The Week in Review returns this week with a slight format change. Don’t worry, Gary Roberts, we won’t have any typos (maybe). That would be too much, man.

Shots to the head have been heard continually around the NHL this past week, ending with Matt Cooke’s now infamous elbow to the noggin of Ryan McDonagh that resulted in his longest career suspension. The Elbow was the weapon of choice for the week, as prior to Cooke’s incident Dany Heatley was suspended two games for an elbow on Steve Ott, and Brad Marchand was also given two games for his elbow on R.J Umberger.

Heads kept rolling when Patric Hornqvist was fined $2,500 for his elbow on Tyler Seguin. The final tally was four incidents resulting in some form of discipline, and a week when most–but certainly not all–have agreed that the NHL finally made the correct decision after throwing a large object at Cooke.

We’ve covered the ongoing black and blue marks on heads around the NHL extensively this week. We provided a handy  head shot template, attempted to read the minds of elbow-givers, warned against “discipline theatre,” and hypothesized that the only way dangerous hits will be eliminated is through the banishment of any hit to the head. Head shots are clearly a major issue, and given the head-ramming events of the past week and the glacial pace of the NHL, the issue won’t be going away any time soon.

But if you don’t mind, we’d actually like to talk about hockey for just a little bit, because some playoff races have heated up over the past week.

Shall we?

Top storyline: Teams rising and falling as March comes to a close

Well, the top storyline as mentioned is actually head shots, but instead let’s focus on matters that don’t make us all angry. Remember, we try to make your computer smile.

Two weeks ago in the East, the Leafs were within four points of a playoff spot. Now, they’re within five points, with just nine games remaining. A weekend that could have been devastating wasn’t, but Toronto has still discovered the difficulty of not controlling your own destiny. Unable to gain significant ground, the Buds are running out of time, and Buffalo–the ninth place team in the East–has a game in-hand.

The resurgence of the Devils has been encouraging and entertaining, but with the Rangers now pulling away in seventh, the fight for that final playoff spot is realistically down to three teams: the Leafs, Sabres, and Hurricanes. As I noted after Week 21, over the past five seasons it’s taken an average of 92 points to win the East. Heading into tonight the Sabres have 79 points, with the Canes trailing at 76, and the Leafs at 74.

To reach that average, the Leafs will have to earn two points in each of the nine games remaining on their schedule, while the Hurricanes can afford to lose only two of their remaining 10 games.

But you can have your three-team race for one spot that’s filled to the brim with false hope in the East. I’ll take a still completely log jammed Western conference with less than 10 games left for most teams. Only three points still separate fifth from 10th in the West, with the Ducks making a swift move over the last two weeks after winning eight of their last 10.

After sizzling for much of the second half, the Flames have chosen the wrong time to backpedal, dropping five of their last six games and falling to 10th with 85 points. The declining play of Miikka Kiprusoff has contributed significantly to the streak and the Flames’ slow descent over the past two weeks. The veteran goalie has a 3.57 GAA during the skid, and was yanked Sunday night in the first period after allowing three goals on just five shots against the Ducks.

With 85 points, the Flames are far from finished in the West. They’re still tied in the points column with Dallas (9th) and Anaheim (8th), and they’re just one point behind Chicago and Nashville. However, Calgary has also played three more games than the Stars and Ducks.

Quick Hits

  • Those big bad Bruins aren’t nearly as big and bad as they were during the season’s first four months. They’ve now lost five of their last six games, and are in danger of losing the Northeast lead to the injury depleted Canadiens.
  • The Bruins’ decline can at least in part be placed on the shoulders of Tim Thomas, whose regression over the last two months has made some wonder if the aging veteran is tiring. Over his last 13 starts Thomas has a 3.82 GAA.
  • Speaking of potential goaltending woes, it just isn’t an NHL season without question marks surfacing in the Flyers’ crease. Sergei Bobrovsky looked like the saviour earlier in the year, but similar to Thomas he’s struggled recently, with a very pedestrian 3.61 GAA since the beginning of January.
  • As a result of Bobrovsky’s struggles, Brian Boucher has been receiving more time lately, starting four of Philly’s last six games. Over that stretch he’s been an improvement over Bobrovsky, but only a mild one, maintaining a save percentage of .883.

Plays of the week(end)