NHL Power Rankings, Week of 11/7/2011

1–Pittsburgh Penguins c The Caps have been getting all the attention in the East, but Pittsburgh is quietly 3 points ahead of them and 1st in the East. Plus, they might be getting Crosby back any day now. Watch out.
2–Washington Capitals   To me, it’s like ghosts of years past for the Caps: they’re averaging 4 goals a game and can outscore you every night, and we saw this in the Anaheim game. But they also are still subpar defensively, as we saw in the Islanders game.
3–Dallas Stars   Color me impressed. I thought the Stars would suck this year, and, lo and behold, they are the first to 10 wins. They’ve ridden the goaltending of Kari Lehtonen so far. Can it last? Probably not.
4–Edmonton Oilers   Damien Cox of the Toronto Star hit it right on the head: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is this year’s Jeff Skinner. RNH and Taylor Hall have Oilers fans reminiscing about the Gretzky-Messier days of yesteryear.
5–Philly Flyers   Can any goalie in Philly be productive? After a great start to the year, Ilya Bryzgalov has fallen off the map. Also worth noting, Claude Giroux has 19 pts in 14 games. Surprising stat: for all the offseason hubbub over lost offense after they shipped out Carter and Richards, the Flyers are 1st in the League with 56 goals. And it’s not close.
6–San Jose Sharks   They got a big win over Pittsburgh, but the subsequent OT loss to the Preds hurt. Antti Niemi’s SV % has been a subpar .870 in 8 games. Martin Havlat also has 8 pts in 8 games since returning from injury
7– NY Rangers   The Rangers have a 4-game winning streak going, including a win the other night over the Canadiens.
8–Chicago Blackhawks   After winning 3 in a row, the Blackhawks have now dropped 2 in a row, including a 6-2 loss to rivals Vancouver. Patrick Kane is the only player on the team with more points than GP (15 in 14)
9–Minnesota Wild   After a not-so-great start, the Wild beat Detroit, Vancouver and the floundering Blues all in the same week. That’ll help. There’s a goalie controversy brewing as finally-healthy backup Josh Harding will get his 3rd straight start (1.19 GAA)
10–Toronto Maple Leafs   The Leafs are still winning the Northeast division, but they just got whipped at home by Boston. Ben Scrivens has been getting some work in the absence of James Reimer
11–Phoenix Coyotes   No Bryzgalov, no problem for the Coyotes, who are still going strong at 16 pts in 13 games. That’s a testament to Dave Tippett and the system he runs out in the desert.
12–Nashville Predators   The Preds secured the future of looming UFA goalie Pekka Rinne when they signed him to a 7-year, $49 million contract extension this week. After the signing, they’ve won 2 in a row.
13–Buffalo Sabres   The Sabres are currently fighting with Ottawa for 2nd in the division. Whoulda thunk it? They won back-to-back games this weekend.
14–Ottawa Senators   After a terrible start, Ottawa has been a nice surprise with 15 points in 15 games. But they might be returning to their true form having dropped 3 in a row.
15–Montreal Canadiens   After an atrocious start that almost got their coach fired, the Habs have bounced back with a 4-game winning streak. However, they just dropped one in MSG in the second game of a back-to-back. Erik Cole has started playing up to his contract.
16–Vancouver Canucks   The Canucks beat the Caps at their own game, outscoring them 7-4. They dropped 2 of their next 3 before getting a big 6-2 win in Chicago. Luongo can breathe out now.
17–LA Kings   The Kings have dropped 5 of their last 6. Drew Doughty missed a little bit of time. Vaunted 2-way forward Mike Richards is a -1. But the season is still young, and there’s certainly room for improvement for LA.
18–Colorado Avalanche   After a stellar start, Semyon Varlamov and the Avs have slipped a little bit. After a 5-game winning streak in mid-October, the Avs have dropped 6 of their last 8. Not much offense either, as no player on the Avs has more than 11 points.
19–Detroit Red Wings   My oh my, how the mighty have fallen. They started out amazing. They had everyone saying they were the team to beat. And then…crash. It started with a 7-1 thrashing at the hands of the Caps. They lost 6 in a row, but got their feet back under them with a win over Anaheim. Crucify me, but I still like them in the West.
20–Tampa Bay Lightning   You knew Steven Stamkos was going to do well. And he has, to the tune of 15 points in 14 games. You know who’s tied with him in points? D-man Marc-Andre Bergeron. They’re getting a point-per-game D-man at $1 million. That’s a bargain basement price.
21–NJ Devils   Is it the Lokomotiv crash? Is it the team? Or is it just Kovy being Kovy? No matter how you slice it, Ilya Kovalchuk has 2 goals in 11 games. Atrocious, and a big reason the Devils are not doing so well right now (Brodeur too, obviously).
22–Florida Panthers   Another team that started well but has cooled off since. The Panthers have lost 3 in a row, all in OT. They’re struggling to finish. Goalie Jacob Markstrom has been a bright spot, though. That kid is going to be elite.
23–Anaheim Ducks   They won one game on a 7-game road swing. Terrible. Hopefully they can get their mojo back with some home cooking.
24–Calgary Flames   It’s shaping up to be another average year for the Flames, who have 13 points in 13 GP. Somewhere, some Flames fan is insisting Miikka Kiprusoff can still be a workhorse, which he can’t.
25–Winnipeg Jets   As Scott Burnside of ESPN points out, the Jets are 21st in goals and 25th in goals against. If you can’t score and you can’t defend, you’re probably doing pretty badly. Which the Jets are.
26–NY Islanders   They dropped 6 in a row before beating a Caps team on the second half of a back-to-back. Evgeni Nabokov has been pulled from tonight’s game, so that might be it for that experiment. Bring back Al Montoya, Capuano.
27–St. Louis Blues   Head coach Davis Payne took the hit for the Blues’ slow start, as he was replaced by Ken Hitchcock yesterday night. Hitchcock hopes to bring a sense of discipline and accountability to a very young Blues team.
28–Carolina Hurricanes   The Canes have lost 3 of 4. Eric Staal has 5 points in 14 games and is an astounding -16. What’s wrong in Carolina? I hold to my theory that their defense is not good, having surrendered 32 shots against per game, almost last in the League.
29–Boston Bruins   Hahaha the Bruins are in last in the East. They dropped a both games of a home-and-home to my Habs. However, they just destroyed Toronto. Tyler Seguin has arrived with his first NHL hat trick. Watch out.
30–Columbus Blue Jackets   Columbus is 2-11-1. Scott Arniel is almost for sure going to be fired sometime in these next couple weeks. Many thought their next coach would be Ken Hitchcock. You snooze, you lose, CBJ. They’re so bad they can’t even get the replacement coach they want.

