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March of the Whalers; OHL pecking order changes in BTN Dynamic Dozen

Buzzing The Net

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Anaheim Ducks prospect Rickard Rakell (OHL Images)

The 'are we there yet?' edition of the Double-D is highlighted by a change in the OHL's hierarchy.

It probably won't come as much surprise. While the London Knights are beset by injury- and suspension-related absenteeism, the Plymouth Whalers have won their past five games along with 9-of-10 and 22 of their last 28. It doesn't indicate that Plymouth has become the playoff favourite since there is an ebb and flow to performance.

1. Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL (.581 RPI, 1.8 SRS, —) — Keep playing like this, Zachary Fucale, and you might be good enough for the nation's one-week-a-year junior hockey experts to loath you during the 2015 IIHF world U20 championship.

How many awards do you have Jonathan Drouin winning in your Golden Puck Awards office pool?

2. Portland Winterhawks, WHL (.567 RPI, 1.8 SRS, —) — Moving quickly through the teams which have proven they have nothing to prove before playoffs, overage goalie Mac Carruth is is in range of club records for lowest average and highest save percentage. A greater concern is that Carruth left the Winterhawks' game in Victoria on Tuesday with an injury.

3. Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL (.562 RPI, 1.4 SRS, —) — Just throwing this out there since there's a chance the Oil Kings and Portland meet in May for the Ed Chynoweth Cup ... would the ain't-what-it-used-to-be ice quality of Rexall Place help Edmonton against a quick-strike transition team such as the Winterhawks in the final? The nearly 40-year-old arena used to be praised for having the best ice in the NHL, but the ice plant is deteriorating. When Edmonton and Saskatoon went to a shootout on Tuesday, Blades radio voice Les Lazaruk was in rare form while describing the pre-shootout scraping: "You could have a good snowball fight with all the snow they're clearing off ... you've got to have two guys with big shovels to get all of it off." Just something to think about.

The Oil Kings suffered a teachable moment in that game, after Saskatoon came from two goals down to tie 2-2 through 60 before winning in the skills competition.

4. Kelowna Rockets, WHL (.558 RPI, 1.4 SRS, +1) — Apologies for missing this on the weekend, but the most Canadian thing ever happened. As Rockets radio play-by-play man Regan Bartel reported on Saturday, Kelowna wing Tyrell Goulbourne won a barbecue in Tim Hortons' Roll Up The Rim contest, then scored the winning goal in the division title-clinching win over the Kamloops Blazers. If it's not a player benefit violation, buy Goulbourne a side of venison.

Kelowna finishes close to home this weekend, albeit with a 3-in-3. Outside of Myles Bell's status, it has a chance to be rested for Round 1 of the playoffs. The way the hot dog was made bolsters Ryan Huska's coach of the year case. Or the support could go to Portland's Travis Green, although that might chafe make the WHL office.

5. Plymouth Whalers, OHL (.552 RPI, 1.3 SRS, +2) — Two seasons ago, current Whalers goalie Matt Mahalak was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes after posting a gaudy goals-against average and save percentage in the second half. True rookie Alex Nedeljkovic, the other half of the all-Ohioan goalie tandem, has pared 0.56 off his average and upped his save percentage by 18 points since Feb. 1. Keep in mind Nedeljkovic is year out from the draft, as is wing Matt Mistele's who's part of an impressive second line.

6. London Knights, OHL (.551 RPI, 1.0 SRS, -2) — The biggest bit of Knights news is the disclosure that captain Scott Harrington "may miss some playoff time." London is less of an immovable object without the Pittsburgh Penguins prospect on its top defensive pairing. Beyond that, London's 5-1 folderoo on Sunday against Windsor can still be treated as a one-off. The upshot was Max Domi taking some ownership of the loss ("It’s really unacceptable on our part. It was embarrassing"). One Knights playoff storyline will be whether Domi provides a London version of Kitchener's Skinner Spring of 2010.

