Welcome to the Home Stretch
Now that we're all celebrated out from the Olympics and back into the swing of things in the NHL, it's time to acknowledge that we're now in the home stretch, the sprint to the finish.
With Week Twenty now in the books, there are only six weeks left in the regular season and there is still a lot to play for. 14 teams are within 50 points of 1st place and I wouldn't necessarily say that Ryan M., who sits 45 points out of top spot, is necessarily out of it, if all of the stars align properly for him. Improbable, more than it is impossible.
If 1st place is improbable at 45 points for Ryan, 33 points to get to 4th place doesn't sound quite as bad and that would at least give him a jersey to take home. The question then becomes, how can he close the gap?
All it will take is a week or two in the Mover & Shaker columns in the Newsletter, which means your team will need a bit of a hot streak and when it isn't blazing hot, it will have to keep pace. It's just as simple as that.
Stadium Series Game in Chicago
I suppose, if you were try and find one word that described the last Stadium Series game of the season, I would pick... snow! Lots fell, it was shoveled off constantly, but it made for quite the pictures on the television, making it into quite the event at Soldier Field in Chicago.
The host, Blackhawks, made the most of the game, moving the puck really well, despite the weather, and even scored some pretty goals, something we don't see much of in these outdoor games. Chicago came away with a 5-1 win, as Jonathan Toews scored a pair of goals and added an assist to lead the way, as a good captain does. Patrick Sharp added a goal and an assist, while Corey Crawford made 31 saves for the win, the only other two players with multiple-point nights.
Overall, I think the Stadium Series games were a pretty good success. The atmosphere was different from park to park and it got a lot more butts in the seats. Now it is time for some of the smaller markets to get these games, trying to build the game in the smaller cities, possibly giving reason to fill the seats in the regular buildings.
Heritage Classic Game in Vancouver
Of the six outdoor games, we had the least outdoor game in Vancouver, which had the benefit of playing under the closed roof of BC Place Stadium, as the forecast had rain, not the snow that Chicago saw the day before. Still, it was an opportunity for 50,000 people in Vancouver to watch a game in the open air confines of a football stadium.
Both the Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks are in the midst of their respective playoff battles in the East and the West, but it was the visitors who spoiled the party on the West coast, taking the game, 4-2, with four unanswered goals after the Canucks went up by a pair early.
Clarke MacArthur and Craig Anderson were the only two players of note, as the forward picked up a goal and an assist in the game, while the keeper had to make 29 saves for the win.
I'm guessing that having the roof closed may have lessened the atmosphere for an outdoor game, but without the springtime elements in the air, the game played more like an indoor game, which also had some merits to it.
Of course, I was hoping for a different result... kind of glad I didn't pay the arm and a leg to get there and watch it live and leave that disappointed.
Proof Is In the Money
Back to the pool race... Allan added a few points to his Week Nineteen lead, as he finished 4 points up on Stacey C., who jumped into 2nd place in the week, while Chris dropped a spot to 3rd. Scott finished 4th for the third straight week and continues to sit within striking distance for the win... only 12 points out.
Derek W. only sits 2 points out, followed by Stacey M. at 3 points out and then there is a small gap to Clayton, who is 7 points out of the prizes. Yes, the race is still really close and big weeks count even more as we draw closer and closer to the end of the regular season.
Third Segment Standings
At the end of Week Twenty, we have tie for the lead, as Allan bumped his way up to the top, tied for the lead with Dale C. at 108 points in the final segment of the season, but Allan has the lead for his second jersey prize of the year, thanks to having more goals.
Mike and Stacey C. only sit 3 points out, while Scott rounds out the top five on the standings, 4 points out of the lead.
This race will be as close as the money race, I'm thinking.
Scoring In the Return
There were only 39 NHL games in the week that returned us to full action from the Olympic Break, which didn't give a great deal of opportunity for a lot of points, but the scoring rate was very comparable to some of the better weeks of the season.
As a whole, the pool collected 498 points, which was a scoring rate of 12.77 points per game, which was our 3rd-best scoring rate of the year. All the bodies that came back healthy outweighed the injury toll through the Olympics, which meant we saw a good return of games played per NHL game, but the goalie minutes were tempered, thanks to a lot of back-ups playing (who weren't taken in the draft) in front of the starters who did all that travelling.
Week Twenty-One will be the full swing return, as the schedule has 48 NHL games to be played, which means that if we wanted to match the scoring rate from last week, we'll need to see 613 points, which I am all for!
