1) I think just like in the NBA playoffs, the first round of NHL postseason play will feature two series sweeps. I don’t see the New York Rangers overcoming their offensive woes to beat the intensity of the Washington Capitals any time soon. The Caps are playing too well, and are riding some insane momentum (which got them to the 3rd seed). Sorry to the folks on Broadway, but this may be a short postseason for New York fans.
2) The other sweep will be of the Vancouver Canucks by the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks have SUCH a good team, and are clicking a whole lot better than the Canucks are right now. You can’t have goalie issues in the playoffs – it’s as simple as that. Either figure out who’s in net, or go ahead and book a tee time.
3) I think a Toronto-Montreal series would have been epic, but I like the current rivalry and intensity behind the Toronto-Boston matchup. The big trade which sent sniper Phil Kessel from Boston to the Leafs has been a great point to ponder for fans of both teams and is continuing to be a key point in the series. In Game 2 on Saturday night, Kessel netted his first even strength goal against his former club in 24 games which turned out to be the game winner. Will Kessel help his team move ahead to the next round, or will it be the guy the Bruins drafted with the picks they received in the trade, Tyler Seguin? We’ll see, but I have my money on Kessel.
4) Going back to the Sharks, I think they are the real team to beat out West. Sure Chicago is great and all, but the Sharks are scoring at an amazing rate, and have Niemi playing like he did when was back on the …wait for it… Blackhawks. This is such a powerful and deep team that you wonder how they weren’t a higher seed. After dismantling the Canucks so far, the Sharks should be the top club in the next round in the Western Conference.
5) Back East – I don’t really buy into the Penguins just yet. Sure they’re amazing, but the Islanders have been scoring against them fairly easily (except for Game 1, of course). The Islanders are a solid team and I don’t think anyone figured they’d be swept, but eight goals in two games is not something the Pens can sustain. Game 3 definitely could have gone either way and this could’ve been a 2-1 New York advantage going into Game 4 at home. The Isles are young and are fueled by their intese fans – this series could slip away from the Pens.
(1) PITTSBURGH PENGUINS VS. (8) NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Sunday’s 5-4 overtime loss at Nassau Coliseum put the Penguins ahead 2-1 in the series. It was a tough pill for these young Islanders to swallow.
Still, the Isles showed a lot of heart and promise. As TSN’s Pierre LeBrun said after the game, “regardless of how this series ends, I think they’ve made their point.”
After getting blown out in Game 1 and falling behind 3-1 within the first eight minutes of Game 2, New York roared back to score three unanswered goals and steal a win in Pittsburgh. They showed that same resolve in Game 3, erasing a 4-2 deficit in the third period and sending the contest to overtime.
Evgeni Nabokov has to be better if the Isles are going to have a shot to even this series. I wouldn’t even say that most of the goals have been his fault, but he’s looked far too shaky nonetheless and, as the most playoff-tested player on the roster, he needs to step up and be a leader.
John Tavares did that yesterday, scoring the game-tying-goal and igniting an eruption at Nassau Coliseum that was, in many ways, very reminiscent of Shawn Bates’s penalty shot goal against Toronto in the 2002 playoffs. This man is deserving of the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP and he did one heck of a job making a case for himself on national television.
If Nabokov can rise to the occasion and his team does a better job of staying out of the penalty box, there’s no reason why the Islanders can’t push this series to the brink.
As for the Penguins, they’ve looked awfully-human for a team that’s a supposed Stanley Cup shoo-in. Defensively, they’ve been abysmal and, at times, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has been equally abysmal. He’s made some big saves but some bigger mistakes and that has to change if the Pens are to fulfill those championship aspirations they undoubtedly have.
On the other hand, Sidney Crosby has been sensational. He made an immediate impact upon his return in Game 2, scoring twice in the first eight minutes and assisted on three of the five Pittsburgh goals during yesterday’s tilt. The Islanders have to do a better job defending him and taking away his options. If you try and defend Crosby man-to-man, you’re probably going to fail.
However, I must say that Crosby does continue to get away with embellishment and that it is absolutely unacceptable for any sports league to have a double-standard when it comes to officiating. The Islanders lost because of multiple reasons yesterday, but that weak penalty call on Brian Strait for an apparent “hold” on Crosby was a horrible one, whether it’s overtime of Game 3 or a Thursday night during the regular season.
