Are the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens for real?
Are we ready to permit that they both are able to make the playoffs or this this just a fluke at the beginning of a shortened season?
It’s hard to tell.
We’re a quarter of the way through the season and both teams are in the playoff picture. While they could easily drop out within the next couple of weeks, at this point you cannot ignore them.
First of all, both are big-time hockey markets. This brings them a lot of attention regardless of when they are winning or losing, and there is also a widely held belief that hockey is better when these teams are winning.
Make no mistake, the NHL will be just fine if they don’t make the playoffs—the Atlantic Division could be a four-team race, there is a great Detroit-Chicago-St. Louis three-way rivalry in the Midwest and all three California teams should be in the playoff hunt out West—but if the Canadiens and Maple Leafs are vying for a playoff spot all year an increasing amount of fans will check into their games…even if they are not a fan of either team.
Although both the Air Canada Centre and Bell Centre sell out every night, the energy in both buildings will change if there is hope among the fans that these teams can make a run in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Already in the two Leafs-Habs games—which were both won by Toronto—we’ve seen plenty of wicked snipes, devastating hits and a couple scrums after the whistle, and the people attending the games in Montreal have expressed their disappointment in being shown up on home soil.
Right now, neither team has shown that it can beat the league’s best, however. Montreal beat New Jersey at home in a shootout and Toronto beat the Penguins in Pittsburgh, but that’s about it for both teams.
It’s hard for me to see both teams making the playoffs, but in this crazy lockout-shortened season anything can happen.
And that alone makes the NHL exciting this season.
Last week: 25
A win over Detroit is starting to look a little less impressive and it’s hard to hype up the wins over Nashville and Dallas right now.
Losses to L.A., Calgary and Edmonton, all at home, indicate these are the same ol’ Jackets once again.
Last week: 28
Given that the defending champs have only two regulation wins, over lowly Phoenix and Columbus, and a shootout win over Vancouver, it looks like the Kings were not ready to hold down the crown early this season.
There are certainly quite a few games left, but this club has certainly dug itself a hole.
Last week: 30
Hey, they won in Detroit!
A 5-1 loss in Vancouver later that week reminds us that the win in Motown, while always impressive, is probably just one bright spot in a long season for Calgary.
Last week: 22
With the worst defense in the league, an anemic offense and putrid penalty killing, the Panthers are making it look like last year was a bit of a fluke.
A 5-0 loss to the struggling Capitals all but confirms that.
Last week: 29
The Capitals might be struggling right now, but a 5-0 win over Florida reminds everyone that there is still life in this team.
Last week: 17
Maybe it is too early to judge, but right now it looks like the Avalanche may still need a year to get everything together with their young team.
As it stands, Colorado’s only decent win is over Edmonton…and we’re not really sure how good they are right now. Otherwise, wins over a struggling L.A. club, Columbus and Calgary are not anything to write home about.
Last week: 15
Remember when I was hyping the Islanders last week? Umm…I might have jumped the gun a bit.
New York has lost its last four games by a combined score of 14-3. Granted, they played New Jersey, Pittsburgh and the Rangers in three of those four games, but still…they have gotten absolutely maimed lately.
Last week: 27
The Jets are not a great team by any means, but a recent win over Florida tells us that they aren’t the worst team in their division. Their victories over Washington and Pittsburgh give their fans reason to believe they will be something special in the future.
Last week: 24
The wins over Toronto and Montreal are important and looking a little more impressive right now, but the Sabres still have also dug themselves a bit of a hole at the beginning of this short season.
We’ll know a little bit more about Buffalo next week when we see how the Sabres fare against Ottawa, Boston and Pittsburgh.
Last week: 23
Dual losses in Philadelphia notwithstanding, Carolina has done well with an inconvenient schedule that puts them on the road for seven of eight games early in the season.
The Hurricanes beat Toronto 4-1 and Ottawa 3-2 in OT on the trip and are capable of beating the Islanders on Monday. Tuesday’s matchup with New Jersey, however, will be a bit of a test before heading home to face the Leafs in Raleigh.
Last week: 12
You would think that a team with Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Mikael Granlund and Pierre-Marc Bouchard could do a little better than 2.1 goals per night…but the team’s current play indicates otherwise.
To be fair, it was a large roster shuffle in Minnesota, but a combined three goals in games against Anaheim, Phoenix and Vancouver is hard to justify.
Last week: 16
Edmonton is the best of the bad teams right now.
They have wins over Colorado, Phoenix and Columbus (plus a win over the struggling Kings), but cannot beat upper-echelon teams like San Jose and Vancouver or even an inconsistent Wings team.
They are not going to be considered a serious threat this season, but if they keep playing like this they might be able to sneak into the playoffs. That experience would do wonders for this young club.