WSH Games 8, 9, 10: Caps go 0-for-2 in Western trip, remedy that with home OT win

By Stu Krantz

This week is near the end of the quarter. I’ve had around 5-6 hours of homework every night. You wouldn’t stay up until midnight watching the Caps get called for a bunch of penalties in Edmonton either.

Game 8: 2-1 loss in Edmonton: The upstart Oilers handed the Caps their first loss last Thursday. Youngsters Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall had the goals for the Oilers, while Karl Alzner potted the only goal for Washington. Recently-incarcerated Nikolai Khabibulin had 34 saves and a .971 SV%. The refs refused to put away their whistles for the first 2 periods, calling the Caps for a whopping 9 minor penalties through the first 40 minutes of play. 3 Stars: 1. Khabibulin 2. Jordan Eberle 3. Stephane Auger and Dan O’Halloran (those who donned the zebra stripes, for the uninitated)

Game 9: 7-4 loss in Vancouver: Tomas Vokoun started things off badly by going out to play the puck, but actually taking a Max Lapierre shot off his skates and into the net. The Canucks went up 3-1, but goals from Mike Knuble, Alex Ovechkin, and Marcus Johansson for the Caps and Alex Edler (again) for the Canucks made it 4-4. Soon after, Ovie took a penalty and the Canucks never looked back, beating the Caps in the end by a score of 7-4. 3 Stars: 1. Alex Edler (2G, 1A) 2. Max Lapierre (2G, 1 being awesome) 3. Chris Higgins (2G)

