NHL Super 8

Not so super 8 – Feb. 17

This week finally picked up a bit in the top 16.

However, a couple of teams were snubbed by the panel in place of what feels to be less deserving teams (LA Kings and New Jersey Devils.)

Let’s get right to it.

ANAHEIM DUCKSSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

The Ducks should’ve had a spot in the Super 16. Some of the other teams that made it into the top 16 definitely are not as hot as the Ducks right now. They likely missed because of their close victories with below average teams.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

The Ducks need to start showing up and taking command against lower-ranked teams as stated earlier. They only beat the Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Oilers each by a score of 3-2, and then lost to the Detroit Red Wings 2-1. They are getting destroyed by the better teams in the league and barely squeaking out wins against every other team. The Ducks are 5-3-2 the last 10.

COLORADO AVALANCHESuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

This is another team that is in the top 16 rankings wise that didn’t make the power ranking cut. They probably also should have made the Super 16 over a couple other teams, but they missed due to their just “ok” last 10 record of 4-5-1.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

Last week they got destroyed by the St. Louis Blues and then lost to the Carolina Hurricanes. This week they barely beat the Sabres and the Montreal Canadiens and then were blown out by Winnipeg. Much like the Ducks, they need to start finding victories against better teams and need to limit the scoring of lesser teams.

They are also seeing impressive offensive numbers from their forwards. Nathan MacKinnon has 61 points followed closely by Mikko Rantanen with 52 and Gabriel Landeskog with 42. They just need their goalies to pick it up a bit. They only have a combined .914 save percentage.

CAROLINA HURRICANESSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

The Hurricanes have honestly done pretty well over their past 10 games, but aren’t really in a ranked position to be in the Super 16. They are 5-4-1 in their last 10 and won three straight before losing their last two to the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

The Hurricanes are on an upward path. Their victories have come against some quality teams. They beat the LA Kings 7-3 earlier in the week. If they continue to play well against teams like the Kings, they have a shot to move up significantly in the standings.

FLORIDA PANTHERSSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

While the Panthers have won their last two and are 6-4-0 in their last 10, they have been struggling to shut down their opponents offensively not only in their losses, but also in their wins. Like when they beat the Oilers on Monday by a score of 7-5.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

Roberto Luongo has stepped up his game in the crease, but the backups need to become more reliable. James Reimer and Harri Sateri have a combined .910 save percentage. Considering Reimer has started the most games this season, those numbers just won’t cut it.

New York IslandersSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

This is where things start going downhill. The Islanders are 4-5-1 in their last 10, which is “ok” but not great.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

If the Islanders can see more goaltending performances like that of Jaroslav Halak against the New York Rangers (50-save shutout), then they may start looking up. His .912 save percentage is less than average, but if that changes, they may be ok. Especially with the impressive offensive numbers they are seeing. John Tavares has 64 points so far this season and is followed just barely by Mathew Barzal and Josh Bailey, who each have 62.

DETROIT RED WINGSSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

The Redwings are 4-4-2 their last 10. They are low in the standings and can’t seem to find a winning rhythm, which is why they keep missing out on the Super 16.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

Turn those two OT losses into wins and their record the last 10 is 6-4-0, and they are up three spots in league standings. Regulation wins would really help boost this team, especially at home where they have a league-leading seven OT losses.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETSSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

The Blue Jackets were 3-5-2 in their last 10. Their record in the last 10 games alone is what is keeping them from even getting close to the Super 16.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

The Blue Jackets have been on a significant downward spiral these past three weeks. They barely missed the Super 16 three weeks ago. Now they aren’t even close and are traveling closer to the bottom of the standings.

This past week, they have been very hot and cold. They will beat teams by large margins, like when they beat the Islanders 4-1 and the Devils 6-1. They also lost by significant margins to the Leafs (6-3) and the Washington Capitals (4-2).

The Blue Jackets really need to stay consistent here to even have a shot at breaking into the Super 16.

ARIZONA COYOTESSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

They are last in the league, so it is clear why they missed. But they are more deserving to sit in this spot just due to their efforts in their last 10. Their record sits at 5-4-1 the last 10 and they are on a three-game winning streak.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

They can actually keep winning games. It is hard to break this down because everything needs to change for the Coyotes. In reality, they have no shot of even getting close to the Super 16, but their effort the last stretch is worth recognizing and their fans should appreciate it.

 

Team logos and featured image from NHL.com

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Super 8

Not so Super 8-February 9

And we are back with this week’s “Not so Super 8”.

There was quite a bit of shifting this week in the Super 16, some of which I am not totally in agreement with. I mean sure the Golden Knights lost a couple games in regulation. That doesn’t mean they deserve to be dropped to the third spot.

This week also had a lot fewer teams that even deserved to be in consideration. Most of the teams that missed the Super 16 are on huge slides right now.

Let’s get right to it.

Super 8LA Kings

WHY DID THEY MISS?

This one is tough. They are on a two game win streak, their record the past 10 is 5-5-0 and they are in the top 16 in the NHL. It really just game down to choosing between them, San Jose and Anaheim.

Super 8

Offensive statistics for the LA Kings (Screenshot from NHL.com)choosing between them, San Jose and Anaheim.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

We need to start seeing more production offensively from players other than Anze Kopitar. Just take a look at their offensive stat breakdown. Kopitar leads the team in points by almost 20 above Drew Doughty. And while there is nothing wrong with defensemen who are offensively minded, why the hell is Doughty above any other forward in point production?

In addition to this, Jonathan Quick is not playing his best for the Kings. With only a 2.51 GAA and a .919 S% he really needs to cement his place as the Kings’ number one guy in the crease.

