We are now at the two-thirds mark of the regular season and the stretch runs are ready to begin. Only nine more weeks of the regular season are left to play and we will have the busiest part of the schedule. The first nine weeks of the season saw 388 NHL games scheduled, there were 398 games in the second segment of the year and the third segment will see 458 games, so there will be lots to play for down the stretch.
In the draft, 51 points separates 1st place from 8th place, which is somewhat of a lofty goal to set going into the final third of the season, but I think we would start knocking off contending teams for the win at about this point. 51 points would mean that the 8th place team would have to knock 6 points off a week from the leader to win the pool and that could be very difficult, unless the leaders all kind of hit some mediocrity or a team down in 6th to 8th goes off the charts down the stretch.
The sheet pool works a little differently. 100 points is a better buffer to work from, thinking that teams would have also have to be off the charts, but with 32 players on a team, there is a little bit more give and take, when it comes to closing down leads. 101 points separates 1st from 10th place and I don't think that it is impossible to make that up in nine weeks, just improbable. I would continue to look at the top 10 teams going forward, seeing if there is any shrinking of the gaps. Everyone better be sure to use their trades and improve their chances now.
Let's see how the final week of the second segment played out...
One of the most contentious, most debated players in the NHL finally has himself a great week, worthy of some of the praise he has received in his career, as Ilya Kovalchuk takes the Player of the Week nod in Week Eighteen with 10 points. Kovalchuk is the first skater in the season to pick up 10 points in a week, which has been done twice by goalies already this season.
The Devils played in four games in Week Eighteen and Kovalchuk had points in each of those four games, starting up a new 4-game point streak. On Tuesday, he had a goal against the Rangers in a 4-3 shootout win; Thursday saw him pick up 3 assists in a 5-3 win over the Canadiens; Saturday, it was a goal and 2 assists in a 6-4 win over the Flyers and then on Sunday, another goal and 2 assists in a 5-2 win over the Penguins. As Kovalchuk goes, so does the Devils, it would seem.
With these 10 points, this brings Kovalchuk's season totals up to 22 goals and 28 assists in 47 games, scoring better than a point-per-game and now ranking 23rd overall in pool scoring, just a shade out of the 1st round worth of players.
This is Kovalchuk's first Player of the Week nod in the hockey pools in the last three seasons, but it may take a bit more than one good scoring season, one mention in the newsletter and a playoff berth for the Devils to justify the deal he signed with the club, but he's now starting to show signs of wanting to be that player.
This helped Allan S. a bit in the standings, opening up a bigger gap between himself in 11th and the pool's duo in 12th, but it didn't help him out too much catching up to teams above him, rather just keeping pace.
A couple teams in the draft this week earned a look for the Mover and Shaker nod of Week Eighteen, both scoring 32 points a piece, but we go to the first tie-break, which is goals for and that leaves us with Stacey C., earning his second nod of the season, pushing Leon G. to the wayside on goals, 10-9. With the big week, Stacey closed up the gap between himself and 2nd place, down to 2 points, now with nine weeks to go and waiver draft players now in place.
Stacey's big week was due to the production from Jordan Eberle (7 points), Devan Dubnyk (6), Tyler Bozak (4) and Jimmy Howard (4). There was quite a few singles on his roster, a couple of 2-point weeks on his side and they all added up to a pretty big week.
As of the end of Week Eighteen, Stacey has three players on his team that would be good enough for 1st round picks in the draft: Howard, Eberle and Marian Hossa all have enough points to be ranked 22nd or better this season in overall pool scoring, which has been the biggest reason why he sits in the money at the moment.
In the second segment, Stacey started Week Ten in 2nd spot in the standings, 15 points out of the lead, saw the overall lead for a couple of weeks, but has since dropped down to 3rd spot. Stacey, at the second waiver draft, re-acquired Blackhawks forward Dave Bolland, as his only move in the draft, so he'll try and make a push for the lead, which he only sits 13 points out of.
The second segment overall winner is Clayton C., who finished the 9-week segment with 260 points, 10 points better than his nearest rival, Dale B.. For the prizes in the segment races, we have hit a bit of a snag, as the jersey provider from the last couple of years has ceased production on the cheap NHL jerseys, so we will not be getting those again. As of right now, we are unsure of what the prizes will actually, otherwise, they will just be $50 cash prizes.
A third Basement Dweller nod of the season, the second nod in the second segment of the season for Darren S., who has completely written off this season. Darren's team has only picked 14 points in Week Eighteen and he decided against making any moves, leaving some of the best players available for the draft to teams that may need them more than he does.
Darren also held the title for the least amount of points in the second segment with only 143 points in nine weeks, less than the 148 points he earned in the first segment. There was also two other teams that didn't eclipse the 150-point mark in the segment and those teams are in rough shape in the standings as well.
Since Darren didn't make a move in the second waiver draft, he's likely poised to be in the bottom of the third segment and since he's written off the year, he will not earn another Basement Dweller nod this season, nor will he pick up an improbable nod as a Mover and Shaker.
