Every Team In A Nutshell
As we come up on the halfway point of the season, the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins are leading the league in their respective conferences.
The Hawks, despite some shaky goaltending at times, have been carried by Hossa, Toews, Sharp, and Kane, all of whom average a point per game (or almost, Kane has 34 points in 35 games). They need a goalie to step up, whether its Emery or Crawford. They can be carried through the regular season with average goaltending, but they can’t just flip a switch on during the playoffs and expect to do well.
The Bruins have been winning in all different ways. Obviously they have the ageless Tim Thomas backed up by Tuuka Rask (who is probably the best backup in the league), but they have also had many players who have stepped up after their abysmal start to the season that left them in last place in the east. Chris Kelly, who is eighth on the team in points, has 12 goals, pretty good for a career 3rd liner. The one even semi-bad thing I can say about the Bruins is that Joe Corvo has not been spectacular. However I can’t say he’s been bad either, and I don’t think he’s as good as the hype anyway so it’s not that big of a deal.
The New York Rangers are second in the east with 46 points. The reinvigorated Marian Gaborik has 21 goals so far in the season to lead the league (for the moment, there are four players with 20) but other than that; the Rangers skaters have been average-good. The main reason they are doing so well is their stellar goaltending by both Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron. Don’t discount Biron’s importance in this either, he is 7-1 with a 1.84 GAA and .933 save percentage (and 2 assists to boot). Most importantly, he is giving time for Lundqvist to rest so he will play better.
The Minnesota Wild have been good as well, coming out of nowhere to lead the northwest. They have done so with absolute lights-out goaltending. Backstrom, Harding, and Hackett have all been simply amazing. Come playoff time, they may have the opposite problem that the Blackhawks have. Great goaltending with a lack of a superstar who can be dangerous every time he has the puck. However I can’t talk about the Wild without mentioning Kyle Brodziak, who has 11 goals this season. He’s another career bottom-6 guy who’s really broken out so far this season.
Florida occupies the lead for the southeast division and holds third place in the east. The line of Kris Versteeg (37 pts, 35 gp), Stephen Weiss (32 pts, 35 gp), and Tomas Fleischmann (31 pts, 36 gp) has arguably been the best line in the league. They don’t have too much in terms of depth scoring but their D has produced marvelously. Jason Garrison’s 10 goals lead all defensemen, Brian Campbell’s 24 assists are second only to Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson (for defense). Jose Theodore has played very well, and has a respectable .919 save percentage.
San Jose has been an interesting team so far. They have had many ups and downs, both for the team and individual players. Although Marleau, Thornton, Clowe, Pavelski, and Burns have all slumped at one point or another, the team was just way too talented and deep for one players slump to hurt them. Both Niemi and Greiss have been better than average on most nights, but Niemi continues to show us only sparks of his cup-winning skill. The Sharks currently occupy the third spot in the west, and are leading the pacific division with the Dallas Stars hot on their tail.
The Philadelphia Flyers are the prime example of a team who felt they were not in the right direction, made moves, and the moves actually were radically successful. Despite a plethora of injuries to star players, they still have 46 points and are right behind the Rangers waiting to seize the division. Claude Giroux 43 points are the most in the NHL despite him only playing 30 games. Jaromir Jagr looks like he never even left the league and has 29 points in 30 games. Scott Hartnell rounds out their spectacular first line with 16 goals and 32 points in 34 games. The Flyers D, though hurt by the loss of Pronger, still boasts some excellent defensemen with Timonen and Carle. Bobrovsky has so far outplayed Bryzgalov, who has been very streaky.
How great a story are the St. Louis Blues right now? Since Ken Hitchcock came in from Columbus, the Blues have been one of, if not the best team in the NHL. Their 46 points would put them in first place in the west if not for Chicago’s equally impressive play. With an impressive mix of young talent and veteran grit (courtesy of Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner), the team’s very deep scoring ability seems to have found itself. Combine that with the classic Cinderella story of Brian Elliott (who, by the way, leads the league with a 1.55 GAA and who’s .943 save percentage ties a pretty good goalie by the name of Tim Thomas), and you have a recipe for a team that will absolutely be a playoff team, and might surprise a few teams in the west.
The Detroit Red Wings have been uncharacteristically streaky so far. Both Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk started off very slow. They have been winning games thanks to a more balanced offensive strategy. Their best player so far though, has undoubtedly been Jimmy Howard, who boasts a .927 save percentage and, in my mind, is the only reason the Wings are a playoff team right now (he has a league-leading 21 wins).
The Vancouver Canucks are another team that has had an up-and-down season. Or I suppose, what would be more appropriate, a down-and-up season. They started off quite slow, and people seemed to think it was a classic case of a team that lost in the final and then struggles the next year. But we all really know this team has way too much talent to play second fiddle to anyone in the west. Both Luongo and Schneider have been good and average at times. The Sedin’s, as they are expected to, are carrying this team. Henrik’s 41 points and Daniel’s 40 are both in the top 6 in the league.
