The National Hockey League has reached its mid-point and time for a mid-term report card, so to speak. The Rat loved mid-terms, lo those many years ago. For one thing, not that much material had been covered which made studying easy. The exams weren`t so hard but scoring big had the added bonus, besides copious parental stroking, of building a nice marks base. Marks banked early permitting much slippage in the spring when slacking off was upper most in my mind, while still allowing enough room to graduate.
A number of NHL teams have spent their time wisely this term constructing a hedge against slippage. Philadelphia, Jersey, Dallas, St.Louis, Toronto and Edmonton look to be in good shape. Their industrious work habits have sparked more competition for choice scholarship seats after the second term is completed.
In the Eastern Conference six teams within two points of each other are scrapping for the final two play-off berths. If the Bruins free-fall continues, make it seven for three spots.
In the West, seeds four through eight are within four points of each other but the number nine team, Los Angeles, is losing touch with the pack.
On the ice there is much to like: Mario and the Power Players; an Ottawa- Vancouver game with produced 10 goals; the rise of Tampa Bay and Minnesota; Joel Quenneville; Marty Turco; those ageless wonders in Detroit; Mike Comrie; Ken Hitchcock; Eddie Belfour; Joe Thornton; Al MacInnis; Jeff Hackett; Dave Lewis; Jacques Martin; the Islander`s revival; Martin Brodeur, and Florida`s road record.
Browsing through the statistics, there is the Pittsburgh Penguin`s cracking power play, hitting nearly 26% of their chances. The Columbus Blue Jackets are third on home ice, which is surprising. On the road, Ottawa is the second best power play and St. Louis is third. Penguins, naturally, are the best in both categories. The Columbus Blue Jackets have the best overall penalty killing in the league, at 87.9% And coach Dave King was fired? New Jersey is second, barely half a percentage point behind.
Dallas is best on home ice, Toronto best on the road. Columbus and Detroit have scored nine shorthanded goals apiece. Edmonton is the best on home ice (5) and Columbus the best on the road with 7. Dallas and Detroit are the best teams at preventing shorthanded goals, having conceded one each. The much maligned Rangers, Carolina, and Stars have not given up a home shorthanded goal while Phoenix, Detroit, Toronto, and San Jose are perfect on the road.
Markus Naslund and Marian Gaborik are in a goal scoring duel, currently 30 -27 for Naslund. Mario is running away with the scoring race (68 pts)although his injury might have an impact. Naslund (55), Thornton (52), and Kovalev (52) are gunning for the anonymous number two spot.
Belfour and Turco lead the league in save percentage (those goaltenders who are playing regularly) with .931. Hackett and Thibault have .926 records. Cloutier leads in wins with 21. Dallas leads with an unbelievable 1.98 goals against average, which might qualify them as the most boring team in the league to watch, except that they do score 3.02 goals per game. Jersey allows 2.03 and Philadelphia is at 2.10 and with their minimal goals for they are boring.
Dallas is first in the league and Ottawa first in the east.
The Rat is looking forward to the final exams.
Rink Rat can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org