All in all, I like Pittsburgh’s chances to win the series, but I do think the Isles have another win in them. I also think that, even if the Penguins do advance to the next round, they are very, very beatable.
(2) MONTREAL CANADIENS VS. (7) OTTAWA SENATORS
These last few weeks have been an utter disaster for the Montreal Canadiens. Sunday night, they fell behind 2-1 in the series and in did so in catastrophic fashion.
At the start of the third period, the Habs were still very much in the hockey game, trailing by a single tally. Four-straight goals by the Senators changed all of that, and they ended up blowing the doors off the Canadiens, by a final score of 6-1.
A controversial hit by Eric Gryba of the Senators on Montreal’s Lars Eller resulted in a two-game suspension and some not-so-nice comments by ex-Rangers fan-favorite Brandon Prust about Sens’ head coach Paul MacLean. I’m not going into details, but there were sea creature references involved.
Regarding the hit itself, I did think it was a suspension-worthy; an opinion that was not widely-shared and that I’ve taken a lot of heat for. People want to talk about how Eller’s teammate, Raphael Diaz, sent him a “suicide pass,” which is true and about how Gryba wasn’t necessarily targeting the head and that it wasn’t the principle point of contact.
Make of it what you will, but to me, this was not your ordinary body-on-body, “oh shucks” open-ice hit. Not only that; I’ve watched the hit about 50 times now and can tell you with absolute certainty that Eller’s head was the principle point of contact and that a vast majority of the impact was to the head.
The NHL has made it abundantly clear that such hits will garner a suspension. So while TSN and Co. went on and on about how Gryba wasn’t going to receive any supplemental discipline, I knew precisely how this story was going to end.
But I digress…the Habs have lost a lot more than Lars Eller thus far; they’ve lost a pair of games now and look completely out-of-whack. Carey Price was superb in Game 2, but that wasn’t the case in Games 1 and 3. His defense let him down yesterday, but he also needed to be better.
Ottawa has more talent up front but the Habs are the deeper team. If they can get back to playing that fast, dizzying, puck-moving style, they can fight back in this series. If Carey Price can stand toe-to-toe with Craig Anderson, and I say this because he has more than enough talent to do that, the Canadiens have a shot.
I picked Montreal to win this best-of-seven and, guess what? They still can.
(3) WASHINGTON CAPITALS VS. (6) NEW YORK RANGERS
So, how about those Rangers? It really depends on who you ask.
Head Coach John Tortorella would say they’ve been generating chances but haven’t executed. Others will tell you that the Rangers have “outplayed” the Capitals throughout this series but just haven’t gotten the bounces.
I’ll tell you what’s happening here: the Caps are setting the tone from the opening face-off and the Blueshirts are letting them dictate the pace of play. That’s essentially forced them to try and beat Washington at their own game, and to be blunt, this Ranger team is not equipped to handle a firefight.
Perhaps they could have been, had they held onto Marian Gaborik, but to dwell on that would be to cry over spilled milk at this point. Most of you already know my opinion about that particular transaction.
Heading back to MSG down 2-0, the Rangers need to establish their game and slow things down. They need to make the opposition battle along the boards and in the trenches. It’s not only the Caps’ wide-open offensive style that they have trouble matching, it’s their skating and speed as well. Simply put, if New York can’t slow things down, it won’t be long before they’re running on empty.
Henrik Lundqvist has been very sharp and will always keep his team in the game. He does need a little bit of a pick-me-up from that offense, though. Braden Holtby has been just as good as Lundqvist and because his guys are actually putting some pucks in the net, he has two wins under his belt in this series.
I have Washington in seven games, but at this rate, the Rangers will be lucky to stretch this series out to five. Look for more of the same, unless the Blueshirts make some significant adjustments. It’s not something they can’t handle, but they haven’t exactly shown they’re willing to do it yet, either.
(4) BOSTON BRUINS VS. (5) TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
The Bruins and Leafs split the first two games in Boston. Now the series shifts over to Toronto, a city that’s been clamoring for playoff hockey and went two lockouts without it. You just know that Air Canada Centre is going to be electric on Monday night.
Phil Kessel didn’t speak to the media before Game 1 and did not score. He saw the error of his ways, made himself available to the press before the next game and, sure enough, scored a big goal that night.
