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Ranking the best (and worst) divisions in the NHL

Despite the fact that the Eastern Conference now has a newly minted respectable division – the resoundingly revamped Southeast – the Western Conference still reigns supreme. Yet ESPN’s Scott Burnside decided to take the conference debate a step further and instead ranked the NHL’s six divisions from first (the rough and tumble Central) to last (the somewhat hopeless Northeast) in this column. Here are a few observations, with Burnside’s findings in bold and teams listed in order of their rankings as of today.

(For the record, I agree with his rankings.)

1. Central Division (Detroit, Nashville, Chicago, St. Louis, Columbus)

2. Pacific Division (Dallas, Phoenix, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose)

I was leaning toward the Pacific, but Burnside makes a good point that the Central division includes two of the last three Stanley Cup winners (not to mention the last three finalists for the West) in Detroit and Chicago. They also have the best team of the 10 in Detroit.

After the top teams, I might like some of the Pacific depth teams a bit more from a talent perspective, although the Kings and Ducks are in a free fall right now.

3. Atlantic Division (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, N.Y. Rangers, N.Y. Islanders, New Jersey)

The Atlantic includes two teams that are serious Cup contenders as well the Rangers, a scrappy bunch who just beat the top team in the NHL last night (that would be Vancouver). Yet they also house the two worst teams in the league, so middle of the pack seems reasonably fair.

4. Southeast Division (Tampa Bay, Washington, Atlanta, Carolina, Florida)

Fourth place might seem like an insult, but the Southeast was once just the Capitals, two awful teams and the hot-and-cold Hurricanes. In other words, they were probably the worst division in the league. Two spots is a solid jump.

5. Northwest Division (Vancouver, Colorado, Minnesota, Calgary, Edmonton)

The Northwest includes the best team in the NHL and the flawed but fun Avalanche, but their bottom three teams leave much to be desired. The Wild and Flames seem like they’re stuck in neutral while the Oilers are still in dress rehearsal mode with their band of youngsters.

6. Northeast Division (Boston, Montreal, Buffalo, Toronto, Ottawa)

It’s tough to argue with this choice. Ottawa and Toronto are mostly horrible. Buffalo is paying dearly for relying too heavily upon Ryan Miller after his super 2010-11 season. Even their two best teams are a little limited offensively, although the Bruins are showing signs of developing into a serious Cup contender.

Fight video: Zack Kassian racks up penalty minutes, faces Brian Strait

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Pulling Anders Nilsson didn’t stop the bleeding for the Edmonton Oilers. Instead, it really just spread the “wealth.”

The New York Islanders are up 7-1, so don’t be surprised if there’s some ugly stuff in the final frame.

Zack Kassian is an author of at least one outburst, as he was tagged with 19 penalty minutes for a display that included fighting Brian Strait, as you can see in the video above.

It’s not the only fight stemming from the blowout, either, as Eric Gryba just tangled with Matt Martin.

Could there be more?

Isles chase Nilsson from Oilers’ net in less than 12 minutes

Edmonton Oilers goalie Anders Nilsson, of Sweden, makes pad save against the Colorado Avalanche during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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There was a time when Anders Nilsson seemed like the best bet in the Oilers’ net this season. This … is not that time.

Less than 12 minutes into Sunday’s game, the New York Islanders roared to a 3-0 lead, and that was enough for Edmonton to give Nilsson the hook.

He allowed those three goals on 10 shots, so to be fair, that’s a pretty impressive chunk of chances (almost a shot on goal per minute).

Still, the Oilers were likely hoping to give Cam Talbot a breather, and instead he was rushed into action. Nilsson hadn’t played since Jan. 19, and he’s only appeared in three games in 2016.

As if this didn’t sting enough for Nilsson, consider the fact that he began his NHL career with the Islanders, who eventually decided he wasn’t worth keeping.

Ovi scores 30th as Caps beat Flyers for third straight victory

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Alex Ovechkin scored to join Wayne Gretzky and Mike Gartner as only players with at least 30 goals in each of their first 11 NHL seasons, and Matt Niskanen netted the game winner as Washington beat the Flyers 3-2 at Verizon on Super Bowl Sunday.

Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz replied for the Flyers, who suffered their second straight loss.

The win was the Capitals’ third in a row.

It didn’t always look as though Washington would emerge the victor, however. The Caps were out-shot 35-30 on the day and looked disjointed at times, finishing with 12 giveaways (Philly was credited with just five, for comparison’s sake).

But good teams find ways to win when they’re not playing especially well, and the Caps are a pretty good team — especially when Braden Holtby is on his game.

Holtby, atop many Vezina lists at the moment, had another terrific outing on Sunday, making 33 saves, perhaps none better than this one on Mark Streit in the second period:

Holtby’s counterpart, Steve Mason, had a solid outing as well, finishing with 27 stops.

Looking ahead, the Caps will now head out on a three-game Western Conference swing through Minnesota, Nashville and what promises to be a high-octane game in Dallas on Feb. 13.

The Flyers, meanwhile, will now kick off a three-game homestand against Anaheim, Buffalo and New Jersey.

 

Jets’ Stafford to have disciplinary hearing after high-sticking Holden

Colorado Avalanche's Nick Holden (2) hits Winnipeg Jets' Mathieu Perreault (85) during first period NHL hockey action in Winnipeg, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. (Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Winnipeg forward Drew Stafford will meet with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for his high stick on Colorado’s Nick Holden on Saturday night, the DoPS announced this afternoon.

There was no immediate video of the incident available. Stafford wasn’t penalized on the play, which occurred during the third period; Holden finished the final frame with 10 shifts for 6:46 of ice time.

Stafford, 30, has a clean disciplinary history and hasn’t been fined or suspended during his 10-year NHL career.