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NHL Power Rankings (March 26, 2012)

The final stretch is upon us, as NHL teams gear up for their last 5,6, or 7 games of the regular season.  The NHL has become notorious for close finishes, in terms of which teams clinch a post-season berth, and this year will be no different.  Once again, the Western Conference has several teams that will not make the playoffs, despite the fact that they may have more points than the lower seeds of the Eastern Conference.  While this does not necessarily mean the Western Conference is overall stronger than the Eastern, this is a problem that could have been resolved via the Conference realignment proposed by Commisioner Bettman.  Unfortunately, the NHLPA’s rejction of this plan will keep the current playoff selection process in place for years to come.  Regardless, the NHL is poised for another exciting post-season, that will take its final shape in the coming weeks.

1.  Pittsburgh Penguins (47-22-6)

While holding on to Sidney Crosby for the entire season may not have paid off for fantasy hockey owners, the ‘kid’ is back and has re-solidified the Penguins place amongst the NHL’s elite teams.  By many analsyts definition, the Penguins have had a great season without their best player, and in spite of several other injuries.  Crosby has taught us that you can never be sure with concussion-like syndroms, but it seems as though he is good to go for the rest of the season, which is terrible news for just about every other team in the NHL.  At 8-1-1 in their last 10, Malkin, Bylsma, and Crosby are focused on bringing home their second Stanley Cup.

2.  St. Louis Blues (47-20-9)

The Blues latest romping of the Phoenix Coyotes is a great example of just how this team has been able to earn the number one spot in the league as of now; another shutout from Brian Elliot, and great team play that ultimately wore down the Coyotes.  St. Louis has won the Presidents Trophy just once before in the 1999-2000 NHL season.  With  six games left on their schedule, the Blues have a great chance to finish atop of the NHL once again, and eclipse that 113 point mark they set in 1999-00.  Not only are the Blues the prime candidates for comeback team of the year, but their roster is full of players that have a chance to win comeback player of the year: David Perron, Andy MacDonald, and now Alex Steen, who have all made a full recovery from heavy concussions.

3.  NY Rangers (47-21-7)

At this point in the season, it seems like the Rangers are playing in cruise control.  Never quite playing at an extraordinary level, but never letting a significant losing streak rear its ugly head.  And despite the greatest desires of the New York fan base, John Tortorella is not concerned with winning the Presidents Trophy.  As a veteran coach in this league, Tortorella is now focused on getting his players ready for the marathon that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  A main point of focus for the Rangers is to get the recently stagnant offense firing on all cylinders again.  The continued absence of Dubinsky from the score sheet and the cooling down of Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov has caused the Rangers to slip to 11th in the league in terms of goals per game at 2.69.  The Rangers are in a unique position as a team that does not have to worry about goaltending for the playoffs – if they can score three or four goals per game, they will cruise through the playoffs….that is quite a big IF though.

4.  Philadelphia Flyers (44-23-8)

The stars have aligned, and all is well in the Universe…that is Mr. Universe, otherwise known as Ilya Bryzgalov.  Despite all of the bad rebounds, flukey goals, and questionable puck playing, Bryzgalov has been able to bring his sv % back to .912. And while this season was far from his best, Bryzgalov seems to be hitting his stride at the most crucial time of the season.  With the offense continuing to produce, led by Jagr, Giroux and Hartnell, the Flyers can only hope that Mr. Universe can keep this play up to avoid their usual goaltending achilles heel in the playoffs.

5.  Nashville Predators (44-24-8)

There is only one word needed to describe the Nashville win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday – beatdown.  From the drop of the puck the Predators never gave the Hawks, or the fans in the United Center, any reason to believe they had a chance to win that game.  Pekka Rinne broke out of his mini-slump, allowing only one goal, and the offense continued to shock and awe.  Barry Trotz has officially transformed his once purely defensive minded team, into a complete team that has the potential to make a lot of noise in the playoffs.

6.  Vancouver Canucks (45-21-9)

Despite the 4-5-1 record in the last ten games, Canucks fans have nothing to worry about.  The players on this Canucks team are no stranger to the post-season, and are calmly awaiting their chance to avenge last years Stanley Cup Final defeat.  Rather than strive for the Presidents Trophy, Alain Vigneault is more concerned with getting Marc-Andre Gragnani, Sammy Pahlsson, and Zack Kassian comfortable in their roles on the team, before the end of the regular season.  Between the pipes, Luongo continues to be the outright number one, but Schneider will be ready to shine whenever he gets the chance – and he will get that chance in this years playoffs.

 7. Chicago Blackhawks (42-26-8)

Contrary to their poor performance on Sunday, the Blackhawks have been able to produce a 7-2-1 record in their last ten games, despite the loss of Captain Johnathan Toews.  With the contiuning struggle at the goaltender position, the Blackhawks cannot hope to have any significant playoff success without the return of number 19.  But, for the time being, the Hawks are working towards a solid regular season finish, with Marian Hossa having his best season yet in a Hawks uniform.

8. Detroit Red Wings (45-25-5)

2-6-2 over a ten game span is hardly a record you would expect from Red Wings team.  Nevertheless, the Wings are showing that they too are only human.  On the bright side, Lidstrom is getting vital playing time to help him return from injury, and get into shape for the heavy minutes he will log in the playoffs.  The key for the Wings success in the 2012 playoffs rests on the shoulders, and pending health, of Jimmy Howard.  If Howard is not 100 percent, a return to the Stanley Cup Finals may be out of the question for this team.

9.  Dallas Stars (41-29-5)

Throughout the entire regular season, the Stars were the team that never seemed to go away.  Sure, the team has had several ups and downs this year, but overall the Stars have shocked the hockey world.  No one expected to see Dallas ahead of the Pacific division at this point in the season after losing Brad Richards.  The unsung hero of this team is without a doubt Kari Lethonen, who has brought his career back to life this year by posting a .925 sv %, and a 2.23 GAA in 31 wins this year.

10.  Boston Bruins (44-28-3)

After going on a miserable streak, the Bruins have begun to level off and play respectable hockey as of late.  Still, the injuries of Nathan Horton, Rich Peverely, and most importantly Tukka Rask, are still taking their toll on this team.  Tim Thomas is not playing at the Vezina level that we have come to expect from him, and perhaps that is partly due to the fact that he had become accustomed to sharing the load with Rask.  On the other side of the puck, Bergeron and Lucic continue to sporadically produce offense, never quite seeming to find a happy medium throughout a string of games.

10.  New Jersey Devils (42-29-6)

Fans of the New Jersey Devils are not used to seeing their team miss the Stanley Cup playoffs – which is why the 2010-11 season was so painful for the franchise.  But with the return of several key players from injuries, and the ‘get the job done’ play of legendary goaltender Martin Brodeur, the Devils are on pace to securing a spot in the post-season.  Their 90 points may be deceiving as well, seeing as the Devils play in the most competitive division in hockey, and are in constant battle with the Rangers, Flyers, and Penguins.  Given the proper circumstances, the Devils could sneak into the second round of the playoffs.

11.  Los Angeles Kings (37-26-12)

Don’t look now, but the Kings seem to be hitting their stride at the most crucial time of the season.  Now that Coach Suter does not have to rely solely on Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick, the Kings can look to unleash some real damage on whatever team they face in the first round of the playoffs – yes they are going to make the eight team cut in the West.  While this season has been an overall disappointment for the Kings and their fan base, no season can be completely discounted pending a post-season berth.  The 75 games the Kings have played are in the past, and all of the offensive struggles will be forgiven if Richards, Carter, Kopitar, Williams, and Doughty can turn it on come playoff time.

