawford might be in the midst of a sophomore slump but the issues on D stem deeper than his soft goal tending.
- St. Louis Blues (NR) – Brian Elliott continues to wow and steal starts from Halak while putting up an astounding 1.46 GAA in 15 games this year. Ken Hitchcock has turned this team into believers and put them into position to fight with Chicago and Detroit for the division which is nothing short of amazing. The big question is, is this the same streaky Blues team that show moments of brilliance or a whole new entity that is ready to contend with a roster of relative unknowns? T.J. Oshie is a legitimate young talent in the making and Jason Arnott is a solid veteran but can the Blues have some other players step up and take this team to the playoffs?
Coach Ryan’s Sound off of the Week:
What I have discovered about Cal is he still loves the Wings and hates the Hawks. What a jump by the Flyers though from ninth to second? It’ll be interesting to see how teams like Pittsburgh will stack up to you with the continuous injuries and if the Wings will stay on top of the rankings with Cal’s new found love of the Flyers. It’s actually kind of surprising that we both seem to have a lot of the same opinions which means we must be doing something right, probably watching too much hockey together.