The mantra of the Pittsburgh Penguins seems to be working for them. They are indeed a good team without superstar Sidney Crosby. Despite Crosby missing all but 8 games with what we all hope (and I’m a Caps fan!) is not going to be too detrimental to him with his concussion-related absence, the Penguins keep on rolling. Evgeni Malkin’s bounce-back season has been very impressive. James Neal’s 20 goals are among the top-5 in the league. Fleury and the D have been good as well. No matter what sort of injuries, streaks, or slumps come their way, the Penguins always seem to find a way to win.
If the Dallas Stars do end up making the playoffs, the reason may be little more than a footnote in their season summary. The Stars always seem to start off really well, as they did this season. However around Christmas time they seem to tail off a bit before ending up at the end of the season just outside the playoffs. When Kari Lehtonen went down, many people thought the Stars would go down with him. However the play of rookie Richard Bachman helped the Stars retain a playoff spot. With Lehtonen back and Bachman now down with the Texas Stars, Dallas once again has a chance to solidify a playoff spot. Though he has slowed down as of late, Sheldon Souray’s comeback has so far been a success. Eric Nystrom and Michael Ryder have both been great for the team as well.
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The Toronto Maple Leafs are a bit like Dallas in that they always start off well, they just always seem one or two spots out of a playoff berth. This season they may finally have gotten it right. With their moves of the past couple of years that brought Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Dion Phaneuf, John Michael-Liles, and Tim Connolly to town, they finally seem to be a solid team. Combine the unpredictably amazing play of Kessel and Lupul with finally having a decent goaltender in James Reimer, the Leafs will probably be playing hockey in the spring.
The Nashville Predators have done something truly amazing this season. They are transitioning from a completely defensive team to a more get-up-and-go mentality, but they are winning even during the transition. It’s either the best coaching strategy ever, or Pekka Rinne is just making them seem better than they are, or maybe both. In any case, Rinne has been amazing (except the past few games), as has Shea Weber, who leads the team with 29 points.
Despite having virtually no defense, and seeing Martin Brodeur’s age finally seeming to catch up to him, the Devils still hold a playoff spot. Patrik Elias just keeps on truckin’ along with 30 points in 34 games. Rookie Adam Henrique has come out of nowhere to be in the discussion for the Calder. Parise and Kovalchuk have both been good, not quite superstars, but not bad either.
The Phoenix Coyotes took a bargain on Mike Smith during the offseason, and he has surprised most of us. We all know he had talent, but whether he could carry that talent through a whole season as a #1 goalie was and really still is a question. So far though, he has been great with the defensively minded Coyotes. Ray Whitney, Radim Vrbata, Shane Doan, and Keith Yandle have been good as well.
The Los Angeles Kings have been really pretty bad most of the season. The only reason they stayed afloat during November and early December is because of the decent play of Jonathan Quick. However the last couple of games they seem to have finally found a spark under new coach Darryl Sutter. Through all the turmoil that this season has brought, Anze Kopitar still has 34 points in 37 games. If the Kings can finally get Drew Doughty going, they will be a team to fear in the west.
Calgary has done what they have done every year since 2009. They started out average, lost a few games, and then resolved as a team to start winning. As a result, they are 6-2-2 in their last ten and sit only 2 points out of a playoff berth. Olli Jokinen and Jarome Iginla continue to show the league that age is just a number with their 31 and 29 points.
The Winnipeg Jets currently hold the last playoff spot in the east. Evander Kane has quietly put in 17 goals this season. Bryan Little seems to have found the part of him that scored 31 goals in 2009-09. This teams dominant play, especially at home, where they are 12-6-1, is the play of a playoff team. However that is only through 36 games, it’s still a long season for the young, talented Winnipeg Jets, but the future looks bright.
Somehow, with a truly all-star roster of Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson, Milan Michalek, and Daniel Alfredsson, everyone, myself included, immediately counted the Ottawa Senators out this season. Jason Spezza is averaging better than a point per game, Karlsson’s 33 points are most in the league by defensemen, Michalek’s 19 goals are 6 th in the league, despite him playing in only 32 games (goal scoring leader’s Stamkos and Gaborik have played in 35). If Craig Anderson can recapture some of the magic he had his first season in Colorado, they might have a shot of squeezing into the playoffs. That is of course assuming they all keep up their current rate of production, which is unlikely. I might be eating my words in April, but I just think there are better teams in the East that will eventually edge out the Sens.
The Colorado Avalanche have been a classic young, talented team this season. They started off randomly being the best team on the road in the league, and then as the season got into mid-November, they decided to start losing on the road, and to start winning at home (8-1 in their last 9 home games). As it stands, they have 38 points and are in 12 th place in the west. Semyon Varlamov has been awful of late, but J.S. Giguere has really stepped up and boasts a .928 save percentage and 1.95 GAA.