7. Owen Sound Attack, OHL (.546 RPI, 0.8 SRS, -1) — A double shot of Eriespresso might have helped the confidence of Owen Sound's top forwards such as Cameron Brace and Gemel Smith. They needed that. Owen Sound has points in 10-of-11 games and has a magic number of one win or Kitchener Rangers loss to lock up the No. 3 playoff seed. Their recent good stretch might have inspired some confidence to rest players before the post-season.

8. Guelph Storm, OHL (.541 RPI, 0.7 SRS, —) — Great, great news for Guelph, he typed sarcastically: captain and Toronto Maple Leafs-drafted defenceman Matt Finn is, indeed, out with a bad knee sprain through at least the first round of the playoffs. Finn was injured a knee-to-knee check by Saginaw's Justin Kea on Saturday.

The Storm and Kitchener Rangers meet in a playoff preview on Wednesday at the Sleeman Centre.

9. Calgary Hitmen, WHL (.539 RPI, 0.6 SRS, +9) — So, so much to look forward in the eastern half of the Dub as the playoffs near. Edmonton going for the repeat, Saskatoon still facing doubters about how competitive it will be in the Memorial Cup, Red Deer's Patrik Bartosak threatening to stop 63-of-64 shots a night if that's what it takes for the darkhorse Rebels and Calgary moving into contention. Coach Mike Williamson's Hitmen put up a nine-spot twice last week as it came out of "stretch where we were struggling to score." That seems like a good omen as it heads toward the playoffs, along with Carolina Hurricanes prospect Victor Rask producing like a 19-year-old in the wind-down portion of his junior days should.

10. Kamloops Blazers, WHL (.534 RPI, 0.9 SRS, —) — Stat of the week: Blazers grinder Sam Grist has more checking-from-behind penalties this season than the entire Medicine Hat Tigers team, which is a segue into steering eyes toward Brad Brown's passionate plea for the WHL to do something about the real cause of brain trauma. That problem is on junior hockey's front porch. The public might be mollified for a while, but the medical community will never be.

11. P.E.I. Rocket, QMJHL (.530 RPI, 0.3 SRS, +9) — Hopefully for the Rocket, who are the Q's hottest team outside of Halifax, there's more crowds like the 3,338 who took in their win last weekend over Acadie-Bathurst. That was about double the typical crowd in Charlottetown. Granted, there are only so many people on the island, but between having a competitive team and having Ben Duffy and Josh Currie 1-2 in league scoring, there's a lot going on here.

The Rocket only have two games left, but could conceivably still climb up from seventh overall in the QMJHL.

12. Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, QMJHL (.529 RPI, 0.9 SRS, —) — Harkening back to how J.F. Houle led Lewiston deep into the 2011 playoffs, B-B looks like a playoff darkhorse. The Armada can turn any game into a grim struggle with their chippy, close-checking ways. They also have the 'tender to play that way, as Charronian one noted last week. Goalie Étienne Marcoux has had has had only one off-night in about the last month.

The not as dynamic but still very distinguished dozen — 13. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, OHL (.528, +1); 14. Oshawa Generals, OHL (.528, +10); 15. Saskatoon Blades, WHL (.528, -2); 16. Moncton Wildcats, QMJHL (.527, -7); 17. Tri-City Americans, WHL (.527, -2); 18. Kitchener Rangers, OHL (.527, -7); 19. Baie-Comeau Drakkar, QMJHL (.526, -2); 20. Spokane Chiefs, WHL (.525, -4); 21. Québec Remparts, QMJHL (.521, +11); 22. Barrie Colts, OHL (.521, +5); 23. Rimouski Océanic, QMJHL (.520, -4); 24. Sarnia Sting, OHL (.517, -2).

Hot team — Québec Remparts, up 11 (32nd to 21st).

Cold team — Moncton Wildcats, down 7 (9th to 16th).

Nowhere to go but up — Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (.431).

An explanation on rankings — Buzzing The Net uses Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) with a recency factor. RPI combines a team's record with the strength of its opponents to produce an overall rating. Our method also gives more weight to recently played games. Shootout wins and losses are classified as ties, for philosophical and practical reasons. Simple Ranking System (SRS), an equation which uses goal differential and strength of schedule, is used as a complement. All three CHL leagues are considered equivalent in quality.

(All rankings through play on Mar. 11.)

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