Bruins

NHL Power Rankings: How will the West be won?

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NHL Power Rankings: How will the West be won?

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

Its been a crazy season of hockey in the Western Conference, and that continues right into the final two months of the season.

The Canucks and Red Wings are clearly the crme of the Western Conference standings as both squads have been unfazed by a significant number of injuries. But the rest of the conference is overwhelmed by the kind of parity that gives the top 11 teams some kind of notion that they could be playoff-worthy, and has kept many Western Conference teams from selling off their wares with playoff aspirations still living and breathing.

Only five points separated the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference from the No. 11 team (Chicago) still scrapping for the postseason after cruising to a Stanley Cup championship last season. What does that mean for the NHL?

It means there are going to be some epic games down the stretch in the Western Conference, and some desperate hockey by teams clinging to playoff dreams over the next few weeks particularly for a Bruins team playing a lot of Western Conference opponents over the next three weeks.

Without further ado, here are this weeks power rankings:

1. Vancouver Canucks (38-13-9, last week: 1) Its looking more and more like this is simply Vancouvers year. Daniel Sedin is leading the NHL in scoring, the Canucks lead the NHL by a wide margin with a plus-60 goal differential and the team is starting to get some of its injured defensemen back in the next few weeks.

2. Philadelphia Flyers (39-15-5, last week: 2) The Flyers are deep at forward and defense, theyre dominating in their division and theyve proven to be road warriors this season. Not much to prove during the regular season, but their goaltending headed into the playoffs is S-U-S-P-E-C-T.
3. Detroit Red Wings (37-16-6, last week: 3) Detroit has won five in a row and the mojo has definitely returned to Motown. The resurgence of Todd Bertuzzi for the Wings is one of the best stories in the NHL this season, and the Wings look like theyll be a beast in the playoffs.

4. Phoenix Coyotes (32-19-9, last week: 8) The Coyotes have won seven games in a row and Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 190 of 201 shots during that span the basic reason beyond the Desert Dogs recent rise up the standings.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning (34-18-7, last week: 4) The Bolts have lost four of six and look like theyre headed back down on the NHL roller coaster ride. Steve Yzerman went out and grabbed Eric Brewer in what continues to be an active winter for the new Tampa GM. Something tells me hes not the answer.
6. San Jose Sharks (33-21-6, last week: 14) Antti Niemi has stepped up for the Sharks and tossed three shutouts in the last eight games while Antero Nittymaki gathers rust on the shelf due to injury. The improved goaltending and renewed effort has made the Sharks finally appear like themselves after a sluggish first half.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins (36-19-5, last week: 6) Life without Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby isnt a slice of pie, but at least theyve added James Neal to the mix from Dallas. Its all about Sid the Kid and when he can potentially return at this point for Pittsburgh.

8. Boston Bruins (33-19-7, last week: 7) The Bruins finally landed a prize named Kaberle theyve been yearning for over the last three years, and he could make all the difference in the world for the Black and Gold power play.
9. Calgary Flames (31-22-8, last week: 17) The Flames are the hottest thing in hockey since Christmas-time, and have become a stunning turnaround story. The Heritage Classic was symbolic of whats going on with Jarome Iginla and the Flames in Western Canada, and its pretty special.

10. Washington Capitals (31-19-10, last week: 11) The Capitals are looking to make some moves, but havent found a partner quite yet after moving their big Tomas Fleischmann chip earlier this season. It sounds so strange to hear the Caps badly in need a playmaking center.

11. Nashville Predators (31-20-8, last week: 12) Good to see Mr. Underwood had three points in his first four games with the Preds, and Jordin Tootoo has returned from an alcoholsubstance abuse program stint. Things are looking up in Nashville.

12. Los Angeles Kings (32-23-4, last week: 15) The long and winding road trip is finally over for the Kings as the Grammys finally unlocked the Staples Center. Now the Kings dont play outside the state of California until March 9. Time for them to make up some ground.

13. Montreal Canadiens (31-22-7, last week: 10) Should the Habs take it as a danger sign that they made no moves while the Bruins got much better in three trades, and then mailed things in against the Flames at the Heritage Classic? I would if I were them.

14. Dallas Stars (31-22-6, last week: 9) Two wins in their last 12 games, Brad Richards looks like he has a concussion, and the Stars just dumped James Neal and Matti Niskanen on Pittsburgh. Things are looking perilous in the Lone Star State.

15. Minnesota Wild (31-22-6, last week: 13) The Wild are tip-toeing all over the playoff bubble, and now theyve lost heart and soul player Mikko Koivu for the next few weeks. Not so Wild anymore, are they?

