[Author's note: Power rankings are usually three things: Bad, wrong, and boring. You typically know just as well as the authors which teams won what games against who and what it all means, so our moving the Red Wings up four spots or whatever really doesn't tell you anything you didn't know. Who's hot, who's not, who cares? For this reason, we're doing a power ranking of things that are usually not teams. You'll see what I mean.]
7. A Preds-dictable decline
So the Nashville Predators are 3-7-1 in their last 11 games, which is not a good record to have when you used to be the best team in the league. The problem for the Preds is that their numbers never really were in line with what you saw from this team.
For a good long while, their possession was solid, despite the fact that their roster doesn't seem like it should be able to keep up the quality. Shea Weber and Roman Josi have been better than usual and that top line was producing pretty well for a while, but the team has suffered of late not because their possession numbers are on the decline, but because the bounces have stopped going their way.
Since this run of futility began, the Preds are shooting 6.9 percent at even strength, just 20th in the league, and stopping .915, which is also 20th. No surprise, then, that things have stopped going their way; they usually don't when your PDO is 98.4 percent.
How stark of a change is this? Well, prior to the run's start, their even-strength save percentage was the best in the league — and recall, please, that Pekka Rinne missed a bunch of games in the middle there — and their shooting percentage was tied for fifth. The teams in front of them largely had the skill on their rosters to keep that up (Tampa, Dallas, the Islanders, etc.) but not so much the Preds. Nothing else has really changed for them except shooting luck; they didn't all collectively forget how to score and/or get to “the hard areas” and Pekka Rinne isn't all of a sudden a worse-than-league-average goalie.
Are they still a good team? You bet. Their possession numbers have actually improved in this run, likely due to how much they're trailing these days, and it's better that they get this regression out of the way now rather than, say, in a month and a half when the playoffs are starting. But they're really jeopardizing their standing in the division. That once-insurmountable lead has been cut to four and seven points over St. Louis and Chicago, respectively, and both teams have multiple games in hand.
Not that it was ever going to be easy to get out of Conference III alive, but the Predators need to straighten things out and try to avoid finishing second or third in the division. You'd much rather play Winnipeg than one of those two teams.
6. RJ Umberger
Thought it was hilarious this week that RJ Umberger had to come out and be like, “Boy, I can't figure out why I'm so bad but I don't feel great about it.”
If only someone had seen him not being able to contribute anything at all to the Flyers' chances coming. Frankly, there was no way to know that a guy who had demonstrably been declining over the last few years was, in fact, not going to magically become better again because he went back to Philadelphia.
Oh well, at least Scott Hartnell's bad. He's not? Oh.
5. Women's hockey
Tough week to be a non-man playing the sport. Just like basically all the other weeks, I guess, but this time more so.
The CWHL title game took place on Saturday, and Boston beat Montreal in overtime. Pretty good game too, and I know because I watched it on NHL Network. Only a day later.
And also this week, a girls' state high school hockey title game in Connecticut was called a tie because, well, there were some boys lined up who wanted to play instead.
This is all so stupid. The NHL loves to act like hockey is for everyone, but they don't often put the asterisk on there that it's really for straight white North American guys first and foremost and then everyone else after that on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Is there any good reason at all that the NHL shouldn't be showing the CWHL title game, or hell the entire playoffs, on the NHL Network? Was another year-old episode of Oil Change really that much more of a solid vehicle for the ear wax cleaning thing? It's really sad to see women's hockey treated like it's a cool and good thing only during the Olympics, because I spent a lot of time flipping back and forth between the Bruins game and the Hockey East women's championship game on Sunday, and they were both pretty good games.
The idea that the Boston and Montreal teams should play a Clarkson Cup rematch outdoors at Gillette Stadium next year is a really great one, but I'm not sure if it will happen. That would require the NHL to acknowledge the CWHL exists for more than a few seconds.
4. Figuring it out(?) (maybe(?))
Speaking of the Bruins, this season has been fascinating for them.
They, the media, and the fans have spent a lot of time vacillating between “This team looks pretty good,” and “I'm having an existential crisis about how bad this team is,” this season. Remember a few weeks ago when the Flyers and Panthers were THISCLOSE to taking a playoff spot from the Bruins (by being like three points back or whatever)?