Philadelphia FlyersSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

The Flyers did pretty well this week, so much like the Kings, I am not super sure. Also on a two game win streak and sporting an even better record the past 10 games of 6-3-1, I think they also could’ve had a spot in the Super 16.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

It is too bad the Flyers don’t have better goalies because they have three players with plus 50 point production. The struggles in the crease are killing the team. With Brian Elliot and Michal Neuvirth combing for a dismal 2.67 GAA and a .910 S%. They need a pick me up or their woes will continue.

Super 8Carolina Hurricanes

WHY DID THEY MISS?

This is where the play quality takes a steep drop in the list. The Hurricanes are at an okay 4-5-1 the past 10 games. They have been 9-10-1 their past 20 so they are really playing pretty averagely right now.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

They are only pulling out close wins against average or less than average teams and they are getting smoked by good teams. The Hurricanes really need to find a way to pull out wins against the better teams if they want to move up in the league at all. They need more offensive production but they really won’t ever win games if their goaltending continues to be awful. Cam Ward and Scott Darling combine for even worse numbers that Elliot and Neuvirth, with a 2.85 GAA and a .901 S%. I mean those numbers are just awful and potentially the worst in the league with the exception of the Coyotes.

Florida PanthersSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

The Panthers missed purely because of actual ranking in the NHL. Other than that they are on fire, they have won four straight games and are 6-4-0 in their last 10.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

In their six games before the win streak they had 27 goals against. That is 4.5 goals per game, and it is completely unacceptable. Roberto Luongo needs to step up in a big way to keep their goal differential lower. This team could easily be in the top 16 in the league, they have the pieces to the puzzle. They just need to execute.

New York IslandersSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

They have lost one and are 3-5-2 their last 10. They are gathering points but just not quite enough to keep them on par with the Super 16.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

Win. In. Regulation. A couple of their regulation losses have been by a one goal margin. In addition to that they lost twice in overtime. They need to start pulling that second point instead of settling for one. Also they lost to the Coyotes and the Sabres in that time frame. Those are the worst two teams in the league a win in both of those games flips their past 10 record to a better than average 5-3-2.

Columbus Blue JacketsSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

The Blue Jackets are closer to being in the league’s top 16 than a lot of the teams above them. They missed because of the three game slide they are on right now with a past 10 game record of 3-6-1.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

They need to start getting contributions from their key players. Josh Anderson is leading in goals with 16 and Artemi Panarin leads in points with 42. That’s fine and all, bit where are Zach Werenski, Nick Foligno and Alexander Wennberg? I found them. Way down the stat sheet not really contributing to their team.

Chicago BlackhawksSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

I was really starting to grasp at straws here. The Blackhawks record the past 10 is 2-6-2. That pretty much speaks for itself.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

With the amount of star power this team has, it never ceases to baffle me how badly they are doing this year. They are just waiting for something to click, and when it does I am sure they’ll be back to their winning ways.

Edmonton OilersSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

The Oilers are just finally starting to figure things out this season. It is too late at this point. Their 5-4-0 record the past 10 is okay and it’s far better than most of the bottom dwellers they share real estate with.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

It can’t be just “The Connor McDavid Show” anymore. The kid is LITERALLY carrying the team to victory. He scores the majority of the goals whether they win or lose, and there isn’t much other offensive production.

I have no bonus team this week because every team that did not make the Super 16 cut was relatively average. Whereas in the past teams have been snubbed.

Team logos and featured image courtesy of NHL.com

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Super 8

The not so Super 8 February 2

The NHL puts out their picks for the “Super 16” power rankings each week. They consider these teams the hottest in the NHL.

Every week I will take the eight teams closest to making the Super 16 cut, plus one bonus team (a team that made the Super 16 that should not have) and tell you what I think they are doing wrong and what they need to do to break into the Super 16.

Here are the team in the order that they missed the Super 16 by:

New Jersey Devils Super 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

Honestly, this one has me a little unsure. The Devils sit at 12th overall in the NHL and their record the last 10 games is 4-5-1. It isn’t stellar, but they are sitting better than a few of their counterparts that made the cut. Three of those losses came to the Predators, Bruins and Flyers, all very good teams. The only reason they missed is likely due to the fact that they were on a bit of a downward slide when the Super 16 was released.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE? 

They really need to have Keith Kinkaid step up his game as backup net minder. He has a less than stellar 3.10 GAA and a .896 S%. In addition to that Taylor Hall is leading the team offensively by a great amount. If some of their secondary contributors would step up the team would benefit greatly.

Calgary FlamesSuper 8

 WHY DID THEY MISS?

The Flames were the hottest team in the league to start the year off. They had a seven game win streak and an 11 game point streak. Even though they extended their point streak for 11 games they have lost six straight games.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

The Flames need to learn how to hold a lead. In their last two losses (to the Golden Knights and Lightning) they held a two goal lead at some point in the game. Unforced errors lead to break downs in their defense and ultimately a couple of rough losses. They also need to start winning at home.

Columbus Blue JacketsSuper 8

  WHY DID THEY MISS?

The Blues Jackets’ record the last ten games was 5-4-1, not great, but not too bad. They mostly missed out here due to the fact that a few of their losses the ten games have been to pretty subpar teams (i.e. the Sabres and the Canucks).

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

They need to start beating the easy teams. In addition to that, they need to start beating some of the league leaders as well. They aren’t competing when it counts and it is costing them. Sergei Bobrovsky is playing incredibly well so they need to capitalize on that.

Carolina HurricanesSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

While the Hurricanes are on a three game win streak, they have a deep hole to dig themselves out of. Their record the last ten games is 5-5-0.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

Their net minders need to both step up. Both Cam Ward and Scott Darling are playing at very average levels. In addition to this they aren’t able to keep up with any of the better teams in the league, and they are losing by too big of margins.