16. Anaheim Ducks (32-24-4, last week: 17) Scary stuff for the Ducks as All-Star goaltender Jonas Hiller is sidelined with dizziness and lightheadedness. He looked like he was going to carry them to a playoff spot before his problems cropped up for a second time. Too bad.

17. Chicago Blackhawks (31-23-6, last week: 18) So Blackhawks scorer Patrick Kane likes to party, eh? And this is news and surprising to anyone because . . .
18. New York Rangers (31-26-4, last week: 18) The Blueshirts have lost Marian Gaborik to a concussion, and have no idea when he actually suffered the injury. Perhaps it was from the John Tortorella browbeating he took earlier this season. It all sounds problematic to me.
19. Carolina Hurricanes (28-24-8, last week: 19) The Hurricanes should be down on bended knee thanking the hockey gods that theyre in the Eastern Conference. Because otherwise theyd be little more than a whimpering tropical storm with no city to torment.

20. Columbus Blue Jackets (29-23-6, last week: 20) Matt Calvert, Antoine Vermette, Derek MacKenzie and Anton Stralman all scored in the BJs win over the Blackhawks last week. Who are these guys?

21. St. Louis Blues (27-22-9, last week: 22) Itll be interesting to see how Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk shake things up for the Blues. They looked so good early in the season, but havent been that team for a long, long time.

22. New Jersey Devils (25-30-4, last week: 25) The Devils are 15-1-2 in the last 18 games. Could they possibly sneak into the playoffs if they continue this way over the next two months?
23. Buffalo Sabres (27-25-6, last week: 24) Buffalo emptied the tank to simply make a cameo in the playoff picture, and then dropped three straight after all that hard work. Just not going to happen this season in Buff.

24. Atlanta Thrashers (25-25-10, last week: 21) The Thrashers have made their big move to acquire Mark Stuart and Blake Wheeler. Not sure thats enough to spark Atlanta, but they needed to do something. A record of 1-6-1 in February just isnt going to get it done.
25. Toronto Maple Leafs (25-27-7, last week: 27) Give Brian Burke credit for accumulating some draft picks over the last few weeks after giving their own away for a one-dimensional scorer. Did that sound like a backhanded compliment? Because it was totally supposed to.

26. New York Islanders (23-30-7, last week: 29) The Hockey Team Behaving Badly has earned the honor of having the NHL watch them like hawks for the rest of the season. So they have that going for them.

27. Florida Panthers (25-27-7, last week: 26) Dennis Wideman is one power play goal away from setting the franchise record in Florida this season. Didnt see that one coming.
28. Colorado Avalanche (25-27-7, last week: 23) The Avs have dropped 10 games in a row, and gave up a couple of young, talented assets to secure themselves a primo defenseman in Erik Johnson. Wait until next year in Denver.

29. Edmonton Oilers (19-32-8, last week: 29) Taylor Hall is still showing moments of brilliance like his hat trick against the Thrashers, but the Oil really need to start putting things together down the stretch as a statement for next year.

30. Ottawa Senators (19-31-9, last week: 30) Last one out in Ottawa turn out the lights because it looks youll be seeing the Binghamton crew at Scotiabank Place for the rest of the season.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Beleskey ready to 'perform at the level I know I can' in Providence

Beleskey ready to 'perform at the level I know I can' in Providence

BRIGHTON, Mass – In an unsurprising move given the strong character he’s shown since arriving in Boston, Matt Beleskey tweeted an assurance that he was going to work hard and regain his game after being sent to Providence.

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Beleskey, 29, cleared waivers on Friday afternoon and was assigned to the Providence Bruins, where he'll presumably play in all situations and get plenty of ice time to rebuild his confidence and game while waiting for another chance in the NHL. There’s no guarantee when or if that next chance is going to come given the richness of the Bruins prospect pool at the forward position, but Beleskey said via social media that he was ready to put in the work.

Beleskey still has 2 1/2 years left on a contract that will pay him $3.8 million per season, but he’s hit a wall the past two seasons with just three goals and a minus-18 in his past 64 games for the Bruins. It’s a far cry from the hard-hitting, confident player that posted 15 goals, 37 points and 260 hits in his first season in Boston or the one who popped in 22 goals for the Anaheim Ducks heading into free agency.

Some have speculated that the blue-collar Beleskey isn’t a good fit for Bruce Cassidy’s speed and skill-based system. Others say that the hard-nosed winger hasn’t been the same since injuring his knee at the start of last season. Whatever the case, the hard-hitting, heavy part of his game has been missing the past couple of seasons and the Bruins hope that Beleskey can find it in the AHL.