Is there any correlation between these two developments? Of course not. He is, however, quite good at scoring goals, and the Maple Leafs will need more where that came from, regardless of who Kessel does or doesn’t talk to after practice.
Speaking of quality performances, how about the play of James Reimer, who I think has been fantastic for Toronto, making 36 and 39 saves in Games 1 and 2, respectively. If the Leafs are going to have a chance in this best-of-seven, they need Reimer to keep those floodgates closed and he’s certainly done his part.
The Bruins have Tuuka Rask, an excellent netminder in his own right who, like Reimer, can also stand tall between the pipes. I do think Rask is better than Reimer and I think his Bruins are just a deeper team.
If the Leafs are insistent upon trying to match Boston’s aggressive, physical, defensive game, this is going to be a quick (and painful) series. I had the Bruins in five, but it definitely wouldn’t surprise me if Reimer found a way to steal a second game for Toronto.
(1) CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS VS. (8) MINNESOTA WILD
Everyone’s been busy crowning the Pittsburgh Penguins since the trade deadline. Meanwhile, outside of Never Never Land, it turns out that the Blackhawks are really the NHL’s best team and have done nothing to suggest otherwise here in the first round.
Are they deeper than Pittsburgh on offense? They aren’t, and to be perfectly honest, no one is. What they are, however, is far more well-rounded. Chicago can score but they can also play defense and, oh by the way, have a goaltender in Corey Crawford who’s played well for them.
A gutsy overtime win put Minnesota back in the series, which they now trail 2-1. I still fully-expect the ‘Hawks to finish off the Wild.
Josh Harding has done an admirable job filling in for the injured Nicklas Backstrom, but without the latter, Minnesota will have a tough time staying afloat. And while Ryan Suter is as reliable a defenseman as one could possibly ask for, there isn’t a whole lot of depth there, aside from Jonas Brodin, who’s been outstanding in his rookie year.
That lack of defensive depth was certainly exposed in Game 2, when the Blackhawks pumped five goals past Harding, en route to their second-straight win in the series.
I don’t see Minnesota getting out of the first round. They’re just not there right now.
(2) ANAHEIM DUCKS VS. (7) DETROIT RED WINGS
This has actually turned out to be a very entertaining series thus far. I’ll admit, I’m surprised the Red Wings are down 2-1 but am still convinced that they are the better team here and will come away with the four wins they need to advance.
Gustav Nyquist was the hero of Game 2, scoring the overtime-winner in an absolute thriller of a hockey game. He’s very talented and, in my opinion, is on the verge of a breakout.
If you’re a Wings fan, you have to be pleased with Jimmy Howard, even though the box scores might sway you in the opposite direction. Howard has made some big stops and, with the exception of Game 3, I can’t say he hasn’t played well.
This series has “seven” written all over it, and regardless of who wins, it’s going to be a hard-fought battle every night.
(3) VANCOUVER CANUCKS VS. (6) SAN JOSE SHARKS
Both of these teams have had a knack for underachieving in the playoffs, albeit to different extents. But someone’s string of misfortune is going to end, at least as far as getting out of the first round is concerned.
Given that they’ve lost all three games and are one away from elimination, the Canucks appear to be well on their way to being punched out of the first round for the second-consecutive year.
It really doesn’t surprise me that this is happening to the Canucks. They are a vastly-talented team with no direction that has essentially rewritten the definition of a goaltending controversy. This Luongo/Schneider conundrum impacts everyone in that locker room, regardless of what someone like Alexandre Burrows or Kevin Bieksa might tell you.
When you have confidence in your goaltender, that allows you to really go out and do your thing, without having to worry as much about what’s going on between the pipes and when the puck’s not on your stick. When you don’t even know who your goalie is going to be on any given night, that can be even worse.
Alain Vigneault also happens to be an awful coach. His decision-making is very questionable, and his team tends to take a lot of dumb penalties at the worst-possible times. This has been an issue for quite a while now and that lack of discipline starts with the bench boss.
It also happens to be that San Jose is a good hockey club and, if they are truly inclined to do so, can absolutely challenge Chicago, Pittsburgh, or anyone else in this league as a legitimate Cup contender.
(4) ST. LOUIS BLUES VS. (5) LOS ANGELES KINGS
Two stunning losses and a home win later, the defending champs find themselves down 2-1 in the series.