Chicago BlackhawksSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

They are sitting at 4-5-1 in their last ten games. They have put the beat down on lesser teams but aren’t able to compete with the top teams in the league.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

The Blackhawks are surprisingly bad. They have all of the pieces. They are a team of all-stars, but nothing is clicking for them. Once they are able to click at the right time and actually start competing with the better teams in the league maybe they will climb out of this hole. They also need to improve their power play.

Florida PanthersSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

They have won two straight but are still just 4-5-1 in the last ten games. Much like the Hurricanes, they are often getting blown out by average teams.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

The fact that they have both James Reimer and Roberto Luongo and they still aren’t able to have solid goaltending is shocking. Both net minders need to step up.

New York IslandersSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

They have two straight losses and a 5-4-1 record their last ten.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

They are getting pretty solid numbers offensively but they are backstopped by one of the worst goalie combos in the league. Not much more to say there.

Vancouver CanucksSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

They have been consistently struggling not only this year but for the past four or five years. They are sitting at 5-5-0 in their last ten.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

The player with the highest contribution is their rookie, Brock Boeser. The veterans need to step up and start contributing more and leading the team.

BONUSSuper 8

I don’t think it’s super surprising that the Philadelphia Flyers are the team I think shouldn’t have made the Super 16. They sit below three teams that didn’t make the Super 16 (Devils, Flames and Blue Jackets) and they aren’t even on a hot streak. They have lost three straight and their record the last ten games is 6-4-0, which is fine but still not impressive.

All team logo images courtesy of NHL.com

Featured image courtesy NHL.com

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NHL All-Star weekend

An All-Star weekend to remember

The game’s brightest stars were on display this All-Star weekend. This past Saturday, we had the skills competition followed by the 3-on-3 tourney Sunday. Much of what we already knew was confirmed.

Connor McDavid (only repeat fastest skater champ): The fastest human to ever play hockey.

Johnny Gaudreau (puck control relay champ): His hands are right up there with Patrick Kane’s.

Alex Pietrangelo (passing champ): Proved defensemen are some of the best passers in the NHL.

Marc-Andre Fleury (save streak champ, 14 consecutive saves): Is and always will be elite.

Alex Ovechkin (hardest shot champ, 101.3 MPH): Can still bring it with the best of them at age 32.

Brock Boeser (accuracy champ and All-Star Game MVP): He is a rookie, but already a superstar.

All-Star weekend is a showcase of the league’s best. In the past, the game itself has been classified as a show instead of real competition. The new 3-on-3 structure has tied both elements into the game and has been a success the last three years. The year before this establishment, the score of the game was 17-12. The past three championship games have been 1-0, 4-3 and 5-2.

Game 1: Central vs. Pacific

NHL All-Star weekend

Photo from LA Kings Insider

The two Western Conference Division All-Stars squared off in Game 1 of the 3-on-3 tournament..

Nathan Mackinnon opened up the scoring with a wicked wrister from the top of the slot that beat Marc-Andre Fleury and rang right off the back bar and into the shelf to give Central a 1-0 lead after one.

Drew Doughty then found himself on a breakaway halfway through the second and beat Connor Hellebuyck blocker side to tie the game with 5:47 left.

James Neal later was left all alone at the top of the slot to complete a tic-tac-toe passing play from Brent Burns and Connor McDavid to put Pacific up 2-1 with 3:03 left.

32 seconds later, P.K. Subban went in all alone on Mike Smith, who tried to stack the pads, and Subban went shelf to tie it up 2-2 with 2:31 to play.

45 ticks later, Brock Boeser sent a missile top left from the top of the slot to put Pacific up 3-2 with 1:46 remaining.

Brent Burns and James Neal added two empty netters and the Pacific took Game 1, 5-2.

Connor McDavid may not have scored, but the 21-year-old showed why he is already among the game’s best. The Oiler and Pacific captain registered four assists and generated a scoring chance with his speed seemingly every time he was on the ice. McDavid and the 20-year-old Boeser showed why the first and second-year players are indisputably a part of the NHL’s most talented players.

The Pacific Division All-Stars then awaited the winner of the Metro and Atlantic Division game.

Game 2: Metropolitan vs. Atlantic

NHL All-Star weekend

Photo from Sporting News

The two Eastern Division All-Stars went toe to toe in Game 2 of the 3-on-3 tournament.

Just over a minute in, two career-long rivals connected (Sidney Crosby from Alex Ovechkin) to put Metro up 1-0 with 8:51 left in the first. Four minutes later, a third and second-year player (Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews) tied the game 1-1 with 4:30 left in the first.

Claude Giroux then went in on a two-on-none with Brian Boyle where he waits, looks and fires a pellet past Andrei Vasilevskiy blocker side to give Metro a 2-1 lead with 2:18 left in the first. 34 seconds later, classic Ovechkin went far side from the top of the circle to make it 3-1 Metro with 1:44 left in the first. 11 seconds later, the hometown All-Star, Nikita Kucherov, went in on a breakaway and fired one top right on Henrik Lundqvist to cut Metro’s lead to 3-2 after one period of play.

The two teams traded goals to start the second and the game was tied at four with 5:27 to play. Erik Karlsson then scored what would have been the go-ahead goal, but the play was reviewed and ruled offsides.

Two minutes later, Jack Eichel fired one from the bottom of the circle to officially take the lead where he and Auston Matthews both pointed for a memorable goal celebration. Atlantic led 5-4 with 3:20 to play.

Brad Marchand and Nikita Kucherov capped off the Atlantic’s victory with two more goals for a 7-4 win. It took a five-goal second and a hat trick from No. 86. The three-goal performance was the first in the 3-on-3 tourney’s young history. Kucherov put on on a show for the Lightning faithful and showed why he is an elite scorer and a Hart Trophy candidate.

Championship Game: Atlantic vs. Pacific

NHL All-Star weekend

Photo from SB Nation

The remaining two teams from the East and West then competed for $1 million.