Game 10: 5-4 OT Win vs. Anaheim: Lots of controversy here, as Alex Ovechkin was not put on the ice by Bruce Boudreau during the final two minutes of play when the Caps were trying to tie it up (which Nick Backstrom eventually did). More on this later. How did we get to this point, you inquire? Saku Koivu (blessed be his soul) scored 9 minutes into the 1st. Teemu Selanne, aka cue little girl voice the greatest hockey player to play ever who should not ever retire for all time, potted 2 goals to make it 3-0. Ward, Wideman and 2011 Hart Trophy winner and Anaheim Duck Corey Perry (on the PP) scored to make it 4-2. However, as we all know, the Caps love digging themselves holes only to climb out of it. Which they did, to great fanfare. A Troy Brouwer shot deflected off Jonas Hiller’s glove to make it 4-3. Backstrom tied it up with 40 seconds remaining in the game, then won it for the Caps in OT to stop Washington’s slide at 2 games. 3 Stars: 1. Nick Backstrom 2. Teemu Selanne 3. Saku Koivu (hey, if he does anything significant, I am morally obligated to give him a star).

WSH Game 7: Caps dismantle Wings, 7-1, now 7-0-0

Boy, this one was never even close. What a statement by the Caps.

Recap: Mike Green started it off with 6 minutes left in the 1st with his first of 2 PPGs in the game. A minute later, Marcus Johansson roofed it from the side of the net on a nice pass from Alex Semin. 5 minutes into the 2nd, Green scored his 2nd PPG on a laser-guided missle (LGM, something I’d like to establish here: ashot with both great speed and accuracy). Niklas Kronwall made it interesting on the PP halfway through the 2nd, but Mathieu Perrault scored the goal that broke the Winged Wheel’s back on a tap-in with 8 seconds left in the period on a puck that squirted through Ty Conklin. Goals from Joel Ward, Perrault (again) and Nick Backstrom in the 3rd period put the Wings away for good.

Plus: Nick Lidstrom, playing in his 1,500th NHL game received a standing ovation to mark the milestone and also recorded a team-high 5 shots on goal…Tomas Vokoun had 32 saves and a .970 SV%…Mike Green added 2 assists in addition to his 2 Gs…Nick Backstrom now has 10 points on the year, putting him close to the top of the league. Can you say “bounce-back”?…Troy Brouwer had 5 hits…Alex Ovechkin and Matt Hendricks both had 2 assists…

Minus: Jakub Kindl, Jonathan Ericsson and Johan Franzen were all -3…Brooks Laich won only 6 of 20 faceoffs…Nick Backstrom won only 4 of 12 faceoffs…the Caps’ 7 goals came on only 25 shots…not sure if this is a minus or plus, but I’ll put it here: no player on the Caps had more than 3 shots…Alex Ovechkin had only 1 shot…Ty Conklin had a save % of 72%…

3 Stars: 1. Vokoun 2. Green 3. Perrault

Nightly Nugget: Mike Green tied his career high for points in a single game with 4 (2G, 2A)

Next Up: Caps get a much-deserved rest before heading to Edmonton on Thursday.

WSH Game 7 Preview: Clash of the early-season titans: Caps welcome Wings to DC

Caps are 6-0-0 to Detroit’s 5-0-0. Caps have looked very good so far, but the Wings might have just looked better. I just had to preview this.

What to watch for: -Unless the Caps and Wings meet in the Finals, a very real possibility right now, this is most likely the last time fans and Caps players alike will get to see Nick Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom play in person. Good story by Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times about what that means to their fellow Swedish players.

-Michal Neuvirth will miss another game, according to Caps Insider. Tomas Vokoun will start and his backup will be Dany Sabourin once again.

-Will the Caps be able to score goals? Detroit has only allowed a mind-boggling 7 goals in 5 games so far. Also, as Steven Hindle points out, there is not a single Capitals player in the top 30 in SOG. The Wings are allowing only 27 SOG per game. Infer what you wish.

-Matchup to watch: Detroit’s PP is heating up, going 4 for 8 in their last 2 games. Caps PK is in a 3-way tie for 15th in the League at 83.3%

-I’m interested to see Mike Knuble and Tomas Holmstrom on the ice at the same time to compare what they do. They are both “garbagemen”–they collect all the trash (and turn it into goals). Holmstrom has made a career of it–the guy is incredible. He just stands in front of the goalie, and nothing can remove him. He gets hit by shots and knocked on his ass, but no matter. He just tips the puck in.

-Detroit did play last night, beating a super-depleted Jackets team 5-2. Being on the tail end of a back to back, on the road, is never helpful.