It’s not like they haven’t played well though, and they were definitely in both games that they lost. I would say they are still very much alive right now.
This is another matchup that I fully-expect to go six or seven games, and I think that while the Blues have a very bright future, the Kings are ultimately the better hockey team and will come back to win this series.
Jonathan Quick’s Bill Buckner-esque gaffe at the end of Game 1 is all anyone seems to remember, but believe it or not, he has played well and, the way I see it, has even been the better goaltender. If he keeps that up, the Blues aren’t going to get two more wins very easily.
Neither will the Kings, but at the end of the day, I do think they are better-equipped to move on to the Semis.
I would say that Drew Doughty needs to elevate his game and become a difference-maker, much like he did last year when the Kings won the Cup. If he wants to prove that he is in fact better than Alex Pietrangelo, now would be an excellent time to do that.
By Adam Davis
Alright folks, buckle up your seatbelts because it’s that time of year again. We’re less than three weeks away, less than 10 games left, to the NHL playoffs.
Who will make it in? Which teams won’t? Who will lead them there?
There are still plenty of questions and only 13 spots left, as we head into crunch time. Let’s break it down.
I apologize now to any Pittsburgh, Montreal or Chicago fans, but this is a playoff push and not a playoff preview article so we will be neglecting you for the time being. Oh be quiet, your teams kick ass. Actually, let’s just add Boston to that group, considering they’re undoubtedly making the playoffs as well.
In the East, TWO points separate 6th and 9th. In the West, only three more points would allow a move from 11th to the final 8th spot. It’s wild out there. And we’re not talking Minnesota, though we will later on in this article.
Let’s start with the East. Between Ottawa, the NY Islanders, the NY Rangers and Winnipeg (6th through 9th), the Rangers have the easiest schedule over the next five games. They will probably need to win all of those games to secure a playoff spot. A rather tall task, but they could pull it off.
The only game that worries me is Saturday night’s matchup against the Islanders in Nassau. The other New York team has been playing amazing hockey recently and would love to further distance themselves from the Rangers. It should be an excellent game.
Outside of this group, the (currently) 5th place Toronto Maple Leafs have a pretty rough schedule coming up. Four of their next five games are against playoff teams – although three of those clubs have fewer points than them overall. If the Leafs reach the end of this run with three wins out of five, they should be locked into a playoff spot.
The game to watch for Toronto is their visit to Washington on Tuesday – it’s going to be a speedy shot-fest with plenty of goals for sure. Should be great.
As we move down the stretch we start to see which players will excel to help their team make the playoffs.
5. Toronto – James Reimer – The Leafs can score, now they need to shut down other teams.
6. Ottawa – Daniel Alredsson– The veteran captain must keep his team calm and focused, as they’ve had to deal with tons of injuries and need to play hard now.
7. NY Islanders –John Tavares– Keep scoring and the wins will come.
8. NY Rangers – Henrik Lundqvist– The Rangers have relied on their netminder all year and will need him now to continue his dominant play more than ever.
9. Winnipeg – Andrew Ladd – The captain must rally his troops to move back into a playoff spot.
10. New Jersey – The veterans – Elias, Brodeur, Sullivan – Keep calm and stop losing – get the young guys in line and push back into the top eight.
Out West, the situation is a bit different because it’s unlikely that the 4th place L.A. Kings will reach the Pacific Division leading Anaheim Ducks. That means spots four through eight are all open for the taking, and, fortunately for everyone else, the Kings have a super-tough week of games coming up. Anaheim, San Jose, Columbus, Minnesota, Dallas are on the schedule – all teams that could (and hope to) beat the Kings as they are ALL trying to secure playoff spots. Good luck.
It’s crazy to say this, but I feel like Detroit will have a tough time hanging on to that final 8th spot. They are certainly poised to do so, as the 9th and 10th place teams have intense schedules coming up, but in order for the Wings to make it they’ll have to win. A lot.
Also, look out for the Minnesota Wild. Of their five upcoming games, only one is against a team that has more than 17 wins. That one game, against San Jose, is a huge matchup this week as both teams are fighting for higher spots. Look out for this one.
As for the players, let’s see which ones will make an impact in the West playoff race:
4. Los Angeles – Anze Kopitar – The center must keep up his scoring to keep the Kings afloat.
5. San Jose – Antti Niemi – The goaltender leads the league in wins. This team can score but their goalies have always let them down. Time to step up.
