Essential Hockey: Southeast is low but tight, New York Rangers are barely alive
We are about 18-20 games in for most teams and we are starting to really get a sense of who is who in the league right now. The surprising teams have settled into their pecking order in the standings and the rookies are not leading the league in scoring anymore – we’re back to Steven Stamkos and Sidney Crosby, as it should be. It seems that the order has been restored. Well, sort of.
For one, we still have a team that is simply dominating out there. The Chicago Blackhawks are on absolute tear right now. I am not sure what else to say here, but the fact is that this team has yet to lose in regulation. With the current record of 16-0-3, the Blackhawks do not give up much in their zone and just simply find ways to score big goals. This team has had some tough wins. In fact, this team has had 13 one-goal games and they have managed to win 10 of them. The shootout/OT games have helped keep the streak going, but nevertheless this is highly impressive. The obvious reason for such success is goaltending, as both Ray Emery and Corey Crawford have been nothing short of spectacular. Last season both goalies had leaks that seemed to lose games for Chicago, but this year it is the opposite. They make those big time key saves that keep the Hawks in it and give the offense time to win it.
On the other end of the spectrum we have the New York Rangers. This team came into this season highly touted as the East favorite and a team that was supposed to be challenging for the President’s Trophy. The lockout left lots of time for the Gardens faithful to think about all of the scenarios in which Marian Gaborik and Rick Nash are lighting up the Atlantic goalies. Unfortunately, it has not been unfolding in such a manner and the Rangers currently sit on the outside looking in, on the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
The month of January was anything but GOOD as they finished the first seven games with a 3-4 record. The woes seemed to disappear during the first few games of February. The Rangers put together a few wins and were sitting on a decent 8-5-1 record. Right now, there are all sort of panic buttons being pressed at MSG. Our very own Russ McKenzie believes that firing coach John Tortorella is needed to right the ship, and rumors of him being on the hot seat continue to swirl. Last Tuesday’s game against Montreal was one of the worst hockey games I have ever witnessed, and while both teams played bad, the Rangers lost. Two games later, the East leading Montreal Canadiens played the Rangers in the Bell Centre, and put a true stamp on who is a real power in the East in the first third of the season. Maybe Brandon Prust is the difference, eh?
Speaking of Montreal, they decide to shake up their line-up with a trade that sent Erik Cole to the Dallas Stars in return for Michael Ryder. While their stats seem sort of similar last season, both scored 35 goals last season, this season Ryder has 14 points in 19 games and Eric Cole has only 6 points in 19 games. This seems to be a no brainer deal, yet not everyone is convinced – even our own Ben Kerr, a Habs junkie, does not seem so convinced. To me the trade works for both teams. Dallas gets a good cap hit player that can still bring it and will fit in with the other oldies, while Montreal clears some space and gets a sniper.
Boston Bruins are rolling on, now on a 4 game winning streak where both the defense and the offense looks phenomenal. It seems that once the huge bowling ball like Boston gets rolling, you cant stop it and just hope to contain it. While Boston is trying to catch up to Montreal Canadiens, we have the “injured, down, and out” Ottawa Senators that just keep on winning. I am not sure what magical voodoo is being used on their goalies but both Bishop and Anderson have been outstanding. Bishop, who doubles as the Iron Giant in his spare time, has played way above his expectations in the few games Anderson has been out. This division in general is just fun to watch and may turn out to be last years Atlantic with possible four teams making the playoffs.
The Southeast Division continues to be a cluster-fudge of teams that are still trying to figure out who they really are. Carolina and Tampa Bay are playing, what seems like jump rope with the division title. The reality here is that unless one of these teams wins the division, they may not make the playoffs. While Carolina and Tampa Bay can’t seem to really run away with the title you have Winnipeg Jets who are a sneeze away from being first as well. Washington Capitals are dead last but if they pick up steam as seems to be the case right now, it will be even tougher to pick up points and build a lead on other divisional rivals. Oh, and do not forget the streaky Florida Panthers. The fact is that this division is a crap shoot and right now it is impossible to tell who will be the third seed in the East. What does seem like a healthy possibility is that we will only see one playoff team from this division.
In the West we have very similar situation going on in the Northwest division, where Vancouver Canucks have been the standard of excellence for quite some time. I am not sure how the Wild fans are feeling right now, but I am sure they they might be slightly disappointed with the lack of offense their team is outputting right now. I mean not only is the team dead last in the league in scoring, but they are dropping very important games to divisional rivals. The big win last night in OT against Calgary Flames was maybe a good start going forward, but Minnesota Wild needs to find ways to score. I am very disappointing in Mikael Granlund to be honest, I expect way more offense from him.
Hey, is it me or is Wayne Simmonds turning out to be the Scott Hartnell 2.0? This kid is just skating hard all over the place, fighting, scoring, and slowly become a Fantasy MVP. His game against Pitsburgh Penguins was a dream for his fantasy owners. The thing that he has been able to do so well is play with some sort of reckless abandon, but also chip in with offensive output. He is a mainstay on the PP nowadays and while Hartnell is back, I think he will continue pile on those roughing penalties and fighting majors. The Flyers decided to add Simon Gagne to maybe provide some guidance alongside Mike Knuble for these young kids. The Flyers can score goals but are having a really hard time keeping it out of their own net.
The Calder race is getting a bit tighter with Vladimir Tarasenko getting injured, while Alex Galchenyuk, and Jonathan Huberdeau (Huberdoobeedoo) are heating up. Cory Conacher though continues to lead the way among the rookies with 18 points so far on the year. In my eyes it will come down who can stay healthy down the stretch.
Thanks for reading, as always feel free to leave comments below and follow me on twitter @LastWordOnNHL. Give the rest of the hockey department a follow while you’re at it – @BigMick99 , @IswearGaa and @lastwordBKerr, and follow the site @lastwordonsport.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/bostworld/4321609621/”>dbostrom</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>