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.

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.

NHL Power Rankings: October 18th

1 If Jason Chimera keeps playing like he has, he might soon enough get Ovechkin money (kidding). However, injury to Neuvirth is cause for concern.
2   Wings have had no faults so far, going a perfect 4-0-0 and allowing only 5 goals.
3   The Varly trade now looks to be trending in favor of the Avs—who woulda thunk it? He’s been great and they are 4-1-0—far from the sure lottery position many thought they’d be in.
4   Bryzgalov has been all Philly fans hoped he’d be, going 3-0-1. A loss to former captain Mike Richards hurts, however.
5   Phil Kessel has wowed with 5 goals. But even moreso, he has shown improved hustle and commitment. He even asked to be on the PK. He has the Leafs trending upward (at least until their usual collapse).
6   John Tavares has been outstanding,  recording a hat trick the other night against their NY rivals, the Rangers. Plus solid goaltending from Al Montoya and Evgeni Nabokov—quite an eccentric duo.
7   The big spending has worked so far, but the best play has come from a young gun, Luke Adam, who looks to contend for the Calder with 3 G so far.
8   Ducks have won 4 straight and look poised to continue their impressive form from last season.
9   I thought they’d be a bland team. But Kari Lehtonen has supplied outstanding goaltending (.955 SV%) and the D is scoring to make up for the forwards’ lack of offense.
10   Losing Evgeni Malkin again, not having Sid Crosby back, and now having Kris Letang suspended for 2 games has the Pens trending downward.
11   Geezer Johan Hedberg has filled in nicely while Brodeur is injured. Prized rookie Adam Larsson has 0 pts and is a -1.
12   Although they’ve only played 3 games, Florida’s looked good, however real test comes this week with games vs. Washington and Buffalo. New D-man Brian Campbell has 7 helpers (!)
13   Will this be the year the Preds have some offense? David Legwand leads the league with 8 points.
14   They beat Philly, but losing Drew Doughty really hurts, no matter how long he is out for (right now, it looks to be short).
15   The ‘Yotes have won 2 in a row after losing 6-3 to San Jose to start the season.  Probable trade deadline bait Shane Doan has 7 points. Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera both (surprisingly) have .920 SV%.
16   Defense has been the story, and not for a good reason: they’ve allowed 16 goals in 5 games. However, they’re getting Ryan Kesler back for their next game, so that will definitely help.
17   It’s been up-and-down so far for Minny. However, they have 6 points—not bad. Koivu, Heatley and Setoguchi have only 7 pts combined—that will have to improve.
18   The offense has been lacking for Carolina after the departure of Erik Cole as they have only 13 goals in 5 games. They’ve also surrendered 32 shots a game on Cam Ward, which doesn’t help.
19   They split 2 games with Dallas, beat the atrocious Jets, and lost to Boston. Not very impressive. However, Crawford has less than 2 GAA, .930 SV%.
20   They’ve had to play without Martin Havlat and Antti Niemi to start the year. Team leaders of points have 3.
21   Good win vs. San Jose, but goaltending’s been awful, especially Halak, who has .857 SV%.
22   No. 1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has wowed so far, including a hat trick the other night against Vancouver. The future is bright—just not yet.
23   TBL are suffering from East Finals hangover, most recently losing 7-4 to the Panthers to add to their 1-3-2 record. One bright spot is Marc-Andre Bergeron, who has 2G and 6A, but who is well-known to be a defensive liability.
24   Habs have been bit by the injury bug yet again, as 3 of their top 6 defensemen are now injured. Erik Cole started they year on the third line and was terrible, but he’s been bumped up to the top 6 and played a good game against the Avs. Price has not been great, either. Mike Cammalleri is injured as well. OY!
25   Bruins look to be suffering from a Stanley Cup hangover.  They are 2-3-0.  PP is once again garbage, going 1-for-20.
26   Rangers have yet to win a game, as they sit at 0-1-2. Richards and Gaborik have 5 pts combined (not good by any means), but the rest of the roster has only 7 combined. Their offense needs to get going to support Henrik Lundqvist.
27   James Wisniewski was suspended for the first 8 games. Now Jeff Carter is injured and has been put on IR. The Jackets are 0-4-1 and are on the verge of complete disaster.
28   It’s another below-average year for the Flames, complete with anemic offense. They’ve only scored 11 goals. And Jay Feaster says he wants to get rid of some of the better players. Can you say lottery?
29   The Jets only now picked up their first win after losing their first 3 games. It will be a long season. But no one in the ‘Peg really cares.
30   The Senators are 1-4-0 and with mostly not-quite-there-yet young players (and Daniel Alfredsson), and absolutely horrible goaltending from Craig Anderson. They are the worst team in the League right now.

MTL Game 2: Habs ruin Jets’ return, win 5-1

You’d never have guessed the Canadiens won judging by the crowd noise at the end of the game. And guess what? There were more injuries!

Recap: The Jets came out looking jittery, and the Canadiens really just took hold of the game and never gave it back. Mike Cammalleri scored on a nice wrister for the only goal of the 1st. Tomas Plekanec scored on a really nice play where he intercepted a pass then picked Johnny Oduya’s pocket and deked out Ondrej Pavelec for the goal. Nik Antropov then scored a couple minutes into the 3rd and the stadium was nearly blown to high heaven by the joyous noise. However, MaxPac, Moen and Weber (on the PP!) finished off the Jets with their 3 scores.