6. St. Louis – Brian Elliot – Three straight shutouts. Keep it up.
7. Minnesota – Ryan Suter – He’s an amazing defenseman who can score too. The leader of this club must keep up his amazing play.
8. Detroit – Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg – Detroit is being outscored by its opponents this season, these guys must reverse that.
9. Phoenix – Keith Yandle – A D-man with 23 points? Sounds good, now let’s try and stop the other guys from scoring, k?
10. Dallas – Jamie Benn – The team got gutted and this is their top guy who made it through. Keep scoring or your team misses the playoffs.
11. Columbus – Marian Gaborik – Yes, I’m including an 11th place team because I think they can do it. Gaborik would love to make the Rangers regret their decision to trade him.
There you have it, folks. Plenty of players, teams and games to focus on as the playoff race heats up. One thing is for sure – at a time like this everyone is forgetting all the crap surrounding the lockout and enjoying some excellent hockey. And that’s what really matters, right?
By Adam Davis
Columbus – If you’re a fan of the Blue Jackets you might not want to hear this, but this team has been the laughing stock of the league since they joined it. After losing superstar Rick Nash in the summer, it was time to make some moves in order to make some steps forward. They picked up Marion Gaborik, which is definitely a plus. They got rid of goaltender Steve Mason (who just wasn’t working in Columbus) and gained Michael Leighton instead, which could work out if Leighton thrives under less pressure. I like these moves for Columbus and they could finally be on the way up.
Pittsburgh – Just call this “adding final pieces before a deep playoff run done right.” GM Ray Shero has been adding some huge names for next to nothing in order to help his club win its second Stanley Cup in five years. Jarome Iginla, Brendan Morrow, Jussi Jokinen – essentially for picks and prospects. Huge moves by the Penguins in order to solidify their run to the finals.
Boston – Just call this “trying to do what Pittsburgh did and failing.” The Bruins added Jaromir Jagr and Wade Redden – two big names… from 1997. If Boston was interested in making a deep run into the postseason with these two new additions they’re in for a bit of a shock. Namely, that these two are no spring chickens anymore. The Bruins had the chance to add some key pieces and wasted the opportunity and gave themselves some false hope in the process. They’re still the same club essentially, just lacking a few draft picks.
Dallas – Simply put they gave away some solid players and got peanuts in return. The Stars weren’t a terrible club before the deadline but now they’re just going down the tube. Jagr, Morrow, Roy, a 2013 3rd round pick… what were they thinking making these deals??
NEW YORK– By Daniel Friedman
Raise your hand if you predicted the Rangers, Islanders and Devils to be separated by four points through 29 games (30, if you’re New Jersey).
If your hand is raised, put it down; you’re bluffing and you know it.
The fact that none of the three locals are a shoe-in to make the playoffs at this rate is quite mind-boggling. After all, one of them went to the Stanley Cup Finals last year and another lost to that team in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Devils got off to a real good start, only to lose Martin Brodeur to injury and then realize at the most inopportune time that, all the while, they’d really been playing way over their heads.
The Rangers have been unpredictable; they’ve looked like the kind of team that can make a serious run in the postseason or at an early offseason, depending on the day of the week.
As for the Islanders, they’re an interesting case because few would’ve thought they’d even be in this mix to begin with.
As a fan of any of these three teams, all you want to know is how this could’ve happened and whether or not it can be fixed.
In order to find the answers, we’re going to take a look at each individual situation and see what we can come up with.
New York Rangers: 15-12-2 (32 points), 8th place in Eastern Conference, 2nd in Atlantic Division
There were very high expectations for this Rangers squad coming into this season, and rightfully so. The team had come oh-so-close to reaching the Cup Finals last year and were seemingly a puzzle piece away from taking that proverbial next step.
Well, they certainly got their puzzle piece, Rick Nash, in exchange for Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a first-round pick, and he’s shown up for them. In 25 games this year, Nash has 10 goals and 24 points.
The only problem is, some of the other key puzzle pieces have been strewn across the room. Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards have just 17 and 15 points, respectively.
New York has won its last two games and it does appear they might finally be turning that corner. However, if Gaborik and Richards continue to struggle, so to will the Rangers.