“Matt [Beleskey] is very well liked in the room. So, no one likes to see a player get waived. The way we look at it as an organization is, he hadn’t played much, and I think the best way for him to get back to helping the Boston Bruins is to get playing,” said Cassidy. “So, he goes to Providence, finds his game, what he did well before previously – from my end, we just thought there were some players in the lineup that outperformed him, plain and simple.

“We are trying to reward the players that earned it on merit and not look so much at maybe contract status, et cetera. You know, within reason. I think some of the young guys have pushed him. We’ve seen it at different positions and that’s as simple as I can make it. Like I said, I like Matt. He’s very respectful of the coaching staff of what we are trying to do. We just felt we had better in the lineup. The team is going well. The decision was made.”

While it’s entirely possible that a stint in the AHL could be exactly what’s needed to light the fire in Beleskey’s game, the truth is that the demotion is an admission by the Bruins that the five-year, $19 million contract wasn’t a good one. Furthermore, it’s not very common for veteran NHL players to come back and regain their former high level once it gets urgent enough that they’re assigned to the minors.

The more likely scenario with Beleskey is that he spends the rest of the season in Providence, the Bruins get the $1.025 million in savings on the salary cap and the team strongly considers a buyout in the offseason. It’s all disappointing considering the signing of Beleskey was their reaction to letting Milan Lucic go in a trade three years ago. They were desperately looking for a big-hitting, intimidating power forward to take Lucic's place in a search that’s still ongoing to this day.

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Struggling Bjork may take a seat vs. Rangers

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Struggling Bjork may take a seat vs. Rangers

BRIGHTON, Mass – It’s normally a sequence of peaks and valleys for rookies in their first foray through the NHL and Anders Bjork is definitely in one of those lower points right now. 

Bjork, 21, registered a season-low 6:47 of ice time in the Bruins 5-3 loss to the Washington Capitals on Thursday night at TD Garden and was benched for portions of the second and third period after looking pretty timid throughout the game.

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Bjork has just a single point and two shots on net in his past six games since returning from an upper-body injury believed to be a concussion. It's been an extremely quiet period for a player expected to make a top-six forward impact. It’s all trending toward a potential healthy scratch for Bjork on Saturday against the New York Rangers with a healthy Ryan Spooner potentially taking over for him on David Krejci’s left side.

“We’ll make the decision tomorrow, but [a Bjork scratch] is definitely a possibility and something we’ve discussed,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I just find that he’s not as strong on the puck as he was at the start of the year, or as quick to create turnovers. There are parts of his game that are always going to be worked on, like his play away from the puck.

“But the issue right now is being strong on pucks. The goal [Washington] they scored the other night is a good example. We make a play through the middle of the ice tape-to-tape, he’s in the crease and he’s not able to handle a puck. They’re coming back at us while we’re thinking we’re on offense. There were breakdowns after that clearly, but that’s an area [that needs improving]. Just before Charlie [McAvoy’s] penalty, we’re on a draw and [Bjork] gets pushed off a puck that comes back on us and we get beat up ice. Some of it is plays where he needs to be better, and some of it is where he’s at in his career where other guys are just stronger.”

Perhaps some of Bjork’s hesitancy is also an after-effect of getting tattooed in the middle of the ice by Tampa Bay's Matt Martin in a play that knocked him out of the lineup for a few weeks. Coping with the immediacy of those kinds of hits is part of life in pro hockey for a young player. It's a considerable adjustment when going straight from college hockey to the NHL.

Bjork knows that he hasn’t been a high-impact player since returning from injury and hasn’t really utilized his greatest offensive assets, speed and skill.  It may not matter much if Bjork watches Saturday from the ninth floor of the Garden as a healthy scratch, but he has a plan to get his game back on track when he does get his next opportunity for the Black and Gold.

“I think it’s mainly a confidence thing. I have to use [my speed] and it’s on me if I don’t,” said Bjork, who has four goals and 10 points in 22 games this season. “I think I just have to have that confidence every shift, so I can avoid the mistakes. There are bounces good and bad in hockey, but you create your own luck sometimes. You do that by playing the right way, and when things aren’t going your way you need to get back to basics of making things simple. That’s what I need to focus on: Making the simple plays and doing the details right.”

A healthy scratch was exactly the right thing to spark fellow rookie Jake DeBrusk when he was scuffling a bit last month, so perhaps the same plan of attack for Bjork to unlock his game while on a pace for 14 goals and 34 points this season. 

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