Monday, January 28, 2019

Weekend rankings: The women steal the show during All-Star weekend

There are three main things you want from the NHL All-Star weekend. You want it to be reasonably fun. You want it to be at least a little bit memorable. And then you want it to be over.

This year’s event definitely checked that last box. And let’s be honest, it probably took care of the first two as well.

As is often the case, the skills competition seemed to offer up more big moments than the actual games, with Friday’s event generating some solid buzz. That was largely due to the presence of the women, with four stars from the U.S. and Canadian national teams invited to participate. The night was highlighted by Brianna Decker’s pinpoint performance in the passing event and Kendall Coyne Schofield’s all-out flight around the rink in the fastest skater competition.

This being the NHL, the moment couldn’t pass without at least some controversy, with some question emerging over whether Decker should have earned the prize money for her performance. The league eventually stepped in with compensation and charitable donations on behalf of all four women. And rightly so, given that they stole the show on a night that otherwise seems to insist on being a little slower and a lot more complicated than it needs to be.

That was followed by Saturday’s mini-tournament, which was … well, it was fine. Most fans who watched it probably don’t even remember which team won, but that’s hardly the point. The 3-on-3 format continues to work well enough, generating plenty of action at both ends. There’s no defense to speak of, with back-checkers openly quitting on breakaways and barely pretending to wave a stick in the vague direction of the puck, but nobody watches these things for defence. And we still get those weird moments where a team collectively decides not to put the puck on the net for some reason, resulting in an endless string of passes that makes the whole thing look like a video game where some confused newbie forgot which one is the shoot button.

But there’s still the occasional cool moment – we’ll see Devan Dubnyk’s glove save on Connor McDavid for years to come and the Steven Stamkos between-the-legs move was cool. It’s always fun to see the best of the best out there together, even at half-speed. This year, we even got to see them with lots of extra numbers and lines and arrows all over the screen, but we’ll get that part figured out too. The All-Star Game is what it is. It’s fine.

And now it’s over, and now we’re back to the action that counts. Except that we’re not, because most of the league heads out for their bye weeks. Only 10 teams see action between now and Friday and only two or three games on the schedule each night until then. Still, at this point, we’ll take what we can get. On to the rankings …

Road to the Cup

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

We only had three nights of games on the schedule since last week’s rankings. And a third of the league wasn’t even around for that, with the bye weeks kicking in for ten teams. It’s been quiet. Too quiet. And that means that we don’t see much movement in the top five this week.

5. Nashville Predators (30-18-4, +26 true goals differential*) – The Preds are the only new team on this week’s list, as they nudge the Golden Knights out of the five-spot after beating them on Wednesday and also passing them in the standings. Two points here or there shouldn’t matter all that much at this point in the season, but I think it makes more sense to have a second Central team instead of a third from the Pacific, so Nashville returns to the top five after a month-long absence. Let’s see if it lasts.

4. San Jose Sharks (29-16-7, +23) – All in all, it sounds like San Jose did a nice job as the All-Star weekend hosts. And kudos to the fans for showing no mercy to guys like John Tavares, Sidney Crosby and John Gibson. At least somebody was treating the action like it mattered.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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