59 seconds into the first frame, Rickard Rakell cleaned up the garbage in front to put Pacific up 1-0 with 9:01 remaining in the first. Just over four minutes later, Brock Boeser extended his team’s lead to 2-0 with 4:55 to play in the first.

63 seconds later, Mike Green was left open at the bottom of the far side circle to get the Atlantic on the board. Pacific led 2-1 with 3:52 remaining in the first. Two and a half minutes later, Drew Doughty took a feed from teammate Anze Kopitar at the top of the slot and ripped a one timer past Andrei Vasilevskiy to give Pacific a 3-1 lead after the first frame.

Just under two minutes into the second, Johnny Hockey went in all alone to make it 4-1 Pacific with 8:09 to play. The two teams traded goals down the stretch, and Pacific won 5-2, taking home the $1 million prize.

In the end, it was the stars in the somewhat less competitive divisions battling in the championship game. It goes to show that this league is filled with talent at every turn. Brock Boeser may play for the lowly Canucks, Jack Eichel may play for Buffalo, but these two and others are all very much elite players in the NHL. All-Star weekend is a representation of the state of the league, which is in a very good place with the excess amount of talent it possesses.

Let us get back to business

This past weekend was fun as always. However, it’s time for teams to get back to work and play every game like a playoff game. There are races in each conference and division. This is no longer a marathon, but a sprint to the finish.

Can the Golden Knights continue what they’ve started? Is it too late for the Blackhawks to overcome their subpar first half? Will the Penguins become contenders once again? Will the Caps no longer be pretenders?

Are the Bruins and Jets for real? Are the Avs more than just way ahead of schedule? Will the Preds run back to the Final?

These questions will soon be answered. Let us all get back to work.

 

Featured image from NHL.com

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chill out

“Chill out” – All fans that have teams in the Central

The Central is the most annoying division in hockey if that is where your team resides. The traffic is so steep that we have six points (as of 1/16/18) separating first to fifth place.

Seemingly every night we have each team finding ways to pick up points. We currently have five of the seven teams in the division in a playoff spot. The two teams behind the two wild card teams are two and three points behind.

When you look at it from that perspective you want your opposing teams to chill out in a sense. However, in a division this good, the fan has to think of the gas pedal motive. You want to be in the mindset that every game is a must win. If you’re not in that mindset in a race as tight as the Central, you will not win the race and may not even make the playoffs.

The Stars and Wild are figuring it out. The Avalanche are the most revived team in the league after last season’s dreadful performance. The Hawks are never to be taken lightly. So, you better have your heads on right Central Division fans because this is going to be very interesting down the stretch.

The Resurgent Stars/WIld

chill out

Photo from MassLive.com

Did you see Tyler Seguin’s OT goal against the Bruins on Monday? You need to. The Stars have won seven of their last 10 coming into Tuesday night’s meeting with Detroit. They currently hold the number one wild card spot, but are just two points back of third place, three of second and six of first. Dallas has found their number one goalie in Ben Bishop (19 Ws/2.52 GAA/4 SOs) and are surging.

People were confounded by Minnesota’s slow start (5 Ws in first 14 Games) after their great season last year. The Wild have gotten points in 8 of their last 10 games and have the same number of points (53) as the Stars coming into Tuesday. Eric Staal is having a throwback year (19 Goals/19 Assists) and is on his way to Tampa for the All-Star Game. Minnesota has three players with 30 or more points and seven with at least 20.

If it weren’t for the consistency of these two teams this division would be significantly less congested. These teams could very easily stay hot and compete for a division title. We thought this would be the case in the beginning of the year, but weren’t sure how hectic it would be at this point in the year.

Who are these guys??

chill out

Photo from NHL.com

The Colorado Avalanche won 22 games last season and had a -112 goal differential. They scored a league-worst 166 goals and gave up a league-worst 278. The rebuild was thought to continue for multiple years, but the Avs find themselves two points out of a playoff spot with 39 games to play. They have the upper hand on Minnesota as they have three games in hand on the second wild card holders coming into Tuesday. No one saw this coming..

The Avs have picked up points in nine of their last 10 games and are currently on a seven-game win streak where they took down first place Winnipeg. They sit a game below .500 on the road, but are a solid 16-7-1 on home ice. After their abysmal plus/minus a year ago, Colorado has a very nice +16 goal differential so far this season. The Avalanche are going with whoever is hot at the moment in net with the 1/1A system. Jonathan Bernier (who’s hot right now) has collected 11 wins for the club in 19 games, while Semyon Varlamov has registered 13 in 26 appearances.

Why is this happening?? Why now?? This division has enough traffic as it is, and as a fan of a Central Division team, this is infuriating. This isn’t the NFL where teams can be revamped from the cellar to the playoffs just like that in one year. I mean whatever if they want to battle, let’s battle.

The cellar isn’t really the cellar..

chill out

Photo from NHL.com

The Hawks are on their bye week this week. I’m not going to talk about their current spot in last place in the division. With our luck it would spark a second half surge and I don’t want to deal with that. So, let’s think positively as we discuss Chicago. The Blackhawks are only three points out of a playoff spot!

You can’t really count this first half underachievement with Corey Crawford not in action for 21 of their games. By this time Friday, when the Hawks return to practice, Chicago’s number one goalie will have been out four weeks. There is no timetable for his return, but Crawford has notched 16 of the team’s 22 wins, and when he is healthy, the Blackhawks are due for a run. 37 games remain, which gives Chicago plenty of time to earn a spot in the postseason.

