The Vegas Golden Knights gained a pair of entrants to the annual Honda NHL All-Star Weekend, but are either the most deserving?
Winger James Neal and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury were tabbed for the third time each to attend the event, this time representing the Pacific Division in both the game and skills competitions after appearing for the Metropolitan Division stars when with the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
But really, should either of the pair been tabbed for All-Star consideration? Again, the league went for hype rather than truly worthy selections.
Fleury may be considered the face of the Vegas franchise, yet despite nice numbers – a 9-2-1 record, 1.73 GAA and .945 save pct. at the time of his nomination – The Flower only played in 12 of 41 games, which hardly qualifies him.
Neal’s early scoring in October rocketed Vegas out of the gate to eventually gain the top record in the Western Conference, yet he only ranks fifth in club scoring with 29 points. Meanwhile, the more consistent scorers Jonathan Marchessault (points leader; 40) and William Karlsson (goals leader; 22) would have made better selections.
Also, Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant was previously announced coach of the Pacific Division based on the Knights’ record at the cut-off date.
Don’t get me wrong, Neal and Fleury will be fine in representing the biggest story in hockey this season. However, a young VGK media relations department continues to suffer growing pains.
The event will be held Jan. 27-28 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla.
Last week, we explored the possible demise of the Pittsburgh Penguins, which were just one point away from falling into the Metropolitan Division cellar.
So what happens? The Penguins enter their five-day break on a two-game win streak and rise into the second wild card slot.
In the Western Conference, the traditional power on the verge of falling from Lord Stanley’s grace may be the Chicago Blackhawks. Accelerated by the loss of No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford (upper-body injury) since Christmas, and a touch of an off-season by captain Jonathan Toews (only 31 points in 43 games), the Blackhawks were in a similar position as Pittsburgh, standing just a point clear of the last-place (and quickly improving) Colorado Avalanche until nipping Winnipeg, 2-1, last Friday.
Despite an All-Star Game snub to Jamie Benn (linemate Tyler Seguin instead received the berth), the Dallas Stars seem to be in line to gain at least a wild card.
Minnesota owns the remaining postseason berth, but other teams are rising quickly to overtake the Wild.
Buoyed by a six-game win streak that peaked with a road win at No. 1 overall Tampa Bay, the Calgary Flames are on a tear. The top line of wings Johnny Gaudreau and Micheal Ferland (goals in four straight games) around center Sean Monahan ranks among the hottest in hockey.
Veteran goalie Mike Smith has filled in well, giving rookie David Rittich a chance to develop. The kid is now 4-0-1 for a nice jump to his NHL career. Also improving is LW Matthew Tkachuk, who was born in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Also, the Flames may not need a wild card berth after they just skipped past San Jose for the third and final automatic playoff slot from the Pacific Division. However, I am reserving the No. 3 slot for Anaheim, which gets healthier every day, leaving Calgary in the wild card chase.
Colorado, because of the team’s seemingly poor start, failed to collect an All-Star berth. But for end-of-the-year awards, the Central Division may find both Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen honored.
MacKinnon is the leading scorer with 52 points, on pace for a 100-point season. Meanwhile, Rantanen, the top ten draft pick in 2015, is on a point-per-game pace and is emerging as a top-flight forward.
The Avalanche entered their break on a 7-1-1 tear, including five wins in their last five to move above .500, capped by a 7-2 pasting of Minnesota.
Last 88 in Philly
On Thursday, Eric Lindros will have his number (88) retired by the Philadelphia Flyers when they entertain Toronto. Lindros, originally drafted by the Quebec Nordiques, tallied 372 goals before concussions ended his career prematurely after just eight seasons. He was NHL scoring champion in 1995. Lindros joined Bobby Clarke (16), Mark Howe (2), Bill Barber (7) and Barry Ashbee (4).
Betting note: The Flyers are 4-0-0 on nights when retiring a former star’s number.