Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Is parity striking the NHL?


We're over a month into the NHL season. There's still five months left. But as Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi once said, "What the hell is going on out here?"

As disappointed as I am in the start of the Penguins (7-7-1), who would miss the playoffs if the season ended today, they're not the only team that's struggle-ling (to quote Joe Namath.) Nick referenced the standings down below, but he only stated numbers and, except for comparison's sake in his example, didn't cite specifics. So let's take a closer look.

Of the 16 2010 playoff teams, seven of them would be golfing on April 13 instead of preparing for postseason play. The aforementioned Penguins, three division champions in San Jose, Buffalo and New Jersey (special mention to Chicago, which is in the top eight on the strength of playing four more games than the four teams below it), along with Nashville and darlings Phoenix and Colorado would all be out.

Two of those division winners are arguably the two worst teams in the NHL. Meanwhile, we'd have the Rangers, Atlanta and Tampa Bay qualifying in the East and St. Louis (we'll give the Blues the conference champ nod, even the Presidents' Trophy), Dallas, Columbus and Minnesota in the West.

The struggles of some teams are not that big a surprise, at least to me. This is for Buffalo and Phoenix. The Coyotes played out of their mind last year, got fabulous goaltending, but lacked any kind of offensive punch. Those kinds of things can take you only so far. As for Buffalo, also not a surprise. The Sabres lost Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman, key members of their success, and replaced them with Jordan Leopold (who brought a lot to Pittsburgh's table) and Shaone Morrisonn. Buffalo didn't add any offense, a glaring weakness, and I'm sorry, but Olympic sweetheart Ryan Miller was due to regress at least a little.

Tyler Myers had a banner year in his rookie year. A sophomore slump was always possible, but he's looking like the 19 year old he probably should've resembled last season. Partnered with Tallinder, Myers is perhaps the player who's affected the most.

I'm not sure what the problem is with the Devils. Age? Martin Brodeur isn't getting any younger. They brought back Jason Arnott, increasing the team's average age. Patrik Elias is growing longer in the tooth. So are Jamie Langenbrunner and Brian Rolston. An injury to Anton Volchenkov hasn't helped things certainly, nor has Zach Parise's (although he only recently left the lineup, his leg injury clearly affected his play.)

The obvious finger-pointing is at Ilya Kovalchuk. The funny thing is he was just fine for New Jersey after the trade deadline with 10 goals and 27 points in 27 games. Was he just playing for a new, hefty contract? Quite possible. ESPN Insider (of which I'm not a member) recently had an article with the headline, "Kovy just wanted the $100M." Is Kovalchuk no longer motivated or interested now that he's got his money?

Basically, you name it and it's gone wrong for the Devils.

The struggles for other teams are simpler: San Jose has had weak goaltending and until recently, weak star play. The Blackhawks haven't been getting much from their stars in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Ditto Pittsburgh with Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury. Nashville has no goal scorers. The Avalanche played over their heads but still have a solid team; they're on the fringe.

So what about the teams who are playing real well? For some, it's goaltending and defense (Minnesota, Columbus.) For others, it's really goaltending (St. Louis.) Others, like Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Dallas, are getting all kinds of offensive production, which they've needed as their goaltending has been spotty or inconsistent.

I don't know how the hell the Rangers are doing it.

Regardless, the playoff landscape looks a bit different these days, but it's only Nov. 9. Some of these teams might have the horses to maintain a top eight spot on the final day and others will falter. Some struggling teams presumably will make their charges and create some interesting situations.

In case you missed it
Since I didn't do a recap for the one game Monday, I'll add it here. Same with a (very short) preview. I figured though it was time to write something of actual substance (Nick's PPG post notwithstanding.)

Detroit 3, Phoenix 2 (OT) - Henrik Zetterberg scored early in overtime and Jimmy Howard made 29 saves. Nicklas Lidstrom and Dan Cleary also scored, while Martin Hanzal and Keith Yandle had Phoenix's goals. Ilya Bryzgalov made 37 saves.

Looking ahead
Carolina 4, Edmonton 2 - The Hurricanes are still inconsistent; they're looking for their second two-game winning streak.
Vancouver 4, Montreal 1 - Carey Price won't stand up to the Canucks.
Washington 5, N.Y. Rangers 2- Can't in good conscience advise starting Henrik Lundqvist in fantasy. (I'll play him anyway and I'll regret it.)
Ottawa 3, Atlanta 2 - This is the "ugh" game of the night. I don't know how either of these teams win.
Tampa Bay 5, Toronto 2 - Maple Leafs can't score, but the Lightning can't defend. Tampa can score though.
Colorado 4, Calgary 3 - The Flames are so bad.
Anaheim 3, San Jose 1 - No Joe Thornton; didn't matter last time, will this time.

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