Week Eighteen saw no immediate change to the top five teams in the standings, all five sides held their positions in the week, but every team from 2nd to 10th gained on the pool leader and now Jeff E.'s overall lead is now down to 20 points with only nine weeks of action left to go. Zac H. gained 9 points, Clayton C. gained 12 points, as did Wes M., Don D. gained 13 points... Jeff's lead is not very safe any more.
Scott G.'s first team in the pool made the biggest gains, as his team scored 68 points in the week, moved up three spots in the standings, from 10th to 7th and his team is now only 11 points out of the money spots, keeping this race very close and very exciting. Scott's big week came from Devan Dubnyk (6 points), Logan Couture (5), Dan Cleary (5), Mathieu Garon (5) and five players that each picked up 4 points. Only nine players on his team failed to register a point in the week and Scott has used all seven of his trades this season, so he'll have to get this kind of a push from what he has for the rest of the year.
Moving up the most spots in the pool was Scott G.'s second team, which actually saw a four position upgrade, moving from 16th to 12th with a 62-point week, while Dale C. saw the biggest fall in the week, going from 9th to 14th, a drop of five spots.
Wendy C. had the most goals in Week Eighteen, as her team picked up 24 markers, bringing her season total up to 305, which ranks 6th in the pool, good for the first tie-break, if necessary. Only five teams could do better in the tie-break, which makes for pretty good odds, if needed.
NEWS AND NOTES
A conditioning stint in the minors was given to Calgary Flames back-up goaltender Henrik Karlsson, as he makes his way back into the system from a knee injury, suffered a couple of months ago. Karlsson had technically returned to the Flames bench to back up Miikka Kiprusoff, but didn't feature in any play, so in order to give him some minutes, the Flames decided to send him down for a maximum of two weeks, while bringing back Leland Irving, to take on back-up duties.
The New York Islanders are expecting to be without young defenseman Travis Hamonic for a couple of weeks, since he had suffered a broken nose on Saturday night. Hamonic took a puck to the face in the game against the Sabres and was taken to hospital after the incident and on Sunday morning, the team announced that the injury and their expectations for his return. Hamonic has been steady for the Islanders this year, but hasn't been a great source of blueline offense, picking up only 12 points in 51 games.
On Sunday afternoon, the Washington Capitals suffered a loss to their forward ranks, as Brooks Laich left the game against the Bruins with a knee injury. The coaching staff believe that the injury isn't as serious and some fear, but he was reportedly seen leaving the arena on crutches, which isn't a great sign. The Capitals will likely have an evaluation of his condition early in the week. Laich has been a regular contributor for Washington, scoring 10 goals and 18 assists in 52 games.
Link to the Injury/News Page
HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA
It's finally here! Hockey Day In Canada! A very full Saturday of hockey stories on CBC, followed by an all-Canadian triple-header. I usually like to think of Hockey Day In Canada as an unofficial holiday, but frankly, it really isn't since most Saturdays, I'm already watching as much hockey as possible, hardly leaving my desk/couch, putting numbers together.
As you can see above, only six out of the seven Canadian teams are listed for games being shown in Calgary (and most of the country), but the Winnipeg Jets are taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins at Noon MT time as well, but that will likely only be seen in Manitoba and possibly a few other spots in Eastern Canada.
Well, in a combination of the all-Canadian match-ups and the Week Eighteen waiver draft, I will try and highlight a player from each of the three games that are going to be relatively new to the draft standings. With a lot of passes in the draft, picking players could be a little too slim.
In the early game, we'll see the young Edmonton Oilers, in the middle of an Eastern time zone road trip, visit the Ottawa Senators to kick off the triple-header. These two teams met back in November, in Edmonton, and it was the Senators that came away as the victors, with a 5-2 scoreline. The Oilers are getting healthy again, while the Senators have been riding a roller coaster of late, so this could be a good game. In the waiver draft, Sam Gagner was picked up after his massive week, that nobody cashed in on. Will he be able to keep this hot streak going? Leon G. sure hopes so.
The Maple Leafs will play host to their long-time rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, in the 5pm MT game and the rivalry hasn't lacked any fire this season. The two teams have played three times, with the Leafs leading the series at 2-1-0, but the Canadiens are 1-1-1, so they are not too far behind. The Leafs hold a playoff spot, while the Canadiens are in the Eastern Conference basement, likely preparing to start thinking about trade deadline selling. In the waiver draft, there were a couple of Leafs defensemen taken and Jake Gardiner makes his hockey pool début, with the selection by John P.. A depth move, at best, but not likely an impact player.
In the late game, the new classic Northwest Division rivalry, the Vancouver Canucks and the Calgary Flames, go head-to-head in Cowtown and this could be a very important game for both teams. The Canucks are still looking to find their playoff-like desire, while the Flames are trying to decide whether or not they'll buy or sell at the deadline. The Canucks lead the series at 2-1-0, all games in regulation and they can assume dominance in the series with a win on Saturday. Cody Hodgson was the second player taken in the waiver draft this week, going to Wes M., who wants to move up in the standings and save some face. With a couple of teams above him not making moves, Hodgson could do a lot of good for Wes.