Last week: 20
Recent wins over Dallas, Minnesota and San Jose give Coyotes fans reason to believe that their team can beat any team with their defense.
A 6-2 loss to Chicago debunks that theory.
Last week: 21
It’s no surprise that the Predators are the best defensive team in the league.
What is surprising is that they dropped six on the Blues in Missouri last week.
If Nashville is able to tap into whatever it had that night, it could be a surprise threat this season.
Last week: 9
Wait…somebody pinch me: This team is playing defense and killing penalties?
And, hold it: They are in the bottom half of the league in terms of 5-on-5 production?
I’m not sure the change in philosophy is the right call in Ottawa—the Sens have lost four of their last five contests.
Last week: 5
The Lightning are the best team in their division, but are struggling against the Atlantic right now. Tampa has gone 0-4 in its recent contests against the Rangers (twice), Flyers and Devils.
Corrections will have to be made because the Bolts are likely to face one of those teams come playoff time.
Last week: 19
The Flyers are suddenly heating up.
Their last regulation loss came on February 1 against Washington and Philly now has won three of four. The shootout loss to Florida is a bit discouraging, but they still got a point out of it.
Has this team turned it around?
Everyone will know after the Flyers go on their six-game road trip next week.
Last week: 26
The win over Anaheim is impressive, especially given how hot that team has been to start the season, but it’s still hard to buy into Dallas completely at this point.
An upcoming slate in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver—plus two home games against the Flames and Canucks immediately following the road trip—gives the Stars a chance to prove that they are the real deal in the coming weeks.
Last week: 4
It’s been all offense and no defense in St. Louis.
That’s right: The Blues are finding the back of the net, but it is coming at the cost of the play at their own end, and it is costing them.
The Blues have not won a game this month.
Last week: 7
This team started off hot but has fizzled a bit in its last three games.
The worst part about losing to Boston, Buffalo and Toronto is that all three of those teams are in the Northeast Division.
The Canadiens have a chance to redeem themselves against the Florida teams next week in the Sunshine State.
Last week: 1
The Sharks are playing well in all facets of the game, but are struggling in February.
After starting the season undefeated in January, the Sharks have yet to win in February and have to go on a six-game road trip next week…
Last week: 14
Let’s give the Lowly Leafers some props right now.
Toronto has won its last three games, all on the road, and just absolutely obliterated the Habs in Montreal 6-0.
We’ll see if they keep it up, but Maple Leaf fans have to be going nuts right now.
Last week: 11
The Rangers have finally arrived.
Yes, the Pittsburgh and New Jersey losses sting a bit—the Blueshirts could end up third in their division—but two wins over an impressive Tampa team (including a 5-1 win in Manhattan) plus a good old smackdown of the Islanders indicate that this team is finally starting to realize its potential.
Last week: 18
A model of consistency for years, the Red Wings have been anything but this year.
They lost to Columbus and Calgary pretty convincingly, only to beat the Blues 5-1 in St. Louis with their backup goaltender…that makes absolutely no sense.
Not really sure what to think of Detroit right now.
Last week: 6
Back-to-back 3-1 losses to New Jersey tell us who is running the Atlantic right now, but the Penguins have a chance to bounce back with upcoming games against Ottawa, Winnipeg and Buffalo.
Last week: 10
Vancouver just rolled over its division (and even beat the Blackhawks in a shootout!) last week.
The Canucks' five straight wins indicate that they’re still the team to beat in the Northwest Division.
Last week: 8
At this point, you have to take the Ducks seriously.
They are on top of the Pacific Division and have beaten the Sharks, Kings, Blues and Canucks.
Anaheim would love to have that shootout in San Jose back, and the 5-0 loss to Vancouver at home (in their second meeting of the year) and a 3-1 loss in Dallas look pretty bad. Yet considering that few thought this team would pass the Sharks and Kings in the Pacific Division, there is no complaining among hockey fans in Orange County right now.
Last week: 13
No Parise? No problem.
The Devils have won five straight, including victories over the Rangers, Lightning and Penguins (twice).
Last week: 3
A 7-4 loss to Buffalo is a bit baffling, but every team has an off night and the Bruins have been “on” during the rest of the season.
Unfortunately, the Bruins' game against Tampa was cancelled due to weather, but Boston has beaten the Rangers and Devils at home and gone into Toronto and Montreal and won there as well.
By doing so, they have established themselves as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference right now.
Last week: 2
By scoring goals and killing penalties, the Blackhawks have kicked ass and taken names early in the season. Losses in Minnesota and Vancouver via shootout can be forgiven when your team has beaten St. Louis, Detroit and San Jose and clobbered L.A., Phoenix (twice) and Nashville.
The Blackhawks are the best team in the NHL right now.