By Neate Sager
Once again, the Quebec league's two heavyweights occupy the top spots, but they've traded places.
The Saint John Sea Dogs have the most recent laugh in their broiling rivalry with the Shawinigan Cataractes. However, a superior strength-of-schedule coupled with their strong work closing out opponents lately has helped the Éric Veilleux-coached Cats regain top spot in this week's Dynamic Dozen. Of course, the actual tangible battle between the two for first overall will depend on whose game travels better. The Cataractes play nine of their last 13 games away from Centre Bionest whereas Saint John leaves Harbour Station for seven of its last 13.
It is a good week ahead for matchups between top teams, particularly in the Pacific Time Zone. The conference leaders in the WHL square off Tuesday when Edmonton visits Kamloops, followed by a Tri-City vs. Portland first-place showdown 24 hours later. Meanwhile, for the first time in a while, the OHL managed to get a third team into the rankings.
1. Shawinigan Cataractes, QMJHL (.571 RPI, +1). Losing star defenceman Brandon Gormleyfor 4-6 weeks with a foot injury hurt so much that all the Cats did was allow 40 shots last weekend across two games. Of course, that was on home ice. Shawinigan's epic stretch of road games begins Friday in Baie-Comeau.
2. Saint John Sea Dogs, QMJHL (.569, -1). Making a team with four world junior players and a two-time CHL coach of the year angry is always a great strategy. The decision to strip the Sea Dogs of a Jan. 4 victory because forward Maxime Villemaire had not signed a player card, which is like calling for a stick measure times 10 to the 11th power, might just further galvanize the defending champions.
How ridiculous has Card-Gate become? The QMJHL initially deleted the win from goalie Mathieu Corbeil's statistics. Of course, the individual stats of a forfeit still count, so Corbeil gets credit. The Sea Dogs had to correct the record.
3. Portland Winterhawks, WHL (.555, +2). The 'Hawks, with the Sven Bärtschi-Marcel Noebels-Ty Rattie line back together, can move into the No. 2 seed in the conference by beating Tri-City on Wednesday. They are banged-up on the blueline with William Wrenn sidelined. Pittsburgh Penguins first-rounder Joe Morrow is also shelved for Wednesday's game for a check from behind that occurred the last time they played the Americans. Portland's other two overagers, Cam Reid (hat trick last weekend) and Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Oliver Gabriel, have had a lot to do with the drive to overtake Tri-City.
4. Tri-City Americans, WHL (.554, -2). Tri-City probably isn't the fourth-best team in the CHL, judging from its 4-4-1-1 record across its past 10 games. It was just that strong early on in the season. They have been a hurting unit of late due to injuries to key forwards Malte Strömwall and captain Mason Wilgosh, along with defenceman Michal Plutnar. Beating Spokane last weekend restored some faith, but the road is not going to get any easier with a 4-in-5 week that includes divisional games with Portland and Spokane. Wilgosh, incidentally, is hoping to be back from his foot injury by early March.
5. Victoriaville Tigres, QMJHL (.552, +2). Victo's three-game Maritime swing is well-timed since it had a turgid showing in a home shootout loss to Halifax on Sunday. On the plus side for the Tigres, goalies David Hoznik and Brandon Whitney each had solid starts last weekend. Their numbers have been a concern all season.
6. Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL (.550, -2). A three-game swing through British Columbia that begins tomorrow at league-leading Kamloops will not make or break Edmonton's season. It will be a good primer in skating uphill, so to speak. Edmonton has played very well for about six weeks; they have not lost a game by more than a goal since New Year's Day.
7. Moose Jaw Warriors, WHL (.545, -1). Friday's Medicine Hat-Moose Jaw game should be circled, since it might ultimately decide home ice for a second-round series between the squads. (Remember, kids, in the Dub winning your division only guarantees home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs, unlike the big league.) It's a nice matchup, with Emerson "50-50" Etem going against a hard-nosed Warriors team which has Dylan McIlrath back from a suspension.
Moose Jaw stepped out of character this past week by getting into a goalfest against Red Deer, but they survived it. Florida Panthers first-rounder Quinton Howden has an Etem-esque 11 points in his past four games.
8. Niagara IceDogs, OHL (.539, +5). The IceDogs' six-game win streak has propelled them into the top spot among teams in their league. Goalie Mark Visentin is dialed in, with a Dead Puck Era-ish 1.08 average and .957 save percentage since his turn in the world junior hockey championship. Ryan Strome and Dougie Hamilton have also rejoined the lineup. The only spot might be that signed Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick Tom Kühnhackl is mired in a nine-game goalless skein.
9. London Knights, OHL (.537, +5). The Ontario league leaders have their fixer on the blueline, Scott Harrington, back in the lineup and are eight points clear of the pack, so life is good. London and record-setting goalie Michael Houser have a challenging week ahead with back-to-back road games at Kitchener and resurgent Sarnia.
10. Rimouski Océanic, QMJHL (.536, +9). The turbulence in the Telus East Division helped push the Océanic up after wins over Quebec and Blainvile-Boisbriand. Their veteran leaders on the blueline, overage Jean-Philippe Mathieu and Buffalo Sabres prospect Jérôme Gauthier-Leduc, were each offensive catalysts at last week. Rimouski has made a solid run to get within sight of the top five in the QMJHL, although with only 12 games left
11 (tied). Plymouth Whalers, OHL (.535, -3). A three-rung drop is not a cause for concern considering the extenuating circumstances. The Whalers were a three-line team with Tom Wilson out of the lineup, making it tougher for them to wear down opponents. Perhaps that led to more defensive zone time.. They ended up 1-2 for the week, but the digits easily could have been reverse. Kitchener's winning margin in a 6-5 win last Saturday came on a Cody Sol short-handed goal just seconds after the Whalers came within inches of scoring at the other end. The fact Plymouth salvaged two points from the week by edging a potent Saginaw team speaks well for them.
11 (tied). Quebec Remparts, QMJHL (.535, +4). The Remparts moved back in despite a .500 week, but the loss was a 2-1 nailbiter to Rimouski. They aren't playing poorly necessarily, but coach-GM Patrick Roy is concerned about a lack of finish. The phenoms, Mikhail Grigorenko (eight points in nine games since Jan. 1) and Anthony Duclair (eight in 12), are going to have fight through ever-tighter checking over the home stretch.
The next dozen
13. Kamloops Blazers, WHL (.533, +3); 14. Chicoutimi Saguenéens, QMJHL (.532, -3); 15. Spokane Chiefs, WHL (.531, -3); 16. Medicine Hat Tigers, WHL (.530, +2); 17. Saskatoon Blades, WHL (.529, -7); 18. Acadie-Bathurst Titan, QMJHL (.526, +1); 19. Calgary Hitmen, WHL (.521, -10); 20. Kootenay Ice, WHL (.516, -); 21. Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, QMJHL (.514, +1); 22. Halifax Mooseheads, (.514, -1); 23. Kitchener Rangers, OHL (.513, +4); 24. Baie-Comeau Drakkar, QMJHL (.505, -).
Dropping out: Regina Pats, WHL (from 23rd to 28th).
Hot teams: Rimouski Océanic, QMJHL, up nine spots (19th to 10th).
Cold team: Calgary Hitmen, WHL, down 10 (ninth to 19th).
Looking (nowhere but) up: Erie Otters, OHL (.419 RPI).
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 recent games. Shootout wins and losses are classified as ties for philosophical and practical reasons. All three CHL leagues are considered equivalent in quality.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports . Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: The Canadian Press).