The lockout has ended and sadly Gary Bettman is still the commissioner, but the puck finally dropped on the start of this abridged NHL season. Instead of the grueling marathon players, coaches, and fans are used to, this season will consist of a 48-game sprint to the playoffs. Because the season is shortened teams will only play opponents in their own conference and every late game tie that a team loses in regulation means a lot more.
Racking up points to make it into the playoffs is that much more crucial. This was proven last year by the Los Angeles Kings that all you need to do is to make into the dance. The Kings as an 8-seed went on a tear to the Stanley Cup championship that was easily one of the most impressive playoff runs in history.
This season has started off with a bang as teams jockey for positioning in the top eight of their respective conferences. Some teams have already looked head and shoulders above the rest while others still seem to be locked into the off-season.
All stats as of (2/5/13)
San José Sharks (7-2-1)
The Western Conference surprise is defending every inch of ice. That is good for a league best 1.7 goals against per game average. The Sharks are top six in every major category. The team has turned it on after being beat out of the playoffs last year by the St. Louis Blues. They were literally beaten out of the playoffs by losing the series 4-1 and sustaining black eyes, cuts, and even a broken nose from Blues players in post game fights. MVP candidate Patrick Marleau has led the cause for change. If this play is kept up a high seed will be in the Sharks future.
Chicago Blackhawks (8-0-2)
Chicago has easily been the best team in hockey so far. They have wins over other top Western Conference teams like the St. Louis Blues and San José Sharks. They have taken points in all ten of their games so far which is stressed even more in importance in a lock shortened season. They have impressively killed off 94.4 percent of every Power Play faced. They don’t beat themselves and have a lot of their 2010 Stanley Cup Champion team intact with players like Patrick Kane playing at their expected élite level.
St. Louis Blues (6-3-0)
The Blues started the season by blowing the doors off the Detroit Red Wings in a 6-0 home win. Rookie Vladimir Tarasenko introduced himself to the NHL by blasting home two goals and nabbing an asset. The Blues are the best young team in hockey. They play a hard noise four lines. Which means they are usually a lot fresher in the 3rd period then most teams. They are tailor-made for season like this but have had some bumps thrown in their road. Their captain David Backes was ejected with a phantom hit to the head from close game against in Detroit which the league apologized and overturned after the game. That changed momentum into a Detroit win. The biggest bump is the Blues goalie advantage has been neutralized. The team has two number one level goalies in Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot that let them interchange without much drop off. The team’s number one Halak has been put on injured reserve with a lower body injury.
Los Angeles Kings (3-3-2)
Last year, the Kings stormed through the top 3 seeds in its conference and a wiry New Jersey Devils team as an 8th seed to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. The run rivaled any run a Gretzky lead team ever made. Goalie Jonathan Quick had everything but the kitchen sink thrown at him and boldly stopped anything and then some. That is not the case this year. The team has clear championship hangover. Maybe they have raged too hard in L.A. as the town embraces their hockey team with the Lakers are tanking. They give up just over three goals a game which is terrible when you are barely averaging two a game
Detroit Red Wings (4-4-1)
Detroit is a team loaded with vets and have survived on their smart play but captain Nicklas Lidstrom capped a 20-year career this offseason. The team known for not a lot of turnover is really showing their age. Detroit is not built for a season like this. The condensed schedule is exposing some flaws in the team, like only converting 11.1% of their Power Plays and only killing 71.1% of them. Those stats are both in the upper 20s in the NHL overall. Simply put “Hockey Town” is in real danger of being hockey-less come playoff time.
Tampa Bay Lightning (6-3-0)
The Lightning have been the real surprise to the League. Nobody expected the team from Tampa that finished out of the playoffs last year to jump out to their hot start and hold their division lead. They hold the lead over last year’s upstart Florida Panthers and Washington Capitols lead by the pride of Russia, Alexander Ovechkin. Tampa Bay is doing this by leading the league in goals per game with 4.9 and their league best 36.1 Power Play conversion.
Boston Bruins (6-1-1)
Boston is playing like the great team they are. They are close to two years from winning the cup and their mix of youth and savvy veterans is working. They have already won four games by one goal. Which is big to have that much close game experience come playoff time. It is also huge because their usually number one goalie, Tim Thomas took a sabbatical. Their new main guy patrolling the net, Tuukka Rask will need all the experience he can get.
Pittsburgh Penguins (7-3-0)
When you have the raining MVP Evgeni Malkin and debatably the world’s best player in Sidney Crosby its presumed you will be good and set come playoff time. Those assumptions are correct. The Penguins have kept a core intact that has been to a cup finals and won one. They lead the Eastern Conference overall. They do this by being solid in every phase of the game and are ranked in the top half of the NHL in every major category.
Philadelphia Flyers (4-6-0)
Simply put things are terrible in Philly. They are only mustering just over two goals per game which is 22nd in the league. Veteran scorer and tough guy Scott Hartnell is out for 4-8 weeks with a foot injury. To make matters worse the best pure goal scorer on the planet Claude Giroux has only found the back of the net three times this year. The team sits at the bottom of the Atlantic Division and is looking up at most teams in the Eastern Conference.
Washington Capitals (2-7-1)
What is wrong in Washington? Ovechkin is off to a terrible start and is a metaphor for the team’s play. They need to sort things out with new rookie head coach Adam Oates. They are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since the 06-07 season.The team has measly five points in 10 games. That is the best express line to the couch during the playoffs.
Stanley Cup Favorites
1. Chicago Blackhawks
2. Pittsburg Penguins
3. Boston Bruins
4. Vancouver Canucks
5. St. Louis Blues
Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP)- Patrick Marleau(San José Sharks)
Marleau has lead the Sharks to a fast and unexpected start. His 9 goals are a league best and his 14 points is tied for third. He is scoring goals and setting up other men. His job so far everything you want in an MVP.
Vezina Trophy (Top Goaltender)- Craig Anderson(Ottawa Senators)
Craig Anderson is simply paying out of his mind between the pipes. The Senators are now in the playoffs and are tied for second in the league with only 19 goals surrendered. This is on the back of Anderson or better put their work horse. Anderson has a league best .956 save percentage and is only giving up a 1.33 goals a game. That is good for a league second best.
Rookie of the Year- Vladimir Tarasenko(St. Louis Blues)
Vladimir Tarasenko has made a hugh splash on the Blues and the NHL. He was named ‘Rookie of the Month’ for January due to his team lead in points and tie for team lead in goals. His natural transition should not be to much of a surprise. He has played professionally in the KHL(Russian Professional Hockey League) since ’08 and he is only 21. He was runner-up in Rookie of the Year over there and is poised to claim the top spot this year.