12.  Florida Panthers (36-24-15)

In the midst of the recent resurgence of the Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres, the Panthers have been able to hold on to a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but just by a thread.  Given the Panthers three-ring golatending circus and lack of depth, do not look for this team to make too much noise in the playoffs.  Regardless, the fact that the Panthers are even in contention for a playoff spot is a drastic improvement from previous years performances, and proof that sometimes that answer to a franchises problems is to clean house, and rely on the free agent market.

13.  Washington Capitals (38-30-8)

The unanimous pre-season Cup favorite Capitals once again have their fan base sitting on the edge of their seats.  The duo of Alex’s (Ovechkin and Semin) seem to have adopted a new persona: that being ‘we’re not gonna take it anymore.’  Tired of constant harping from critics (most notably Mike Milbury and Pierre McGuire), the Capitals are going all in for the last six games of the regular season.  Not unlike previous seasons, the goaltending position is up for grabs, and now Braden Holtby has made the race even more interesting by positng his third career shutout on Sunday.  Can the Caps catch the Panthers? Or fend of the Sabres for the eight spot? For the sake of George McPhee’s job, let’s hope so.

14. Buffalo Sabres (37-29-10)

Analysts speculate all the time, but in the case of the Sabres I agree with them.  The trades made at the deadline, along with how the rest of this season has played out, angered Ryan Miller and now he is taking it out on opposing teams.  Much like Ilya Bryzgalov, Miller has had a subpar season, but has been able to revive his numbers as of late.  Even though there are more teams involved in the race for the eigth spot in the West, the finale involving the Panthers, Capitals, and Sabres is the most exciting development in these last few weeks.  Two teams that should have had great seasons, and one team that has defied the odds.  Lindy Ruff and his squad are hoping to emerge victorious, with the mindset of just getting into the big dance.

15.  San Jose Sharks (38-27-10)

Every time I am ready to count the Sharks out, they turn it around and stay afloat (no pun intended) in the playoff race.  Unlike years past, the Sharks do not find themselves at the top of the Western Conference standings.  Maybe the team parted with Heately and Setoguchi too willingly, but regardless, they will look to ‘Jumbo Joe’ and ‘Little Joe’ to lead them to a playoff spot.  Of course, it all means nothing is the play between the pipes doesn’t pick up very soon.

16.  Phoenix Coyotes (37-27-13)

Barely hanging on to a playoff spot, the 4-2-4 record in their last ten games has the Coyotes looking like the odd team out in the Western Conference.  But if Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata, Ray Whitney, and Mike Smith can pull together for one last push, the Coyotes will make the playoffs once again, despite the departure of Bryzgalov.

 

*Other teams in the playoff race not listed:

Ottawa Senators (38-28-10)

Colorado Avalanche (40-31-6)

Calgary Flames (34-27-15)

Anything they can do, Gretzky already did better

On February 2nd, 2012, Edmonton Oilers forward Sam Gagner put on a performance for the ages.  Up until this night, Gagner had been underperforming compared to the expectations that had been set for his season with only five goals and 17 assists through 44 games played.  Gagner’s play in the first period of the Oilers v. Chicago Blackhawks was utterly non-productive, which is why no one could have predicted how the last two periods of the game would unfold.  Through the next 17 minutes and 28 seconds of his time on the ice, Sam Gagner exploded with four goals and four assists.  His eight point performance not only propelled the Oilers to a 8-4 win over the Blackhawks in front of a sold out Rexall Place, but it also solidified his name in Oilers history.  With this incredible feat, the 22-year-old Gagner tied the franchise of eight points in one game, which now stands at a three-way tie between Gagner, Coffey, and some guy named Gretzky.

Gagner’s performance that night gave way to one of the most rare events in the hockey world – a player threatening a Wayne Gretzky record.  Admittedly, Gretzky does not hold the record for most points in an NHL game.  Darryl Sittler who recorded 10 points in a Toronto Maple Leafs uniform on February 7, 1976 holds that record.  Nevertheless, Gretzky undisputedly has prevailed the greatest player in NHL history with a grand total of 2857 points in 1487 games played (1.921 points per game).

When sports fans in the United States think of the  term “Greatest athletes of All-Time,” their minds are usually clouted with names like Palmer, Jordan, Ruth, Bradshaw, Ali, Elway, Chamberlin, Montana, and etc..  Perhaps it is ironic that the most dominant athlete that has ever lived played the sport that is the least popular of the four major professional sports in the United States – ice hockey.  It’s not an opinion.  It’s not debatable.  It’s fact.  Gretzky holds or shares 61 NHL records: 40 regular season, 15 in the Stanley Cup playoffs and All-Star game.

  1. Most points: 2,857
  2. Most points, including playoffs: 3,238
  3. Most goals:  894
  4. Most goals, including playoffs: 1,016
  5. Most assists: 1,963
  6. Most assists including playoffs: 2,223
  7. Most goals by a Center: 894
  8. Most assists by a Center: 1,963
  9. Most points by a Center: 2,857
  10. Most 40-or-more goal seasons: 12
  11. Most consecutive 40-or-more goal seasons: 12 (1979-80 to 1990-91)
  12. Most 50-or-more goal seasons: 9
  13. Most 60-or-more goal seasons: 5
  14. Most consecutive 60-or-more goal seasons: 4 (1981-82 to 1984-85)
  15. Most 100-or-more point seasons: 15
  16. Most consecutive 100-or-more point seasons: 13 (1979-80 to 1991-92)
  17. Most three-or-more goal games: 50
  18. Most overtime assists: 15
  19. Highest assists-per-game average: 1.32
  20. Most points, one season: 215 (1985-86)
  21. Most points, one season, including playoffs: 255 (1984-85)
  22. Most goals, one season: 92 (1981-82)
  23. Most goals, one season, including playoffs: 100 (1983-84)
  24. Most goals, in 50 games from start of season: 61 (1981-82 and 1983-84)
  25. Most assists, one season: 163 (1985-86)
  26. Most assists, one season, including playoffs: 174 (1985-86)
  27. Most points by a center, one season: 215 (1985-86)
  28. Most goals by a center, one season: 92 (1981-82)
  29. Most assists by a center: 163 (1985-86)
  30. Most three-or-more goal games, one season: 10 (1981-82)
  31. Longest consecutive assist-scoring streak: 23 games – 48 assists (1990-91)
  32. Longest consecutive point-scoring streak: 51 games – 153 points (Oct. 5, 1983 to Jan. 28, 1984)
  33. Longest consecutive point-scoring streak from start of season: 51 games – 153 points
  34. Highest goals-per-game average, one season: 1.18 (1983-84)
  35. Highest assists-per-game average, one season: 2.04 (1985-86)
  36. Highest points-per-game average, one season: 2.77 (1983-84)
  37. Most goals, one period: 4 (tied with 10 other players)
  38. Most assists, one game: 7 (tied with Billy Taylor) (three times)
  39. Most assists, one road game: 7 (tied with Billy Taylor)
  40. Most assists, one game, by a rookie: 7 (recorded two times in rookie season)
  41. Most playoff goals: 122
  42. Most playoff assists: 260
  43. Most playoff points: 382
  44. Most game-winning goals in playoffs: 24
  45. Most three-or-more goal game in playoffs: 10
  46. Most points, one playoff year: 47 (1985)
  47. Most assists, one playoffs year: 31 (1988)
  48. Most assists in a finals series: 13 (1988)
  49. Most assists in a finals series: 10 (1988)
  50. Most assists in one series (other than finals): 14 (1985)
  51. Most shorthanded goals, one playoff year: 3 (1983)
  52. Most assists, one playoff game: 6 (1987)
  53. Most points, one playoff period: 4 (1G, 3A – 1987)
  54. Most assists, one playoff period: 3
  55. Most short-handed goals, one playoff game: 2 (1983)
  56. Most All-Star game goals: 13
  57. Most All-Star game goals, one game: 4 (1983)
  58. Most All-Star game goals, one period: 4 (1983)
  59. Most All-Star game points, one period: 4 (1983)
  60. Most All-Star game points, career: 25
  61. Most All-Star game assists, career: 12 (tied with four other players)

*Although it is not a record, it should be noted Gretzky also won four Stanley Cups – all with the Edmonton Oilers.

