Another great week of hockey is in the books.
As we enter December, the men have begun to separate themselves from the boys in the NHL. The Pittsburgh Penguins proved they are one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference and have now rattled off nine straight.
Meanwhile, the Dallas Stars are making a case to be considered a legitimate contender in the Western Conference, with a six-game winning streak of their own.
On the other end of the spectrum, the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks find themselves in unfamiliar territory, in last place of their respective divisions, following stretches of below average play.
Here are the power rankings and players of the week:
1. Pittsburgh Penguins (18-8-2): The Penguins, as noted above, have ripped off nine in a row. In addition to getting great play out of Sidney Crosby, Marc Andre Fleury is even starting to string together some solid efforts in goal. There is no team in the league playing better hockey than the Penguins, and no player in the league playing better hockey than Sidney Crosby.
2. Detroit Red Wings (17-4-3): Despite a loss last night to the L.A. Kings, the Detroit Red Wings have impressively taken control of the Western Conference yet again. With outstanding play in net from Maine product Jimmy Howard, the Wings were able to handle the Sharks and Ducks on the road before falling to the Kings. They have to be the team to beat in the West at this point in the season.
3. Philadelphia Flyers (17-7-4): After struggling during the early part of the week, the Flyers strung a pair of victories together over the weekend. The consistency has not been there, but when this offense is on, there is not a team in the league that can stop them. Sergei Bobrovsky has been as steady as they come in net and deserves to hold on to the starting job even after Leighton returns.
4. Washington Capitals (18-8-2): Alexander Ovechkin and company have cooled off a bit recently. After four straight victories, the Capitals struggled against the Stars and Thrashers in their past two outings. Ovechkin’s goal last night was just his first in his last ten games. Granted he has been distributing the puck a bit more, but it is still worth noting that he is not scoring at the same alarming rate.
5. Vancouver Canucks (14-7-3): Hide your kids. Hide your wife. The Vancouver Canucks are starting to heat up. Vancouver has a four game winning streak going, including impressive victories over Colorado, Chicago, and San Jose. A popular preseason pick to go to the Stanley Cup, the Canucks are starting to live up to the hype.
6. Boston Bruins (14-8-3): Tim Thomas is a big reason the Bruins find themselves where they are right now. He has been unbeatable—tallying five shutouts with a 13-2-2 record, 1.46 goals against average and a .956. This is the perfect time to trade him. More on this in a later post.
7. Los Angeles Kings (15-10-0): The Kings earned this spot with a great 3-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings last night. Jon Quick has been outstanding in net this season, posting a .928 goals against average, and a 1.92 goals against average. The Stars lead the Pacific as of now, but I still like the Kings to win it.
8. Montreal Canadiens (17-8-2): The Canadiens have surprisingly picked up where they left off at the end of last season. Carey Price is rewarding the Montreal front office for their faith in him, with a .935 save percentage and 1.96 goals against average. Many people questioned the Canadiens for trading Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis in the off-season, but Price is proving to be the better goaltender at this point in the year.
9. Dallas Stars (16-8-1): The Dallas Stars are on a complete tear, having won six in a row. Kari Lehtonen has been a brick wall for the Stars, and they are getting solid production out of their top line. It is a bit concerning that Lehtonen has started all but four games for Dallas this season. They hold the top spot in the Pacific Division, but risk fading down the stretch if they wear out their top net minder.
10. Atlanta Thrashers (14-10-3): Atlanta is one of the hottest teams in the league. Contributions from the Chicago cast aways have made this team a contender in the Eastern Conference. Ondrej Pavelec has been one of the best goaltenders in the Eastern Conference, and this team is very exciting to watch.
11. Phoenix Coyotes (12-7-6): Ilya Bryzgalov has established himself as one of the five best goaltenders in the league and is carrying Phoenix to contention.
12. Tampa Bay Lightning (15-9-3): Steven Stamkos is slowing up a bit, which just makes him human.
13. Nashville Predators (12-8-5): The Predators are a well-coached, disciplined, defensive squad that will find a way to make the playoffs. However, goaltender Pekka Rinne being sidelined does not help matters.
14. New York Rangers (16-11-1): Henrik Lundqvist has turned it on recently, and the Rangers are in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff pictures.
15. Anaheim Ducks (13-12-3): Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, and Corey Perry are arguably one of the best lines in the league.
16. Chicago Blackhawks (14-12-2): The Blackhawks are not the same team that won the Stanley Cup a year ago, but they are settling in nicely at this point in the season.
17. Columbus Blue Jackets (14-10-1): The Jackets are falling hard after two uninspiring losses.
18. San Jose Sharks (12-9-4): This could be the lowest we see the Sharks all season. They’ll get things figured out.
19. Colorado Avalanche (13-10-3): Craig Anderson is back and picking up right where he left off.
20. Carolina Hurricanes (11-12-3): Cam Ward is as solid as ever.
21. St. Louis Blues (12-9-4): After a hot start, the Blues are coming back down to earth. They miss T.J. Oshie.
22. Edmonton Oilers (10-12-4): The Oilers are an exciting young team.
23. Buffalo Sabres (11-13-3): Ryan Miller is starting to turn it around.
24. Toronto Maple Leafs (9-12-4): The season is starting to slip away from them.
25. Minnesota Wild (11-11-4): If only they still had the North Stars…
26. Ottawa Senators (11-14-2): The Senators are having a ton of trouble scoring right now.
27. Calgary Flames (11-13-2): Kiprusoff needs to get back on the right track.
28. Florida Panthers (11-14-0): Tomas Vokoun needs to get out of Florida.
29. New Jersey (8-16-2): Martin Brodeur should do the Devils a favor and retire.
30. New York Islanders (5-15-5): The Islanders are completely deplorable.
Players of the Week:
Offensive–Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins, Center: Sid the Kid had nine points this week, extending his point streak to 15 games. Crosby is proving night in night out why he is the best player in the NHL.
Defensive–Roman Hamrlik, Montreal, Defenseman: Hamrlik collected five points in three games this week. He is a big reason for Carey Price’s rejuvenation and Montreal’s success.
Goaltender–Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins, Goalie: Thomas was stellar this week. He stopped 37 shots in each of his victories this week, including a shutout against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Picks Recap—I went 20-18 with my picks this week. Not a bad effort; we’ll see how I fare next week.
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