Nine points separate the first place Jets and the last place Hawks. A division title may not be in their near future, but the playoffs are not far fetched whatsoever. Patrick Kane as 45 points in 45 games, while three Blackhawks have at least 30 points and seven have at least 20. Their spread out offense gives them the ability to compete with playoff teams as they just took down Winnipeg 2-1 last Friday. Do not judge this team’s first half as they are more than in the hunt when they come out of their bye week.

don’t look back

St. Louis, Nashville and Winnipeg are all clinging to their current positions (1st/2nd/3rd). By the time this gets out something could change. The window for error and inconsistency is almost shut. The Central Division is so jam packed that (as we discussed earlier) the gas pedal must be in full effect.

Fans want to tell other teams to “chill out,” but you ultimately want to feel this way. Teams need to feel like every game is a must win until the end, so they are hot and ready to go coming down the stretch and into the postseason.

This is the most interesting division in the NHL this year. No team is out of it, while first place separation is apparent in every other division. The Metropolitan has significant traffic and is hotly contested as well, but the race in the Central will be the one we play closest attention to down the stretch.

 

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Calgary Flames

Those Flames are so hot right now

The quintessentially average Calgary Flames have finally found their stride and it may be for real this time.

THE SLUMP YEARS

The last time the Calgary Flames made a legitimate run for the Stanley Cup was in 2004 against the Tampa Bay Lightning (spoiler, the Flames lost).

The last time the Flames won a Stanley Cup was WAY back in 1989 and that is their only Cup.

So, it’s been a while since the Flames have tasted victory and it seems as though they are finally getting hungry.

The Flames have failed to make the playoffs in six of the last ten NHL seasons. Those seasons were chaotic, unsure and frustrating.

Calgary Flames

Miikkaa Kiprusoff may be the best goaltender the Flames have ever had. (Photo from Reddit)

After losing Miikka Kiprusoff (who may be even more missed than Jarome Iginla) to retirement before the 2014-15 season the Flames struggled to find someone to take command between the pipes. They went through Jonas Hiller,  Kari Ramo, Reto Berra, Brian Elliot, Chad Johnson and most recently Eddie Lack.

Even when the Flames had Kiprusoff they lacked solid secondary support in the crease which caused the Flames to overplay Kiprusoff and potentially lead to his somewhat premature retirement.

In addition to their goaltending woes, the Flames also had an extremely slow and old group of players.

Calgary Flames

Here is a breakdown of the average ages in the NHL in 2010-11. (Screenshot from QuantHockey.com)

Veterans are beneficial to a team, but you don’t want a whole team of veterans.

The Calgary Flames were above the NHL age average from the 2009-10 season until the 2012-13 season. Two of those seasons they were second in age average (at nearly 30 years old) to only the Detroit Red Wings.

A COUPLE GOOD MOVES

Extending the contracts of Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan were clutch moves (albeit obvious). Their connection is absolutely incredible and adding Michael Ferland to that line has made a huge positive difference.

Picking up Dougie Hamilton and Travis Hamonic and the rise of Michael Stone have bolstered the Flames D-line to be one of top defensive cores in the league.

Picking up Mike Smith is one of the best things that’s happened to the Flames since Gaudreau became an unexpected star.

THE PAST TEN GAMES

In their last four games of December the Flames went 1-3. Not due to lack of effort. The Flames shootout loss against the San Jose Sharks was one of the best games I have ever watched.

On New Years Eve the Flames turned it all around. They were playing the Chicago Blackhawks and came out on top with a great all around effort. That victory sparked a seven game win streak which is still in progress. During the win streak the Flames have matched up with and beaten extremely strong opponents, such as the league leading Tampa Bay Lightning, the Anaheim Ducks and the LA Kings.

The biggest difference between this current streak and some of the Flames’ past streaks is the quality of the teams they are beating. In addition to this, the Flames are seeing offensive contributions from more players than just their first line, including key contributions from their defensemen.  

The Flames are seeing depth not only from their forwards and defensemen but also their goalies. It seems like for the first time in over a decade the Flames may have found a decent backup in David Rittich who has gone 4-1-1 since being called up with a 2.03 GAA and a .932 S%.

LOOKING FORWARD

Two members of the Flames were named to the NHL’s Three Stars of the Week; with Johnny Gaudreau at number one and Mike Smith at number two.

If the Flames continue to execute on special teams and keep their possession numbers up there is no reason why they shouldn’t be in the playoff picture.

Things are really starting to look up for the Flames, so if they can keep this level of confidence the rest of this season should be smooth sailing. 

Featured image from Calgary Herald

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NHL All-Star Game

NHL All-Star Game: The stars, the surprises and the snubbed

On Wednesday the NHL announced the roster for the 2018 NHL All-Star Game (ASG) in Tampa Bay, FL.

Most of the players that made the cut were obvious choices: Connor McDavid, Anze Kopitar, Nikita Kucherov, etc.

However, a good amount of players that made the team don’t quite fit the bill. There were a lot of quality players that didn’t make the cut in favor of less qualified players.

THE STARS

There are two different categories for the stars in the ASG.

You have the obvious, always have and will be all-stars such as Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, McDavid and more.

There are the stand alone stars who’s teams are seeing mediocre seasons but they still stand out such as: Mike Green, Johnny Gaudreau and Jack Eichel.

Granted the Penguins, Oilers and Blackhawks are having less than stellar seasons so Crosby, McDavid and Kane could all be included in this group too, but lets face it; it’ll be a cold day in hell when these guys aren’t on this roster.

THE SURPRISES

Here we have a category of players who either surprised me (in a good way) individually this year or they come from a surprisingly good hockey team (looking at you Vegas).  In this group we see: James Neal, Marc Andre-Fleury and John Klingberg (are you kidding me, 33 assists as a D-man?).

Some additions in this group of surprises are: Josh Bailey, right winger for the New York Islanders, who is sporting impressive numbers this season in goals and assists for the floundering team. Bailey has a career plus/minus of -31 so this season is definitely a turn around for him.

