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.

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.

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.

WSH Game 4: Caps improve to 4-0, beat Senators IN REGULATION 2-1

It wasn’t even really as close as it sounds. A pretty bland game, with all the action happening in the 1st period.

Recap: Nick Backstrom scored on the Power Play to kick things off on a nice pass from Alex Semin. Backstrom netted it from just beyond the right goalpost. Then my man Marcus Johansson made it 2-0 when he carried the puck down the left-hand boards and went 5-hole on Alex Auld on a wraparound– a goal which, really, if it had not been Alex Auld would not have been a goal. Then Peter Regin cut the Caps’ lead in half on a crazy shot from almost 180 degrees to the net (goalpost was on his right). Craig Laughlin said it best: “If he was right handed, that’s not a goal.” But would he have even been in that situation if he was right-handed? Where would his career be if he was a righty? Food for thought.

Plus: Caps finally won in regulation. That’s a good thing…The Caps only took 1 penalty, and killed it off. Alex Semin managed to contain his urge to hook someone…Vokoun stopped 33 of 34…Ovechkin had 7 shots on goal…Mike Knuble had 2 assists…Roman Hamrlik has now played the most games of any Czech-born and -trained player (important to note the “trained”, because Blackhawks legend Stan Mikita was Czech but grew up in Canada)…

Minus: The Caps only managed 2 goals on Alex Auld…According to Japers’ Rink, Ovechkin was absent from the Caps’ top PP unit, and when he came back, he wasn’t on point. THAT makes sense…Erik Karlsson, the Sens’ promising young Swedish blueliner, was outplayed by his Carlson counterpart, John…

Injuries: Ottawa D Sergei Gonchar left in the 1st after blocking a shot and didn’t come back. Word from the Senators is that he has a bruised foot…

3 Stars: 1. Auld (gotta do it) 2. Vokoun 3. Knuble

Nightly Nugget: Not Caps related, but very significant: On this day in history, Wayne Gretzky scored his 1,851st NHL point. This surpassed Gordie Howe for most points in the NHL all-time, a record that still stands and is not likely to be broken soon, if ever.

Next up: The Caps welcome the Florida Panthers and Jose Theodore to the Verizon Center on Tuesday. As someone who finds Theodore more entertaining than probably anything on TV that night, you know I’ll be watching.