Portland Winterhawks goaltender Brendan Burke (Getty)Aside from being a key B.C. Division battle, the Kelowna Rockets' game against the Kamloops Blazers Monday night was also important in determining which Western League team would jump to the top of the Buzzing the Net Dynamic Dozen rankings for this week. The Rockets lost the game 6-5, but it went to overtime, and they maintain a healthy lead over the Blazers for the top spot in the division.
The Portland Winterhawks, U.S. Division foes (who beat both the Rockets and the Blazers in the playoffs last season) went 2-0-1 this past week, although both of their wins were shutouts: they beat Spokane 3-0 and Tri-City 7-0. Both goaltenders, Mac Carruth and Brendan Burke, earned individual shutouts and Carruth finds himself tops in the Western Hockey League among goaltenders in save percentage, three points ahead of Red Deer's Patrik Bartosak. Portland gets a lot of credit for their offence, especially the point production of top prospects Nic Petan and Seth Jones, but this team is scarier because they've allowed just 110 goals this season in 49 games. Only Edmonton has allowed fewer (109), but they've played 51 times.
The wise money may be spent betting on a WHL championship final identical to last season's.
1. Portland Winterhawks, WHL (.581 RPI, 1.8 SRS, +2) — Nic Petan and Brendan Leipsic remain No. 1 and No. 2 in the WHL points race, but Petan is within striking distance of Spokane's Todd Fiddler for most goals. Fiddler has the advantage of playing on a team without as many offensive weapons. Part of why Portland's been able to find continual success in the WHL is the development of imported players: first Nino Niederreiter, then Sven Bärtschi, and now Oliver Bjorkstrand, who leads WHL rookies in scoring.
Also to note from that link is longevity. Tyler Wotherspoon and Troy Rutkowski represent such a sturdy one-two punch of defensive defencemen. Rutkowski broke the team record for games played this past week, and barring catastrophe this week, he should tie Andrew Ference's team ironman record with 217 straight games played on Saturday.
2. Kelowna Rockets, WHL (.576 RPI, 1.6 SRS, -1) — The Rockets, as described by Neate last week, are not the best at anything, but are very good at everything. It may have been for the best for Colton Sissons to get hurt when he did—rather than play for Canada at Ufa, Sissons was back in Kelowna on December 30 and has been a big part of their recent run. He has points in seven straight, and while I hate +/- as a statistic, it's probably worth noting that he hasn't been a "minus" rating in a game since October 27, not bad for an 18-year old who plays his teams' toughest defensive minutes.
3. London Knights, OHL (.569 RPI, 1.1 SRS, +1) — You can tell a team is on a fairly easy run when being 5-4-1 in the last ten games is considered somewhat of a slump. In the first game of an Eastern road trip last week, they pummelled Ottawa 11-1. Anthony Stolarz has proven to be a fairly good get. London hasn't lost with him as the starter yet, and his .919 save percentage, although it's just five games, puts him right among the top of OHL goaltenders. He may need a bit more experience come playoff time, but he's had a strong start.
4. Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL (.565 RPI, 1.6 SRS, -2) — The Mooseheads went just 1-1 this past week and slipped two spots in our rankings, losing a 4-2 decision at home to Québec, eight days after whipping the Patrick Roy's Mikhail Grigorenko-less Remparts. It sounds like red-hot goaltending is the only thing that can stop the Mooseheads, and either Jonathan Drouin or Nathan MacKinnon has scored in each of their games since returning from Russia.
5. Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL (.558 RPI, 1.4 SRS, +2) — The Oil Kings added some punch this week from an unlikely place, from the goaltending position. Phoenix Coyotes' first rounder Henrik Samuelsson picked up WHL Player of the Week honours, earning 10 points in four games, all of them wins, for the 'Kings this week who move up a couple of spots in the rankings.
6. Baie-Comeau Drakkar, QMJHL (.553 RPI, 1.0 SRS, —) — Baie-Comeau defeated Drummondville, Victoriaville and Shawinigan in succession this week after a one-goal loss to Gatineau. This week, fans in Baie-Comeau will again have the chance to serenade Nathan MacKinnon as the Mooseheads pay their lone visit to the small Manicouagan town. MacKinnon was originally drafted by the Drakkar, but forced a trade to Halifax, so the Drakkar took out a newspaper ad last season to encourage fans to come to the game and heckle the top prospect.
