Philly Sports Live

NHL Power Rankings for February 20, 2012

Alexander Crofoot — The NHL Trade Deadline.  Since the 2004-05 league lockout, NHL teams have left fans in shock and awe in terms of the trades that have taken place.  An event that has a great deal of potential to benefit prospective Stanley Cup Champions.  But at the same time, the NHL Trade Deadline can mark the unofficial end of the season for teams that are willing to deal their players and go into “rebuilding mode.”  Up until this point, the trade talks have been relatively quiet compared to years past.  Although one piece of news has many teams excited – Rick Nash is up for sale.  Often overlooked due to the poor team he plays on, Rick Nash could very easily take a team from being good to great, and from contender to champion.  Nonetheless, NHL fans will have to remain patient for a few more days to see if their team is going to make any moves that could change their season.  For now, all we can do is turn to who’s who.  So once again, here are your NHL Power Rankings.

1.   Detroit Red Wings (41-17-2)

By now you have surely heard about the incredible home winning streak that the 2011-12 Red Wings have used to cement themselves in the NHL record books.  But more important than the streak may the question “How do they do it?”  Initially the credit is attributed to Datsyuk, Franzen, Zetterberg, and Howard – but this team is so much more than those four names.  One quick look at the Red Wings player statistics page shows the enormous depth that this team has.  It is the combination of those 2nd, 3rd, and 4th line players and the steady hand of Mike Babcock that has this team riding higher than any other in the league.  Other teams in the Western Conference may have viewed Jimmy Howard’s injury as a chance to gain some ground on the Wings, but unfortunately for them the Wings have found depth at the goaltender position as well in Joey MacDonald – .934 sv %, 1.66 GAA.

2. New York Rangers (38-14-5)

As impressive as the Red Wings have been in the West, the Rangers have been equally remarkable in the East.  At this point in time, Henrik Lundqvist appears to be the run away candidate for the Vezina Trophy.  King Henrik is on the cusp of his 30th win of the season and flirting with the highly revered .940 sv % that NHL fans saw Dominik Hasek post several times during his Vezina seasons.  Much like the Red Wings, the Rangers have extraordinary depth from the 1st to 4th line and are guided by a man who knows what it takes to win – John Tortorella. With Brandon Dubinsky performing well below what is expected of him, the Rangers are one forward away from being the most dominant team in the East by a long shot.  Only time, and the trade deadline, will tell if they can resolve this minor problem.

3.  Vancouver Canucks (38-15-6)

Statistically speaking, the best team in the NHL over their last 10 games – the Canucks appear to have hit playoff form well in advance.  To be frank, there really are no loose ends that this team needs to fix with the trade deadline.  The secondary scoring has been operating on all cylinders, Luongo and Schneider have become a two-headed monster, and the defense has hardly noticed the loss of Christian Ehrhoff to the Buffalo Sabres.  The most difficult task for this team in the up coming months will be for coaches, players, and management to stay focused on the game at hand, rather than ponder over the possibility of returning to the Stanley Cup to avenge their Game 7 performance last year.

4.  St. Louis Blues (36-16-7)

By the time the 2011-12 NHL season draws to a close, regardless of where the Blues finish, the term “the Hitchcock effect” really ought to be considered by Merriam-Webster for the 2013 dictionary.  Currently, at 79 points and 4th in the league Standings (4th in the Western Conference) the Blues are only 8 points (or 4 wins) away from matching the 87 points that the team put up last year in just 59 games played.  In spite of all the great goaltedning duo’s in the NHL, the Blues really have something special going with Brian Elliot and Jaroslav Halak.  Where other goaltenders may resent the competition for the number one spot, the two seem to use it as motivation to perform at their best every night.  And isn’t it fitting that a comeback team like the Blues is composed of a few players that should be up for comeback performer of the year.  David Perron and Andy McDonald both suffered from severe concussions for the majority of the season, and both players are now back in the starting lineup and have made the Blues a legitimate offensive threat come playoff time.

5.  Boston Bruins (35-20-2)

The B’s have not had their most impressive last 10 games; However, the Bruins have been able to maintain their league leading goal differential of +58, and their strangle hold lead on the Northeast division in the Eastern Conference.  But the Bruins could be treading down soon enough due to pivotal injuries to Rich Peverley and Nathan Horton.  Both forwards have produced over 30 points, and are crucial to the success of the superstarless Bruins offensive unit.  These injuries may force management to trade away some draft picks and prospects to pick up some much needed help before the deadline of February 28th.  But for the time being, the ship is steady as she goes.

6.  Nashville Predators (34-19-6)

It may not be possible to overstate the importance of Pekka Rinne.  With 32 wins on the season, Rinne is just one shy of matching his career best 33.  And although Rinne does not have the most impressive sv %, shutouts, or goals against averaged, it goes without saying that no other goaltender plays a more important role on their team in the league.  As for the rest of the team, the new addition of the towering Hal Gill may pay huge dividends for a team that is looking to go deep into the playoffs this year.  A season veteran and Stanley Cup Champion, Hal Gill is yet another big name on the blue line for the Barry Trotz to experiment with.  Now that the offense is producing on a regular basis, it appears Trotz and Nashville management are trying to re-institute the conservative, defensive style of play that the Predators have built their reputation, and success, upon.

7.  New Jersey Devils (34-20-4)

When was the last time we saw a New Jersey Devils team where Martin Brodeur was not the star player? In the eyes of many around the league, this season is being regarded as Ilya Kovalchuck’s real, first season with the team.  Plagued by injuries and misfortune, the Devils were one of the teams that dwelt in the basement of the league in 2010-11.  But all of that seems far in the past, as Kovalchuck, Elias, and Parise all have produced over 50 points each.  Veteran power forward Dainus Zubrus has also resurrected his carer with 34 points.  But back to the goaltending – Brodeur has played sensational in his last couple starts, while Hedberg has been able to fill in wherever needed.  The Devils certainly are a legitimate playoff contender in the East – the two big questions for this team are: Will they add any depth at the deadline? Which Martin Brodeur are we going to see for the rest of the season? Old man? Or the Hall of Famer?

