Monday, February 1, 2021

Weekend rankings: Stars shine, a new number one, and what’s up with the Rangers and Flyers?

Once you get about three weeks into a season, you’re in a bit of a weird zone as far as what you’re learning. Most teams have see enough action that we’re no longer overreacting to every individual game. But it’s also early enough that we know that any surprising trends are likely to turn out to be noise. You still have to notice them and break them down, but you know there’s a good chance it will all come out in the wash, and maybe soon.

So what do you do? Sometimes, you’ve just got to sit back and watch the stars shine.

We got to do that this weekend, as the hockey gods decided to serve up some serious Saturday night star power. We got to see three of the league’s biggest stars record overtime winners, all within minutes of each other. And it was pretty great.

First up, Alexander Ovechkin in his first game back from the COVID list. One against three? Not a problem.

Not to be outdone, Sidney Crosby capped off a Penguins passing clinic to beat the Rangers just moments later.

Wow, that’s a tough one for the Rangers. Sure hope they stayed cool about it.

And then came Connor McDavid’s winner against the Leafs, which was very nice and you can watch it here. But at the risk of messing with our sudden death theme, that’s not the McDavid goal we’re going to remember from the weekend. Instead, it was this end-to-end rush through four Leafs.

That’s just silly. I’m a Leafs fan, and I can’t even be mad. My favorite part is the way Jake Muzzin realizes he’s beaten and makes a valid business decision to try to just reach out and grab McDavid on the way by, and even that doesn’t work. McDavid is just so much fun, and last night’s five-point performance (along with six assists from Leon Draisaitl) was a solid encore.

Hockey is a team game where everyone has a role and the depth guys are often the difference between winning and losing. But ultimately, the NHL is like the NBA and NFL and every other sports league: It’s better when the stars shine brightest. That doesn’t happen often enough in hockey, for a variety of reasons. But every now and then, the best find a way to break through, and we all get to sit back and watch. That happened on Saturday, so let’s forget about wins and losses and rankings and just enjoy it, if only for a moment.

OK, moment’s over. Let’s get to this week’s rankings.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that with the best chances of becoming the first team in history to win a Stanley Cup in July.

It won’t be a Dubois/Laine-level blockbuster, but we’ve apparently got another trade request involving a former top-five pick.

Bennett has one assist on the year, his career high in points is 36, and he hasn’t even topped 30 since 2016. So yeah, the line won’t exactly wrap around the block on this one. Still, there’s a good chance that some team out there will feel that a change of scenery could reignite a guy who came into the league with high expectations. Let’s see if it happens, and how long it might take.

Spoiler warning: The Flames are not in the week’s top five.

5. Boston Bruins (5-1-2, +6 true goals differential*) – Bad news: They lost to Zdeno Chara and the Capitals, snapping a four-game win streak. Good news: David Pastrnak is back. The good news is more important than the bad news.

4. Washington Capitals (6-0-3, +7) – Nine games in, they’re the only team that’s played a full schedule without suffering a regulation loss. They’re also starting to get their stars back, with Ovechkin returning on Saturday and Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ilya Samsonov expected soon. They get the Bruins in a rematch tonight.

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