- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 10, 2009

STORY OF THE WEEK

HOW THE MIGHTY HAVE FALLEN

A couple of weeks ago, there was a distinct divide between the truly elite teams in the NHL and a few others trying to join that group. The exclusive club included Detroit, San Jose, Boston, New Jersey and Washington — odds on any team beyond that Fab Five winning the Stanley Cup were probably extremely long.

As the schedule nears the closing stretch, something has happened to those teams. Whether it was complacency, injuries, bad luck or a combination of things — suddenly the cream of the NHL crop is mortal.

San Jose has lost five of six. Boston dropped nine of 12 before splitting games against the Blackhawks and Rangers. Washington, previously powerful at home, dropped four straight and six of nine at Verizon Center. Then there is defending champion Detroit, which has no distinct losing streak but inexplicably yielded EIGHT goals to both Nashville and Columbus in a span of six days.



The New Jersey Devils looked indestructible with the return of Martin Brodeur. Then the worst team in the league, the Islanders, lit him up in a 7-3 victory. What gives with this season’s superpowers?

All of these teams are likely to rebound, but this wave of unexpected struggles has probably forced those five to let others into the tree house. Calgary certainly looks like a Stanley Cup contender after making the big splash at the deadline. Philadelphia and Chicago probably have muscled into the picture as well. These past couple of weeks have proved there may be a bit more parity at the top of the league than previously thought, and that probably will only make for a more exciting postseason.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

CAROLINA HURRICANES

The Hurricanes are not yet three years removed from a Stanley Cup, but they have slipped into a quagmire of mediocrity. Carolina was supposed to be a franchise built for post-lockout success — a deep, skilled group of forwards, a competent puck-moving defense and a young, talented goaltender.

Still, the Hurricanes haven’t made the playoffs in the two years since capturing the Cup, and until about seven days ago the prospects for a postseason trip didn’t look promising this season either. A few teams changed course at the trade deadline Wednesday, but no franchise reversed its fortunes on the ice like Carolina.

Not only did the Hurricanes sweep their three games, they blasted three teams and scored 20 goals in the process. Sure, they beat up an American Hockey League team Saturday night (a 9-3 laugher at Tampa Bay), but back-to-back blowout victories against Washington and Calgary were impressive. They have three games against New Jersey and two against Washington in their final 14, but a red-hot Eric Staal with the help of old friend Erik Cole could bring playoff hockey back to the Caniacs.

POWER RANKINGS (trade deadline edition)

1. Red Wings (LW: 2)

A goalie might have worked, but the champs didn’t need anything.

2. Sharks (1)

Scooping up Moen and Huskins near the buzzer was a fantastic maneuver.

3. Bruins (3)

No stud defenseman — but Recchi and Montador are nice depth additions.

4. Devils (5)

Havelid could be a great add as a top-four D-man; Brodeur’s return trumps all.

5. Flames (7)

Who knows about Jokinen in the playoffs, but he has been great so far.

6. Blackhawks (6)

Pahlsson, like Moen, was added to match up with big guns in the West.

7. Capitals (4)

Alzner and/or Pothier better help, or they missed an opportunity.

8. Flyers (8)

Missed on the big names but Carcillo will be well-liked in that town.

9. Canucks (9)

They needed one more move to complement Sundin addition and keep pace.

10. Rangers (NR)

Traded for Antropov and Morris, but Avery will have the best (or worst) impact.

TROPHY TRACKER

VEZINA (goalie)

1. Tim Thomas, Bruins

Thomas and his .932 save percentage aren’t responsible for the recent slide.

2. Steve Mason, Blue Jackets

He lost a rookie showdown with Rinne but rebounded against the Red Wings.

3. Niklas Backstrom, Wild

He celebrated his wealthy new contract with his 30th victory.

NORRIS (defenseman)

1. Zdeno Chara, Bruins

Already the favorite, but he has picked up his offense lately.

2. Nicklas Lidstrom, Red Wings

He won’t win his fourth straight, but he’s in the discussion.

3. Mike Green, Capitals

One goal in 10 games means he needs to pick it up to reach 30.

CALDER (rookie)

1. Steve Mason, Blue Jackets

Will team success influence this category? …

2. Pekka Rinne, Predators

… Because Rinne has carried his team into playoff hunt as well.

3. Bobby Ryan, Ducks

Buzz lacking for a guy who might have had 40 goals in a full season.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

NOW SHOWING

Sean Avery, Rangers

Love him or hate him, the Mouth is back on Broadway, and the Rangers went 2-for-2 since his return. He might be helping two teams into the playoffs — the Rangers are a tougher team to play against with him, and the Stars have been a much improved club since using his departure as an excuse to play better.

COMING SOON

Nick Bonino, Ducks

Anaheim actually dealt its best prospect near the deadline when it sent Eric Tangradi to Pittsburgh, but Bonino could help out in the future. Acquired as part of the package for Travis Moen and Kent Huskins from the Sharks, Bonino has 15 goals and 42 points as a sophomore at Boston University. As a sixth-round pick in 2007, Bonino could end up as a late-draft gem.

SHOW’S OVER

Gary Roberts, Lightning

He was part of a prodigious purge in Hockey Bay this past week, but unfortunately for Roberts (and Lightning ownership) no other team claimed Roberts on waivers — meaning Tampa Bay will have to keep paying him. That said, the 42-year-old is expected to retire after 438 goals and 910 points in more than 1,200 NHL games.

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