One story that has been recently mentioned by James Mirtle and Tom Benjamin is that the St Louis Blues have been playing well lately. Despite a poor start that left them in last place in the West Conference at the end of 2008, with a 14-23 record (3 losses counted as regulation ties), the Blues are back in the playoff race. They are currently in eighth place in the West Conference with 83 points. They would hold a playoff berth by their one point lead over ninth place Anaheim.
A lot of the credit for their success goes to coach Andy Murray. He has done a great job with a young bunch of players who suffered through a lot of injuries this season.
Can anyone guess who the top goal scorer in the month of March is so far this year? Rarely does a more improbable player lead the league in goal scoring for a month.
The answer is Alexandre Burrows of the Vancouver Canucks. He has ten goals so far in March. Burrows has settled in as the Sedins’ right winger and is doing a very good job. He is an unsung hero in Vancouver.
He has just signed an $8 million four year contract extension. This will keep him a Canuck and likely keep him at far below his open market salary.
A couple weeks ago I wrote that Anaheim will likely miss the playoffs. This no longer seems true. A five game winning streak has put the Ducks back into a playoff spot. Right now (their game with Edmonton is still underway) the Ducks are seventh in the West Conference with 80 points. They are only one point up on ninth and missing the playoffs.
If I was a top seed in the west, I would be hoping that Anaheim will not be my eventual opponent. They have a very talented team for a lower seed. Only two years ago, they won the Stanley Cup. Their team is no longer as strong as it was in 2007, but many of the key pieces in a cup winner remain.
I have long maintained that the best way to build a successful NHL franchise is to hire the best hockey person you can find to run things and then get out of the way and let him run things. NHL owners are not ideal GMs. They generally lack the required skill set.
Tom Hicks, the Dallas Stars owner, seemed to understand this. He had kept Bob Gainey on as his general manager and let Gainey run things. That worked and the Dallas Stars won the 1999 Stanley Cup. However Hicks has stopped following that path with the Dallas Stars and it is beginning to affect them in the standings and likely to get worse in the future.
The biggest problem with the way the Dallas Stars are run is that they don’t have one general manager. They have two.
As the playoffs are approaching, we look for playoff bound teams that have been playing very well in their final games. These teams will be in hot streaks when they get to the playoffs and might be very hard to defeat. The playoff bound team that has been the hottest lately is probably the Carolina Hurricanes. They have won their last five games in a row. They have earned points in 12 of their last 13 games. This has helped to propel the Hurricanes into fifth in the East Conference with 89 points.
As we came into last night’s games, the two highest scorers in the month of March so far are both Carolina players. Ray Whitney has 18 points and Eric Staal 17 points so far this month. Their offence has been a big part of Carolina’s recent successes.
The Carolina Hurricanes are generally not looked upon as one of the tougher playoff matchups in the East Conference, but if they continue to play this well they will be very tough.
After a rather disastrous season and a half or so, the Ottawa Senators are finally playing well. It is too late for them to challenge for the playoffs this season, but they have been the hottest team in the NHL lately. The Senators have won their last five games and nine of their last ten games. That has improved the Senators to 12th place in the East Conference. They are nine points out of the playoffs with ten games to go. It is too little too late, but it is good to see that the team has it in them.
Why are the Senators suddenly playing better? I think their on ice problem for the last season plus has mostly been no supporting cast. The only reliable scorers have been Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. When nobody else was reliably scoring, opponents concentrated on these three and reduced their effectiveness and usually stopped the Senators. This season, the highest scorers on the Sens outside the big three have been Filip Kuba with 36 points and Nick Foligno with 29. There has been no scoring depth in Ottawa.
From the beginning of the season, I have been picking Mikko Koivu of the Minnesota Wild as the Selke Trophy leader. In the last little while, his lead has been shrinking. Koivu continues to play in all the toughest defensive situations for the Wild, but his success in preventing goals is dropping as the Wild struggle to make the playoffs. When he suffered a knee injury in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Edmonton it looked like a reasonable time to pick a new leader.
My selection is Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers. Like Koivu, Richards plays a lot of minutes (Richards is fourth among forwards in ice time per game and Kivu fifth). Richards is successfully playing against his opponent’s top players and preventing them from scoring. Despite playing against the toughest quality of opposition of any Flyer player with significant ice time, Richards has a team leading +22 +/- rating.
The Buffalo Sabres have been are a playoff bubble team for a couple years. If they were to make the playoffs, they would take one of the lower playoff seeds and if they were to miss the playoffs, they would be one of the top teams to miss the playoffs. For much of the season, they were well within the playoff race looking to improve on last season’s 90 point year that left them four points out of the playoffs. The hope was that the younger forwards Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy and Jason Pominville would take a step forward and bring the Sabres with them.
For the most part the Sabres have not taken a step forward. They haven’t taken a step backwards either. None of the young players truly had a breakout season. The Sabres remained a playoff bubble team. It took their loss of goaltending to close the door to the playoffs this season.
As the NHL regular season draws to a close, some teams find themselves outside the playoff picture. There are a few malcontents around these teams who suggest that their team should now try to lose as much as possible to increase their chances at a top draft pick: While it is true that a top draft pick might improve the team’s chances in the future - especially given the potential of John Tavares who should be the first pick in the draft - this is a stupid idea for the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs are eight points up from last pace with ten games left in the season. If they followed Dater’s advice and tanked, most likely they would wind up with a worse record and no first overall pick. The most likely long-term result is a hit to the Avalanche public relations.
Tanking is not an easy thing to do. If anyone is doing it this season, it would be the New York Islanders. The Islanders do not have a very good team. They knew that coming into the season. They knew they didn’t have the veteran stars to compete and they didn’t have the deepest group of prospects either. I picked them to finish last in the conference at the beginning of the season and wasn’t alone in that prediction.
Here is something odd that I ran across today. Colin Stuart of the Atlanta Thrashers has scored more points shorthanded (4) this season, than he has at even strength (3). In fact in his NHL career, which is in its second partial season (he has 41 career NHL games played); he has scored four of his seven career goals shorthanded.
It is extremely rare for a player to score a significant number of his points shorthanded.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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