It was a 4-way tie for the Player of the Week nod in the shortened week, as players really were not able to stretch their scoring chops in the week and the top players only finished with 6 points a piece. The tie saw two goalies and two New Jersey Devils forwards finish for top spot, which gets the tie-breaking procedure, like any other week.
Tie-breakers mean that the goalies are automatically eliminated, because the first tie-break is goals scored and with 4 goals and 2 assists, our Player of the Week for Week Twenty is Adam Henrique.
Henrique and the Devils played three games in the return to action and in that, our top player started a 3-game goal scoring streak, scoring a pair against the Blue Jackets on Thursday, a goal (and an assist) against the Islanders on Saturday and then another one and one against the Sharks.
This week brought Henrique's totals up to 18 goals and 15 assists in 62 games for Jersey, ranking him 149th in pool scoring through Week Twenty. He has only accounted for 7% of Derek Wilton's total points this year, which isn't terribly high, but this good week has given Wilton some extra scoring depth, which could help his money push.
It really looked like it was going to be another Greenley week in the Mover & Shaker column, but on Sunday, our pool leader, Allan, cashed in on some big games for a number of his players and he ended up snaking a 30-point week, extending his lead in the pool by another 3 points and then adding his second Mover & Shaker nod this season.
Remarkably, his first Mover & Shaker was only back in Week Sixteen, where he finished the week in 5th place. Allan has been up and down in the top half of the standings all year, but another one of these top weeks and he will have a push for big money.
Allan enjoyed some big weeks from Ryan O'Reilly of the Avs and Andrei Markov of the Habs, who each had 5-point weeks to lead the way. Semyon Varlamov of the Avs had 4 points, while four other players had 3 points in the week. Only four players on his active roster, one being in the minors, finished with no points in the week, so he was seeing some quality production from just about everyone.
Allan's team has some strength right across the board, as his forwards account for 59% of his points, while his defense has been good for 18% and his goalies are good for 22%... and that kind of balance has gone a long way to keeping his head above the rest for a number of weeks.
This is his 3rd straight week finishing atop the standings, but he isn't out of reach... yet.
Wait a second! We found a Greenley on the Newsletter, but it is in the Basement Dweller position... and it is also a first to worst situation.
Stuart was our Mover & Shaker in Week Nineteen, finishing with 28 points and in 21st place, but found himself with only 11 points, still in 21st place, when the first week of the stretch concluded.
Six of his active players on the roster, including both goalies, couldn't muster a point in the week, while his top players, three to be exact, finished with 2 points a piece.
An injury and a trip to the minors has lessened the strength of his team overall, but since he's well outside of the top 14 teams in the pool, he hasn't been in the conversation for the money. His Mover & Shaker the other week would have left him in okay shape in the third segment race, but his team failed to follow that week up with anything legitimate.
In actual fact, Stuart is still in the race for the third segment, as he dropped down to a tie for 8th in the race, only 8 points out. His team will have to pick up their socks in Week Twenty-One, just to get a sniff closer.
NEWS AND NOTES
It has been a rough return to action for Anaheim Ducks forward Mathieu Perreault, who suffered an upper-body injury during Week Twenty's action and was unable to play on Sunday, as the Ducks entertained the Carolina Hurricanes at home. Perreault is considered to be day-to-day for the team, but as it has been going, the forwards have been cycling in and out of their line-up for the last number of weeks, so it shouldn't be too tough to figure back in, when he has been deemed healthy enough.
The Colorado Avalanche welcomed Erik Johnson back to their line-up on Sunday, as they took on the Tampa Bay Lightning. Johnson was returning from a pre-Olympic Break suspension that was handed to him, but his return meant that someone had to come out of the Colorado line-up and it was Andre Benoit who drew the short straw for that game. The Avs thumped the Bolts, 6-3, in the game, which likely means the line-up may remain the same for the team's next game, away in Chicago on Tuesday.
After some poor defensive games for the Ottawa Senators, defenseman Jared Cowen was punished by having to sit through the Heritage Classic on Sunday, unable to play against the Canucks in the (semi-) outdoor spectacle that it was. Cowen hasn't been able to supplant his defensive woes with any offense either, which has also likely led to the scratch and since the Senators walked out winners on Sunday, he may not start the next game either, as he works on his game in practice.
Link to the Injury/News Page
TRADE DEADLINE APPROACHES
Just a quick note to remind everyone to stay close to the blog on Wednesday, as the Trade Deadline approaches. I will be covering the deals that drafted players move in and there could be a good number of them too. I will have all the details, pool implications and my two cents on all of these specific deals. It will be a fun day as always!