If that is not dominance, what is?  Although he is by no means the most talented player in the NHL, Sam Gagner now can claim to have matched a personal record of Wayne Gretzky.  That alone is an accomplishment that will last a lifetime.

NHL Power Rankings (March 12, 2012)

After all of the speculation built during the weeks leading up to the trade deadline about where Rick Nash would land, he remains in a Blue Jackets uniform.  The many teams that could have used Nash’s services will now have to battle for a position in the post season with their current roster.  For 14 teams, the recent change to warmer weather indicates that there is a chance the fairways and greens of golf courses across the nation will be in prime condition by the time the last day of the NHL regular season comes around.  On the other hand, the 16 teams that will be fortunate enough to have made the playoffs are starting to take form.  With less than 13 games left in the season for most teams, it is officially crunch time.

1.  St. Louis Blues (45-18-7)

All year long NHL experts have praised the Blues and head coach Ken Hitchcock for their ability to come together as a team.  However, none of them expected this team to be a top the NHL standings come mid March.  9-1 in their last ten games, the Blues have risen to the top five in categories such as goal differential, and best home record.  And while other teams have players on their roster with close to 50 goals or 50 assists, the Blues do not have a single player that have over 50 points total yet.  Spreading the scoring around is a part of the St. Louis Blues motto and it has obviously paid off.

2.  New York Rangers (43-18-7)

Just when it appeared the Rangers were poised to run away as the clear winners of the President’s Trophy, they fell back into one of their usual slumps.  Although many teams in the basement of the league would be content with a 5-3-2 record in their last ten, John Tortorella knows that their performance of late has not resembled that of a Stanley Cup contending team.  With the Rangers making no moves at the trade deadline, the pressure now falls on forward Brandon Dubinsky, who have vastly underperformed with a less than admirable 26 points.  Meanwhile the Rangers will continue to look to names like Gaborik, Richards, Callahan, and of course Lundqvist, to continue carrying the load.

3.  Detroit Red Wings (44-22-3)

It may be an overlooked statistic in today’s NHL, but the Red Wings are currently the best 5-on-5 team in hockey with a 1.58 5-5 F/A rate.  The Wings also find themselves second to only the Boston Bruins in terms of goal differential, but have somehow managed to go only 4-5-1 in their last ten games.  A large part of that record can be attributed to the absence of star player Pavel Datsyuk, and lingering injury problems for Vezina candidate Jimmy Howard.  Nevertheless, you can rest assured that coach Mike Babcock will have his team ready for the playoffs.  The only question now is what seed will they earn.

4.  Vancouver Canucks (42-19-8)

Just a few weeks ago the Canucks watched their previous Stanley Cup opponent, and rival, Bruins ascend to the top of the league standings.  But thanks to the steady play of Luongo, the Sedins, and quality secondary scoring, it appears the Canucks will have the last laugh and finish the regular season ahead of the Bruins.  Perhaps the most positive thing for Canucks fans to take away from their teams play right now is the imminent return of Ryan Kesler.  Yes, he has played 64 games this year, but Kesler struggled to regain his footing early in the year thanks to playoff injuries.  But now with 44 points and a +19, Kesler is beginning to resemble the star player he was during the 2010-11 season.

5.  Pittsburgh Penguins (42-21-5)

Not too long ago it looked like this Crosby-less Penguins team had finally run out of gas due to injuries, and was  free-falling in the standings.  But there is a reason why Dan Bylsma is considered one of the best coaches, and Malkin one of the best players in the NHL.  Any fan that tuned into HBO’s 24/7 two years ago got an inside look of how Bylsma manages his team.  You can bet that he has been fully utilizing his player rating system and pushing his players to their fullest potential.  Meanwhile, Malkin and Neal continue to put points on the board effortlessly, and secondary scoring from Dupuis and Letang never hurts.

6.  Philadelphia Flyers (39-22-7)

Could it be that Mr. Universe – otherwise known as Iyla Bryzgalov – has finally found his game?  All season long the city of Brotherly Love has bashed the Russian net minder for his less than admirable play.  But if there was ever a time for Bryzgalov to win back the hearts of Flyers fans, it would be now.  Finally bumping his sv% over .900, it looks like Bryzgalov is ready to earn his pay check.  In the midst of injuries to JVR, the Flyers offense has continued to perform at a high level thanks to incredible seasons from Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell.  Defense is the name of the game come playoff time, and if the Flyers can find theirs, there is no reason why this team cannot make a real run at the Stanley Cup.

7.  Nashville Predators (40-21-7)

Let the good times roll in Nashville! With the passing of the trade deadline, we saw the reunion of the second most dominating twins in the NHL, the Kostitsyn brothers.  Andrei and Sergei have already showed their chemistry on the ice and have been a large part of the reason why the Predators have gone 7-2-1 in their last ten games.   Although it appears Pekka Rinne has hit some what of a rough patch, it is only because the rest of the NHL holds him to such a high standard.  Led by Shea Weber and coach Barry Trotz, this may be the best team in Predators franchise history from top to bottom.  Only the playoffs will tell.

8.  New Jersey Devils (40-24-5)

Remember a year ago when the Devils began an inconceivable run that fell short of earning them a playoff spot?  Fortunately for New Jersey fans, the Devils have put themselves in a much better position than last year, and have a great chance to make some noise in the Eastern Conference.  Although Martin Brodeur continues to show his age, he has been able to get the job done between the pipes while Kovalchuck, Parise, Zubrus, and Elias provide offense every night.

9.  Dallas Stars (38-26-5)

9-0-1 in their last ten games has propelled the Stars back into playoff contention.  Despite the fact that the majority of the scoring has fallen to Eriksson, Benn, Ryder, and Ribeiro, the return of team captain Brenden Morrow should ignite some scoring from the 2nd and 3rd offensive lines.  In the crease, Kari Lethonen continues to revive his otherwise dead career, proving that Rinne and Kiprusoff are not the only talented Finnish goaltenders in the league.  On the cusp of 30 regular season wins and a .924 SV%, Lethonen has proven to be a great investment for the Stars and will play a key role to the continued success of the team.

10.  Chicago Blackhawks (37-25-8)

Perhaps the 2011-12 Blackhawks are the best example of how poor goal tending always trumps an explosive offense in the NHL.  The Hawks are coming off a shootout loss to the L.A. Kings, in which veteran Ray Emery got the start.  And although Emery has statistically outperformed Corey Crawford, both goalies have played just awful this season.  The bottom line for the Hawks, Hossa, Toews, Kane, and Sharp can all get over 60 or even 70 points, but come playoff time it won’t matter if Joe Quennville cannot find a way to hide this atrocious net minding.

11. Boston Bruins (40-25-3)

Injuries to Nathan Horton and Rich Peverley have finally caught up to a Bruins team that has been riding high for the majority of the season.  Despite their 83 points, the Bruins are practically plummeting downwards in the league standings with a 4-5-1 record in their last ten games.  To make matters worse, Tukka Rask is out of commission and Tim Thomas is playing the worst hockey in his last three years of play.  Just this weekend the Penguins exposed the defensive flaws of the Bruins, jumping out to a quick lead and never looking back.  If the Bruins are looking to make a run at back-back Stanley Cup championships, something has to change – and soon.

