It’s the halfway point in the season for most NHL teams and many are still alive in the playoff hunt. Teams like the Blackhawks have secured a top three seed already with their record breaking points streak to start the season. The Canadians are sitting on top of the Eastern Conference and nobody saw that coming. Eight points separate the 4th seed and the dead last spot in the Western Conference. That means four spots are wide open and ripe for the taking. The east also has a couple openings as teams have to take their game up to secure a post-season spot.
All stats as of 3/12/13
The Blackhawks’ point streak was some of the best hockey ever played in the NHL. They took a point in 24 straight games going 21-0-3 in that span. That’s half of this shortened season. They also play in hockey’s toughest division. Because hockey playoffs have the top three spots going to division winners teams like the St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings are now playing for the 4th seed at best. The ‘Hawks are top six in Penalty Kill, Goals Scored and Goals Against. They have time to bottom out off the streak and then build back up again.
Los Angeles Kings
Los Angeles has found their grove. They seemed to have a classic case of championship hang over but were quickly whipped into shape and have a 14-8-2 record. They are in the top 15 of every major league category and are trying to track down the surprisingly tough Anaheim Ducks. If they can’t catch the Ducks they will be a dangerous lower playoff seed. They play a hard nose brand of hockey forcing teams to defend every inch of ice. That style wears on a team in a playoff series. While the Kings are up and in the face of opposition they leave primary net defense to just goalie Jonathan Quick. This works when teams tire themselves to just get the puck in the Kings zone. It’s like the ’40 Minutes of Hell’ in college basketball.
Anaheim’s start would be covered more by the media if it wasn’t for the record breaking streak Chicago was on. The Ducks have an 11-point lead in the Pacific Division. They strike while the iron is hot and have the league’s best Power Play scoring. They are in the bottom half of the league in killing Power Plays but average 3.4 goals a game. Asking a team to score four times a game for a win against them is a tall order.
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks got off to a hot start but have faded a bit. They find themselves 4th in their division, 13 points back and out of the playoffs. Their age is showing and they aren’t scoring goals. They are 29th in goals per game and 16th on the Power Play. One of the upsides is that they are playing great defense. They will secure a playoff spot and break out of the sea of mediocrity if they can manufacture some more goals.
To put it clearly problems are happening in the desert. Phoenix does not do much well besides kill Power Plays. That is important but when you are giving up 2.8 goals game and scoring 2.8 goals a game you are destined for the middle of the road. They are just in the playoffs and need to step one side of their game up or they will fall out. They are 3rd in a division they won last year.
The Eastern Conference lead by the Canadians is the biggest surprise of this hockey season. They finished dead last in the conference last season. Things were not looking up so the team hired an all new coaching staff and cleared out most of the front office for new personal. The team locked up knockout defensemen P.K. Subban to a multi-year deal. They play free of distraction and loose. Montreal holds a 17-5-4 record and should find their way in the playoffs.
Carolina has not made the playoffs since the ’08-’09 season. They currently lead their division by three points and that slots them with the 3rd seed in the playoffs. They are 6th in goals scored and are beating up on teams in their weak division. The team made some key off-season moves. They traded for Jordan Staal and united him with his brother and team captain Eric Staal. They also signed a group of guys to one-year contracts that have them hungry for higher dollar multi-year deals.
What is going on in Florida? This scrappy team that won its division last year is at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. They cannot kill penalties and surrender loads of goal. They rank 30th in the league in both categories. The Panthers are playing bad hockey and it does not look like its going to change. Since they are a younger team they seemed to be built for a shortened season but they are sinking. The losses are stacking up. Points are not.
The Flyers are in a loaded division. They have to contend with Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers. Claude Giroux is not finding the back of the net. 2011 All-Star Scott Hartnell is playing on a broken foot that is not fully healed. The team needs to claw their way into the playoffs. If they can they will be a dangerous low seed. They can do that by surrendering less than three goals per game like they are now.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay started the season hot but it was fool’s gold. They were blowing teams out and just losing close games. When they win it’s 5-1 and when they lose its 4-1. They are not consistent. Their 2nd best in the league goals per game average is great but its due to the fact when they win its by 3 or 4 but if you don’t win that often it’s a problem. They are 3-7 in their last 10 games. Steve Stamkos is a MVP candidate if he can will this team into the playoffs. He is having a great season but the defense around him is sub par.
Stanley Cup Favorites
1. Chicago Blackhawks
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
3. Los Angeles Kings
4. Anaheim Ducks
5. Boston Bruins
Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP)- Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins)
Crosby is leading the league with 45 points and 33 goals. He also is tied for 4th in plus-minus ratio. He leads a dominant team and is earning his title as the best player in the world.
Vezina Trophy (Top Goaltender)- Craig Anderson (Ottawa Senators)
The Ottawa Senators are 5th in the Eastern Conference because of Anderson. He is leading the league with 1.49 goals against and a .952 save percentage. If his team could score more he would have more wins and they would be a higher seed.
Rookie of the Year- Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida Panthers)
Vladimir Tarasenko was the clear frontrunner for this award but he suffered a concussion in mid-February and that opened the door for Huberdeau. His team is awful which makes his 12 goals and 17 points that much more impressive.