Well now they've got points from eight of their last 10 games, five of which were wins, including a big-time psychic victory over the Flyers. And everything in Bruinsland is sunshine and puppy kisses once again.
It's no secret that things haven't been great for the Bruins this year, and it's probably a good thing in the long run that these issues are cropping up now. They probably don't have too much longer as an elite team, if they have any time for that at all at this point, because it scared them into thinking that they don't necessarily have to go out and acquire anyone to be competitive, which is good because they didn't. That Brett Connolly was their big acquisition — and he's a skilled right wing who theoretically still has some decent upside to his game — might signal a shift in strategies for acquisition and retention of talent, which would do the club a world of good for after Zdeno Chara finally retires.
It's insane to me that we're talking about firing Peter Chiarelli and Claude Julien if the team doesn't make the playoffs — which, again, it probably will — because you'd have thought Going To Two Cup Finals In Four Years And Winning One Of Them buys them a little leeway for one season marred by injury and some bad luck (the Bruins are sooting about as well as New Jersey and Buffalo this season).
Does this roster have problems, and does the organization have blindspots in its talent evaluation? Unquestionably, but if they can make a philosophical shift and still retain some of the excellent players they have — Rask, Bergeron, Hamilton, Marchand, Eriksson — then this is a team that can continue to at least be dangerous for some time to come. Firing people doesn't solve any problems. It, in fact, just creates more because where are you going to find a better coach and GM than who you've got already?
3. College hockey signing season
Monday marked an important milestone for the hockey season overall, as Maine junior center Devin Shore made the decision that he wouldn't come back for a senior year, and instead signed with the Dallas Stars, who drafted him in the second round in 2012.
So yup, teams are getting eliminated from the college hockey playoffs, and that means NHL clubs are going to be circling drafted talent and a few UFAs for the next month or so. It's a fun time to be alive.
There are a number of flight risks each season, but the only one I can think of offhand who's had his team eliminated besides shore is Anaheim Ducks 2012 pick Kevin Roy. Roy's Northeastern Huskies were just eliminated in shocking fashion over the weekend as well, but his coach said immediately after the game that he's counting on the high-scoring winger to be back for his senior season. Doesn't always work out that way, but I'm not sure he's pro-ready on a physical level, so maybe one more year of lifting weights will do him a lot of good. Certainly, it'll help him stay on more pucks.
Anyway, there's a lot to look out for in the next few weeks, but you're a fan of one of those teams who's eyeballing Matt O'Connor like a cartoon wolf, well, I just wouldn't get too excited. If he's the best UFA this season, there's not a lot to be fist-pumping over.
2. Carey Price
Here's the big reason, as far as I'm concerned, that Price is the odds-on favorite to win the Hart. It's not necessarily that he does or doesn't deserve it (in the purest sense of the word, he does, but goalies don't win and they probably shouldn't).
It's that no one else has really distinguished himself. Patrick Kane was looking like a pretty good pick, but now he's hurt. Mark Giordano suffered the same fate. In terms of points per game, the currently healthy league leaders are Malkin, Seguin, Crosby, Tavares, and Ovechkin. Datsyuk and Nicklas Backstrom, too, are north of a point a game. Jake Voracek and Vladimir Tarasenko, and a few more besides, are close.
But no forward or defenseman is having a season where you can say, “Yeah, that guy, for sure.”
Which is why the door is open for Price. Not that he hasn't padded his own credentials with all this puck-stopping, but we've seen better goaltending performances in the last few years and no one said Tim Thomas should have won the Hart in 2011. But that year Daniel Sedin had almost 1.3 points per game. This year, someone will have to go on an insane run to get even close to that number.
This is shaping up to be the first 82-game season since the 2004-05 lockout in which no one is going to break 100 points. That's what you need for a goalie to win.
1. Devan Dubnyk
Again I will say, “How is this guy not in consideration for the Hart?” Games played, sure, but in terms of value delivered to his team, no one has had this kind of impact. The Wild were dead in the water when they traded for him, and now they're rather comfortably in a playoff spot.
I've been waiting for like a month for his play to drop off, and it just hasn't done so at all. He's been excellent. Can he keep it up? History suggests the answer is “very clearly not,” but here we are any way. Might be time to stop impatiently checking our watches after every game.
(Not ranked this week: Sleeping late.
More like Snoozem Kadri. See ya.)
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