Broadway’s marquee stars absolutely need to shine brighter, but here’s another thing to consider: Rangers’ brass had been counting on neophytes Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller to contribute.
Unfortunately, Kreider recorded just two points in 11 games before being sent down to the AHL and Miller has just four in 21 contests. The Rangers recalled Kreider this afternoon, so perhaps he can rise to the occasion this time around.
In any event, both players were rushed; there’s no doubt about it in my mind.
At least, other role players have stepped up. It’s hard to ask for much more than what you’ve been getting out of Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin this season. All three of those guys have done a nice job.
Different theories have been tossed out there, whether it be on the airwaves and newspapers, or on Facebook and Twitter.
Some have suggested that head coach John Tortorella has “lost the room,” that the players on this team no longer buy into his style or his expectations of them. I can tell you right now, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The Rangers are seventh in the NHL in blocked shots (465), third in hits (876) and have given up the fifth-fewest goals (68). They’re ranked ninth on the penalty kill.
Sounds an awful lot like Tortorella hockey to me.
Another explanation that’s been offered is that Henrik Lundqvist hasn’t had as terrific a year as he usually does. Technically speaking, that’s an accurate statement. However, the idea that he’s not having a terrific year at all is absolutely ludicrous.
In 25 appearances, Lundqvist sports a 2.23 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage. That’s actually comparable with his numbers in two of the last three seasons, both of which were good years for him.
That 13-11-1 record of his has more to do with his teammates’ failure to execute than it does with his own play.
Let’s be honest; this is a Ranger defense that is very capable of shutting down the opposition. Henrik Lundqvist does not necessarily have to be a Vezina-caliber goaltender every single year, nor does he have to be in order for the Blueshirts to be a Cup contender.
He’s still one of the best in the business and has played like it this year. It’s not his fault that he gets little run support. In today’s NHL, 1-0 hockey games are practically an endangered species.
The Rangers also need to fix their power play woes which can be done by improving their entry into the offensive zone and by going out and getting a defenseman who can actually quarterback that unit.
It has to be someone who skates well, moves the puck well, and is a dual threat to either fire a rocket or pass. Michael Del Zotto is a solid offensive-defenseman, but he is simply not that go-to guy.
If the New York Rangers can find some offense, the wins will follow. I expect them to work out the kinks and solidify a playoff spot.
New Jersey Devils: 13-11-6 (32 points), 9th in Eastern Conference, 3rd in Atlantic Division
It wasn’t too long ago that the Devils were one of the better teams in the conference. New Jersey roared out of the gate and were firing on all cylinders. When Adam Henrique returned from his injury, the red-hot Devils turned it up a notch.
My, how the table have turned.
New Jersey has sputtered out of control, having lost five of their last ten and, previously, six in a row. They were without Martin Brodeur until last night, when he backed up Johan Hedberg during a 3-2 loss to the Rangers.
Most people are surprised by this dramatic reversal but, in my view, it was the excellent start to the year that had me baffled.
Yes, the Devils went to the Finals last year and put up a real spirited fight against an LA Kings team we all knew no one was going to beat. But even then, were those New Jersey Devils really as good as advertised?
Let’s be honest, there were far better teams, far deeper teams, far stronger teams. The Devils got on a roll at the right time and, as the old adage goes, anything can happen if you make the playoffs.
Then, Zach Parise jumped ship, signing a 12-year lifetime contract with his hometown Minnesota Wild.
I looked at this team after Parise left and I saw a bare cupboard. Sure, Ilya Kovalchuk was still there, Patrik Elias was still there, Henrique and Travis Zajac were still there. After those guys, there wasn’t much else.
On defense, they’re paper-thin. You were never going to convince me that Andy Greene, Bryce Salvador, a budding Adam Larsson and Marek Zidlicky were going to help this team get to the postseason a second year in a row. You’ll still have a hard time convincing me of that.
The Devils fan will tell me that Brodeur’s injury is the reason for this series of unfortunate events that has occurred. I’ve got news for you: If this team is completely helpless without No. 30 between the pipes, that says a lot about their true nature.
I expect New Jersey to miss the playoffs this year. That’s not to say I don’t think it’s at all possible, but that it’s rather unlikely.