12.  Ottawa Senators (36-25-9)

After what can only be described as a freak accident with goalie Craig Anderson, the towering Ben Bishop has stepped in to help Robin Lehner between the pipes.  As the tallest goalie in the NHL, Bishop has maintained a .926 sv% through his three games as a Senator.  On the offensive side of the puck, Spezza and Erik Karlsson continue to produce night in and night out.  Although Milan Michalek and Daniel Alfredsson have come off their season highs, both forwards have continued to pick up the important secondary goals that has earned the Senators a chance to reach the playoffs.

13.  Florida Panthers (32-23-13)

With the Washington Capitals breathing down their neck, the Panthers have managed to remain cool and hold their lead on the Southeast division. The Panthers possess the worst goal differential of any of the top 16 teams in the NHL at a -25, and much like the Blackhawks are having goal tending issues.  As of today, the Panthers have juggled four goalies during regular season play including Jose Theodore, Scott Clemmensen, Jakob Markstrom, and now Brain Foster.  But the question remains: who is going to step up come playoff time?!  Even if the Panthers manage to squander the Southeast division title to the Capitals (or any other team in the division for that matter) they still have a great chance to make the playoffs, pending great play from Versteeg, Fleischmann, and Campbell.

14.  Phoenix Coyotes (34-25-10)

While the 2011-12 NHL season has been a coming out party for Coyotes goal tender Mike Smith, who is being called a star by some, the Coyotes are barely hanging out to their playoff spot.  With teams in the Western conference like Calgary and Los Angeles keeping pace, the Coyotes lack the depth that other teams in the league have to be a serious playoff contender.  Unfortunately for Coyotes fans, captain, and face of the franchise, Shane Doan is on pace to having a sub par season by his standards, and lingering injuries to center Martin Hanzal have hurt the team immensely.

15.  Washington Capitals (35-28-6)

When was the last time this team was in the power rankings?  The Capitals are by far still the front runner for the NHL’s most disappointing team award, Dale Hunter has managed to put together a winning combination as of late.  One of the most overlooked injuries in the NHL is the concussion-like symptoms that center Nicklas Backstrom is suffering from.  Alex Ovechkin has been stagnant without his offensive partner, and the Caps have struggled to fill the first line center role since his injury.  Star defense man Mike Green is obviously playing injured and has literally contributed nothing to the team since his return.  Nevertheless, the Caps have been able to muster up the fire power to get back into the playoff race.

16.  Los Angeles Kings (32-25-12)

Currently the Kings sit one spot out of the playoffs behind the Calgary Flames, but the Vezina worthy play of Jonathan Quick is what separates the Kings from the Flames.  A goal from Jeff Carter last night, and a shootout win against the Blackhawks is a huge feat for this team and helping build momentum for their last 13 games.

 

Carter and Richards Reunited at Last?

Roughly two seasons ago, Flyers fans watched helplessly as Patrick Kane scored in the overtime of Game 6 in the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup finals.  That season may be best described as a miraculous run, starting with the Flyers battling for a playoff spot on the last day of the season, defeating the Rangers in a shootout.  The current Flyers hardly resemble the 2009-2010 team.  A season where Claude Giroux was not quite yet an NHL star and Jaromir Jagr was no where to be found in the NHL.  But not unlike this years team, those Flyers were led by two incredible offensive players.  Only the names were Jeff Carter, and Mike Richards.

During that 2009-10 regular season, Carter managed to produce 61 points (33 goals, 28 assists) and 7 (5 goals, 2 assists) in the playoffs.  And while Richards’ regular season 62 point total (31 goals, 31 assists) are almost identical to Carters’, the ex-captain of the Flyers posted an incredible 23 points in the playoffs (7 goals, 16 assists).  NHL fans, especially those who support the Flyers, may think back to the super-human effort Mike Richards exhibited in a goal he scored in the series against the Montreal Canadiens.

Up until the NHL trade deadline, this goal, and that entire post season, may have been all but a distant memory to Flyers fans in the midst of the on-going goal tending debacle.  As of last week, the once Flyer superstars, Carter and Richards, have been reunited on the Los Angeles Kings.  The trade between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Kings saw Columbus deal Carter for the high-caliber defense man Jack Johnson, and a conditional Kings first round pick.  “We never probably thought this would happen again – especially this quick – but obviously we’re both pleased.” said Carter after the trade was announced in a Saturday media session.

The 2011 NHL off-season saw Flyers GM Paul Holmgren ‘wheeling and dealing’ or so to speak.  Flyers fans were initially elated to see names like Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Jaromir Jagr, Max Talbot, and Iyla Bryzgalov to be added to their roster.  Only to bare the departure of two of the cities favorites – Carter and Richards.  In hindsight, Holmgren knew exactly what he was doing (excluding the Bryzgalov signing).  The 2011-12 NHL season has not been kind to either Carter or Richards.  Carter was only able to muster up 25 points with the Blue Jackets (not to mention a miserable -11), and has had to deal with numerous injuries.  And while Richards has performed slightly better with the Kings at 31 points, it is safe to say neither of the two have lived up to expectations.

Much like the Bryzgalov goal tending conundrum, the stagnant Los Angeles Kings offense has puzzled analysts and experts all season long.  Coming into the season, the Kings were being proclaimed a possible offensive powerhouse with names like Kopitar, Williams, Stoll, Penner, Gagne, and of course Richards.  But 62 games into the regular season, the Kings find themselves ranked dead last in the NHL in terms of goals per game at a pitiful 2.08.  Despite this, the Kings are on the cusp of a playoff spot in the Western Conference and now look to the once dynamic duo of Carter and Richards to ignite the scoring.

Sushi Sensation: Temaki

Located just a short drive from Neumann is some of the best sushi this side of the Pacific.

Temaki in Media, PA. (Photo Courtesy of Temaki)

Hidden Treasures

Neumann students don’t know how good they have it. I’m not talking about education, of course—I’m talking about culture. If you drew a map and placed Neumann at the center, our University is located practically equidistantly to some of the tri-state areas hottest spots. Downtown Philadelphia is only a forty-five minute drive down I-95; Wilmington is less than a half an hour away, West Chester and Phoenixville are short trip down Rt. 1 and if you’re adventurous, the Jersey shore is only a ninety minute drive from campus. But, what most students don’t know is that there’s a little known hot spot even closer—less than fifteen minutes away, in Media, PA.

Media's State Street during the holidays.

Serving as the seat for Delaware County, Media is a treasure trove of culture and class. State Street, Media’s version of Main Street is overflowing with an artful blend of new and traditional, eclectic and sophisticated, international and plain old down-home goodness. Between the Media Theatre’s awesome season, events like America’s Music Festival series and Dining Under the Stars, and various other activities, there’s something for everyone. But, what most people don’t realize is that Media’s current claim to fame is their dining scene.

With restaurants like Fellini’s Café, Azie, Lotus and Seven Stones, Media has everyone covered. Especially considering the fact that located just a few steps off of State Street, Media is home to Temaki, a restaurant with some of the best sushi I’ve ever eaten.

Temaki: Award Winning 

You may not know it, but I happen to consider myself a budding foodie. As a child who hated anything green, slimy or not fried or covered in sugar, my current taste in food is a major deviation from the taste buds of my youth.

These days I’m pretty much down to try anything, and over the past few years I’ve cultivated a distinct attitude towards what I consider good food and what doesn’t quiet meet my expectations. I’ve also cultivated a particular list of favorite foods, with sushi right at the top.