I think head coach Eric Veilleux knows more than anybody that the Drakkar don't have the talent that last year's champion Cataractes did. Goaltender Philippe Cadorette is 13th in save percentage but 3rd in goals against average, which tells you that a group of players are finding success buying into a strong defensive system.
7. Rimouski Océanic, QMJHL (.547 RPI, 0.9 SRS, +3) — Rimouski continue to roll, now on an eight game winning streak with three road victories last week. This is despite losing rookie starting goaltender Philippe Desrosiers to a lower-body injury. The Oceanic still allowed just five goals on the three-game trip and got a lot of scoring from their depth players. Rookie Anthony DeLuca recorded multiple goals in a game for the first time in his young career, and did so in back-to-back games.
8. Guelph Storm, OHL (.547 RPI, 0.6 SRS, +1) — The Storm seven-game win streak came to an end Sunday night, but it reads as though they played well enough to win, unable to beat a strong Joel Vienneau in the dying seconds of the game. They didn't score a whole lot, but Garret Sparks stopped 84 of 88 shots and appears to have settled in after a rough start in the first half of the season.
9. Tri-City Americans, WHL (.540 RPI, 0.5 SRS, -4) — Last season, the Americans were a defensively unbreakable group backed by Ty Rimmer. For the early part of this season, they were a defensively beatable group backed by the less-experienced Eric Comrie. Now with Comrie out for the season with a hip injury, the Ams have allowed 36 goals in 8 games, including a seven-spot at the hands of Portland the other night.
10. Owen Sound Attack, OHL (.538 RPI, 0.7 SRS, -2) — Owen Sound still have the daunting task of catching London but will almost assuredly end up being the third seeded team in the Western Conference despite the possibility of ending up with the OHL's second best record. Their main challenger are in Barrie, and Jordan Binnington shut the Colts out last week, and the teams will face each other again Wednesday. The Attack need to hope their scoring picks up: they scored just four times in three games.
11. Kamloops Blazers, WHL (.535 RPI, 0.6 SRS, +5) — Kamloops jump back onto the Dynamic Dozen after last night's 6-5 win over the Rockets. They're just up to two games above .500 since November 1 after their hot, yet ultimately unsustainable start. Nobody is more indicative of the power of cooling percentages than JC Lipon. Since November 1st, his scoring rate has dropped 63 per cent and his plus/minus rate has declined by 70%. Ultimately, when you have an undrafted 19-year old scoring at over two points a game and it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Colin Smith remains an offensive catalyst.
Wish we knew which players got the bulk of the shots the night Kamloops out-shot Everett 69-21...
12. Kitchener Rangers, OHL (.534 RPI, 0.6 SRS, +3) — Kitchener had a good week, halting the win streak of their division rivals, shutting down Connor McDavid and the Erie Otters on national television, and have seen a resurgence from young Ryan Murphy, who struggled to start the season. The young rearguard and Carolina Hurricanes prospect has seven points in four games, and was the best player on the ice in the games against Guelph and Erie.
The not as dynamic but still very distinguished dozen — 13. Plymouth Whalers, OHL (.533, +7); 14. Calgary Hitmen, WHL (.533, -2); 15. Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, QMJHL (.532, -2); 16. Moncton Wildcats, QMJHL (.529, +2); 17. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, OHL (.528, +2); 18. Sarnia Sting, OHL (.523, -4); 19. Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, QMJHL (.518, -2); 20. Spokane Chiefs, WHL (.517, -9); 21. Barrie Colts, OHL (.516, —); 22. P.E.I. Rocket, QMJHL (.514, +2); 23. Saginaw Spirit, OHL (.513, +7); 24. Val-d'Or Foreurs, QMJHL (.512, +2).
Hot team — Medicine Hat Tigers, up 10 (40th to 30th).
Cold team — Spokane Chiefs, down 9 (11th to 20th).
Nowhere to go but up — Vancouver Giants (.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.
(All rankings through play on Jan. 28.)