No cooking the books was necessary; the difference between this week's top two major juniors is that slim. The Halifax Mooseheads are the top team in the Double D for the second week in a row after a week where they wrapped up Quebec League regular-season honours and Jonathan Drouin amused us all by making the game look simple. There is however only a difference of one percentage point between the Mooseheads and the <strong>Seth Jones</strong>-led Portland Winterhawks.</p> <p>Portland has proven everything this season, except for how it matches up with defending Western League champion Edmonton. They will have that chance Wednesday, coincidentally, in their only regular-season matchup.
1. Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL (.576 RPI, 1.9 SRS, —) — Centre Nathan MacKinnon rest his leg rather than join Halifax's final Quebec road trip swing before the playoffs. Can we call down a freak Atlantic snowstorm so that instead of returning Mar. 6 against the Acadie-Bathurst team Halifax destroyed 11-3 on Sunday, he comes back for a home-and-home series against the rival Moncton Wildcats? It would have more dramatic effect, although it's probably good for Halifax to get him back.
Prioritizing health means Halifax probably lose at least two of its last 10 games to fall shy of the Quebec League single-season record of 58 wins that Saint John tied two seasons ago. However, it's worth noting Saint John had a lot more extra-time wins (10) in 2010-11 than these Mooseheads (three).
2. Portland Winterhawks, WHL (.575 RPI, 2.0 SRS, +1) — It's impossible not to mentally hear Derek on Happy Endings saying, "Drama!" while reading up on the silence over when Pittsburgh Penguins first-rounder Derrick Pouliot will return from his rumoured high ankle sprain. The offensive defenceman has played in only four games in the past 10 weeks while recovering. Of course, with first overall in the league all but secure, Portland can be as conservative as it needs to be with getting Pouliot back.
Maybe the Happy Endings joke didn't work there. It would have if more of you had watched it before it got the kiss-of-death Friday-night time slot. Meantime, it's 110-108 in the scoring race between left wing Brendan Leipsic and centre Nic Petan . One would say that resembles a basketball score, but who are we kidding, you rarely see both teams hit a hundred anymore. At least not in college.
3. Kelowna Rockets, WHL (.559 RPI, 1.4 SRS, +1) — Judging by the result, the recovery time the schedule-maker afford Kelowna was channeled very well. The Rockets maintained their gap on Kamloops for their conference's No. 2 playoff seed, doing it by committee. By the way, a helpful tip for Kelowna: set up Tyson Baillie, Zach Franko and Dylen McKinlay as much as possible over the final nine games so the Rockets can have more 25-goal scorers than either Edmonton or Portland.
4. Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL (.555 RPI, 1.3 SRS, -2) — The Oil Kings are unlikely to ever have another three-game stretch where their combined power-play and penalty-kill percentage, relying on Ontario education system math skills, was fewer than 50 per cent. The Dub's defending champs just needed a reminder not to get too comfortable, apparently. It is well
5. London Knights, OHL (.553 RPI, 1.1 SRS, —) — Your weekly dose of woe-is-London: shutdown defenceman Scott Harrington, out with an upper body injury; leading scorer, Seth Griffith, finding the positives of being sidelined by a broken bone in his hand; checker/agitator Matt Rupert, suspended for the rest of the regular season after getting a 10-game ban for a charging major.
The question will be whether this is actually a sign of trouble in the playoffs or just a distraction. Game 68 likely cannot arrive fast enough in London, whose eight-point lead in the overall standings is close to insurmountable.
6. Owen Sound Attack, OHL (.550 RPI, 0.7 SRS, +3) — The difference between the Attack and Knights is as close as it's been at any point since the first half of the season, with Jordan Binnington having backed Owen Sound to a five-game win streak and a run of six games of allowing exactly two goals. One concern for Owen Sound is that the offensive production over this stretch has come in drips and drabs aside from Buffalo Sabres prospect Dan Catenacci's five-point game last weekend and Cody Ceci chipping in offence. Then again, the 2011 Attack didn't seem flashy yet always seemed to be winning 3-2 and 4-3 contests. How did that season play out by the Bay?
7. Plymouth Whalers, OHL (.543 RPI, 1.0 SRS, +3) — Take some time out to read up on the ultimate character guy, Whalers forward Michael Whaley, who has carried on after his father David Whaley did at age 48 in September 2011. Losing a parent as an adult is difficult enough, never mind going through it as a teenager who has left home to play hockey.
8. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, OHL (.540 RPI, 0.5 SRS, +4) — Plymouth and the Soo each made a great leap forward this week, but it might not be all their doing. Disparities in strengths of schedules shrink as the season winds down, which can cause teams to make a late-season rise in the ranking that doesn't hint at playoff success (see the 2010-11 Erie Otters).
With that being said... no, I would not want to face those aforementioned Whalers or the Sault Ste. Marie in the first round of the playoffs. In the Soo's case, coach Sheldon Keefe and his rumoured relish for fancy stats might be a root cause for the 'Hounds producing a greater sum total from the assembled parts. That blueline crew with Ryan Sproul, Colin Miller, Darnell Nurse and Alex Gudbranson is not too shabby, either. Their role will be more paramount across the next four games while leading scorer Nick Cousins sits out his four-game ban for a check from behind. Cousins may return March 7.
9. Kamloops Blazers, WHL (.540 RPI, 0.8 SRS, -3) — Ah, the reality of being in a bad division. The Blazers still have five potential stat-padders left against Prince George and Vancouver and three crank-the-intensity-to-11 contests against Kelowna. It does not lend itself to the consistency thing stressed by Blazers coach Guy Charron. The positive for the Blazers as Februrary goes out like a lion (sorry, the blizzard in Ottawa today has scrubbed somebody's plans for a nice eight-mile job) is that they are resisting the temptation to freely trade goals. This might be where one sees the impact St. Louis Blues-drafted defenceman Joel Edmundson is having; the Blazers haven't been in a game where each team scored at least three goals since Feb. 1.
10. Rimouski Océanic, QMJHL (.538 RPI, 0.7 SRS, -2) — Rimouski's run of five consecutive games without a regulation win probably traces to sloppiness. For instance, it allowed four goals off turnovers in one game in the Sunday shellacking against Baie-Comeau that tightened up their division race considerably. Coach Serge Beausoleil's team likely needs some sort of affirmation Wednesday against Sherbrooke, ahead of its Friday Night Hockey contest against potent Moncton.
11. Guelph Storm, OHL (.538 RPI, 0.6 SRS, —) — Keep on the lockout for whether sophomore Jason Dickinson builds off the two-point day he had vs. Sudbury on Sunday. The potential NHL first- or second-rounder had a run of just one assist in his previous eight games, before being put on a line with Guelph's playmaker of the future, centre Robby Fabbri.
Whether the Storm finish fifth or sixth in their conference will likely be decided over the next two Fridays, when they play Sault Ste. Marie twice.
12. Calgary Hitmen, WHL (.538 RPI, 0.6 SRS, -5) — Well, the Hitmen are due to score against Saskatoon Blades goalie Andrey Makarov, at least. The netminder has a 120-minute-plus scoreless streak vs. the Stampede City sextet to go along the 16-game win streak the Blades are bringing into Wednesday's showdown.
There are some real stakes, since the outcome could decide home-ice advantage for a playoff matchup between the Blades and Hitmen.
The not as dynamic but still very distinguished dozen — 13. Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, QMJHL (.535, +4); 14. Tri-City Americans, WHL (.533, +2); 15. Kitchener Rangers, OHL (.531, -2); 16. Belleville Bulls, OHL (.530, -1); 17. Baie-Comeau Drakkar, QMJHL (.529, -3); 18. Moncton Wildcats, QMJHL (.528, +2); 19. Saskatoon Blades, WHL (.527, —); 20. P.E.I. Rocket, QMJHL (.521, +2); 21. Spokane Chiefs, WHL (.521, +5); 22. Val-d'Or Foreurs, QMJHL (.520, -4); 23. Drummondville Voltigeurs, QMJHL (.517, +1); 24. Oshawa Generals, OHL (.516, -1).
Hot team — Spokane Chiefs, up 5 (26th to 21st).
Cold team — Victoria Royals, down 7 (27th to 34th).
Nowhere to go but up — Ottawa 67's (.425).
An explanation on rankings — Buzzing The Net uses Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) with a recency factor. RPI combines a team's record with the strength of its opponents to produce an overall rating. Our method also gives more weight to recently played games. Shootout wins and losses are classified as ties, for philosophical and practical reasons. Simple Ranking System (SRS), an equation which uses goal differential and strength of schedule, is used as a complement. All three CHL leagues are considered equivalent in quality.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.