Needless to say—it obviously had to take a whole lot for me to list Temaki’s sushi above everyone else’s, but believe me when I tell you, the award is well won.

Inviting Ambiance

(Courtesy of Temaki)

Entering Temaki, whose name means, “hand rolled” in Japanese, is a treat onto itself. The atmosphere is a mix of cozy, contemporary and classic. The décor is flawless. Decorations are set to match the season and holiday and the walls are covered in art from local artists (if you fall in love with a piece, you can purchase it!). Not only does Temaki have good taste in style, but they also have great taste in music—carefully placed speakers gently pulse with alternative indie and live music from local artists can be enjoyed every Wednesday night.

Guests have a choice as to where they want to sit during dinner. Temaki’s tables and chairs easily move so configuring seating for a group of eight or an intimate pair of two is no problem. And, for those a little more courageous, you can also sit at the bar—which means that, free of charge, you get a show along with dinner, as Temaki’s expertly trained sushi chefs carefully craft your meal.

A Meal to Remember

Chef Aki (Photo Courtesy of Temaki)

Speaking of meals, Temaki’s Head Sushi Chef knows how to make one.

With over thirty-five years of experience and a resume that includes working everywhere from downtown Manhattan to Japan and Taiwan, Chef Aki, Temaki’s Head Sushi Chef, can be called nothing but an expert at his craft. More than that, Aki and his team are culinary artists—taking a contemporary creative spin on a centuries-old tradition and combining experimentation with expertise to craft some of, not only the best tasting, but also most eye-pleasing sushi this side of the Pacific.

Temaki’s menu includes a combination of salads, soups, entrees, fresh meats and poultry, but of course it’s the sushi that stands out.

Guests have the option to order sushi in one of three ways—on the menu (which offers a huge selection of hand rolled sushi and sashimi), off-menu or leaving it to Aki and his team by ordering Omakase. (The Japanese phrase literally means, “I’ll leave it to you.”)

Edible Art (Photo by Alexander Crofoot)

Sitting at the bar, I asked Aki to craft my meal according to his recommendations, and I can honestly say the only thing I regret is that I ate too quickly and got full too fast.

From the very beginning, Aki produced winning combinations, by mixing classics like crunchy tuna and salmon with creative additions like homemade mango salsa, strawberries and fried potatoes.

Fruit on sushi, which I was skeptical about at first, is a winning combination. The citrus compliments the fish (which is guaranteed fresh considering Aki hand selects it daily) and each bite is a guaranteed flavor explosion. With huge portions (seriously, huge) and complimentary additions like delicious green tea, you don’t be disappointed. Each mouthful is exciting and new and with front row seats to Aki’s artistic performance, it’s an unforgettable meal.

Team Aki

But it wasn’t Chef Aki that stole the show, rather it was Team Aki—Aki’s carefully chosen collection of chefs, waitresses and staff.

To say the staff is superb is an understatement.  From the very beginning with a welcoming, “You’re in for a treat” to the very last goodbye, each member of the staff was attentive, welcoming and accommodating.

Team Aki (Photo by Alexander Crofoot)

General Manager, Kate, makes each dining experience extremely personal, visiting each table and answering questions for inquisitive guests. Temaki’s waitresses are flawlessly efficient—not one single table was empty the night I went, and each one was filled with obviously happy patrons.

Despite Temaki’s popularity and busy atmosphere, not one guest felt like just another paying customer—Team Aki made sure of it with their well-rounded team work.

While Temaki is perfect for any age group, hosting a variety while I was there, from families of four to larger parties of eight, the restaurant is perfect for college students with adventurous taste buds. Aki’s creativity and expertise is perfect even for those with conservative tastes and his team will make you feel right at home.

If (When!) You Go

If you go, remember that big things come in little packages—while the space may seem small, Temaki will leave a big impression. Also, don’t forget that you’re not bound by the menu—Aki specializes in just rolling with it—by offering a different Off-Menu special roll every night. Be sure to have dessert too, mmmm.

Temaki is a BYOB, and offers special services like free wifi, delicious take out and free delivery.

Photo by Alexander Crofoot

College is about trying new things—so venture out sometime soon and try not only a new town, but also a new restaurant—one that I promise won’t disappoint.

Temaki is located just a short drive from Neumann’s campus.

19 S. Olive Street, Media PA 19063

610-566-5363

TemakiSushiMedia.com

NHL Power Rankings (February 7, 2012)

A new year brings new hope for teams on the fringe of the playoff picture. After a great All-Star weekend in Ottawa the NHL has picked up right where it left off with some of the most exciting games of the season in just the last two weeks.  Most notably the surging performances of Sam Gagner of the Edmonton Oilers.  There are few things harder to come by than an NHL player coming close to one Wayne Gretzky’s records – Gagner was able to tie his point per game record in Edmonton at 8.  And although it does not eclipse the NHL record of 10 (Darryl Sittler – Toronto Maple Leafs) it an incredible achievement and should be acknowledged.  But I digress, who’s who in the NHL this far into 2012? Let’s find out.

1.  New York Rangers (33-12-5)

Is it even possible to place too much of an emphasis on the importance of having a top notch goaltender in the NHL?  Of course not.  Henrik Lundqvist is one of the best examples of this fact – topping the league in sv % (.939) and shutouts (6).  It has also been a known fact that Lundqvist is one of the league’s best goaltenders, but this season just goes to show how a goaltender can go from being great to immortal when he has the proper team around him.  The Rangers have been led by the outstanding coaching from John Tortorella, and the scariest part about this team is that some of their key players are still not playing at their best.  Regardless, teams around the league know a game against the Rangers means a long night.

2. Detroit Red Wings (35-17-2)

The ageless Wings have steadily taken a league lead in points, not to mention that they hold the best home record at 20-2-1.  The big three forwards on the team (Datsyuk, Franzen, Zetterberg) are playing as expected, but even more impressive is the secondary scoring that the Wings have had.  Flippula, Hudler, Bertuzzi and Cleary are all having fantastic seasons and their ability to bury the puck has made the opposing teams task even more difficult.  At the time, All-Star goaltender Jimmy Howard and we will have to see how the Wings play without him.

3. Vancouver Canucks (32-15-5)

It may have taken a little longer than the Bruins, but the Vancouver Canucks managed to shake off their Stanley Cup hangover, and have now eclipsed the B’s for third in the league.  Luongo has played sensational for the past couple months – bringing his sv % back from the miserable .800’s, up to .920.  With the return of Sami Salo to the lineup, the Canucks defense is looking almost as reliable as their offense.

4. Boston Bruins (33-16-2)

After a decisive beatdown of the Washington Capitals on NBC’s game of the week, the Bruins have increased their goal differential to an unrivaled +69..  With that statistic, it is no surprise to see them leading the league in goals per game, but what truly defines the dominance this team has had is the 2.16 goals allowed per game that has put them in the top four of the league as well.  Quite frankly it is simple math.  Great offense + great defense = Great hockey team.  It may not be that easy for other teams in the league, but for the Bruins it has been.

5.  St. Louis Blues (30-14-7)

The Blues have been able to accomplish something remarkable under the rule of Ken Hitchcock.  That being, there is no player that has totaled over 40 points on the season, and only two that have over 30!  The Blues have epitomized what it means to be a team in the NHL, playing four lines, three pairs, and two goaltenders deep night in and night out.

