Wings feast among least

ERIN NICKS -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:37 AM ET

Who are the current darlings of the NHL? Not the Senators, of course. That would make too much sense. The Red Wings, firmly ensconced in a Central Division bubble, are literally the flavour of the month.

When the NHL schedule was altered to encourage inter-conference rivalries, the resulting effect was met with scrutiny. How many games are truly necessary to maintain the hatred between Toronto and Ottawa? (According to the league, the magic number is eight.)

A regularly scheduled Leaf obliteration is always amusing, but the current calendar has also led to an alienating phenomenon that is affecting the standings and, more importantly, overall perception.

Which brings us to the Detroit Red Wings.

Detroit. Old, tired, can't keep up Detroit. (To be fair, it's the same label they've had for 15 years, and that's back when Tim Cheveldae was in net.)

But in spite of the new rules and pseudo-octogenarian claims, Detroit has managed to not only keep up, but flat out dominate within the Western Conference.

Brendan Shanahan's play has seen a resurgence alongside Jason Williams and Robert Lang, a line which coach Rob Babcock implemented during training camp. With a combined 44 points from the three at the end of last week, coupled with hot goaltending from Manny Legace, who was named defensive player of the month for October, it's no wonder the Red Wings have received so much attention.

However, when you remember how the new schedule has led to the increase of inter-conference play, Detroit's achievements seem less impressive.

The Red Wings had 11 wins in October, but six came against teams that currently sit in the basement of the NHL standings -- Columbus, Chicago and St. Louis.

Detroit, being placed within the Central Division, can use this new schedule to its advantage and may end up with an overall record that isn't as impressive as it seems.

Meanwhile, over in a division like the Northeast, it has been a virtual dogfight every night. Ottawa finally clawed its way to the top of the standings by beating the Lightning on Thursday, but the Canadiens reclaimed it the next night and the two clubs will likely be flip-flopping positions for some time.

And if the battles close to home weren't dangerous enough, there is the constant threat of the Flyers, a surging Carolina team in the Southeast and an unexpected Rangers renaissance in the Atlantic Division.

We're only a month into the season, but the new schedule is going to have an effect on which team is eventually awarded the Presidents' Trophy. Playing so much in a weak division has the potential of leading to false confidence in Detroit. The Red Wings deserve a great deal of credit for their hot start, but a full assessment should wait until we've seen them play a bit more outside the bubble.

A STAAL TALE: No disrespect to Trevor Letowski, Alex Auld, Steve Rucchin and others, but Eric Staal is the name that put Thunder Bay on the NHL radar. The rising Hurricanes star was named offensive player of the month in October and is creating quite the stir in my hometown, which hasn't seen this type of buzz around a local athlete in years. And if there wasn't enough already to talk about, keep in mind that the Staal family has three other boys -- Marc, Jordan and Jarred. The Rangers drafted Marc at this year's entry draft and Jordan has been making a name for himself with the Peterborough Petes. Keep an eye on the Lakehead -- it is on track to produce an amazing hockey family.

CHEERLEADERS EARN STRIPES: As a promotion for the Fox breakout hit, Prison Break, the Denver Broncos cheerleaders were dressed in prison uniforms during last week's game against Philadelphia. Right division, wrong team -- surely the Raiders must've been on the network that day as well.

OUT OF FOCUS: The MSG network had 16 months during the NHL lockout to clean its camera lens. Why does it seem like you're peering through a layer of Vaseline during every Rangers broadcast?

'ear me, SEE ME: In a moment of unforgettable television, Mike Tyson (dressed in a vampire costume complete with blood-covered teeth) sang with Bobby Brown during a Halloween broadcast of Jimmy Kimmel Live. On Pardon the Interruption the following day, Tony Kornheiser claimed that Tyson kept singing the word ''snacks,'' which leads me to believe that Evander Holyfield was waiting in the green room.

erinnicks@yahoo.ca


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