by Max - 12/28/2005
The Nashville Predators asserted themselves atop the Western Conference with three impressive road wins including a big win in Calgary. The Preds, despite being undersized play a very physical style of hockey and dish out punishment on unexpecting opponents. They also have a proven goaltender in Thomas Vokoun, who has the ability to make point blank saves. He never gets frustrated with his performance and that gives him the ability to win games despite giving up an early goal.
That being said, here is how I would rate the top-10 teams in the NHL according to strength. movement from last week in (parenthesis):
1) Ottawa Senators (unchanged)- The Sens continue to be the cream of the crop in the NHL. The suffered just one regulation loss last week and got that out of their system on Monday with a four goal victory against the Rangers. They have a comfortable lead in the Eastern Conference; however, much of their team will be involved in the Olympics so it will be interesting to see how their legs are affected once the season is resumed.
2) Detroit Redwings (+1)- The Wings went into Dallas this week and came away with an impressive 4-1 victory. Back-up Goalie Chris Osgood continues to get the job done and may be inserted as the No. 1 netminder. The Wings have now won four straight games and look to distance themselves from the Predators.
3) Nashville Predators (+7)- Nashville has had an outstanding road trip capped off this week with a come-from-behind win against Calgary. They have now won six games in a row by an average of more than two goals per bout. The Preds need to get Paul Kariya going, as he is -6 when on the ice.
4) Dallas Stars (-2)- The Stars had a disappointing performance against the Wings but as long as Marty Turco is in net, they will win the majority of their games. Dallas has alternated wins and losses over their last six games and has had just an average month. But this team can beat anybody, anyplace, at any time.
5) Carolina Hurricanes (+2)- The Canes have scored points in eight of their last nine games and have put some distance between the Stanley Cup Champions, leading them by eight points and have three games in hand. Martin Gerber has certainly proven himself in between the pipes and it will be interesting to see how this rookie holds up. But with Eric Staal scoring points at will, Carolina is solid at both ends of the ice.
6) Philadelphia Flyers (unranked)- The Flyers have taken over the East from the New York Rangers and have a couple of games in hand. Peter Forsberg is back on the ice and is a +16 when playing. He is a great compliment to Simon Gagne, who is second in the league in scoring.
7) Calgary Flames (-3)- The Flames took down their rival Vancouver beating them in two straight games at GM Place, but blew a two-goal lead at the Saddledome against Nashville on Tuesday. This team has a dominating first line led by Jerome Iginla, Tony Amonte and Steve Reinprecht. With Miikka Kiprusoff in net, this is a dangerous team to return to the Stanley Cup Finals.
8) Buffalo Sabres (-2)- The Sabres have won eight out of their last ten games, but suffered a surprising loss to Florida. They are tied with Ottawa with 25 wins, but I do not believe they will be able to catch them since the Senators have three games in hand against them. Marty Biron has played better that what has stats would indicate and saw his streak of 13 come to an end last week against Florida.
9) Vancouver Canucks (-1)- Just as I predicted, the Canucks went on a slide because of the loss of goaltender Dan Cloutier. Vancouver lost both games to Calgary despite scoring six goals on Friday night. Goaltending will be a problem for this team all season and I do not expect them to go far into playoffs. The Northwest Division is very competitive, as four teams have amassed 40 points.
10) Tampa Bay Lighting (-1)- Tampa would have to win four road series to defend their cup if the playoffs started today. This team has lost four out of their last five games in which they allowed 24 goals. Carolina has gone out of sight and this team needs to worry about themselves before they start thinking about a repeat. A brutal trip awaits them to start 2006 in which eight of their first nine games will come on the road.
This is how I would rank the teams according to their performance this far into the season. Doc's is your place for all of your NHL needs, as we are up +25 units on the season and this coming Saturday are set to release our, "Game of the Year." This will be the only eight unit selection that we will release this season and is a must have for any big game hunter. You will be able to purchase this pick from this location, so be sure to check back Saturday morning.