- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2009

STORY OF THE WEEK

COUNTDOWN TO VANCOUVER

If anyone thinks having NHL players in the Olympics isn’t important, check out nearly every major media outlet that covers the sport both here and in Canada. People are already getting excited for the idea of watching the world’s best players at the 2010 games, which are less than a year away. Here’s a quick handicap of the countries that will compete in Vancouver:

1(a). RUSSIA (3-2): Could boast the scariest collection of forwards in any event… ever. Plus the Canadian mystique was wiped away for guys like Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk when they won the world championship in Canada last summer.

1(b). CANADA (3-2): Trying to pick a favorite between these two superpowers is nearly impossible. The Canadians will have a better defensive corps and home-ice advantage. A gold-medal game with the Russians could be a matchup for the ages.

3. SWEDEN (5-1): “Tre Kronor” are always undervalued in international competition, but recently the Swedes have been as successful as anyone.

4. UNITED STATES (12-1): This country is producing better players in both quality and quantity. Still, this is likely to be a young group with Zach Parise, Dustin Brown and Patrick Kane as headliners.

5. CZECH REPUBLIC (18-1): This is likely the last hurrah for an aging group of Czech players led by Jaromir Jagr.

6. FINLAND (25-1): The Finnish goaltending factory (likely to be led by Niklas Backstrom) could help steal a medal - it happened four years ago.

7. SLOVAKIA (75-1): Always too thin but blessed with a few elite players, the development pipeline is drying up. Zdeno Chara and Marian Gaborik need more help.

8. THE FIELD (OFF): Germany has enough NHL talent to surprise in a game. Belarus has the Kostitsyn brothers and Mikhail Grabovski - but they have a feud that makes Ovechkin-Malkin look small in comparison (not to mention the Kostitsyns’ potential legal troubles). Switzerland did upset Canada in 2006. Latvia has great fans and little hope. Norway is just happy to be there.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Vancouver Canucks

This is the same team that lost 10 times in 12 games in January, right? Yes and no - Roberto Luongo is back in a groove after a shaky return from injury, and Mats Sundin has found his way again. The result has been eight wins in nine games since the calendar flipped to February - and the loss was a 2-1 defeat in Detroit.

After a slow start that had plenty of people questioning why the Canucks brought him in, Sundin has settled in as the center on a newly constructed second line with Pavol Demitra and Ryan Kesler. Toss in gritty Alex Burrows as a revelation playing with the Sedin twins, and suddenly the Canucks can score. If they can keep this offensive prowess up, the Canucks certainly have a talented defense corps and the goaltender to be a dangerous team once the postseason begins.

TROPHY TRACKER

VEZINA (GOALTENDER)

1. Tim Thomas, Bruins

Hard to argue with tops in save percentage, goals-against average.

2. Steve Mason, Blue Jackets

Kudos for playing through mononucleosis but has seen 100 shots less than Thomas.

3. Ryan Miller, Sabres

Ankle injury could make his stay on this list a short one.

HART (MVP)

1. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals

Sidney Crosby doesn’t like it, but his flair adds much-needed spice.

2. Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings

Fourth in points, plays great defense, always underrated.

3. Zach Parise, Devils

From really good to budding superstar this season.

JACK ADAMS (COACH)

1. Claude Julien, Bruins

Dealt with some injuries, but Boston still on track for No. 1 seed.

2. Todd McLellan, Sharks

Lead on Red Wings is shrinking, but San Jose has two games in hand.

3. Ken Hitchcock, Blue Jackets

Columbus has never made postseason and lost a top-three scorer in rookie Brassard.

POWER RANKINGS (Goalie edition)

1. SHARKS (LW: 1)

Nabokov’s numbers are above average, and he is a workhorse.

2. RED WINGS (3)

Conklin or Osgood or TBA - net problems a big question in Detroit.

3. BRUINS (2)

Thomas has been great; is moving Fernandez worth the risk of no insurance?

4. CAPITALS (4)

Doubters remain, but Theodore is playing well and has playoff track record.

5. DEVILS (5)

Clemmensen has been a find, but he’s only keeping Brodeur’s seat warm… right?

6. BLACKHAWKS (7)

The Bulin Wall or Huet - both have played well, but who starts Game 1?

7. FLAMES (8)

Kiprusoff has many wins and a shady GAA, but he has done it before.

8. FLYERS (6)

Would Kari Lehtonen be better than the current tandem? Yikes.

9. CANUCKS (NR)

Neither San Jose nor Detroit wants to see Bobby Lou in the second round.

10. PANTHERS (10)

Vokoun’s improvement makes them a scary first-round matchup.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

NOW SHOWING

Mike Comrie, Senators

Given that Ottawa is far from a playoff spot, this trade smells of a general manager (Bryan Murray) trying to save his job. Comrie is an unrestricted free agent, so the deal really is a first-round pick to the Islanders for defenseman Chris Campoli. He might reach his untapped potential someday, but why not keep the pick and develop your own talent, especially with a franchise that needs an injection of youth?

COMING SOON

Casey Pierro-Zabotel, Penguins

The departures of Ryan Malone and Marian Hossa - and subsequent disappointments from Miroslav Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko - have left Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin with a dearth of skilled guys to skate with. Pierro-Zabotel was a third-round pick in 2007, and he leads the Western Hockey League with 105 points. Maybe he - or the guy he’s traded for - can help the Penguins next season.

SHOW’S OVER

Sergei Kostitsyn, Canadiens

Oh boy, it has been an interesting week in the Kostitsyn household. First, younger brother Sergei gets banished to the AHL with rumors swirling in Montreal about his (and other young Canadiens’) overzealous off-ice activities. Then he and older brother Andrei are linked to a local mobster, though it looks like they won’t face charges. The kid has lots of talent, but he - and possibly his brother - needs some image repair work.

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