Aleksander Barkov a center for the Florida Panthers is also somewhat of a rising star this season.  With 14 goals, 21 assists and a +4 rating; Barkov has definitely surprised hockey fans (especially with his flashy shootout moves). (Youtube link from Puck Daily)

In addition to these positive surprises I also have a list of “how the hell did you make it on this roster”.

Starting us off. Carey Price. I get that they are picking a player from each team, but even the shockingly bad Canadiens have better to offer this season.  After missing a handful of games due to injury, Price returned and has since been sporting a 2.89 GAA and a .911 S% over 29 games.

Our second victim in this category is Oliver Ekman-Larsson. This is by far the worst selection of the ASG. Sitting at 6 goals and 13 assists with an absolutely HORRENDOUS plus/minus of -34, Ekman-Larsson’s name doesn’t belong anywhere near the word all-star. Honestly, just give Shane Doan an alumni appearance in his place.

The final selection for the (bad) surprises is Rickard Rakell. He isn’t a bad player, he just isn’t the best the Anaheim Ducks or the Pacific has to offer. He has a respectable goal count with 15 but he only has 16 assists and a -6 rating.

THE SNUBBED

Speaking of that surprise selection from the Ducks, where is Ryan Getzlaf on this roster? I get that he only has 4 goals this season, but with 20 assists, a +9 rating and his leadership qualities he seems like a better choice for the ASG.

Mark Giordano somehow slipped under the radar for this year’s ASG. Coming from one of the best defensive cores in the NHL it is amazing that no D-men from the Calgary Flames made this roster. Dougie Hamilton could’ve easily been taken in place of Ekman-Larsson as well.

NHL All-Star Game

These are the top five forwards for the Vegas Golden Knights.   (Screenshot from NHL.com)

Finally we have the omission of Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson.

Marchessault leads the Golden Knights in points with 40 (16 goals and 24 assists) and Karlsson is right behind him with 36 (22 goals and 14 assists). James Neal made the roster in favor of these two which is shocking to me, especially if you look at the statistical breakdown of the Golden Knights’ forwards.

 

 

 

The Wrap Up

Overall, I am not impressed by this year’s ASG roster. Just bring back the fan vote (I want to see more John Scotts in the ASG) or the draft because that at least would make things more exciting and dramatic.

The 3-on-3 format is nice because it’ll keep things moving and showcase more speed so at least that will be interesting.

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NHL midseason sleepers

Potential sleepers at halfway point

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks are currently out of the playoff picture. These clubs have won six of the last nine Stanley Cups.

The championship pedigree of these two teams makes this a curious case at the halfway point of the season. The Pens are the reigning champs who came into the season with the best odds (8-1) to repeat once again. Chicago began the grind coming off a year in which they finished No. 1 in the West. The Hawks were given the fifth best odds (12-1) to raise Lord Stanley for the fourth time in nine years.

There is room for excuses and explanations for why this is happening. You can look at it from various angles, but maybe their reign as the NHL’s elite is over for the time being. That’s what I’m hoping for at least. It would be tough to make that case for Pittsburgh with them being back-to-back champs and then Chicago just given their DNA.

I don’t like either of these teams. It’s nice to have more novelty teams, which makes for more stories. Those outside of these hometown cities must continue to drive them further into the cellar. We can’t sleep on them either. Nevertheless, we need to dissect what’s happening with two of the most successful teams in the last decade.

What’s going on in the City of Steel??

NHL midseason sleepers

Photo from NHL.com

The Penguins have been battling this year to say the least. Seemingly every game has them down another man. They currently sit a point behind Carolina for the second Wild Card spot in the East. Pittsburgh continues to fight through their regular season adversity with AHL call-ups and college signings. If they find a way into the postseason at full strength, the Pens will not be overlooked.

The first order of business on their team dissection is that dreaded goal differential. Coming into Thursday, the Penguins are -14 on the year. Matt Murray (No. 1 goalie) logs the most minutes for them and has been battling injury almost all year. When he’s been in the net, he hasn’t been as sharp as he’d like to be either. Murray has been somewhat average with a goals against close to three and a save percentage hovering around 90 percent.

Furthermore, the Penguins backend is either out of commission or less than advertised. Excluding Kris Letang, Olli Maatta and Justin Schultz, Pittsburgh’s current D-core has registered just 19 points. The entire core is a combined -52 with only one (Schultz) in the plus column, who has played just 24 games. The Pens are more than capable of turning it around as they reach their halfway point, but need to act fast. They lost some pieces in the expansion draft and free agency. But there hasn’t been an excess amount of changeover for the two-time reigning champs.

Troubles in the Windy City..

NHL midseason sleepers

Photo from NHL.com

The people of Chicago and fans of their beloved Blackhawks find themselves in a weird place. At the midpoint of their season they find themselves in last place in the toughest division in hockey (the Central) and four points behind the second Wild Card spot in the West. Will they find their form down the stretch? Or has this been a downward spiral for them since the end of the 2016 season?

Chicago is coming off two straight first-round exits. In each of those series against Nashville and St. Louis, the Hawks’ core players (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane…) were shut down, and they were forced to dig deep. The depth of the Blackhawks roster was exposed, which is perhaps why they are not the same dominant team at this point of the regular season. Kane is still doing Kane things with 38 points in his first 38 games, but Toews is not as lethal with 24. The Hawks have a few young guns putting up points, but are they a complete enough team to overcome this slow start?

Corey Crawford is still a top 10-15 net minder with 16 wins and a 2.27 goals against, but has no partner. Chicago has used two other goaltenders that have appeared in 14 games and have combined for just two wins. In the modern day NHL, we all know having two solid goalies is crucial to your success. Crawford has accounted for 34 of the team’s 42 points coming into Wednesday’s meeting with the Rangers.