Plus: Man, True North is rolling in the dough. Literally every person there was wearing Jets merchandise of some sort. Sales must be out the wazoo…Carey Price had a typical Carey Price game, stopping 30 of 31 shots with some real nice saves mixed in…Tomas Plekanec added 2 assists to go along with his goal and was a +3…Moen and Weber both had 1G and 1A…Really, Winnipeg the big winner here. Nothing was going to ruin this for them…

Minus: Although the homecoming is glorious, the play was discouraging for Jets fans…Erik Cole had another bad game…Pavelec allowed 5 goals on only 22 shots, a SV% of .773…Winnipeg was 0-for-6 on the PP…

Injuries: Michael Cammalleri left with an apparent laceration of his leg. Reports have said 2 weeks and 2 months. Pray to God it’s on the 2 weeks side…Jaroslav Spacek, in what can only be deemed a cruel desire of the hockey gods to see Yannick Weber on D, left with an “upper-body injury” that came after he appeared to hurt his ribs on a hit where he collided with the Habs’ bench…The injuries are absurd right now. Praise the Lord for Carey Price (if I just jinxed it…I will kill myself)…

3 Stars: 1. Plekanec 2. Price 3. Pacioretty

Nightly Nugget: Max Pacioretty scored his first goal since the, uh…incident

Next Up: The Canadiens have their home opener on Thursday when they welcome Jarome Iginla and Calgary to town. The Flames (read: Miikka Kiprusoff) have looked awful so far…

Blair Betts returned to Flyers

The Canadiens announced today that Blair Betts, who they had claimed on waivers a few days ago from the Flyers, had been returned to Philadelphia because he failed his physical.

Questions obviously arose after Betts did not play in the Canadiens’ opener in Toronto. The Habs said he was day to day.

From Bettman, via the Canadiens’ team website:

In reaching his decision, Commissioner Bettman stated: “While it is clear that both clubs have acted in good faith in this unique situation (i.e. a waiver claim), I am not prepared to dispute the conclusion of the Montreal Club doctors that Mr. Betts was physically unfit to play at the time of the claim. Therefore, it is my decision that, per League By-Laws, the appropriate resolution to this matter is to restore the parties to the position they were in prior to the waiver claim on Oct. 5.”

This is a real disappointment-many (including yours truly) thought Betts was the player the Habs had been searching for for the last year or so: gritty 4th line center who is good on PK and will score occasionally.

Looks like it’s Andreas Enqvist time, unfortunately. Jeff Halpern, why did you have to go?


MTL Game 1: Habs on pace for 0 points in ’11-’12 after opening loss in Leafland

Ok, perhaps that is an exaggeration. But ’tis true.

Recap: The Canadiens played a good 1st period, then fell off the map for the 2nd and half of the third. Matthew Lombardi, in his first regular season game in more than a year, scored the Leafs’ first goal shorthanded, while Dion Phaneuf scored the Leafs 2nd goal on a rocket.

Plus: James Reimer got the shutout in the first game of the year, always a nice way to start things off. It was his 4th career SO…If anyone was going to score for the Leafs, glad it was Lombardi…David Steckel won 18 of 25 faceoffs, good for 72%…Phaneuf added an assist on Lombardi’s goal…The reason the Habs were able to keep it close during the 2nd and 3rd periods was Carey Price. Look for this to continue in about 85% of the games this year…

Minus: There were still a couple issues from last year apparently still present for the Habs, most notably their lack of compete against lower-level teams and subsequent lack of offense…Erik Cole was nowhere to be found, probably because Martin played him so bizarrely on the 3rd line, which brings me to…Not a well-coached game by Jacques Martin. The Cole thing was glaring, plus neither he nor Pacioretty, who played well, was out at the end of the game with the Habs down 2…I thought Subban (-2) and especially Mike Cammalleri did not play well this game…The Canadiens went 0 for 5 on the PP while the Leafs went 0 for 3…

Injuries: Chris Campoli (of course!) left with an apparent leg injury after falling down awkwardly and bending his leg. And so it begins…Newest Hab Blair Betts did not play. Jacques Martin said he has a lower-body injury, is day-to-day and hopes to play in the next game…

UPDATE: According to Damien Cox of the Toronto Star, Campoli has a hamstring injury and will miss 3 weeks. Damn it!

3 Stars: 1. Reimer 2. Lombardi 3. Phaneuf

Nightly Nugget: As previously mentioned, Matthew Lombardi played and scored in his first game in over a year after he sustained a concussion in the 2010 preseason. Great to see him work so hard to come back and to have an immediate impact (even though he’s on the Leafs).

Next Up: The Habs head to the ‘Peg on Sunday night for the first Winnipeg Jets game in Winnipeg in over 15 years. That should be fun.

Habs claim Blair Betts off waivers; Gauthier has satisfied the hounds

We heard it all summer after the (gulp) elimination to Boston: the cries for GM Pierre Gauthier to sign a damn gritty, big 4th line center who is good on faceoffs and can alleviate some pressure off Pleks on the PK.

Today, PG found that man.

He claimed Blair Betts off waivers from the Flyers. And everyone is happy about it (except Flyers fans who, upon seeing Habs fans’ reactions, are pissed they didn’t get anything for him). Betts was excited about his role as a 4th line grinder and PK specialist even entering preseason this year having played that position for Philly for the past 2 years or so. I remember whenever I would watch a Flyers game (read: against Habs and in Finals), there would always be a “Blair Betts is great for the PK” comment.

The Flyers extended him in February 2010 for 2 years, so he goes UFA after this year.

So yes, he’s only signed for this year, but there is no question about one thing.

This year, he is exactly what the doctor ordered for the Habs. Now if only Markov’s knee could get the f healthy.