Boston Bruins v Ottawa Senators

The race for number one… In the 2011 NHL draft

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While attention to the playoff position jockeying is rightfully gathering a lot of attention through most cities in the NHL, there’s a special race of its own developing for the also-rans.

Fans in Ottawa, Denver, Edmonton, and Long Island haven’t had too much to get excited about this year but perhaps the prospect of being able to draft one of the NHL Central Scouting bureau’s top prospects is a reason to have hope for the future. Sure there’s no one guy like John Tavares or Steve Stamkos that stands out above all nor a Taylor Hall vs. Tyler Seguin kind of debate shaping up for 2011, but there’s a host of potential stars that these playoff non-hopefuls can look forward to.

Among the names worth remembering right now there’s top ranked skater from the OHL Gabriel Landeskog, Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson, QMJHL forward Sean Couturier, WHL forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and QMJHL forward Jonathan Huberdeau. When it comes time to draft in St. Paul this summer, those names could be arranged in any order at the top of the draft and with the race for the top pick being as curious to see as the race for the playoffs is the speculation is rampant as to who people believe is the best.

As it stands as of this writing, the race for the best odds in the NHL draft lottery looks this way:

  1. Ottawa – 53 points
  2. Edmonton – 54 points
  3. Colorado – 60 points
  4. NY Islanders – 60 points
  5. Florida – 60 points

With things being as tight there, there’s a new storyline developing in the race for the top pick and it surrounds the Senators and Avalanche. As you recall, the two teams swung a deal at the deadline trading for each other’s starting goalie. Brian Elliott headed to Colorado and continued to be his mediocre self from this season whereas Craig Anderson has been lights out and fantastic in Ottawa. Depending on how you view things as a Senators fan, it’s either great to see the team rally like this or terrible because now they’re not tanking for the top pick.

The Denver Post’s Adrian Dater ruminates about things today and says that the work Anderson is doing in Ottawa helping them win more games might actually help his old team land the top pick in the draft.

Anyway, one of the reasons for paying attention to the rest of the season, for Avs fans, is where they’ll finish in the overall standings. Right now, they have more points than only three teams – Islanders, Oilers and Senators. All three teams are actually playing some of their best hockey of the season right now, and the gap between the Avs and the lowest-place team (Ottawa) was only seven points.

While it’s still likely the Avs will finish ahead of both Edmonton and Ottawa, the Oilers do play the Avs twice more this season, so that six-point gap could be more easily narrowed. That leaves Ottawa maybe only standing in the way of that No. 1 pick, and Anderson’s red-hot goaltending since the trade (though he lost his last start) could make the difference in dropping Colorado to No. 30.

Obviously Anderson isn’t a secret agent working against the Senators and for the Avalanche (or Oilers) to help them get closer to the top pick. If there was a definitive talent at the top of the draft in 2011 perhaps the tinfoil hat brigade could have a leg to stand on, but as it is who would be taken by which teams is anyone’s guess.

If you’d like a really premature scouting report on the 2011 draft, you’d have to think that Edmonton with their wealth of young forward talent in Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, and Linus Omark they’d be looking at defense meaning Sweden’s Adam Larsson would ideally be at the top of their shopping list.

Ottawa has a dearth of young  forward talent in their farm system and haven’t had a great forward drafted since Jason Spezza. Any one of Couturier, Landeskog, and Nugent-Hopkins are possibilities for them.

For Colorado though, they’re a wild card. They could stand to have a little more forward talent but you’d have to bet they’d love to get their hands on Larsson and have him grow up with Erik Johnson along their blue line for the foreseeable future. Consider the Islanders also as a team that would love to get a hold of Larsson. The Panthers would like to get anyone talented at all, period.

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.