It's the best time of year!
Posted by Ryan Porth Labels: Top 5
1. The Canucks are who we thought they were
Before the season, I made the bold prediction that the Vancouver Canucks would win the Stanley Cup. After six weeks or so, the chances of that happening didn’t look so good – especially when Luongo and Henrik’s other half were injured. But here we are, kicking off February with Alain Vigneault’s club looking like a team to be reckoned with. The twins along with Alex Burrows have shown great chemistry on the top unit, becoming the hardest line to stop in the NHL. It's literally 'magic on ice' when that line is on top of their game.
Though they may not be the favorites, Henrik and ‘Bobby Lu’ should be included in the Hart and Vezina discussions, respectively. I think they’ll do just fine on the historic road trip, and play well enough down the stretch to win the division. Down the stretch, Vancouver will have a home-laden schedule to wrap up the season. Once they’re healthy on the blue-line again, this team could go places.
2. Yes, Phoenix AND Florida could really make the playoffs
Two franchises/cities that receive a lot of criticism for owning hockey teams could very well be playing past Game 82 this season. That’s right… the Desert Dogs and Cardiac ‘Cats are looking like playoff contenders. Living off sound defense, clutch goaltending, and a goal-scoring by committee mindset, the Coyotes and Panthers turned heads this month.
Tomas Vokoun was absolutely lights-out last month; and by lights-out, I mean a 1.49 GAA with 4 shutouts. The concern Panthers fans should have is the workload he may face at the Olympics. He’s the only #1 ‘tender for the Czechs, who could go far if the pieces fall in place. Ilya Bryzgalov didn’t have his best month of hockey, but was helped out by more goal-scoring in front of him. Phoenix has a semi-comfy 9-point lead ahead of the 9th seed in the West. Looks like there will be at least a couple ‘white-outs’ in the desert in April!
3. Carey Price’s future may not be in Montreal after all
When Bob Gainey dealt then-starter Cristobal Huet at the 2008 deadline, you had to assume Carey Price was going to be ‘it’. He was the next Ken Dryden or Patrick Roy… it’s all we heard from Habs fans. My how things can change so quickly! Two years later, we could see Price (who is an RFA this summer) shown the same door Huet exited at this time.
Price looked like the stud goaltender he was talked up to be early last year, but injuries slowed him at the midpoint. He came back early to play in the All-Star Game – which was in Montreal – as he was voted in as the Eastern Conference starter. That’s where everything went down hill. It’s hard to believe Gainey would trade away the ‘goalie of the future’; but as long as Jaroslav Halak is playing 5-times better than Price between the pipes, the once-thought impossible could come true.
4. Ottawa is much better when Jason Spezza is scoring
Earlier last month, the Senators’ world was coming to an end. Daniel Alfredsson was shelved with a shoulder injury, Pascal Leclaire got hurt (again), and the team had a 5-game losing streak. Some Sens fans went as far as saying the season was over. I guess they forgot it’s an 82-game schedule! Ottawa has looked scary good on their current 9-game winning streak, and the play of Daniel Alfredsson and Brian Elliott deserve a lot of the credit. But don’t forget about Jason Spezza.
Remember that 23-year-old forward that centered the best line in hockey?? Spezza averaged roughly 90 points in the first three years after the lockout. He, Alfredsson, and Dany Heatley were sensational on the top unit. Spezza has experienced a dip in production the last couple years, but is really picking it up right now for Ottawa. He’s looking like his old self, scoring a goal in 6 straight games (a career high). The difference is that he’s actually shooting the puck, driving the net, and determined to get on the score-sheet. While Elliott and Alfredsson have been the stars of this streak, Spezza should be considered the x-factor, if you will.
5. The Red Wings are not the Red Wings we used to know
A few weeks ago, I stated that Detroit was about to go on a run as they were getting healthier. Since then they’ve been inconsistent and are still hovering around the playoff bubble. There’s still no doubt in my mind that the Wings will creep into the top eight when it’s all said and done. But they keep coming up short, which would have me a bit worried if I was a fan of the team (which I’ll never be).
In the last nine games, the Wings have gone to overtime or the shootout in five of them – winning just once. While they are picking up points, they aren’t coming through in the clutch like they always did way back when… err, all of last decade. The goaltending is there most nights, but they’re having trouble putting the puck in the net. Marian Hossa and Jiri Hudler are gone from last year’s team, but there’s no excuse for this team to keep playing like this. Maybe they are simply wearing down…
at 10:45 AM
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