by Max - 03/21/2006
The hockey season is starting to wind down and it seems that the traditional powerhouses are starting to assert themselves atop of the standings. It is now a three-team race for the best record in the league as Detroit, Carolina and Ottawa are all within three points of one another. Detroit has made a remarkable surge during the second half of the season to climb into the race as the Red Wings have gone 8-2 over their last ten games.
The race is even more competitive for the eight and final playoff spot in both divisions. In the Eastern Conference, Atlanta and Montreal hope to get into the playoffs. Montreal has had the edge for most of the season, but the Thrashers have made a surge to get within one point of the Canadians.
The Western Conference is even tighter, as just four points separate five teams. Three of the five will represent the conference in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and, as it stands now, Vancouver and San Jose would be on the outside looking in. San Jose does have a couple of games in hand against their conference rivals and I feel since they have acquired Joe Thornton, they have the strength to get into the playoffs. Look for them to be playing the Wings in round one in April.
Here is how I would rank the top-10 teams in the NHL according to strength.
1) Detroit Red Wings -- The Red Wings are one of the NHL's hottest clubs. Not only did they win three of four last week, Detroit is also 8-2 in its last 10 and has won 11-of-13 since Jan. 30. At the conclusion of play in Week 21, the Wings' 44-15-5 record was tops in the NHL. I still question their goaltending, but with the veteran defenseman helping to protect the net, only an adequate netminder is needed.
2) Ottawa Senators -- Ottawa has an outstanding offensive team that wins games by outscoring their opponents. But without the dominator in net, will they be able to continue to outscore their opponent once the playoffs roll around? My guess is no, and I could see this team losing during the first week of May.
3) Carolina Hurricanes - The Canes were dealt a major blow with the loss of LW Erik Cole for the season because of a neck injury. This is one half of the dynamic Eriks and now all the pressure falls on Erik Staal. Acquiring veteran sniper Mark Recchi at the deadline may help, but I would expect this team to fall down the standings. However, they should be able to hold onto the No. 2 seed, as the No. 3 seed Rangers are nearly double digits behind in points.
4) Dallas Stars - The Stars have solidified the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and they have the best goalie in front of the net. Marty Turco has yet to lose a shootout game this season and that gives the Stars a big advantage once a game is tied after regulation. This team should give the Wings all they can handle if the two were to meet up in May.
5) Buffalo Sabres - Buffalo has put pressure on the top-seeded Senators all year long and currently trail them by five points. The problem is that they will be a No. 4 seed in the east if they cannot catch them. That would likely mean just one series of home-ice advantage despite have the second best record. Buffalo is 8-2 over their last ten games played, despite suffering an embarrassing loss to Atlanta by five goals on Monday.
6) New York Rangers - The Rangers appear to have all the makings of a championship team, as they have the best player in the league (Jagr). Goalie Henrik Lundqvist showed his ability during the Olympics and if he can regain that form, the Rangers could take back the Cup. This team may be worth a look as a future bet when the playoffs start in April.
7) Nashville Predators - The Preds got off to a remarkable start in October and still have stayed strong and will earn home-ice advantage in round one. This team is involved in a lot of one-goal games and if defenseman Danny Markov can get healthy, they could reach the conference finals.
8) Calgary Flames - The Flames have shaken off one pesky northwest opponent, but still cannot rid themselves of the Avalanche. Calgary currently has a two-point lead over Colorado and this is important, as the division winner will be a No. 3 seed and the loser will be given a No. 5 seed. This team will win game via low numbers and that sets up well with Miikka Kiprusoff between the pipes.
9) Philadelphia Flyers - The Flyers have struggled over their last 10 games but still have two dynamic offensive players in Simon Gagne and Peter Forsberg. I feel the oddsmakers have over adjusted the lines for their games and look for them to become selections, as the season winds down.
10) Colorado Avalanche - Colorado played an inspiring game on Monday night, blanketing Los Angeles after coming off a tough loss on Sunday. Joe Sakic scored four points and keeps moving up the all-time scoring list. The only question I have about the Avs is their goaltender. Unfortunately, this is a big concern that will probably end their season during the second round of the playoffs.
This is how I rank the top-10 teams in the NHL according to strength. Doc's has had an outstanding season handicapping hockey and currently is +34 units on the season. We expect big things once the postseason rolls around next month and I would encourage you to sign-up for one of the many NHL packages that we are currently offering.