DO not sleep on them..Battle.

We can discuss all the injuries and how these two teams have underperformed so far this season, but no. The trap opposing teams cannot fall into is forgetting about the championship DNA in each of these two clubs.

The second half of the regular season is a sprint. The marathon part is over, and good teams play their best when everything is on the line. Every two points is crucial, and that’s what scares me the most about these two teams.

The last thing they need is a chip on the shoulder, which is what we all are giving them. The core and the leaders of these two teams have won and know how to win when it matters most. Therefore, they must keep a foot on the gas pedal and battle.

 

Featured image by A-B Tech

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NHL first month

First month in review: One down, six to go

The first month of hockey for this season is in the books. Nine teams are currently in a playoff spot that were not at the end of last year. An expansion team registered 16 out of a possible 22 points. A pair of teammates are the top two point getters in the league. However, there were 118 more slashing calls than last season through the first 57 games and has continued to spiral.

Frustration has hit with these penalties, but hasn’t dissipated the entertainment value whatsoever. We are fans of the most consistently ultra-competitive league. Any team on any given night can win a hockey game. The parity in the NHL is unbelievable, which gives fans the hope that their team always has a shot and anything can happen. Adding that up with the overall entertainment of hockey, the first month was a success.

The Tampa Bay Lightning and St. Louis Blues are at the top of the Eastern and Western Conferences respectfully. Eight points and seven points separate those two teams from themselves and the two eighth seeded teams. Therefore, regardless of what the current power rankings indicate, we are in for a wild ride into mid April. Special teams may have been overkill this first month, but they have made games even more interesting at times. It’s a sample size, but we have no idea where everyone will be at the conclusion of the regular season.

Lightning Bolts and Musical Notes

The top teams in the NHL after one month reside in Tampa Bay and St. Louis. Each of these clubs notched 10 wins in their first 13 games. The top three scorers in the league play for both of these teams. They both battled one another in Tampa the second week with the Bolts winning by one goal. There are positives and negatives to both of these starts, but they have clearly proven to be where they stand.

NHL first month

Photo by Getty Images

Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are the best duo in hockey right now. Together, they netted 45 points and are a combined +13 to start the season. Their top goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy, is 10-1-0 with a 2.42 goals against average. Rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev had a great first month in the league with 11 points (four goals, seven assists).

However, not having Ben Bishop has put some pressure on their goalie situation as backup Peter Budaj let in eight goals and posted a .855 save percentage in his two starts.

St. Louis has one of the best lines in hockey with Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko. They totaled 42 points and were a combined +30 in October. Their defensive core has a league-high 14 goals. The Blues have the best goalie tandem with Jake Allen and Carter Hutton through the first month as they combined for a 2.07 goals against average and a .936 save percentage. Depth is the concern as only five of their 43 goals have come from their bottom six.

The Blues and Lightning have the potential to remain at the top of the standings with the pieces they have in place. They also can be removed in a day. Therefore, there is no time for any form of complacency. It’s a long way to go, but will these two link up in the finals?

Caps/Hawks Right in the middle

Two of the NHL’s regulars at the top of the standings have had mediocre starts to their seasons. Chicago finds themselves in the final Wild Card position and just a game over .500. Washington notched just five wins, a game under .500, and are out of the playoff picture after the first month. Both teams were the No. 1 seeds in their respective conferences a year ago. What has sprung this inconsistent start?

NHL first month

Photo by Getty Images

The Blackhawks made a number of offseason transactions. They traded away former rookie of the year Artemi Panarin. Niklas Hjalmarsson was sent to Arizona, which has put their defensive depth in question. Scott Darling got traded to Carolina, which has deeply weakened their goaltending situation. Corey Crawford has posted a 1.91 goals against average and recorded all of their wins, but backup Anton Forsberg has yet to get a win letting in 11 goals in his three games of work.

Last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winners are out of sorts at the start of November. Needed money was given to players in the offseason, but all of the scoring as been in one place. The Caps’ top line is still the best in the league with Nicklas Backstrom centering T.J. Oshie and Alexander Ovechkin. However, Barry Trotz has attempted to spread the wealth by putting Ovechkin on line two recently as those three have netted 19 of the team’s 35 goals. Braden Holtby has been less than what he has been to start the year with backup Philipp Grubauer 0-3-1 with a 4.08 goals against average and a .876 save percentage.

This could be what these teams need. They have never been in this position very much as of late. The Hawks and Caps both have new young talent that are waiting to get comfortable. Expect them to still be playoff fixtures once again come mid April.

Sustainable Hot Starts for Devils/Knights?

Parity is a huge element to the National Hockey League as discussed. Two teams not expected to be where they are, but find themselves near the top play in New Jersey and Vegas. The Devils won nine of their first 11. The Golden Knights won eight of their first 11 in their first month in franchise history. How did these clubs get off to such great starts?

NHL first month

Photo from CBS Sports

The New Jersey Devils landed the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft with Nico Hischier, but no one expected a 9-2-0 start. Everyone had them in rebuild mode. However, they have a superstar in Taylor Hall, who recorded 15 points in their 11 games. Rookie defenseman Will Butcher registered 11 assists. Furthermore, they have a formidable goalie tandem in Cory Schneider (6-1-0) and Keith Kinkaid (3-1-0).

Las Vegas has come in hot to the NHL. The Golden Knights grabbed 16 out of 22 possible points to begin their history. Most “NHL experts” and league followers had them in the cellar all year like most expansion teams. No one saw this coming, but expansion rules are different presently. There is more talent in the NHL than ever before and you can’t protect as many players in the draft.

Many teams get off to unexplainable hot starts that are very difficult to maintain over the course of a season. New Jersey and Vegas could be in the thick of it or easily well out of it by March and April. However, no matter the circumstances, these two clubs have added to this season’s already hectic news feed.

