Believe it or not, we have reached the midway point of the shortened 2013 NHL season. For some, the lockout is a distant memory. For others, the lockout remains imbedded in their thoughts. But that is beside the point. The action is now on the ice instead of the boardroom. And that’s what matters. Before we go forward, let’s take a quick look at which teams have been better than expected, and which teams haven’t lived up to expectations so far.
Surprise Teams Eastern Conference:
The Habs finished last in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12 with a record of 31-35-4-12 for a grand total of 78 points. They were 14 points out of a playoff spot. Fast forward to 2013, and the Habs are currently sporting a record of 14-5-4 and are in first place in the Eastern Conference. No one expected this type of turnaround. Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec are providing offensive punch while a healthy Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban are solid on the blueline. The emergence of rookie Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk have brought a new spirit to Montreal. Carey Price is having a bounce-back season between the pipes. And Michel Therrien’s no-nonsense coaching style seems to have struck a chord. The Habs are in good shape for the second half of the season.
When Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson were lost for the season, it looked like doom and gloom in the Nation’s Capital. But the Senators have responded nicely to adversity. The Senators currently sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 12–7-4. Paul MacLean should be a leading candidate for the Jack Adams award, as he has done a splendid job coaching the injury ravaged Sens. The goaltending trio of Craig Anderson, Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner have been terrific for Ottawa. If the Sens can continue to work miracles with a makeshift lineup, the playoffs will become a reality.
Disappointing Teams Eastern Conference:
The Capitals were expected to run away with the Southeast Division this season. New coach Adam Oates and a refreshed Alexander Ovechkin were supposed to lead the Caps into the promised land. Instead, the Capitals stumbled out of the gate, and have a long climb ahead in the standings. The Caps currently have a 9-11-1 record, totalling 19 points and sit in 14th place in the Eastern Conference. They are five points out of the playoffs. While five points isn’t much of a deficit, the Caps must leapfrog six teams in order to make the playoffs. There are signs that the Caps are turning things around, but the hill may be to steep for Ovechkin and company.
Many experts had the Sabres in the playoffs this season. The additions of Steve Ott and Cody Hodgson were supposed to add depth to Buffalo’s lineup. While Hodgson hasn’t disappointed, and Thomas Vanek has been terrific, the rest of the Sabres have been dismal. Perhaps none more so than Tyler Myers. The hulking defenceman has been a healthy scratch on a couple of occasions due to inconsistent play. So far this season, Myers is a -6 which is a sorry stat, for a supposed number one defenceman. It also hasn’t helped that goalie Ryan Miller hasn’t been at his best. The 2010 Olympic tourney MVP currently sports a 9-11-2 mark with a 2.83 goals against average and zero shutouts. Miller still seems to be shaken, from a devastating hit by Boston’s Milan Lucic in a game last season. Things got so bad in Buffalo that the Sabres fired coach Lindy Ruff after 16 years with the team. There is talk that longtime general manager Darcy Regier could be next to go, if the Sabres don’t make the playoffs. Unless the Sabres turn things around in a hurry, expect Regier to be filling out his resume in the near future.
Surprise Teams Western Conference:
We all know Chicago had a good team. But THIS good? The Blackhawks still haven’t lost in regulation, going 20-0-3. They have won their last 10 games heading into Wednesday night’s tilt with the Colorado Avalanche. Patrick Kane is having an MVP type season, recording 12 goals and 15 assists in 23 games. Jonathan Toews might be the best captain in the NHL. Duncan Keith is returning to Norris Trophy form. Finally the goaltending tandem of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery have been fantastic as they have the best goals against average in the NHL, giving up 1.78 goals per game between the two. Chicago has become the clear favourite to hoist Lord Stanley’s Mug in June.
Many thought the Ducks were on their last legs. With Teemu Selanne most likely retiring at the end of the season, plus the impending free agencies of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaff, the Ducks were thought to be in rebuilding mode. Instead, the Ducks have been a huge surprise in the NHL, as they top the Pacific Division standings, while sitting second in the Western Conference. The Ducks have been balanced in their offensive attack as ten players are in double figures in points. Saku Koivu has proven he still has something left, as he sits second in team scoring with 20 points. Getzlaff is going into free agency with a bang, as his 25 points leads the team. The defence, thought to be the weakness of the club has been surprisingly strong. The goaltending has been superb, thanks to overage rookie Viktor Fasth who has filled in wonderfully for the injured Jonas Hiller. These Ducks are still mighty.
Disappointing Teams Western Conference:
Many thought the Oilers would benefit from the lockout. With most of their young stars plying their trade in the AHL with Oklahoma City, the Oilers were thought to have a leg up on most teams. The likes of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov were supposed to be ready for the season. Instead, their lack of NHL experience is still causing them troubles. The Oilers are very exciting to watch, but have yet to learn how to win at the top level. Nugent-Hopkins only has one goal so far this season. And Hall is the only young Oiler that isn’t a minus. The blueline still lacks depth and the goaltending isn’t quite good enough, though Devan Dubnyk hasn’t been terrible this season. There is pressure on general manager Steve Tambellini to make a bold move at the deadline. Another season with no playoffs could end his tenure in Edmonton.
When the Wild signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to huge contracts in the offseason, many thought the Wild would finally make a big move in the standings. Instead, Minnesota remains mired in mediocrity. While both have been better in recent games, it might not be good enough to push Minnesota into the playoffs. The Wild still have problems scoring goals, averaging a mere 2.27 goals per game which ranks them 26th in the NHL. It is time for the likes of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen and Kyle Brodziak to start producing with more consistency. Minnesota is still strong defensively, and do have time to turn things around, but if their offence doesn’t come through, it will be another disappointing season in the land of 10,000 lakes.
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