Monday, November 26, 2018

Weekend power rankings: Welcome to the Patrik Laine show

Man,​ how fun was​ that?

Patrik​ Laine​ went​ old​ school​ on Saturday​ night, lighting up​ the Blues for​ five​ goals, in the Jets​​ to an 8-4 win. It was a million-dollar performance – both figuratively, because it was amazing, and literally, because it won a lucky Jets fan $1-million as part of a sponsored sweepstakes. Never let it be said that NHL players don’t give back to the community.

It was only the third time this century that a player has hit the five-goal mark in a single game (Johan Franzen in 2011 and Marian Gaborik in 2007). Furthermore, Laine got his five-spot with enough time left to create some genuine suspense over whether he could become the first player to score a sixth goal in a game since Darryl Sittler in 1976.

(On a side note, how crazy it is that neither Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux ever scored six goals in a game during the high-flying 1980s and early 90s? Given all the records those two shattered along the way, you’d think they’d have managed to put up a half-dozen in one game at least once between them.)

Saturday’s explosion left the red-hot Laine with 11 goals in his last four games, moving him ahead of Jeff Skinner for top spot in the Rocket Richard race that certain wise forecasters picked him to win. It made him, as our Murat Ates points out, the first player to score a hat trick in three countries in the same year. And it left him with a 19-3 stat line on the year that has to make him a favorite in the Cy Young race. The kid can do it all.

It was only a few weeks ago that Laine was front and center among the league’ most disappointing starts. Even then, it was clear that he was falling victim to some bad luck and would get back on track. Similarly, he’s obviously not going to stay anywhere near this hot the rest of the way. And that’s fine – every great sniper is streaky and the hot stretches just balance out the cold ones. For now, let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

And speaking of fun hot streaks that can’t last, let’s get to the top five and a certain perennial bottom-feeder that’s suddenly making a push towards the top of the league …

Road to the Cup

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

I’ll skip the preamble this week, because I know everyone just wants to get straight to the rankings and answer the week’s one burning question: Are the Buffalo Sabres actually in the top five?

5. Buffalo Sabres (16-6-2, +7) – Screw it. As the classic Hockey Night in Canada anthem reminds us, the chance may never come again.

Nine straight wins has to buy you something, right? Sure, the streak has been fueled by a ridiculous 6-0 record after regulation, including three shootouts. That’s a big flashing sign that this stretch doesn’t tell us as much about the team as we might think it does. And they still have a goals differential of just +7, meaning if you take away that 9-2 win over the Senators they’ve only been even on the year.

These are all good reasons to nudge the Sabres out of the top five. We could list others. The Sabres’ top-five case is far from iron-clad.

But I’ve been doing these rankings since 2014, and the Sabres have been the running punchline for just about that entire time. They had to be. They were awful, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not. If they snuck out of the bottom five for a week here or there, it was a victory.

And now here we are, with our first and, let’s face it, probably only chance to slide them into the top five. The next week brings games against the Sharks, Lightning and Predators. The conservative approach would be to give the Sabres one more week, and treat that stretch of games as their season’s big “prove it” moment.

And we will. But in the meantime, we’re giving them a top five spot anyway. The goaltending is finally solid, the Skinner trade looks like the best acquisition of the offseason and the kids are all coming along. Will it last? Maybe not, but Sabres fans have paid enough dues over the years to earn a top-five moment. So here it is. Stand among the giants.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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