Between the pipes: Tomas Vokoun vs. Ty Conklin. Jimmy Howard got the W last night in Columbus, so veteran backup Conklin gets the call tonight. Vokoun is 5-0-0 with a 1.96 GAA. Conklin, in his only start of the year, got the shutout vs. Colorado, stopping 29 shots.

Happy Statistic: This is Lidstrom’s 1500th NHL game. Yet another milestone for him.

Prediction: I really like the Wings this year, and am not totally sold on Caps’ ability to produce in really important games yet (this will show us). 3-2 Wings in OT.

Should the Habs make a play for Flyers’ Hartnell?

Scottie Hartnell has long been a name tossed out there whenever someone says the Habs need some NAG (North American Grit). Hartnell embodies the Flyers very well– tough, physical, and can score some goals, too. That’s something that many will tell you the Habs have been missing for the last couple of years.

And it appears there may be no time better than the present to take a run at him. From The Fourth Period:

According to the Philadelphia Daily News, Flyers forward Scott Hartnell has admitted his disappointment over losing playing time this season, but still enjoys being a member of the club.

“It bothers me that I’m not getting the minutes that I used to have,” Hartnell told the Daily News. “It’s frustrating. But I’m still having fun. We’re winning, we’re all playing well and everyone is contributing.”

The 29-year-old has lost playing time to rookies Matt Read and Sean Couturier, while his struggle during training camp was also a factor noticed by coach Peter Laviolette.

Trade rumors about Hartnell have been circulating since he struggled mightily in training camp. Hartnell recorded 24/25/49 and 142 PIM last year. So, the question is: Should Montreal trade for Scottie Hartnell?

Hartnell certainly does have value and is a good bet to score 20+ goals this year. He had 162 hits last year. However, our top 6 (or, as JM would prefer us say, our top 9) is quite full at the moment. Top 9 forwards currently consist of: Erik Cole, Tomas Plekanec, Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, Max Pacioretty, Lars Eller, David Desharnais, and Andrei Kostitsyn.

Obviously one of those, hypothetically, would be moved for Hartnell. I don’t think Gauthier would deal a draft pick (or anything but a player) because it would simply create too much chaos among the top 9 forwards. It would be overflowing. So which player would be dealt for Hartnell? My dream scenario: Andrei Kostitsyn for Hartnell, straight up.

First of all, Kostitsyn’s stats most closely resemble Hartnell’s. For all his inconsistency, AK46 is a good bet to give you at least 20 goals. Last year, he posted 20/25/45 in 81 GP. I think his ceiling is also higher than Hartnell’s–he could easily, given the right circumstances, add at least another 5 goals to that total, giving him nearly identical stats, scoring-wise, to Hartnell.

In addition, their number of hits–a good indication of their physical play–are close. AK registered 140 last year, compared to Hartnell’s 162. But, again, I think Kostitsyn’s slightly higher ceiling would win out over 20 hits.

From the Habs’ perspective, I think this is a no brainer. It’s well known that Jacques Martin loves him some established veterans–so much so that it has him on the hot seat now. Hartnell fits this mold. Also, when Kostitsyn was re-signed to a 1-year deal, everyone immediately went, “Trade deadline bait!” Martin and Kostitsyn have had a long-standing disagreement, if not a feud. I don’t think the Habs would balk at shipping AK out. We all know, he can impress you for a game, but then will disappear for the next 5. That’s exactly the sort of play JM and PG have been trying to eradicate the last 3 years.

Now, would the Flyers want to do this? Obviously, Hartnell has disappointed them this year. If he’s on the trading block, it means that he has really underperformed and the team thinks that he is not going to meet his personal requirements to stay on the team and be a part of the organization. Kostitsyn provides similar value with a higher ceiling, although he does have bad traits like taking lazy hooking calls and forgetting to backcheck once in a while. Now, if I’m the Flyers, what it comes down to is am I willing to sacrifice Hartnell’s grit for Kostitsyn’s skill. Or, in other words, does Kostitsyn’s skill and untapped potential (which, admittedly, may not be too much at this point), while also factoring in his stupid/lazy hooking/tripping penalties, outweigh Hartnell’s toughness? For the Broad Street Bullies, I’m not sure it does. But I think, if they don’t think Hartnell is going to be able to meet his 22-25 goal quota, they may trade him for someone who will get that same amount, if not more. The big knock against the Flyers was that they weren’t going to have enough goal scoring, right? Well, they have a chance to get some more here.