We’ve Only Just Begun

One month is a big enough sample size to get a feel for future results for one’s work. It’s also very small when you put it up against close to seven months worth of work. Therefore, we take note of what has happened already, but expect almost anything for the months ahead.

Hockey is a sport that is unparalleled in a multitude of ways. There are generally favorites in sports like football and basketball. This sport can never mess with that concept at this point in time. Tampa Bay had the third best odds to win it all in preseason, but St. Louis had the 18th best odds. Edmonton had the second best odds and only Arizona had a worse record in the first month of the year.

We can highlight good and bad team traits after one month of play, but this is just the beginning. No one knows where anyone will be at the end of the regular season. That is why hockey stands alone.

 

Featured image from NHL.com

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big brother little brother

Best NHL rivalries: Big brothers and little brothers

The NHL is full of great historic rivalries that are usually between two cities in close proximity. Bad blood runs deep on and off the ice. You see it during the games in the players and in the stands with the fans. These brutal hatreds are a part of what drives the emotional investments in what many call just a game.

Many of these mutual uneasy feelings involve one team playing the big brother role, with the other playing little brother. One usually has championship pedigree while the other has been in dire search for that particular respect for years. There is appeal to both sides. You either root for sustained excellence or the fighting underdog.

History deals with evolutionary concepts. This is what makes these rivalry stories so intriguing. Two teams have been hating each other ever since their existence. The hatred is passed down through generations of fans that must never fade away. You either pick a side or are born into a side that you must never switch.

Canadiens/Maple Leafs

One of the most historic rivalries in the sport is between two Canadian teams. Two franchises that are the oldest in the league.

Best NHL rivalries

Photo: NHL.com

The Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs joined the NHL in 1917 (league’s inaugural season). There has been no love lost between the two cities since.

A combined 24 Stanley Cups were won between the two from 1917 to 1967. The two teams were in a class of their own and a competitive rivalry ensued. However, Montreal would claim the big brother role of the feud as Toronto has yet to win a championship since 1967.

Thirty-seven cups have been won in total between the two organizations which is the most by any rivalry and any pair of teams. Twenty-four have been won by Montreal and 10 since the last time Toronto did so in ’67.

It is something the Leafs are reminded by every time they visit Montreal as they look up at each banner. Oct. 14 was the first Maple Leaf victory in Montreal in the last 14 tries thanks to an OT-winner from none other than Auston Matthews.

Now that these two hockey clubs are both playoff caliber teams, we may see the first postseason meeting between the two in 38 years.

Blackhawks/Blues

Fighting in the stands is never appropriate, but it seems to be when St. Louis and Chicago play each other. These two hockey communities are one of today’s biggest big brother/little brother rivalries.

Best NHL rivalries

Photo: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

These arch rivals are separated by under 300 miles and both fan bases find their way into enemy territory every time they link up. The dispute spreads further than the ice. It goes into the stands and onto the baseball diamond.

Both cities are crazy about their teams and it is a true war zone when they play. However, in terms of the teams on the ice, one of these teams has had all the fun recently when it comes to winning.

It used to be a true battle between the Hawks and Blues as both teams had two of the three longest cup droughts. Chicago had not won since 1961 and St. Louis had not since 1967. That changed in 2010 as the Hawks won their first of three championships within the last seven-year time frame.

Today, the two clubs have met 12 times in the postseason with Chicago winning eight of the 12 series. The Blues are still in search for their first Stanley Cup as the Hawks continue their reputation of being the league’s modern-day dynasty. This is truly a big brother/little brother rivalry with one team uncomfortably admiring the other and one team giving the other little respect. Nevertheless, the hate is very much mutual.

The Hawks and Blues meet for the first time this year on Oct. 18 at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

Penguins/Capitals

A rivalry with undeniable similarities to Chicago/St. Louis is between Pittsburgh and Washington. One team has reached the top of the NHL mountain multiple times while the other has yet to capture such glory.

Best NHL rivalries

Photo: NHL.com

This could be the most lop-sided of the rivalries discussed. The two teams have met in the playoffs 10 times. Pittsburgh has won nine of those meetings and has captured five Stanley Cups since the berth of the rivalry.

This would usually make a similar matchup unwatchable. However, the 2004 and 2005 drafts have made this matchup unquestionably entertaining.

The No. 1 overall pick by the Washington Capitals in 2004 was Alex Ovechkin. The 2005 No. 1 overall pick by the Pittsburgh Penguins was Sidney Crosby.

These two have been the faces of the league since the 2005-06 season putting their teams near the top of the standings each year since. Ovechkin and the Caps have won three Presidents Trophies as the No. 1 team in the regular season. Crosby and the Penguins have eliminated the Capitals three times en route to three Stanley Cups in the Crosby/Ovechkin era.

The Penguins lead the all-time regular season series against the Caps with 145 wins including a win in their first meeting of the year on Oct. 11. Washington has yet to reach a conference final since Ovechkin arrived in the nation’s capital. However, as long as they have the talent they possess to compete with Pittsburgh with the potential to win, this rivalry will never be unwatchable.

Today’s most heated Rivals

Historic rivalries will never die, but today, California is host to three teams who may hate each other more than any two teams do in the NHL.

This is unlike the big brother/little brother rivalries in that all three of these teams have had success. Three Stanley Cup championships are combined by each organization since 1993. This is like three big business rivals fighting each other to be the dominant force. Each of these teams are in the same division and meet regularly. The battle of California is heated and is home to extremely passionate fans from Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose.

Rivalries are important. Professional sports and all forms of competition need motives to put those involved in the right frame of mind. Mental toughness and a teams’ psyche is one of the biggest components in winning a hockey game. The teams that win it all are the ones that are mentally tough. Therefore, there is no room to like the opposition.

 

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