6.  Nashville Predators (32-17-4)

A transformation has manifested itself in this years Predators.  A team that is normally known for operating under the philosophy “If they don’t score, they can’t win”, has slipped up just a bit on their defensive style.  But the little that they have lacked in defensive play, they have more than made up for in offensive production – especially as of late.  Led by forwards Erat, Fisher and Legwand, the Pred’s have been able to rely on scoring almost 3 goals a night (2.76), a luxury that they have not had in the past.  And it never hurts when goaltender Pekka Rinne is playing at the top of his game with a .925 sv % and 30 wins on the year.

7.  Philadelphia Flyers (30-16-6)

Although the Flyers stand in a good position in relation to seeding in the NHL playoffs, there is a negative feeling in the city of Brotherly Love.  Those feelings are all being directed to a familiar position of fan criticism in Philly – goaltender.  Bryzgalov has turned out to be an overall bust (at least for now) while Bobrovsky has not been able to elevate his play enough to solidify the number one goaltender spot.  Still, Flyers fans have to be happy with the great play of Wayne Simmonds and Scott Hartnell as of late and hopefully we will soon see the return of James van Riemsdyk from concussion-like symptoms.

8. San Jose Sharks (29-15-6)

This year the honorary title of last pick in the All-Star draft went to Sharks sophomore phenom Logan Couture.  Poor guy, must be tough being an NHL star with a brand new Honda Crosstour.  Regardless, the Sharks have continued to play respectable hockey over the past month – never at their full potential, but certainly enough to be amongst the leagues best.  However, with Pavelski cooling off and Havlat still hurt, secondary scoring has to be a concern for this Sharks team that is mainly led by Thornton, Couture and Marleau.  But the stellar goaltending has been able to cover up for that, with both Thomas Greiss and Niemi around .920 save %.

9.  Chicago Blackhawks (29-17-7)

Even though he dawned the superman cape and the Clark Kent glasses, Patrick Kane has not been superman like as of late.  Yes, he does have 44 points, but Kane has struggled to bury the puck all year long and his frustration is starting to show. Despite the 3.11 goals that the Hawks score per game, they also are ranked 26th in the league with goals against at 2.92.  That may be a result from the goaltending situation that has arisen with shaky play from Crawford and Emery.  Nevertheless, it seems that the Hawks inability ot play defense effectively has overcome their offensive production as of late.

10. Pittsburgh Penguins (30-19-4)

Other teams in the league would have easily folded under the enormous pressure of injuries that this team has had to sustain – but not the Penguins.  Led by coach Dan Bylsma and more importantly Evgeni “Geno” Malkin, the Penguins refuse to go away from the playoff picture and have managed to go 8-2 in their last 10 games.  And although the goaltending news this season has been largely dominated by Lundqvist, Quick, Elliot and Howard, Marc- Andre Fleury has quietly played outstanding between the pipes this season.  On many nights he has been left out to dry and have fought every inch for his 28 wins and .912 save %.  For the Penguins sake, let’s hope he does not catch a late season injury as he has in seasons past.

11. New Jersey Devils (30-19-3)

A team that was once based around Martin Brodeur and defensive hockey has been recently relying on the hot sticks of Zubrus, Kovalchuck, Parise, and Elias to essentially outscore their opponents.  The Devils goal differential is less than satisfactory as a mere +1, but the fact that the Devils are once again back in the playoff race is a great story for a team that looked worth of AHL demotion just a few years ago.  With Parise looking for a contract that will keep him in a Devils uniform, management has to be secretly negotiating that dollar value.  But the contract year has not effected Parise’s play and the Devils have been reaping the rewards of his play.

12. Toronto Maple Leafs (28-19-6)

Recall just a few months ago analysts were claiming the Leafs success to the “unusually hot” play of Lupul and Kessel.  Well now that we have established that both of these players are having the greatest seasons of their young career, the secondary scoring has begun to pour in for the Leafs.  For the majority of last year the Macarthur, Grabovski, and Kulemin line played incredible.  And although all three players started miserably, they have been able to put the puck in back of the net as of late and it is starting to pay dividends.  It also appears that the Leafs have a goaltender battle for the number one spot.  Normally this is a counter productive way to run a team, but for now Reimer and Gustavsson are pushing each other to play better and better each night.  This team will be around come playoff time.

13.  Los Angeles Kings (25-18-10)

Will the scoring ever come? No one knows! By now Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick have to be tired of carrying the Kings night in and night out.  Quick is having a Vezina worthy season, while Kopitar seems to be the only forward that knows how to play offense.  But where there is a will, there is good coaching.  Suter has the Kings playing structured hockey that allows their lack of scoring, which is the worst in the league, to have minimal effect on the overall outcome of the game – if they play the system.

14. Ottawa Senators (27-21-7)

It may have been a great All-Star weekend for the city of Ottawa, but since then their play has dropped off, going 3-6-1 in their last 10 games.  Craig Anderson has been able to revive his career this season by playing commendable hockey for the Sen’s, but he has struggled over the past few games and that may be a result of the monumental 50 games played.  Hometown favorite Jason Spezza has also had a remarkable season, but his -1 is unacceptable considering the 50 points that he has been able to put up.  But on the bright side, Daniel Alfredsson has found his game once again and continues to be one of the most productive veteran players in the league.

15. Washington Capitals (27-21-4)

The Caps find themselves in an awkward position in comparison to recent years past.  Surely, there will be no run at the President’s Trophy or the Eastern Conference Regular season title for that matter this year.  But neither of those were goals for this team.  The mentality at this point in the season for the Caps has to be “Just make it in.” – In being the playoffs of course.  With Green and Backstrom out, Semin and Perreault have been playing their best hockey of the season.  Much like the Flyers goaltending issues, the Caps off season signing of Vokoun has not paid off at all, and once again leaves them in a position they did not want to be in.  The big question of McPhee to answer now is if this team will be a buyer, seller, or holder come trade deadline time.

16.  Florida Panthers (24-16-11)

The ultimate free agency experience has hit a speed hump in the road that is their season.  Constant goaltender shuffling has placed the Panthers in a difficult position.  It has also not helped the Fleischmann and Versteeg have cooled off as of late.  The weather may be great, but the play has not been as of late.

Google No Longer the Golden Child?

August 19th, 2004. Although it seems like a lifetime has passed since then, it has only been seven and a third years since Google announced its IPO. At the time those 19,605,052 shares were valued at $85 per share. Fast forward to present day and approximately $497.27 per share and you have the Internet giant that is Google.

The company is comprised of a variety of products such as Google Translate, Google Maps, Google Images, Google Plus, Google Earth, Google Chrome, Picasa, Gmail, YouTube and of course the crowned jewel of the operation – the Google Search Engine. Just one look at that list of products and services would have any CEO of an Internet associated company jealous – or at least that was the case just a year or two ago. Surprisingly enough, there is now a CEO that Larry Page and Sergey Brin may actually envy – that man is Mark Zuckerberg.

Since its origins in 2004 (the same year of Google’s IPO) Facebook has taken social networking and the Internet itself to a whole new level. However, the company has gained the majority of its popularity within the past three years. In fact, from 2008 to 2011, Facebook managed to jump from 100 million to 800 million users.

*All Rights and Data are reserved to Facebook

From Mr. Zukerberg’s dorm room, to the computers of high school and college students, to the board rooms of Fortune 500 companies, Facebook has asserted itself as the most powerful company in cyberspace. Once portrayed as a diversion from reality, Facebook is now defines the term modern communication and has seemingly overtaken Google, Yahoo, and all other competitors as the Industry leader.

In just six years time, Facebook has caught and surpassed Google in terms of consumer attention. This phenomena has been true since September 2010, when marketing research firm comScore first reported that Americans spent more time socializing on Facebook than searching with Google.

