Ritter's Rant: News and Notes from Around the NHL

Mark RitterSenior Writer IMarch 31, 2010

MONTREAL- FEBRUARY 2:  Henrik Sedin #33 of the Vancouver Canucks skates during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens on February 2, 2010 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Canadiens defeated the Canucks 3-2.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

It’s no secret that the Buffalo Sabres are amongst the NHL’s best when it comes to keeping the puck out of the net. Through 76 games, the Sabres are ranked fourth overall in goals against at just 2.43. To the surprise of many, the Sabres have inched their way up in the rankings offensively and are now ranked a very respectable ninth overall at 2.86.

A big reason the Sabres are where they are is their late season push. Since March 2nd, the Sabres have scored a total of 55 goals, which is the best in the NHL since the NHL season commenced after the Olympic break.

Good goaltending, great defense, and a hot offense, combined with the Sabres' 7-2-1 record over their past 10 games makes them one of the most feared teams heading into the playoffs.

Another team that nobody wants to play right now? The Detroit Red Wings. Hampered by injuries all season long, the Red Wings are just now hitting their stride. Once thought to be on the playoff bubble, the Red Wings have entrenched themselves into the Western Conference playoff picture and, with their 9-0-1 record over the past 10 games, are serving notice to every team in the West that the Wings are back and loaded for bear.

Comparatively, the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings, two teams that dominated at times this season, are tanking at exactly the wrong time. The Hawks have gone a paltry 3-5-2 over their past 10, the Kings have gone a mediocre 4-5-1 over the same time span.

While both teams are extremely talented, they both have weak spots. For the Hawks, their goaltending has let the team down of late, which perpetuates many fans' concerns that the Hawks may be in a tough spot come playoff time. The Kings have struggled to score since returning form the Olympic break, causing them to slip in the standings and cause doubt throughout the League as to their legitimacy as a real Stanley Cup threat.

Anyone that watched the Toronto Maple Leafs play the Atlanta Thrashers on Tues. night witnessed Leafs tough-guy Colton Orr at his worst. Having been aggravated by Thrashers' forward Maxim Afinogenov, Orr took a stupid retaliatory penalty, smashing Afinogenov in the mouth, which cost his team when he was dinged for a two-minute penalty. In this case, Forest Gump said it best: “stupid is as stupid does”...

Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby may be the NHL’s biggest ambassadors, but there is little question who the NHL’s biggest star has been this season. Henrik Sedin may be quiet by nature, but his stats speak volumes for his being named the NHL’s MVP. With six games to go in the season, Sedin has registered 29 goals and 104 points, three points better than Ovechkin, and 10 points better than Crosby.

With the 29th ranked power play and 30th ranked penalty kill in the NHL, one has to wonder whether the Leafs need to re-think who is coaching their special teams. It says here it’s time for a change.

If the Nashville Predators are going to make some noise, they will have to improve on their special teams. Through 78 games, the Preds are ranked 22nd on the power play at 16.8 percent and 27th overall on the penalty kill at just 76.7 percent.

Special teams are often the difference between winning and losing in the playoffs. The Preds had better get their game together, especially if they face the Red Wings in the first round, who sit 10th on the penalty kill at 83.7 percent and 10th on the power play at 19.2 percent. Fact is, the Wings have been playing shorthanded all season, but their special teams are a lot better than they seem...playoff teams beware!

I am still shocked at the lack of success the Pittsburgh Penguins have had on the power play. I have written about this all year and, at one point, the Pens were ranked 30th overall. Through 77 games, the Penguins are ranked 25th overall with a 16.7 percent success rate. How is this possible with Sergei Gonchar and Kris Letang on the points and Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin up front? (yeah, I know Malkin has been injured; still, this is strange)...

Can’t see many upsets in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres, and New Jersey Devils are all too powerful for the Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, and Atlanta Thrashers, who are currently two points back of Philly, Montreal, and Boston.

The Western Conference is just the opposite, where just about any team has a chance of pulling off an upset, especially Detroit. One team I can’t see doing much come playoff time are the Colorado Avalanche (if they even make it into the playoffs). Fact is, this team looks gassed.

To anyone who ever questioned whether or not Alex Kovalev was a big-time player or not, the guy has ONE GOAL in his past 13 games....ONE GOAL! What a dud!

For more NHL news and notes, check out my blog at www.theslapshot.com

Until next time,