New York Islanders: 13-13-3 (29 points), 10th in Eastern Conference, 4th in Atlantic Division
As I said before, the fact that the Islanders are even in this race is somewhat of a surprise to most folks, Isles’ rooters included. That doesn’t shock me though, because I predicted they’d be in playoff contention this year and, to this point, they have been.
It’s a very positive sign for a young team on the rise, and 2013 Isles are the best version this franchise has had in a while, certainly since the start of the rebuild.
Progress is a good thing, but there are more steps that these young Islanders must take before they become “the real deal,” as one might phrase it. Like their regional foes, the Islanders have been mired in inconsistency and have had trouble turning that corner.
The Isles are poorly coached, and I’ve written extensively about why I feel head coach Jack Capuano needs to be fired.
His line changes make little sense and are poorly timed, he doesn’t seem to have a feeling for the pulse of that locker room and often can’t really explain why things go wrong when they do. His team constantly blows leads and starts slow, which has everything to do with the environment you create and the tone you set as a coach.
Personally, I believe the Islanders are a coach away from being a playoff team.
Defense has been an ongoing issue as well, but as I’ve said before, it doesn’t take Bobby Orr to clear the zone. The guys they have on that blue line right now are serviceable enough to be a solid unit, at the very least.
Between Mark Streit, Lubomir Visnovsky and Travis Hamonic, this defense is better than what we’ve seen on the ice thus far.
I’m not going to pick on the Islanders too much, because they are still in that learning stage and, unlike the Rangers and Devils, they were not necessarily expected to be in playoff contention.
Still, that doesn’t mean there isn’t work left to be done. There’s still plenty, but the Isles will get there.
By Adam Davis
One would think that in a lockout-shortened season consisting of only 48 games, an NHL midseason report would be rather lacking. After all, how much can there really be to discuss after less than 30 games?
The answer is simple: A ton.
The Chicago Blackhawks only losing 0.07% of its games.
The Montreal Canadiens’ rise from last to first.
Sidney Crosby scoring so much he’d be on pace for a 138-point campaign over a full 82 games.
I know! Awesome, right?
My initial NHL picks this season included the New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues being the regular season champs in each conference. While I could still be right about those two, it’s not looking very likely as some unexpected clubs are destroying the competition.
Montreal is leading the Eastern Conference after finishing dead last in 2012. The Carolina Hurricanes, who currently sit in third in the East, have risen from 12th. Out West, the Anaheim Ducks have jumped from 13th to 2nd.
As last year’s NFL and NBA season proved, seasons shortened by lockouts are still bursting with drama and excitement and the recent play of these teams is evidence of that. Montreal, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Anaheim all have rosters which include a core group of young, talented players who have meshed extremely well in a short amount of time.
These players are leading their teams early on in the season and will help them to separate from the chaff as the games in March and April are played out.
It’s tough to think about any team being able to beat either the Penguins or the Blackhawks in the playoffs, but as we saw last season, anything can happen.
Reaching the playoffs as the 8th and final seed in the West, the Los Angeles Kings came out of nowhere to win the Stanley Cup in 2012. Who will be the Kings of this season?
My prediction for the underdog teams would have to be the New York Islanders in the East and Edmonton Oilers in the West.
Both clubs have an insane amount of talent that they have been stockpiling over a long streak of disappointing seasons. Without a doubt, this season is their best chance to sneak into the playoffs, as their young players will still have their legs under them come April.
Ok, so there are some excellent hockey teams out there, but what about the players? Scoring seems to be coming in pairs in the NHL this year:
Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis: 74 points and nine power play goals combined.
Carolina’s Eric Staal and Alex Semin: 60 points and +39 combined.
These are incredible stats, but the real scoring gods are Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz: 86 points and +43 rating combined = WOW.
And don’t even get me started about goaltending.
Remember Boston’s backup goalie, Tuukka Rask? Me neither. Well he’s leading the league in wins and is top five in shutouts, save percentage and goals against average. Insanity.
Or how about Chicago’s goalies: both the starter Corey Crawford and backup Ray Emery have won 10 games for the incredibly unstoppable Blackhawks.
The league may have gotten off to a rocky start, but there’s no doubt that 2013 is one of the most exciting NHL seasons in recent memory. And it’s only starting to heat up. With just over two weeks until the trade deadline and just over six weeks until the playoffs begin, it’s officially crunch time in the NHL. And despite the lockout, I say I’m just as excited as ever.