*All Rights and Data reserved by comScore

With all of that being said, an enormous amount of hype has been built concerning the Facebook IPO, which as of Wednesday, was confirmed by analysts to open with an initial $5 billion issuance of stock. However, there seems to be two schools of thought when it comes to this highly anticipated stock: Facebook’s stock will crash and burn much like that of LinkedIn. Or Facebook is strong enough to defy any negative conceptions and is poised to make a lot of people, a lot of money. Unlike many other companies of the Dot com era, Facebook has products and services that have been proven to be wildly contagious and sustainable for the long term. Another component that assures Facebook’s continuing success is the fact that the site is a marketer’s dream come true. Facebook has become a pivotal resource for companies to track consumer behavior and publicize their products. Reports indicate the in September of 2011 alone, Facebook reached over 750 million users.

Ultimately, the advertising space is where the money lies for Facebook. But the company as a whole is rock solid and coming out of 2011 with a whopping $1 billion of profit from sales of $3.7 billion. And along with a product that has more than tripled in popularity in the past 3 years, it would seem that Facebook is not only here to stay, but ready to take the stock market by storm. The other day, CNBC threw out the interesting, and rather hilarious, statistic that upon its IPO, each of Facebook’s 800 million users would be worth approximately $125 to Wall Street investors. And much like in 2004 before Google’s IPO, all there is to do now is wait and see. (It’s also worthy to note the symbol FB is available for Facebook to use in the market.)

The Price of a New York Education

One of the many nationwide epidemics that has caught recent attention in the United States is that of increasing tuition prices.  However, most of these ridiculous pricing increases have come at the collegiate level.  But it seems that in the city of New York the irresistible trend of hiking up tuition has found its way into elementary, middle, and high school education as well.  In fact, throughout the past decade the price of education in grades K-12 have risen 9 percent higher in the city of New York than the entire nation.

With prices of the top 18 schools in the city on the verge of reaching upwards of $40,000 for tuition, several thoughts begin to rush to ones mind.  Perhaps those thoughts may best be personified by one word – outrageous.  The Independent schools of New York city have driven the parents of the children attending their schools to what I can only describe as insanity.  In fear of not being accepted to these schools, that will undoubtedly bout well for their children’s futures, parents have remained relatively quite in spite of these prices increases.

However, those that have stood up and had the courage to complain have attributed the majority of the price increasing to the rising salaries of teachers, state of the art facility expansions, and construction/repair of aged buildings.  Granted, building upkeep is vital to these schools existence, but teacher compensation and every classroom having a SmartBoard may not be a top priority on the list of these parents when they are signing those fat checks.  On the other hand of the argument, proponents of the prestigious New York city Independent schools believe that a number of these schools now offer advanced after school activities.  Many of these Prep schools have swimming pools, numerous gym’s, art studios, and theaters, providing students with almost endless opportunities while resembling the infrastructure of a well financed private high school.

At any rate, perhaps what is most the most puzzling conundrum of this situation is the willingness of endless amounts of parents to forfeit enormous amounts of money for their children’s education during their K-12 years.  One of the many things that New York city is famous for is the New York Stock Exchange, where financial wizards invest countless American dollars each and every year.  But it now appears that the NYSE is not the only market in the city that requires a large sum of capital.  After all, $40,000 is no small investment, and for the sake of these parents bank accounts I certainly hope those investments pay off.

NHL Power-Player Rankings: 2012 All-Star Edition

With the All-Star game upon us, rather than go through the motions of ranking the NHL’s top sixteen teams, why not take a look at the top sixteen players in the league up to this point of the 2011-2012 season, regardless of if they were voted into the All-Star game or not?  To be more specific, the top six forwards, the top six defensemen and the top four goaltenders.

Forwards

1. Evgeni Malkin (26G, 32A, +12)

In Pittsburgh he is better known as ‘Geno’, but considering the herculean effort he has put forth to keep this team a Cup contender in the East, he may be deserving of a new nickname.  Just over a year ago, Malkin was dealing with a lingering injury that kept him to playing just 43 games during the 2010-2011 season.  This summer the Penguins website put up some footage of Geno training at a local rink in RussiaObviously he is no Aquaman, but all of that swimming has paid off for Malkin who has not only asserted himself as the best Russian player in the NHL, but for now the clear MVP candidate of the league.

2.  Marian Hossa (20G, 33A, +24)

Despite all of the recent success the Chicago Blackhawks franchise has had, Hossa has personally struggled.  Yes, 108 points between his first two seasons as a Hawk would be respectable for just about any NHL players.  But with the contract he was signed to, you expect Hossa to be in the upper echelon of the league each year.  This year looks to be a return of the Marian Hossa from the 2006-2007 Thrashers, where he put up 100 points in a single season.  With 53 points at the break, ‘Big Hoss’ had almost eclipsed his season total of 57 points last year – not to mention he has remained health enough to play in 49 games.  Ultimately, Hawks fans should be ecstatic to see the name Hossa a top the stats in the NHL – it can only be a sign of good things to come.

3.  Pavel Datsyuk (14G, 39A, +21)

Something very strange happened at the beginning of this NHL season – Pavel Datsyuk had a miserable start to it.  But in a couple weeks time, Pavel began to fire on all engines and not only over took Johan Franzen for the team lead in points, but re-established himself amongst the top players in the NHL.  On any given day, Datsyuk has the capabilities to be the best player in the NHL and a large number of analysts would argue that he already is.  Perhaps what is most impressive about Datsyuk is his ability to raise the play of those around him to extraordinary levels by using what I am dubbing his ‘supervision’ in terms of passing the puck.  And although his trademark shootout move ‘the Datsyuk’ (not a very original name) was recently foiled, Pavel has been having the last laugh in just about every showdown he has had with a goaltender this year.

4.  Claude Giroux (18G, 37A, +0)

When the Flyers traded Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, my initial reaction was that Flyers management must truly believe that Giroux is going to be the next NHL star – and indeed he is.  Giroux exploded out of the gate this season and has never looked back, providing the Flyers with dynamic offensive production every game.  Although he was hindered by an injury to the head, Giroux has made a full recovery.  Much like Datsyuk, Giroux has accumulated the majority of his points by elevating the play of those around him.  His moves are deceiving and he knows just when to release the puck to thread the needle to his teammate(s) or surprise the opposing goaltender.

5. Henrik Sedin (11G, 41A, +13)

After what can only be described as an abysmal start for the Vancouver Canucks, the team has rallied around the play of none of than the Sedin brothers; more specifically, Henrik.  Leading the NHL in the assists at the All-Star break would be a huge accomplishment for any other forward in the league, but lets be honest, we expect nothing less from Henrik at this point in his career.  With stats like these, Sedin still has a chance to eclipse all of his career highs if he can keep up the pace the Canucks fans know he can.  Just like Datsyuk and Giroux, Sedin does the most damage to teams by distributing the puck to his teammates – but will he ever get over the 30 goal plateau!? Who knows.

6. Phil Kessel (26G, 25A, +1)

I am well aware that Steven Stamkos and teammate Joffrey Lupul technically have more points than Mr. Kessel, but my vote for the last forward of our coountdown goes to number 81.  Let’s put his season thus far into perspective for a moment.  Kessel was traded from the bruins three years ago and became known to have somewhat of an attitude problem.  Since then his single season production has peaked at 64 points during last season, but he went -20 at the same time.  After being jokingly being selected as last years All-Star game’s last pick of the captain’s draft, Kessel has struck back with avengance and already has 51 points – putting him in a position to go into uncharted territory of production for his single season statistics.  Hats off to Phil Kessel and his remarkable performance through the season so far.

