Monday, November 19, 2018

Weekend power rankings: The Leafs move up, the Sabres make their case and the Battle of Alberta rages on

I’m​ still not quite​ sure​ what​ to​ make​ of​ Alberta.

Their hockey​ teams, I mean.​ The province seems​ nice,​ although I admit​​ to still being confused by the whole “no rats” thing. But let’s focus on the hockey teams, who just delivered the game of the weekend with Saturday’s slugfest in Calgary. Are either of them any good?

I’m not sure. The Oilers’ record suggests that they’re not; they’ve lost six of seven and dropped back under .500 after looking good in late October. They’re not great at home, slightly worse on the road, and have a negative goals differential. They got lit up by Vegas last night and at some point you figure that big changes have to be on the way.

But their underlying numbers aren’t awful, and they’ve played the toughest schedule in the league according to’s SOS metric. And the reason their schedule has been so hard is that, until Saturday, they weren’t playing the Pacific Division, which is terrible. It’s also the division they need to climb to make the playoffs, so maybe they’ll somehow be OK after all. But again … I’m not sure.

The Flames’ picture isn’t all that much clearer, even though their record is better. They’re two points back of the Sharks for top spot in the division and they’ve already made an appearance in our top five a few weeks back. That didn’t last, and aside from a four-game win streak at the start of the month, they’ve basically been win-a-few, lose-a-few all season long.

The goaltending has been the issue, with veteran Mike Smith struggling and unproven backup David Rittich making a case for the starter’s job. Do you trust your season to a guy who came into the year with 22 career appearances? Hope that Smith can rebound even though he’s 36? Start looking for a trade? Once more, I’m not sure.

One thing I am sure about: We need to get these two teams into a playoff series somehow. There’s still a chance of it happening, given the weird way that the Pacific is playing out, although it doesn’t seem likely. But if Saturday’s matchup was any indication, the first postseason Battle of Alberta since 1991 would be ridiculous. Please, hockey gods, make it happen.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed towards a summer of keg stands and fountain pool parties.

Let’s start with a spoiler: This week’s top five features the same teams as last week, albeit in a different order. That’s the first time that’s happened all season and might signal that we’re finally settling into a bit of stability near the top of the league. I might also mean that I’m being too conservative. Time will tell, but for now let’s figure out who goes where.

5. Winnipeg Jets (11-5-2, +11) – With points in four straight, I’m going to keep the Jets in the top five for at least one more week, even though they still don’t look like they’re firing on all cylinders and it maintains our ongoing “too many Central teams” problem.

Is it the right call? There’s a case to be made to slot the Sharks back in, or to give a new team like the Blue Jackets a shot. And there’s one more quasi-contender that we’ll get to down below. But for now, inertia wins out and the Jets keep their spot for another week.

4. Minnesota Wild (12-7-2, +9) – Here’s my question about the Wild’s early-season success: How does Chuck Fletcher feel about all this?

On the one hand, this is basically Fletcher’s team – he built pretty much the entire roster, and watched it grow into one he believed could be a contender. And now, he’s being proven right.

On the other hand, it’s not actually his team, because of that whole “getting fired” thing. So now Fletcher gets to watch Paul Fenton carry the baton, even though Fenton didn’t do much of anything to change the roster over the summer and is mostly getting credit for not messing up what Fletcher built.

Fletcher’s presumably a little busy these days helping his new team, the Devils, figure out how to salvage the season. But you know he’s at least checking in on the Wild every now and then and there has to be some serious mixed feelings over what he sees.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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