Look, for the Habs, I think this would be a great trade, and one that would get the front office some positive feedback at a time that it is most certainly needed–the fans have had it with JM and the team’s overall philosophy right now more than ever. But, I’ll admit, it’s not a sure thing for the Flyers. However, Laviolette had them skating suicides at practice this morning and they’re coming off a bad loss to the Caps. It might be time for the Flyers to take a flyer on Kostitsyn, a trade that I think in the end would end up benefitting both organizations, and sure as hell the Habs.

WSH Game 6: Deflected goals lead Caps to 5-2 win in Philly, now 6-0

According to Tim Panaccio of CSNPhilly, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette had them skating suicides in practice today (which, as someone who’s got a few skating suicides to his name, is not a lot of fun). Pretty much sums up yesterday’s game.

(Ed. Note: I’m going to try a new format today. I’ll give  you all the goals and then some other key plays)      Recap: 0-1 Flyers, 14:25 in 1st: Wayne Simmonds poke checked Semin at the blue line. Claude Giroux grabbed it and took it in all alone and deked out Vokoun for his 5th goal in 6 games.

1-1, 18:40 in 1st: After a bad clear by the Flyers, Mathieu Perrault fires a wrister towards the net, which hits off the stick of Braydon Coburn and into the goal.

2-1 Caps, 19:48 in 1st: Alex Ovechkin fires it in at the goalmouth with 12 seconds left in the 1st.

3-1 Caps, 2:23 in 3rd: Roman Hamrlik just dumps it towards the goal from the blueline and it deflects off Andreas Lilja and winds up in the goal.

4-1 Caps, 3:54 in 3rd: On the Power Play, Alex Ovechkin fires it in on a one-timer from the slot off a pass from Backstrom.

5-1 Caps, 4:48 in 3rd: Joel Ward deflects a Jeff Schultz shot in front of Bryzgalov for his first goal as a Cap

5-2 Caps, 19:45 in 3rd: 1st round pick Sean Couturier knocks it in goalmouth to reduce the Caps’ lead to 3 with 15 seconds left in the game.

Key Plays: James Van Riemsdyk and Danny Briere were both stopped by Vokoun in front of the goal in the middle of the 3rd period when it was 5-1 Caps. If not stopped, those goals would have made it interesting.

Plus: Tomas Vokoun made 40 saves for his fifth straight win…Alex Ovechkin had his first multi-goal game of the year…Matt Hendricks, Joel Ward and Mathieu Perrault were all +2…Nick Backstrom tallied 2 assists…Van Riemsdyk had 7 SOG…

Minus: Brayden Schenn, playing in his first NHL game for the Flyers after being acquired from the Kings in the Richards trade, was a -3, as was Scottie Hartnell…The Flyers allowed 3 goals in the first 5 minutes of the 3rd period…

3 Stars: 1. Ovechkin 2. Vokoun 3. Backstrom

Nightly Nugget: Tomas Vokoun’s 5-game winning streak is the longest of his career since 2005-06

Next Up: The Caps welcome fellow humanoids, the Red Wings, to the Verizon Center on Saturday.

This is one of the coolest things you’ll see today

By Stu Krantz

In the Leafs-Jets game yesterday, Phil Kessel pulled a dirty dangle and slid across a pass to Joffrey Lupul, who one-timed it home from just in front of the right faceoff circle for the Leafs’ first goal.

Why so neat, you say?

Lupul shot it right off the goal-cam, in one of the craziest and most awesome videos you’ll see today. Behold, at the 0:16 mark:

As Puck Daddy points out, Lupul is not the only one to destroy a camera with a shot. Michael Del Zotto of the Rangers did it last year, too. Over at PD they seem to favor Del Zotto’s camera smash over Lupul’s. I think Lupul’s is more exhilarting, and therefore superior. Del Zotto’s was cool because it was the above-ice camera, on the netting over the boards behind the net, so the puck was flying up at you. But I like Lupul’s because it is a full-power one-timer–you get to see the puck flying directly at you, in a straight line, at speeds of 90+ miles per hour. Plus, since the puck bounced right off the camera and out of the goal, everyone at the arena and the War Room in Toronto had to watch that in order to review the goal.

And here’s the picture of the lifeless camera, via Sara Orlesky of TSN:

What say you–Lupul or Del Zotto?

Follow Stu Krantz on Twitter @puckschmuck