Defensemen

1.  Erik Karlsson (7G, 40A, +5)

Not many analysts gave the Ottawa Senators a fighting chance at playoff contention at the beginning of this season.  But low and behold, the Sens have managed to prove all the doubters wrong – largely in part to the play of star defensemen Erik Karlsson.  At age 21, Karlsson only trails Henrik Sedin by one assist for the league lead and is chalking up huge minutes on the Sens back line.  He may not be a very physical player when it comes to defensemen, but he leads all defenders in power play points and has his team headed in the right direction.  The home crowd in Ottawa will be sure to show them their appreciation come this weekend.

2.  Shea Weber (10G, 24A, +16)

There are very few defensemen that possess the skill set that Nashville’s pride and joy does.  He may have missed a couple games due to the concussion like symptoms bug that has been drifting around the league, but I would argue that as of the All-Star break, Weber is playing as the most well-rounded defensemen in the entire league.  And just until the recent surge of offense from the Predators offense, Weber was leading the team in goals, assists and obviously points.  The booming shot. The bone-crushing hits. The powerful speed.  Shea’s got it all.

3.  Zdeno Chara (7G, 20A, +26)

He may not have the bolstering statistics in terms of goals and assists that other defensemen have, but Chara has quietly risen amongst the ranks of the most reliable defensemen in the NHL.  Big Z has shown us that even at his monumental stature, he can play a well rounded game. Piling up the hits, power play points, shots on goal and of course minutes per game.  This weekends skills competition will undoubtedly feature Chara and his record breaking slapshot – can he break his own record? For the sake of sliding defensemen and goaltenders, lets hope not.

4.  Alexander Edler (7G, 27A, +1)

Amongst the series of events that led up to a depressing off-season in Vancouver was the departure of big name defensemen Christian Ehrhoff.  And while the Canucks blue line is still filled with a great deal of talent, it has been Edler who has risen his play to the next level.  Edler has been throwing the body much more than we are used to seeing him do with 99 hits and his great shot and puck moving abilities have earned him 18 power play points on top of his impressive stats.

5. Kimmo Timonen (2G, 29A, +13)

I do not like to admit when I am wrong, but at the beginning of this season I made the mistake of dropping Timonen off of my fantasy hockey team.  I’m sorry Kimmo. I should have known better.  But in all seriousness, Timonen has emerged as the go to guy on the Flyers back line with the crushing blow of losing Chris Pronger for the entire season.  In fact, at this rate Timonen has a great chance to eclipse his single season career highs for points at 55 during his 06-07 campaign with Nashville.  And although the goaltending debacle is far from over in Philadelphia, at least for the time being they have found a solid defensemen to try and wipe up the mess Bryzgalov has been making.

6. Nicklas Lidstrom (10G, 18A, +22)

Yes, his teammate Ian White is having an incredible season and should be acknowledged for his efforts.  But no montage of the NHL’s best is complete without the addition of the legendary Nicklas Lidstrom.  Lidstrom continues to show that age is only a number and epitomizes what an NHL captain should be.  His steady production and well rounded play is simply remarkable for somebody at the age of 41.  There is a reason why this guy has won the most Norris trophies in NHL history (7).

Goaltenders

1. Henrik Lundqvist (22W, .937 SV%, 1.87 GAA)

All hail King Henrik.  When the Rangers got off to a sluggish start this season, Lundqvist stepped up to his usual role of carrying the team on his back.  But now that Coach Tortorella has his team firing on all cylinders, Lundqvist has the chance to remind us why Sweeden won the Olympic Gold in 2006.  Although he may have one of the most unusual styles in the league, he occupies the crease with a swagger that very few in the NHL can compare to – not to mention that he is constantly a top the list of best dressed professional athletes.

2.  Jonathan Quick (21W, .934 SV%, 1.93 GAA)

A major theme we have seen in the 2011-2012 NHL season up until this point is the emerging trend of dynamic goaltending combinations on one team – the LA Kings do not fit in that category.  Quick has been the backbone for a Kings team that has had a somewhat of an anemic offense and underperforming defensive core.  Quick has quickly raked up over 2,500 minutes of play in net for the Kings so far and also has a league best six shutouts to his name.

3.  Jimmy Howard (30W, .926 SV%, 1.95GAA)

The 27 year old, that was at one point a Maine Black Bear, has the Red Wings flying awfully high at this years All-Star break.  For Howard, this is his third year at the clear number one goaltender in Detroit, but it seemed as though he took a step backwards last year with his numbers dropping significantly.  However, the 2011-2012 NHL season has seen Jimmy Howard lead the league with the most wins for a goaltender in the league.  Detroit is a storied franchise that has a knack for bringing out the full potential of its players.  Just of recent memory there is Yzerman, Shanahan, Lidstrom, Holmstrom, Osgood and many more……is Howard next?

4.  Tim Thomas (20W, .933 SV%, 2.12GAA)

Even though the Bruins have opted to utilize the talents of Tukka Rask as often as possible, Tim Thomas has played spectacular during his 29 games in net.  The Vezina winning goaltender has reminded many analysts about Dominik Hasek with his peculiar style of play and his ability to keep his save percentage above .93 each of his last two years.  Most impressive about Thomas perhaps are the mental strides he has made in recent seasons.  No longer do we see the Tim Thomas that constantly slammed his stick and stormed after ref’s to state his case.  Instead, number 30 has found his comfort zone and is truly looking like a NHL veteran that is calm, cool and collected between the pipes.


Congressional Representative Gabrielle Giffords Resigns

Some would refer to it as a ‘headshot’, but regardless of the terminology you decide to use, there is no beating around the bush when it comes to discussing the unfortunate event that happened to Arizona Democrat Gabrielle Gifford last year.  Just a little over a year ago, Congress woman Giffords was attending a local political event to meet the general public outside of a grocery store in Tuscon, Arizona.  That day she was also one of the 19 people shot by 22 year old Jared Loughner.  The shooter successfully targeted and shot Giffords directly in the head.

Remarkably, she was rushed to a hospital where doctors were able to place her into a induced coma.  After she awoke from this coma, Congress woman Giffords was unable to speak and could barely respond to simple human gestures and commands.  Not long after cheating death, Gabrielle Giffords began the long road to recovery through physical therapy.  Several months later during congressional debates over the status of the nation’s debt ceiling, not only had Giffords progressed enough to attend the event, but she was able to stand up and raise her left hand in approval of raising the United States debt ceiling.

Over the course of the widespread panic that had instilled in the nation during the Congressional debacle over the debt ceiling many strong opinions and harsh words were exchanged between Democrats and Republicans.  But regardless of any of their individual views on the matter, all of the attendees on the House floor rose to their feet to applaud what can only be described as a miraculous recovery.

Despite the extraordinary recovery that Congress woman Giffords has made in just over a year in her physical rehabilitation, she has come to the realization that her health is more important than continuing as the Representative of Arizona’s 8th Congressional district.  She announced this decision through an incredibly touching video released on January 22nd, 2012.  In the video, Giffords explained that she believed stepping down from her position was in the best interest of Arizona and her full recovery.  But that is not to say Gabrielle Giffords has ‘retired’ for good – she left us wondering about the possibility of her returning to office one day as she stated “I will return and we will work together for Arizona and this great country.”

On January 8th, 2011, doctors explained to the national media that the bullet that had struck Gabrille Giffords punctured the back of her head, and came out the front of her skull  later it would be established that in fact the bullet had traveled in the exact opposite way as originally reported).  Just over a year later, she has regained the ability to walk and talk.  Democrat, Republican or Independent, there is no arguing against the fact that her recovery is truly an incredible story and testament to the willpower of an individual determined to make a lasting impact.