The Washington Capitals may be one of the biggest flops this season, if not the team, then its star players. Ovechkin has only 27 points in 35 games, which is good, but not Ovechkin-like numbers. Alex Semin only has 17 points in 32 games. Mike Green has been great when he’s been in the lineup, but has only played 8 games this season. The only star Capital who has been good is Nick Backstrom, who has been simply dominant this season. Despite line mates underperforming, Backstrom has 12 goals and 36 points. Career third-liner Jason Chimera leads the team with 13 goals. Goaltending Tandem Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth have been hot and cold, though overall Vokoun has been better. This team is far too good to miss the playoffs, they’ll get in.
Speaking of underachievers, Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller has lost his mojo. The reigning Olympic MVP has a 3.05 GAA and .901 save percentage. He, if not for Eric Staal, would be the most underachieving player in the league. Thankfully for the Sabres, Jason Pominville has given us a class in what stepping up as a captain means, he has 38 points in 36 games, as does Tomas Vanek. Pseudo-rookie Luke Adam has ten goals this season so that speaks something about Buffalo’s top young player. Tyler Myers only has 6 points this whole season. If Miller can find his game, this team will make a push for eighth place.
The Montreal Canadiens right now sit at 12 th in the east. Carey Price has been alright, but has not been finishing games. For goalies, GAA and save % isn’t everything. Wins are the most important statistic, and Price’s record is 13-12-7. Max Pacioretty started out the season hot, but only has one assist in his last 5 games. The most distressing thing about the Canadiens is their blue line. Josh Gorges is the only regular defenseman to be a plus player (+7), PK Subban is second and he is even, not even plus. Though parts of this team are really very good, the Canadiens D is too young for this team to make the playoffs.
The Edmonton Oilers have been good at times this season, culminating in a 9-2 win against Chicago on November 19. A combination of Nikolai Khabibulin’s revival and the young guns of the Oilers have kept them in games. Jordan Eberle’s 38 points lead the team. Rookie and expected Calder winner Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has 35 points in 35 games. Just so you know folks, the last two times a rookie had a full point per-game season, their names were Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin (both had hundred point seasons in 81 games). I think at this point, playoffs are slipping away from the Oilers, but if they can land a puck-moving defenseman next summer, this is a team that could easily be best in the west next season.
The Tampa Bay Lightning decided to put their goaltending in the hands of playoff star Dwayne Roloson, who has so far flopped this season. He only has 6 wins and has an inflated 3.72 GAA. Mathieu Garon has been alright but not stellar in relief. The rest of the team has been average, with the exception of Steven Stamkos, who already has 22 goals this season. St Louis and Lecavalier have been average by their standards. Marc-Andre Bergeron started out the season leading all defensemen in points but is pointless in his last 5. The Lightning need a young goalie if they are going to have any hope of pushing for the playoffs, which is even now starting to look very, very difficult.
Alright here we go, the bottom four teams in the league. Starting with the Carolina Hurricanes. Basically, Jeff Skinner and arguably Tuomo Ruutu have been the only good players on this team. Eric Staal only has 7 goals and 20 points. Joni Pitkanen only has 12 points. Cam Ward has an .898 save percentage and is 12-14-5. It was supposed to be a make or break year for the ‘canes, and it looks like they broke.
The New York Islanders have been very unbalanced this season. The top line of Parenteau, Tavares, and Moulson has been spectacular. After that though, the statistic chart starts to look very depressing. Moulson and David Ullstrom are the only players on the team to be in the + column. Al Montoya has been good for the Islanders though, and seems to be the goalie of the future on the Island. Evgeni Nabokov, though holding a respectable .910 save percentage, only has 2 wins.
The Anaheim Ducks have been so disappointing this season. Jonas Hiller has simply not been the same since he made his comeback after dealing with vertigo. He is 9-14-6 and has a .902 save percentage. Teemu Selanne is the only Duck to be producing at a point per game average, and he’s 41 (albeit a very good 41 year old). The team has had no production from the third or fourth lines. Though they are not looked to for offense, they are expected to chip in once in a while, which they have not done. The Ducks need Hiller back on his game, and need to be secure playing a more aggressive style that suits them.
The Columbus Blue Jackets sit at last place in the league with only 23 points. Pretty much every player on this team has disappointed this season. Nash only has 24 points, Carter only 16, Wisniewski only 17. Most appalling are the numbers of Steve Mason, who has an abysmal .881 save percentage and holds a record of 4-15-2. The arguable bright spots in this season? Vinny Prospal has 27 points in 35 games, which is quite good for a 36 year old. Also young defenseman Nikita Nikitin has 12 points in 21 games.
Well there you have it, a brief overview of every team in the league so far.
By: Jonathan Bloom
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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