by Max - 02/08/2006
The NHL season is already entered its second half, as the league prepares to shutdown for 2 ½ weeks to give way to the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. It will be very interesting to see how the teams respond once the break is completed. This long of a layoff certainly will affect the performance of the athletes, especially those not taking part in the games. This also is a major obstacle in handicapping the league and I would encourage you to cut back on the amount of action in the NHL until the teams have a full week of play under their belt.
Doc's has been red hot in hockey as we picked up 12 units last night going 3-0, winning the games by an average of three goals per contest. We will carry this momentum into Friday's card when we are set to release our NHL Game of the Month for February. This will be the only five-unit selection that we release in February and is the perfect way to go into the break on a positive note.
The Carolina Panthers have blown by the Ottawa Senators as the cream of the crop in the NHL. This team is young, but that has not factored, as Martin Gerber continues to get the job done between the pipes. This team recently bolstered their offense be acquiring Doug Weight from the St. Louis Blues. Will he provide the veteran leadership to carry them to the top? Only time will tell.
A team that has been struggling of late is the Philadelphia Flyers. They have lost three straight games and the loss of Peter Forsberg appears to be catching up to them. They need to stay within striking distance of the New York Rangers until Forsberg returns if they still have hopes of winning the Atlantic Division. The break could not have come at a better time for the Flyers.
The following is a list of the top-10 teams in the National Hockey League according to Doc's NHL Power Rankings.
1) Carolina Panthers- Everything appears in line for the Hurricanes to claim the top spot in the league. As of this writing, they have a three-point cushion and play in a weak division where they can pile up points against Florida, Washington, Tampa Bay and Atlanta. Assuming the Erics stay healthy, this team will be a tough out in the playoffs.
2) Ottawa Senators- The Sens have cooled off a little after a blistering start to the NHL season. This team has the make-up of a champion, with strong offense and a veteran goalie that has won big games in the past. They are still receiving pressure within the division from Buffalo and the winner of this race will likely host the first two rounds of the playoffs. The loser will only get one round home ice advantage.
3) Detroit Red Wings- The Wings have separated themselves from the Nashville Predators and appear to have taken control of the central. This is bad division, as only two teams will be making the playoffs. The Wings still must win games via their offense, as their goaltending is shaky with Manny Legacy in net. He continues to allow bad goals to get through him and that will keep them out of the Stanley Cup Finals.
4) Dallas Stars- The Stars have taken control of the Pacific leading by 12 points over the Kings. Marty Turco is a big-time goalie and just signed an extension to stay with the team. This squad likes to keep the score low and that is usually how games are decided once the playoffs come in April. This team is impossible to beat in a shootout, as they have emerged victorious in all eight of their chances this season.
5) Buffalo Sabres- The Sabres have quietly kept pace with the Senators despite not being picked up on the national radar. Marty Biron and Ryan Miller are both capable of winning big games in net. With Chris Drury holding down the captaincy, Buffalo could make to the Eastern Conference Finals.
6) New York Rangers- The Rangers have played outstanding hockey despite being picked as one of the worst teams in hockey by numerous publications. This team has scored points in eight of their last ten games and has the best offensive player in the league in Jaromir Jagr. They have also allowed less then three goals per game, which is a formula for success in April.
7) Nashville Predators- The Preds continue to dominate at GEC, winning 21 of their 27 games played downtown. This is a team that did a good job in the off-season acquiring Paul Kariya to bolster the offense. Thomas Vokoun has had a good season in net but I do not see this team advancing past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
8) Calgary Flames- This team has the make-up of a championship team but has failed to distance themselves in the Northwest Division. Just three points separate four teams, but I feel the Flames will eventually pull away because of their netminder Miikka Kiprusoff. That being said, Jarome Iginla needs to assert himself as one of the best five players in the league. A surprising move was that they traded away Steve Reinprecht for a back-up goalie. I do not understand this trade, but Darryl Sutter has worked magic in the past.
9) Philadelphia Flyers- The Flyers need to tread water for this week, then they can expect a healthy Peter Forsberg to return after the break. They gave up a late lead to the Rangers on Saturday and because of that find themselves in second place in the Atlantic. I do not believe the Rangers really scare this Flyers squad and expect them to make another run to regain the top spot in the Atlantic.
10) Vancouver Canucks- This teas has dominated the General Motors Place winning 19 of 25 games played there. The Canucks have a dominating offense led by Markus Naslund, who is just coming back from an injury. I expect this team to make the playoffs but wonder if the will be able to hold off the Flames in the standings.
That is how I rank the top-10 teams in the standing according to strength. There is still a lot of season left to play and with the Olympics looming momentum will definitely shift. Do not forget to sign-up for Doc's NHL Game of the Month, which will go this Friday. Doc's has cashed this play at a 75 percent clip this season.
Early Stanley Cup Prediction: Dallas vs. Ottawa