8.  Pittsburgh Penguins (33-21-5)

The Malkin train just keeps on rolling for the Penguins.  Geno has raised his season total to 71 points, including 32 goals and 39 assists.  5-4-1 in their last 10, the Penguins appear to be showing the effects of missing Captain Sidney Crosby, despite the contributions from Jordan Staal and Kris Letang.  The Penguins have really been on a remarkable year long run in which they have maintained their status as a powerhouse team in the East, without their star player (and the best player in the NHL).  With Crosby’s future still uncertain, the Penguins may have to consider looking for some additional support via the trade deadline, if they intend to be a force to be reckoned with in the Spring.

9.  Chicago Blackhawks (32-21-7)

In hindsight, it seems that the Blackhawks would have rather not had an NHL All-Star game/break, because since then the team has not played up to snuff.  This second half disappointment is the result of a team that has overall underperformed – Forwards, Defense, and Goaltending.  Still, the Hawks appear to be turning out of this funk, and are poised to return to the top of the league. Although, a deadline move for a improvement at the goaltending position would certainly help the Hawks chances this year…..something for Joe Quenville to think about.

10.  Philadelphia Flyers (32-19-7)

Speaking of goaltending issues, is there any team suffering from poor play between the pipes than the Fly guys?  Although hockey is a team sport, almost all of the blame has to be attributed to the poor play of Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky all season long.  Both goaltenders are at an identical .900 sv %, which is hardly acceptable, and the goals that has been let is as of late have been very weak.  Even Flyers commentator Bill Clement was willing to place all of the blame on the goaltending after the 6-4 loss to the Penguins the Flyers suffered this weekend.  If this team manages to find any help or improvement at all in the crease, they will excel in the playoffs – if not, they will be hitting the links after the first round.

11. San Jose Sharks (31-19-7)

The Sharks have fallen from grace as shown in their 4-5-1 record over the last 10 games.  Similar to the two teams above them in the rankings, the Sharks are also suffering from poor play from their goaltenders.  After his very impressive first 2 years in the NHL, Antti Niemi has shown that he is indeed human, dipping under his average sv % at .914.  On the bright side, the Sharks still have one of the deepest teams in the NHL and have been able to hide Niemi’s poor play by averaging 2.82 goals per game.  Still, this team cannot break through the Western Conference Finals if they cannot get Niemi back to his form from previous years – even with Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski, Couture, Clowe, Boyle, Burns, etc…

12. Ottawa Senators (31-22-8)

For the first time in several years, the Senators find themselves in the role of buyer during the trade deadline.  After the All-Star Break, the Sens have quietly been hard at work, doing everything they can to prove they belong in the playoffs.  Undoubtedly fans of the Senators are pondering the possibilities for their team with a player like Rick Nash on deck – but for now the Senators have other issues that need attention.  With a goal differential of just +2, something has to give if this team plans on making it into the top eight of the East come the end of the regular season.  Anderson’s play as of late has been less than satisfactory, and his GAA is almost at a dismal 2.9.  Yet another team that could use a improvement or upgrade between the pipes going forward.

13. Phoenix Coyotes (29-21-9)

8-1-1 in their last 10 games, the Coyotes have once again become relevant in the playoff picture.  Upon the uproar of criticism of Ilya Bryzgalov in Philadelphia, it seems the Coyotes have actually benefited from letting go of Bryz for Smith – Mike Smith that is.  With a .928 sv % and 25 wins, Smith has been consistent all year long for the Coyotes.  Unfortunately, the play of Captain Shane Doan has been sub-par as of late, but Ray “The Wizard” Whitney is having as good of a season as he has ever had in his 19 year career.  The Coyotes may not have the depth that other playoff bound teams in the West may have, and at the same time they cannot afford to give too much away.  With that being said, a huge trade in the near future may be out of the questions for the Coyotes.

14. Florida Panthers (27-20-11)

Mike Millbury may have said it best during NHL Live last week when he said that the Panthers were “the only team in the Southeast Division that looks like they want to make the playoffs.”  Although the Panthers recently took a loss from rival Southeast competitor, the Washington Capitals, they have been able to sustain a minor lead in the division.  At the beginning of the season, many questioned how the handful of free agents that Florida signed would come together.  Thankfully for management, the Panthers have developed into a success – for now.  Although, the Panthers seem to follow suit with this edition of the power rankings, in the sense that goaltending is their biggest issue – as indicated by their -18 goal differential.

15. Calgary Flames (28-22-9)

Much like the 2010-11 season, the Flames appear to be mounting a late season rally to find a way into the playoffs.  Mikka Kiprusoff is back to his All-Star form with a .924 sv % and 27 wins on the season.  While on the other hand, the Flames are led offensively by veterans Olli Jokinen and Jarome Iginla, and welcome the return of Calgary favorite Mike Cammalleri.  A big trade is exactly what this team needs to fend off the bottom eight teams of the Western Conference in pursuit of a playoff spot.

16.  Los Angeles Kings (27-21-11)

Still almost no scoring from an otherwise stagnant offense.  Nothing has changed over the past two weeks to be honest.  It is still all about Quick, Kopitar, and good coaching.  Just another team that is practically foaming at the mouth to bid on Rick Nash.
Alexander Crofoot
Writer/Editor
Neumann Joust